What does the market expect of audit committees? Michael Coleman at the joint IGAP & CPA Australia Annual Forum.

Featured

MC picWhat does the market expect of audit committees? Increasingly, ‘everything’, Michael Coleman told the Annual Forum, held in October, 2014.

The joint IGAP and CPA Australia Annual Forum gathers leaders from industry, the accounting profession and academia to address key issues in contemporary governance and performance.

This year’s topic – ‘The  evolving role of audit committees’ – explored how audit committees are responding to rapidly evolving risks, liability, technological advancements and complexity in reporting, among a myriad of other challenges.

Coleman was Chair of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), sits on a number of prestigious boards and has also had 30 years as an audit partner. He used his keynote address to highlight a potential expectations gap between what markets expect of audit committees and what directors can reasonably deliver.

Coleman highlighted several key challenges that audit committees are facing:

  • Changing expectations of regulators and the market; for example, that audit committees should be satisfied that auditors are doing their job or commenting on financial reviews;
  • A greater focus on risk; and
  • The proliferation of reports (e.g. Integrated Reporting).

A particular difficulty Coleman highlighted is the expectations for audit committees to form a judgement on audit quality:

“So whether it’s a good audit or not a good audit is a tough one and this is something that as audit committees we’re probably going to have to take a reasonable amount of time to consider.”

“We need to question amongst other things whether or not the auditor has been sufficiently sceptical. Now, how does an auditor demonstrate to the board that they’ve been sceptical?”

Coleman also highlighted how Australia has to some extent followed the United States trend of increasing the responsibilities of audit committees:

“In particular in my experience it’s become common for audit committees to approve fees over a certain level in relation to non-audit services provided by the auditor and audit committees have taken on a far more extensive role in relation to overseeing the financials.”

However, unlike in the United States, Australia still sees the audit committee as a sub-committee of the board:

“It’s not a separate creature, it’s not a separate animal and so therefore, and especially following Centro, we have the situation where boards, very, very rigorously in my experience, are actually as a whole considering the financials.

“The audit committee might look at the detail, but then the board as a whole still wishes to satisfy itself that it’s actually doing the right thing.”

Finally, Coleman observed how the expectations on audit committees would continue to evolve in the future with the release of a new auditing reporting standard in June 2016, which “will require the auditor’s report to include commentary on their key audit matters”. The new standards are likely to some interesting discussions, and to some changes to the dynamic of the relationship between the auditor and audit committee.

Audit, Aristotle and the Clean Energy Regulator

The Clean Energy regulator used its Annual Audit and Assurance Workshops held earlier this year to emphasise the importance of audit to the agency. This including having two members of the regulator – Annie T. Brown and Michael D’Ascenzo – as keynote speakers to ‘reinforce the point that the Clean Energy Regulator takes its audit functions very seriously’.

IGAP’s Prof. Nonna Martinov-Bennie, who also sits on the Australian Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AUASB), was also a keynote speaker.

Prof. Nonna Martinov-Bennie presented on the key audit concept of ‘professional scepticism’. The presentation was based on in-depth interviews with senior audit practitioners, and covered a number of aspects of professional scepticism and their practical implications. Prof Martinov-Bennie also highlighted the apparently conflicting views of audit scepticism as a relatively fixed character trait, but also a ‘skill’ that can be trained over time.

The presentation introduced an ‘Aristotelian’ idea of professional scepticism – developed in collaboration with A/Prof Dyball and Dr Dale Tweedie – which shows how these seemingly contradictory elements of audit scepticism might be resolved. Far from being simply ‘academic’, Prof. Martinov-Bennie outlined important practical implications of understanding audit scepticism in this way.

Prof. Martinov-Bennie and A/Prof Dyball also presented their research findings at the ICAA academic leadership series. Slides of both presentations are available below:

Clean Energy Regulator Presentation >

< ICAA Academic Series >

For more information on this research and analysis, contact: nonna.martinov-bennie@mq.edu.au