Audit committtee's independence called into question

by Richard Crump

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13 Sep 2012

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INVESTORS HAVE QUESTIONED audit committees' independence from company management and called auditors to review the ‘aggressiveness' of companies' financial statements in a report published by PwC.

In PwC's Assurance today and tomorrow report, which interviewed 104 investors and analysts worldwide, only 26% felt that audit committees were sufficiently independent of management, compared to 39% that did not.

Participants in the survey also raised concerns that key numbers reported by company management – such as adjusted earnings and industry-specific numbers like same store sales and revenues per unit – are not required to be reviewed by auditors.

More than half of those surveyed said preliminary statements should be audited, while there were also calls for more information on how ‘aggressive' management has been with the way judgement and accounting policies are applied in their financial statements.

"It would be very helpful to know where people push the boundaries. If all companies could be ranked in terms of aggressiveness or conservative accounting policies, as judged by their auditors, that would be helpful information," said one respondent.

However, some warned that imposing new assurance standards – which would have to be drawn up to cater for the increased requirements – shouldn't have the unwanted effect of companies making fewer disclosures in their accounts.

Richard Sexton, deputy global assurance leader at PwC, said: "It is clear that investors have strong views about the future direction of reporting. We ignore those views at our peril, but they need to be put alongside other stakeholders' positions to see what is possible.

"Any solution will need to balance carefully the standardisation that rules create with the flexibility that companies need in order to express themselves."

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