Category Archives for "Auditing"

Identifying audit stakeholders
Apr 04

How to Identify and Manage Audit Stakeholders

By Harry Hall | Auditing

This is a guest post by Harry Hall. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP). He blogs at ProjectRiskCoach. You can also follow Harry on Twitter.

Some auditors perform the same procedures year after year. These individuals know the drill. Their thought is: been there; done that.

Imagine a partner or an in-charge (i.e., project manager) with this attitude. He does little analysis and makes some costly stakeholder mistakes. As the audit team starts the audit, they encounter surprises:

  • Changes in the client stakeholders – accounting personnel and management
  • Changes in accounting systems and reporting
  • Changes in business processes
  • Changes in third-party vendors
  • Changes in the client’s external stakeholders
Identifying audit stakeholders

Picture from AdobeStock.com

Furthermore, imagine the team returning to your office after the initial work is done. The team has every intention of continuing the audit; however, some members are being pulled for urgent work on a different audit.

These changes create audit risks–both the risk that the team will issue an unmodified opinion when it’s not merited and the risk that engagement profit will diminish. Given these unanticipated factors, the audit will likely take longer and cost more than planned. And here’s another potential wrinkle: Powerful, influential stakeholders may insist on new deliverables late in the project.

So how can you mitigate these risks early in your audit?

Perform a stakeholder analysis.

“Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” – Brian Tracy

Continue reading

auditing investments
Apr 04

Auditing Investments: The Why and How Guide

By Charles Hall | Auditing

Want to know how to audit investments? You're in the right place. 

Below I provide a comprehensive look at how you can audit investments effectively and efficiently.

The complexity of auditing investments varies. For entities with simple investment instruments, auditing is easy. Your main audit procedure might be to confirm balances. Complex investments, however, require additional work such as auditing values. As investment complexity increases, so will your need for stronger audit team members (those that understand unusual investments). Regardless, you need an audit methodology.

So, here we go.

auditing investments

How to Audit Investments

In this post, we will take a look at:

  • Primary investment assertions
  • Investment walkthroughs
  • Directional risk for investments
  • Primary risks for investments
  • Common investment control deficiencies
  • Risk of material misstatement for investments
  • Substantive procedures for investments
  • Common investment work papers

Primary Investments Assertions

First, let’s look at assertions.

Primary relevant investment assertions include:

  • Existence
  • Accuracy
  • Valuation
  • Cutoff

The audit client is asserting that the investment balances exist, that they are accurate and properly valued, and that only investment activity within the period is recorded

While investment balances in the financial statements are important, disclosures are also vital, especially when the entity owns complex instruments

Investment Walkthroughs

Second, perform your risk assessment work in light of the relevant assertions.

As you perform walkthroughs of investments, you normally look for ways that investments might be overstated (though investments can be understated as well). You are asking, “What can go wrong?” whether intentionally or by mistake. You want to know if:

  • The controls were appropriately designed, and 
  • The controls were implemented (in use)

Walkthrough Questions

In performing investment walkthroughs, ask questions such as:

  • What types of investments are owned?
  • Are there any unusual investments? If yes, how are they valued?
  • Is a specialist used to determine investment values?
  • Who determines the classification of investments (e.g., trading, available for sale, held to maturity) and how
  • Do the persons accounting for investment activity have sufficient knowledge to do so?
  • Are timely investment reconciliations performed by competent personnel?
  • Are all investment accounts reconciled (from the investment statements to the general ledger)?
  • Who reconciles the investment accounts and when?
  • Are the reconciliations reviewed by a second person?
  • Are all investment accounts on the general ledger?
  • How does the entity ensure that all investment activity is included in the general ledger (appropriate cutoff)?
  • Who has the ability to transfer investment funds and what are the related controls?
  • Is there appropriate segregation of duties for:
    • Persons that record investments, 
    • Persons that buy and sell investments, and
    • Persons that reconcile the investment statements
  • What investment accounts were opened in the period?
  • What investment accounts were closed in the period? 
  • Who has the authority to open or close investment accounts?
  • Are there any investment restrictions (externally or internally)?
  • What persons are authorized to buy and sell investments?
  • Does the entity have a written investment policy? 
  • Does the company use an investment advisor? If yes, how often does management interact with the advisor? How are investment fees determined?
  • Are there any investment impairments?
  • Who is responsible for investment disclosures and do they have sufficient knowledge to carry out this duty?
  • Are there any cost or equity-method investments?

