Are you aware of the option in the SSARS titled Preparation of Financial Statements (AR-C 70)? Many CPAs still believe the lowest level of service in the SSARS is a compilation, but this is not true. CPAs can and do issue financial statements without a compilation report. Today I provide an in-depth look at AR-70, Preparation of Financial Statements.
AR-C 70, Preparation of Financial Statements, is the guidance for the preparation of financial statements.
AR-C section 70, Preparation of Financial Statements, is applicable when a public accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements or prospective financial information.
This section can also be applied to the preparation of other historical financial information (e.g., schedule of rents).
AR-C 70 does not apply when the accountant prepares financial statements or prospective financial information:
Are there other times when AR-C 70 is not applicable? Yes. The preparation guidance does not apply when the accountant is merely assisting in the preparation of financial statements; such services are considered bookkeeping.
Examples of bookkeeping services include:
When AR-C 70 is applicable, certain compliance actions—such as the creation of a signed engagement letter—are required. If the accountant is merely assisting with bookkeeping services, AR-C 70 is not triggered, and compliance with the standard is not necessary.
If the accountant is only entering transactions into a general ledger and making journal entries, he is merely assisting with bookkeeping. Such assistance is often provided in an online bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks. If this is the only service provided, AR-C 70 is not applicable.
If the accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements and performs any of the following, then AR-C 70 applies.
As you can see, the preparation standard makes a distinction between:
Are there any other situations where AR-C 70 does not apply? Yes. The AICPA’s Center for Plain English Accounting addressed this question in the following question and answer:
Q: If financial statements are prepared by the accountant as a by-product of another engagement (for example, an engagement to prepare a tax return), is the accountant required to follow section 70 of SSARS No. 21 and include any special disclaimer or “no assurance” statement on those financial statements?
A: No. The accountant is only required to perform the preparation engagement in accordance with section 70 of SSARS No. 21 when engaged to prepare financial statements. Therefore, because the accountant was not engaged to prepare the financial statements, there is no requirement to include a statement on each page of the financial statements indicating that no assurance is provided on the financial statements.
The author requested that the AICPA define the word engaged. They responded that a client’s request for the preparation of financial statements service is the trigger for being “engaged.” In other words, a client’s request for the preparation of financial statements means we are “engaged,” provided we accept the work. Once the client makes the request, the accountant will create an engagement letter in compliance with AR-C 70.
If the client does not request the preparation of financial statements and the accountant creates the statements as a byproduct of another service (e.g., tax return), he is not subject to the requirements of AR-C 70.
So when is AR-C 70 applicable? When a public accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements.
The objective of the accountant is to prepare financial statements in accordance with the chosen reporting framework.
A compilation report from the accountant is not required (and should not be provided) when preparing financial statements under AR-C 70.
The accountant can prepare financial statements as directed by management or those charged with governance. The financials should be prepared using an acceptable reporting framework such as the following:
When preparing financial statements in accordance with a special purpose framework (e.g., tax basis), the accountant is required to include a description of the financial reporting framework either on the face of the financial statements or in a note. Here’s a sample disclosure in a financial statement title: Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Equity—Tax Basis.
Management determines the financial statements to be prepared. Financial statements normally include the following:
The accountant can, if so directed by management, create and issue just one financial statement (e.g., income statement).
The financial statements can be for an annual period or for a shorter or longer period. So, financial statements can be for a fiscal year, quarterly, or monthly, for example.
The accountant should also obtain an understanding of the significant accounting policies to be used in the preparation of the financial statements.
In preparing the financial statement, the accountant may need to assist management with judgements regarding amounts or disclosures. The accountant should discuss these judgments with management. Why? So management can understand and accept responsibility for the financial statements.
The accountant should prepare and retain the following documentation:
Documentation related to significant consultations or professional judgments are to be included in the engagement file. Also, if the accountant departs from a relevant presumptively mandatory requirement, he should document the justification for the departure and how the alternative procedures performed were sufficient to achieve the intent of the requirement. (The SSARSs use the word should to indicate a presumptively mandatory requirement.)
Is an engagement letter required for a preparation service? Yes. Moreover, the letter should be signed by the accountant or the firm and management or those charged with governance. A verbal understanding is not sufficient. Though AR-C 70 does not specify how often the engagement letter should be updated, it is best to do so annually.
The engagement letter should specify:
As noted above, no compilation report will be issued for a preparation service. The preparation service is considered a nonattest, nonassurance service, and no compilation, review, or audit procedures are required.
The accountant will do one of the following:
If the accountant uses the first option, wording such as the following should be included on each page of the financial statements (including the related notes):
Other statements can be used to communicate that no assurance is provided, but the minimum wording must include “No assurance is provided.” The “no assurance” wording is made at management’s discretion, and the accountant’s firm name is not required to be included. The wording is normally placed at the bottom of each page. If the client does not allow the accountant to include such a statement on each page of the financial statements, the accountant should:
If the disclaimer option is used, AR-C 70 provides the following language:
The accompanying financial statements of XYZ Company as of and for the year ended December 31, 20XX, were not subjected to an audit, review, or compilation engagement by me (us) and I (we) do not express an opinion, a conclusion, nor provide any assurance on them.
