June 12, 2023
On June 6, 2023, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) proposed for public comment a draft auditing standard, A Company’s Noncompliance with Laws and Regulations, PCAOB Release 2023-003, that could significantly expand the scope of audits and potentially alter the relationship between auditors and their SEC-registered clients. In a rare move, two PCAOB Board members—Duane DesParte and Christina Ho (the two accountants on the Board)—dissented from the proposal based on a range of concerns, including that it would unduly expand the scope of the public company audit.
This alert provides a high-level summary of the proposed standard, which runs more than 140 pages. We also review the objections articulated by Board Members DesParte and Ho.
The proposal issued by the PCAOB would replace existing AS 2405, Illegal Acts by Clients (“Current AS 2405”), with a new AS 2405, A Company’s Noncompliance with Laws and Regulations (“Proposed AS 2405”). The principal ways in which the Proposed AS 2405 would go beyond the Current AS 2405 include the following:
Objections of Board Members DesParte and Ho
Board Members DesParte and Ho each issued a statement explaining the basis for their dissent from the proposal. Some of the most significant concerns that they raised included:
Notably, Board Member DesParte concluded his remarks by expressing that, in light of the PCAOB’s aggressive standard-setting initiative overall,
I am increasingly concerned we are establishing new auditor obligations and incrementally imposing new auditor responsibilities in ways that will significantly expand the scope and cost of audits, and fundamentally alter the role of auditors without a full and transparent vetting of the implications, including a comprehensive understanding of the overall cost-benefit ramifications. I also wonder whether we are further contributing to the expectations gap by imposing responsibilities on auditors not aligned with their core competencies or the fundamental purpose of a financial statement audit.
The statements from Board Members DesParte and Ho underscore both the significance of this proposal and the range and magnitude of the concerns, for auditors and SEC registrants alike. Indeed, the procedures described above, as well as other aspects of the Proposed AS 2405 and other proposed amendments to PCAOB auditing standards, likely would substantially expand the scope of most audits in relation to identifying, assessing, and addressing potential noncompliance with laws and regulations, particularly for audits of complex, global organizations. Among other things, the proposal appears not to fully consider the consequences—either for the auditor or for the issuer—of expanding the role of the auditor to include responsibilities that might lie outside the auditor’s core competencies, such as legal analysis. The auditor’s increased responsibility to identify, evaluate, and report on legal compliance could alter what information the issuer may need to share with the auditor to help ensure that sufficient audit evidence is obtained, as well as the training and quality controls that might be necessary to achieve reasonable assurance that the auditor can evaluate and act on the information received. Notably, too, the increased sharing of information from the audit client to the auditor that is required under the Proposed AS 2405 would present significant increased risk to the audit client’s legal privileges. These are but a few of the significant issues that suggest that the Proposed AS 2405 would mean costlier and potentially more expansive audits, with the likely upshot that SEC registrants correspondingly also will need to undertake more expansive compliance initiatives (and share the results of such initiatives with the auditor) in order to satisfy the proposed audit requirements. Both companies and their auditors will want to follow these proposals carefully and many will likely want to comment on these issues after having reviewed the Board’s proposal.
We encourage interested parties to consider submitting comments concerning this proposal. Especially in light of the dissents by Board Members DesParte and Ho, the comment process should play an important role in shaping whether this proposal moves forward and in the Board’s consideration of this matter.
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