As we ask questions, we also inspect documents (e.g., investment statements) and make observations (e.g., who reconciles the investment statements to the general ledger?).

If control weaknesses exist, we create audit procedures to address them. For example, if during the walkthrough we note that there are improperly classified investments, then will plan audit procedures to address that risk.

Directional Risk for Investments

Third, consider the directional risk of investments.

The directional risk for investments is that they are overstated. So, in performing your audit procedures, perform procedures to ensure that balances are properly stated.

Primary Risks for Investments

Fourth, think about the risks related to investments.

auditing investments

Primary risks include:

  1. Investments are stolen
  2. Investments are intentionally overstated to cover up theft
  3. Investments accounts are intentionally omitted from the general ledger
  4. Investments are misstated due to errors in the investment reconciliations 
  5. Investments are improperly valued due to their complexity and management’s lack of accounting knowledge
  6. Investments are misstated due to improper cutoff
  7. Investment disclosures are not accurate or complete

Common Investment Control Deficiencies

Fifth, think about control deficiencies noted during your walkthroughs and other risk assessment work.

It is common to have the following investment control deficiencies:

  • One person buys and sells investments, records those transactions, and reconciles the investment activity
  • The person overseeing investment accounting does not possess sufficient knowledge or skill to properly perform the duty
  • Investment reconciliations are not performed timely or improperly
  • The company does not employ sufficient assistance in valuing complex assets such as hedges or alternative investments

Risk of Material Misstatement for Investments

Sixth, now its time to assess your risks.

In my smaller audit engagements, I usually assess control risk at high for each assertion. (You may, however, assess control risk at less than high, provided your walkthrough reveals that controls are appropriately designed and that they were implemented. If control risk is assessed at below high, you must test controls for effectiveness to support the lower risk assessment.)

When control risk is assessed at high, inherent risk becomes the driver of the risk of material misstatement (control risk X inherent risk = risk of material misstatement). For example, if control risk is high and inherent risk is moderate, then my RMM is moderate. 

Important Assertions

The assertions that concern me the most are existence, accuracy, valuation, and cutoff.

The assertions that concern me the most are existence, accuracy, valuation, and cutoff. So my RMM for these assertions is usually moderate to high.

My response to higher risk assessments is to perform certain substantive procedures: namely, confirming investments, testing investment reconciliations, testing values, and vetting investment disclosures.

Substantive Procedures for Investments

And finally, it’s time to determine your substantive procedures in light of your identified risks.

My customary audit tests include:

  1. Confirming investment balances agreeing them to the general ledger
  2. Inspecting period-end activity for proper cutoff
  3. Using an investment specialist to value complex instruments (if any)
  4. Vetting investment disclosures with a current disclosure checklist

I don’t normally test controls related to investments. If controls are tested and you determine they are effective, then some of the substantive procedures may not be necessary. 

Common Investment Work Papers

My investments work papers normally include the following:

  • An understanding of investment-related internal controls 
  • Risk assessment of investments at the assertion level
  • Documentation of any control deficiencies
  • Investment audit program
  • Investment reconciliations 
  • Investment confirmations
  • Valuations performed by specialists
  • Documentation of the specialist’s experience, competence, and objectivity
  • Disclosure checklist

Auditing Investments - A Simple Summary

  • The primary relevant investment assertions include existence, accuracy, valuation, and cutoff
  • Perform a walkthrough of investments by making inquiries, inspecting documents, and making observations
  • The directional risk for investments is an overstatement
  • Primary risks for investments include:
    • Investments are stolen
    • Investments are intentionally overstated to cover up theft
    • Investments accounts are intentionally omitted from the general ledger
    • Investments are misstated due to errors in the investment reconciliations
    • Investments are improperly valued due to their complexity and management’s lack of accounting knowledge
    • Investments are misstated due to improper cutoff
    • Investments disclosures are not accurate or complete
  • The substantive procedures for investments should be responsive to the identified risks; common procedures include:
    • Confirming investments 
    • Inspecting period-end activity for proper cutoff
    • Using an investment specialist to value complex instruments 
    • Vetting investment disclosures with a current disclosure checklist

Now you know how to audit investments. 

