We have previously written about how, over the past few years, the SEC and other regulatory agencies have devoted substantial resources to investigations regarding allegations that public companies have inadequate internal controls and/or a system for reporting those controls. See here, here and here. That effort shows no signs of waning. As recently as March 23, 2016, the SEC announced a settlement with a multi-national company due in part to the internal controls failures at two foreign subsidiaries. On March 10, 2016, the SEC announced a settlement of claims against Magnum Hunter Resources Corporation in connection with alleged internal control failures. And, on February 17, 2016, the SEC announced a settlement of claims against a biopesticide company, Marrone Bio Innovations, based on the company having reported misstated financial results caused in part by internal control failures.
In a recent address, SEC Chair Mary Jo White stated that the SEC had focused its reinvigorated investigation and enforcement efforts on holding preparers and auditors accountable for their work on financial statements. She alerted the 2015 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (“AICPA”) National Conference to the weighty responsibilities and challenges faced by auditors and preparers, as well as audit committee members, standard setters and regulators, when endeavoring to ensure high-quality, reliable financial reporting.
In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.
In August, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) issued a proposal that calls for enhanced communication from Auditors—in addition to the traditional Pass/Fail opinion—in Audit Reports (PCAOB Release No. 2013-005). If this proposal is approved, it would be the first significant change to the audit report in more than 70 years, according to PCAOB Chairman James Doty. The proposed changes are based on the premise that investors and financial statement users want more information from auditors, and these changes would represent a huge landscape change for the audit profession.
In a split vote last week, the SEC adopted new rules designed to increase protections for customers who invest money and securities with broker-dealers. Recent rulemaking and statements made by the SEC have highlighted the fact that broker-dealer regulation is becoming a growing area of SEC interest. In connection with last Wednesday’s vote, SEC Chair Mary Jo White stated that “[i]nvestors need to feel confident that their money is safe when it’s being held by their broker-dealers… [and] these rules will strengthen the audit requirements for broker-dealers and enhance [the SEC’s] oversight of the way they maintain custody over their customer’s needs.”
The new rules amend the broker-dealer reporting and notification rules codified in Section 17 and Rules 17a-5 and 17a-11 of the Exchange Act. Currently, a broker-dealer is required to file an annual report with the SEC and the SRO designated to examine that broker-dealer. The report must contain audited financial statements conducted by an independent public accountant registered with the PCAOB. Under the new requirements, a broker must file a quarterly report telling the SEC whether and how it maintains control over its client’s funds. The new rules also require that the broker-dealer let the SEC review the work-papers of the accountant, if requested. READ MORE
On April 24, 2013, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board issued its inaugural “Policy Statement Regarding Credit for Extraordinary Cooperation in Connection with Board Investigations.” The Policy Statement reiterates many of the themes of the SEC’s “Seaboard Report,” and therefore many may view it as largely plowing over well-trodden ground. But, the Policy Statement merits close attention, because it is the first such statement the Board has issued since it was formed, it sets forth specific examples of conduct that is likely to earn credit for cooperation, and it focuses specifically on the auditing profession.
The Policy Statement identifies three forms of “extraordinary” cooperation that could result in audit firms and/or individuals receiving credit in enforcement investigations:
- remedial or corrective action; and
- substantial assistance.
According to the Board, “[a] firm or associated person may earn credit for self-reporting by making voluntary, timely and full disclosure of the facts relating to violations before the conduct comes to the attention of the Board or another regulator.” And, the sooner self-reporting is made, the more likely it will result in credit. The Board stressed, however, that self-reporting is “not eligible for cooperation credit” if it is “required by legal or regulatory obligations,” e.g., the auditor’s obligation under Section 10A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to report a client’s illegal acts. READ MORE
On October 10, 2012, a federal district judge in Missouri granted in part and denied in part class action plaintiffs’ motion to compel certain documents that KPMG had supplied to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) in a 2006 investigation.
Judge Ortrie D. Smith held that KPMG was not required to produce the bulk of its withheld documents relating to a 2006 PCAOB inspection because those documents were privileged under SOX. Specifically, SOX provides that documents and information prepared or received by or specifically for the PCAOB are confidential and privileged and not subject to disclosure. Not all documents fell under the privilege, the court held: documents from the underlying transaction and work that was the subject of the investigation were not prepared for the PCAOB and so could not claim the privilege protection.
The court rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that the SOX privilege only covers documents “in the hands” of the PCAOB and not third parties, like KPMG, because the privilege covered materials both prepared for, and received by, the PCAOB. Finally, KPMG had not waived the privilege when it shared some of the information with Sprint employees or defendants in the litigation.
The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB)’s new accounting standard, Accounting Standard No. 16, seeks to bolster the relationship between audit committees and outside auditors, especially by encouraging ongoing, two-way tailored communications, as opposed to after-the-fact or boiler-plate notices. Auditing Standard No. 16, adopted August 15, 2012, was issued in light of requirements in Sarbanes-Oxley and the Dodd-Frank Act that relate to oversight and accounting, and replaces interim standards AU section 380 and AU section 310. The SEC is expected to approve the new rule, which could become effective as early as December of this year depending on the timing of SEC approval. READ MORE