Audit risk increases uncertainty—and price. At least, it should.
In this post, I provide examples increased audit risk and reasons why audit prices should increase accordingly.
First, let’s look at examples of increased audit risk.
Factors that increase audit risk include:
Now, let’s think about why we might increase our audit prices based on such risks.
Pretend, for a moment, that you are a representative of a professional liability insurance carrier, and you’ve been assigned the duty of reviewing an audit firm’s book of business. How would you rate–from an insurance perspective–audits of the following entities?
Would you price the insurance for all three engagements the same? Certainly not. The City of Perfect is…well perfect. The second and third audits have risk elements.
So if we as auditors examine prospective audit clients purely with an eye on risk, there should be a premium (higher fee) for those with increased risk. Why? There is a higher probability that the audit firm will suffer loss. The inherent risks in examples 2 and 3 increase the chance of faulty financial reporting, which increases the possibility a suit against the audit firm.
From a project management perspective, will all three engagements take the same amount of time? Obviously no. The higher risk engagements will require more resources, effort, and time. (Higher risk audits can also increase your insurance rates.)
You might think of the additional time element in this way:
Risk = Additional Time = Higher Price
Too often, CPA firms fish for audits without giving appropriate consideration to risk. Then, the flat fee creates pressure to ignore risks, because, after all, the audit firm wants to make a profit. It is critical that auditors incorporate a pricing premium for identified client risk. So consider the audit risk model even in the beginning of an audit.
But what about unknown risk (that which exists before starting the engagement)?
Well, that’s another story. Discovering fraud, for example, may require an expansion of the engagement scope. As with any project, when the scope increases, price increases. But the price increase is dependent upon the size and complexity of the theft. If the fraud is nominal and requires little additional time, then no price increase is necessary. But if the theft is broad and complex, a contract amendment may be in order.
Does your firm use any type of risk score in client acceptance or in your annual continuance decision? If no, consider scoring your clients in terms of price and risk. And while you’re at it, think about rating your entire book of business. Here’s how.
In an Excel spreadsheet, list the following for all A&A clients:
Once the list is complete, ask yourself if the pricing is appropriate. If the hourly rate is low but the risk is high, consider a price increase.
Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty-five years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, The Why and How of Auditing, Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy, and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.