Next, we’ll see how to audit payables and expenses.

This post is a part of my series The Why and How of Auditing. Check my other posts.

Auditing Plant, Property, and Equipment
Mar 29

Auditing Plant, Property, and Equipment: The Why and How Guide

By Charles Hall | Auditing

Today, we talk about auditing plant, property, and equipment (or capital assets if you work with governments).

Plant, property, and equipment is often the largest item on a balance sheet. But the risk is often low to moderate. After all, it’s difficult to steal land or a building. And the accounting is usually not difficult. So the dollar amount can be high but the risk low.

In this post, we’ll answer questions such as, “how should we test additions and retirements of property?” and “what should we do in regard to fair value impairments?” 

Auditing Plant, Property, and Equipment

Auditing Plant, Property, and Equipment — An Overview

I will—at times in this article—refer to plant, property, and equipment as property. Governments use the term capital assets to refer to plant, property and equipment, but again, I will, for the most part, use the term property in this article.

Property is purchased for use in a business. For example, a corporate office might be bought or constructed. The building is an asset that is depreciated over its economic life. As depreciation is recorded, the book value (cost less accumulated depreciation) of the building decreases as depreciation is recognized. In other words, you expense the building as it is used.

In most reporting frameworks, including GAAP, assets are recorded at cost. Appreciation in market value is not recorded, but significant decreases, known as impairments, are booked. Property improvements (e.g., adding a new room to an existing building) are capitalized and depreciated. Repairs (e.g., painting a room) that don’t extend the life of an asset are expensed.

Also, most businesses elect to use a capitalization threshold such as $5,000. For these entities, amounts paid below the threshold are not capitalized, even if they extend the life of the asset. The amounts below the threshold are expensed as incurred.

So, how do most entities track property purchases and compute the related depreciation? They use depreciation software. Then when property is purchased, it is added to the depreciation software and an economic life (e.g., ten years) is assigned.

Below we will cover the following:

  • Primary property assertions
  • Property walkthroughs
  • Directional risk for property
  • Primary risks for property
  • Common property control deficiencies
  • Risk of material misstatement for property
  • Substantive procedures for property
  • Common property work papers

Primary Property Assertions

The primary relevant property assertions are:

  • Existence and occurrence
  • Completeness
  • Valuation
  • Classification

Of these assertions, I believe—in general—existence, occurrence, and classification are most important. So, the client is asserting that property exists, that depreciation expense is appropriate, and that amounts paid for property are capitalized (and not expensed).

Property Walkthroughs

As we perform walkthroughs of property, we are looking for ways that property might be overstated (though understatements can occur as well). 

As we perform the property walkthrough, we ask, “what can go wrong, whether intentionally or by mistake?”

In performing the walkthrough, ask questions such as:

  • Are property ledgers reconciled to the general ledger?
  • Does the entity use reasonable and consistent depreciation methods?
  • Are the depreciation methods in accordance with the reporting framework (e.g., straight line for GAAP or accelerated for tax basis)
  • Who records depreciation? 
  • Are the economic lives assigned to property appropriate?
  • What controls ensure that property is recorded in the right period?
  • What controls ensure that capital leases are capitalized as property (if applicable, see GAAP lease standards)?
  • Is there appropriate segregation of duties between persons that purchase, record, reconcile, and physically possess property?
  • What software is used to compute depreciation?
  • Does the company perform periodic physical inventories of property?
  • Are assets removed from the depreciation schedule upon sale?
  • What controls ensure that property purchases are added to the depreciation schedule (and not expensed as repairs and maintenance)?
  • What controls ensure that repair expenses are not capitalized as property?
  • What is the capitalization threshold (e.g., $5,000)?