[Signature of accounting firm or accountant, as appropriate]
[Accountant’s city and state]
Though not required, the disclaimer can be placed on firm letterhead. Notice that the disclaimer language above has no disclaimer title. While the standard is silent about providing a title, the accountant may add one. For example, Accountant’s Disclaimer. A salutation is not required, but may be added.
Some accountants prefer to provide a disclaimer on letterhead. Why? Any third party reader can see that the accounting firm is involved in the preparation of the statements and that no assurance is provided.
A third party may not know that an external accountant was involved in preparing the statements if the “no assurance is provided” legend is used and the firm’s name is not included. Remember, however, it is the client’s decision as to whether the “no assurance” legend is added or a disclaimer is provided.
Preparation of financial statements is a nonattest, nonassurance service. When an accountant performs only a preparation engagement, consideration of independence is not necessary.
If an accountant signs client checks and performs bookkeeping services, independence is not required. Moreover, if the accountant prepares financial statements for the same client, independence is not required. Signing checks, bookkeeping, and the preparation of financial statements are all nonattest services.
But what happens if the accountant prepares financial statements and issues a compilation report?
Suppose an accountant issues monthly financial statements for January through November with no compilation report (using the preparation option), but in December issues financial statements with a compilation report. Providing the monthly preparation services and the December compilation service triggers a requirement to consider independence.
Just remember this for now: Independence is not required for preparation engagements, and there are no requirements to disclose a lack of independence in a preparation engagement.
Can the accountant omit all disclosures (notes to the financial statements) in a preparation engagement? Yes. Alternatively, the accountant can provide selected disclosures or if needed, full disclosure. In short, the accountant can do any of the following:
Regardless, the engagement letter should describe the level of disclosure to be provided in the financial statements. Also, the omission of substantially all disclosures should be communicated either on the face of the financial statements or in a selected note. There is no provision in the preparation standard to report the omission of disclosures in the accountant’s disclaimer that precedes the financial statements.
The accountant can communicate the omission of disclosures by including wording such as the following at the bottom of each financial statement page or in a note:
The accountant can also communicate the omission of disclosures in the title of the financial statements. For example:
Statement of Income
Substantially All Disclosures Omitted
December 31, 2020
Deficiencies in the information provided to the accountant should be communicated to management, and the inaccuracy or incompleteness of such information should be corrected. Deficiencies in the information include insufficient records, documents, explanations, and judgments.
How should a departure from the applicable financial reporting framework be reported? Discuss the departure with management to see if it can be corrected. If it is not corrected, disclose the departure. How?
A departure from the applicable financial reporting framework should be disclosed either on the face of the financial statements or in a note. If it takes more than a few words to describe the departure, note disclosure may be the better option—you’ll have more room there. There is no provision in the preparation standard to disclose departures in the accountant’s disclaimer that precedes the financial statements.
In addition to historical financial statements, AR-C 70 may be applied to the following:
AR-C 70 can be applied to prospective information.
Prospective financial information is defined as any financial information about the future.
Prospective financial information can be presented as:
If you prepare prospective financial information, the summary of significant assumptions must be included Why? It is considered essential to the user’s understanding of such information.
If you prepare a financial projection, you should not exclude:
AR-C 70 references the AICPA Guide Prospective Financial Information as suitable criteria for the preparation and presentation of prospective financial information.
Is it permissible to perform a preparation of financial statement engagement with regard to prescribed forms?
Yes. There is nothing in AR-C 70 that prohibits the accountant from performing a preparation engagement with regard to prescribed forms (e.g., bank personal financial statement). However, the accountant is required to follow all of the preparation guidance. Clients may not want to add wording to the prescribed forms such as “no assurance is provided” or “substantially all disclosures are omitted.” As an alternative to adding such wording, the accountant can provide a disclaimer before the prescribed form.
Selected notes can follow the form if needed. If this option is used, the order of the deliverable is as follows:
When a bank, credit union, regulatory or governmental agency, or other similar entity designs a prescribed form to meet its needs, there is a presumption that the required information is sufficient. What should be done if the prescribed form conflicts with the applicable basis of accounting? For example, what if the prescribed form requires all numbers to be in compliance with GAAP with the exception of receivables? Follow the form. In effect, the prescribed form is the reporting framework. Report departures from the prescribed form and its related instructions on the face of the financial statements (the form) or in a note.
The client may request a draft copy of the financial statements prior to final issuance. To avoid confusion, mark statements with words like:
Also, see my article Compilation Engagements: The SSARS Guidance.
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Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.
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