As we ask questions, we also inspect documents (e.g., depreciation reports) and make observations (e.g., who has access to moveable property?).

If control weaknesses exist, we create audit procedures to respond to them. For example, if—during the walkthrough—we see that one person purchases property, has physical access to equipment, and performs the related accounting, then we will perform theft-related substantive procedures.

Directional Risk for Property

The directional risk for property is overstatement. So, in performing your audit procedures, perform procedures to ensure that property is not overstated. For example, vouch all significant property additions to invoices. See if the amounts added are equal to or greater than the capitalization threshold (e.g., $5,000).

Primary Risks for Property

The primary risks for property are:

  1. Property is intentionally overstated
  2. Repair expenses (or any other expenses) are improperly capitalized as property
  3. Purchases that should be recorded as property are expensed
  4. Depreciation is improperly computed and recorded (e.g., accelerated depreciation is used when straight-line is more appropriate)
  5. Moveable property (e.g., equipment) is stolen

Common Property Control Deficiencies

auditing plant, property, and equipment

In smaller entities, it is common to have the following control deficiencies:

  • One person performs more than one of the following:
    • Authorizes the purchase of property
    • Enters the property in the general ledger and depreciation schedule
    • Has physical custody of the property
    • Has responsibility for reconciling the depreciation schedule to the general ledger
  • The person computing depreciation doesn’t have sufficient knowledge to do so 
  • A second person does not review the depreciation methods for appropriateness and economic lives assigned to each property
  • No one performs surprise audits of property
  • No one performs physical inventories of property
  • There are no controls over the disposal of property
  • Appropriate bidding procedures are not used
  • No one reconciles the depreciation schedule to the general ledger
  • Property is not reviewed for potential impairments of value

(See my article providing you with ways to prevent the theft of capital assets.)

Risk of Material Misstatement for Property

In smaller engagements, I usually assess control risk at high for each assertion. If control risk is assessed at less than high, then controls must be tested to support the lower risk assessment. Assessing risks at high is usually more efficient than testing controls.

When control risk is assessed at high, inherent risk becomes the driver of the risk of material misstatement (controls risk X inherent risk = risk of material misstatement). The assertions that concern me the most are existence (for additions to property), occurrence (for depreciation), and classification (of property). With regard to classification, the business determines whether the amount should be capitalized or expensed. So my RMM for these assertions is usually moderate to high.

My response to higher risk assessments is to perform certain substantive procedures: namely, the vouching of additions to property. As RMM increases I lower the dollar threshold for vouching property additions.  

If controls related to bids are weak, your RMM for existence can be high. Bid rigging or kickbacks—fraudulent vendor actions—can result in overstatements of asset additions. 

Substantive Procedures for Property

My customary audit tests are as follows:

1. Vouch property additions to related invoices

2. Agree opening property balances in the depreciation schedule to the prior year ending balances

3. Review economic lives assigned to new property for appropriateness

4. Review the selected depreciation method in light of the property’s life

5. Compute a ratio of depreciation to property and compare the result with prior periods

6. Review new lease agreements to determine if they should be capitalized

7. Inquire about potential decreases in the value of property and request valuations if necessary

Common Property Work Papers

My property work papers normally include the following:

  • An understanding of property-related internal controls
  • Risk assessment of property at the assertion level
  • Documentation of control deficiencies related to property
  • Property audit program
  • A copy of the depreciation schedule that agrees to the general ledger
  • A summary of additions and retirements of property in the current audit period
  • Bid documents for significant construction projects or other property purchases
  • A valuation of a significant asset by a valuation specialist, if merited (potential impairment)

In Summary

In this article, we looked at how to perform property risk assessment procedures, the relevant property assertions, the property risk assessments, and substantive property procedures.

Next it’s time to turn our attention to the audit of investments.

audit and work paper mistakes
Mar 28

Forty Audit and Work Paper Mistakes

By Charles Hall | Auditing

Today, I offer you a list of forty audit and work paper mistakes.

audit and work paper mistakes

The list is based on my observations from over over thirty years of audit reviews (and not on any type of formal study).

You will, however, shake your head in agreement as you read these. I know you’ve seen them as well. The list is not comprehensive. So, you can add others in the comments section of this post.

Here’s the list.

  1. No preparer sign-off on a work paper
  2. No evidence of work paper reviews
  3. Placing documents in the file with no purpose (the work paper provides no evidential matter for the audit)
  4. Signing off on unperformed audit program steps
  5. No references to supporting documentation in the audit program
  6. Using canned audit programs that aren’t based on risk assessments for the particular entity
  7. Not documenting expectations for planning analytics
  8. Inadequate explanations for variances in planning analytics (“revenue went up because sales increased”)
  9. Planning analytics with obvious risk of material misstatement indicators, but no change in the audit plan to address the risk (sometimes referred to as linking)
  10. Not documenting who inquiries were made of
  11. Not documenting when inquiries were made
  12. Significant deficiencies or material weaknesses that are not communicated in written form
  13. Verbally communicating control deficiencies (those not significant deficiencies or material weaknesses) without documenting the conversation
  14. Performing needed substantive tests with no related audit program steps (i.e., the audit program was not amended to include the necessary procedures)
  15. Assessing control risk below high without testing controls
  16. Assessing the risk of material misstatement at low without a basis (reason) for doing so
  17. Documenting significant risks (e.g., allowance for uncollectible receivable estimates in healthcare entities) but no high inherent risks (when inherent risk are separately documented)
  18. Not documenting the predecessor auditor communication in a first-year engagement
  19. Not documenting the qualifications and objectivity of a specialist
  20. Not documenting all nonattest services provided
  21. Not documenting independence
  22. Not documenting the continuance decision before an audit is started
  23. Performing walkthroughs at the end of an engagement rather than the beginning
  24. Not performing walkthroughs or any other risk assessment procedures
  25. Not performing risk assessment procedures for all significant transaction areas (e.g., risk assessment procedures performed for billing and collections but not for payroll which was significant)
  26. Not retaining the support for opinion wording in the file (especially for modifications)
  27. Specific items tested are not identified (e.g., “tested 25 disbursements, comparing amounts in the check register to cleared checks” — we don’t know which particular payments were tested)
  28. Making general statements that can’t be re-performed based on the information provided (e.g., “inquired of three employees about potential fraud” — we don’t know who was interviewed or what was asked or their responses)
  29. Retrospective reviews of estimates are not performed (as a risk assessment procedure)
  30. Going concern indicators are present but no documentation regarding substantial doubt
  31. IT controls are not documented
  32. The representation letter is dated prior to final file reviews by the engagement partner or a quality control partner
  33. Consultations with external or internal experts are not documented
  34. No purpose or conclusion statement on key work papers
  35. Tickmarks are not defined (at all)
  36. Inadequately defining tickmarks (e.g., ## Tested) — we don’t know what was done
  37. No group audit documentation though a subsidiary is included in the consolidated financial statements
  38. No elements of unpredictability were performed
  39. Not inquiring of those charged with governance about fraud
  40. Not locking the file down after 60 days 

That’s my list. What would you add?

Mar 23

Five Dirty, No Good, Terrible, Audit Habits

By Charles Hall | Auditing

Today I describe five dirty, no good, terrible, audit habits. 

Certain peer review deficiencies continue to persist. Today I tell you about a few and how you can stop them.

Have you ever had a bad habit? You eat too much, don't exercise enough, put your make-up on while driving to work (one I've never had, thankfully), spend too much money. Yes, we've all had bad habits.

Auditors have them as well. Some problems seem to never die. The AICPA periodically provides a list of peer review deficiencies. Here are five and what you can do about them. 

Bad Habit 1 - Skipping Risk Assessment 

Do you have the habit of starting your audit by testing bank reconciliations or reconciling equity accounts to the general ledger? 

Solution - Start in the right place. At the beginning. And where is the beginning? First acceptance and continuance. Then risk assessment. Resolve to perform the following before doing any substantive work:

  1. Perform acceptance or continuance procedures
  2. Gain an understanding of the entity and its environment
  3. Perform walkthroughs 
  4. Review prior year estimates for potential bias
  5. Ask questions regarding fraud
  6. Create your planning analytics

Now, assess risk at the financial statement level and at the transaction level by assertion. Once risk assessment is complete, start your substantive work.

In a another bad habit, some auditors create their risk assessments but don't use them.

Bad Habit 2 - Performing But Not Using Risk Assessment

Don't allow another bad habit to persist: Performing risk assessment procedures and ignoring the results. In other words, using the same substantive procedures as last year, though new risks are present. 

Solution - Once a risk is identified, link a response to it. This can be done on your risk assessment summary form.

For example, the revenue recognition standard is effective for many of your December 31, 2019 clients. The standard represents change and can impact your risk of material misstatement for revenue. Change creates risk. And risk calls for a response. Link the risk (that revenue recognition and disclosures may be incorrect) to substantive procedures. Test the revenue recognition in light of Topic 606 and vet the disclosures with an updated disclosure checklist.

In another nasty habit, some auditors ignore controls.

Bad Habit 3 - Ignoring Controls

While a test of controls for effectiveness is not required, reviewing control design and implementation is. This is why we perform walkthroughs. But some auditors ignore or give little attention to this risk assessment procedure. Their attitude is "I already know what I'm going to do, so why waste time?" 

This attitude can be the result on believing a balance sheet audit approach is sufficient. This is the belief that auditing all significant balance sheet accounts is enough. But is it? Suppose the CFO steals $5 million dollars during the year, skimming cash from unbilled receipts. You can audit the year-end bank reconciliation. The bank account can reconcile to the general ledger. But the $5 million is still missing. 

Solution - Gain your understanding of controls early in the audit. Use walkthroughs to do so. 

The next bad habit is an extension of not gaining an understanding of controls.

Bad Habit 4 - Not Reviewing SOC Reports

Putting a service organization controls (SOC) report in the audit file is not enough. We must understand the service organization's controls.

Why? Because the service organization controls are a part of the company's controls. The company's accounting system includes outsourced components.

Your client, for example, may outsource its payroll to ADP. Does that mean the auditor doesn't need to understand ADP's processes and controls? No. Why? Because ADP is acting as an extension of the company's accounting system. The SOC report allows you to see if the payroll controls are designed appropriately and implemented. And this is what we desire whether the accounting is in-house or outsourced.

Solution - Read the SOC report and document your considerations. If control weaknesses are present, determine how those weaknesses impact your risk assessment. 

And what's the last bad habit? Drum roll. Auditors don't identify the significant risks.

Bad Habit 5 - Not Identifying Significant Risks

Every audit has at least one or two significant risks. Consider, for example. management override. Management can manipulate the books to satisfy their needs. 

So, what is a significant risk? Audit standards define it as "An identified and assessed risk of material misstatement that, in the auditor's professional judgment, requires special audit consideration." But what is "special audit consideration"? It's those high risk areas that deserve extra attention. They are the two or three areas (the number varies by audit) that deserve our greatest effort. Understand that not all high risk of material misstatements are significant risks. Significant risks are those areas of an even higher concern. Examples include:

  • Allowance for bad debt in a hospital
  • Management override
  • A fraud risk (because a known material theft exist)

By contrast, a high risk of material misstatement (RMM) for the completeness assertion in payables might not be a significant risk. The RMM might be high but, in this example, it's not a significant risk. 

Solution - Identify significant risks. Do so on your risk assessment summary form. Then link to a response in your audit program. And these responses should be beyond your normal basic procedures. Additionally, they must include a test of details.

AICPA Areas of Focus

Each year the AICPA creates areas of focus in its Enhancing Audit Quality (EAQ) work. You may want to put this in your tickler file. Why? So you'll know the hot-button peer review issues. That way you can build your audit processes in a proactive manner. 

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