New PCAOB Guidance Re Auditor Communications With Audit Committee Concerning Independence – These Are Serious Discussions That Require Careful Analysis And Decision Making

On May 31, 2019, the PCAOB Staff issued Guidance entitled “Rule 3526(b) Communications with Audit Committees Concerning Independence.” The Guidance is written to help auditors with communications pertaining to the auditor’s independence or lack thereof; however, audit committee members also need to know what to expect and require from the organization’s auditor. The Staff also states that its Guidance might be useful to investors.

The following is a link to the Staff Guidance https://pcaobus.org/Standards/Documents/Staff-Guidance-Rule-3526(b)-Communications-Audit-Committee-Concerning-Independence.pdf, and the following is a link to the Staff Guidance with yellow and green highlights that I added plus two short comments Staff-Guidance-Rule-3526(b)-Communications-Audit-Committee-Concerning-Independence with Tate highlights-2. I added yellow highlights to the auditor’s primary responsibilities, which audit committee members also need to know and understand, and I added green highlights to certain provisions that pertain more to specific audit committee member requirements and matters that may also pertain to SEC or legal considerations.

As you know, the auditor’s independence is a key prerequisite underlying the audit. An audit committee oversees the appropriateness and engagement of the auditor and the performance of the audit. An audit committee member needs to know that the auditor is independent, and needs to know that prior to auditor engagement, during the audit planning, and throughout the audit. As the Guidance indicates, even if the Rule 3526 requirements are satisfied, that does not necessarily mean that the SEC or that the PCAOB or that a reasonable investor with knowledge of all relevant facts and circumstances would conclude that the auditor was capable of exercising objective and impartial judgment on all issues encompassed within the auditor’s engagement. Thus, depending on the circumstances, also consider whether consultation with the SEC or PCAOB is appropriate.

An audit committee member needs to discuss the auditor’s independence with the auditor, evaluate the auditor’s independence, and satisfy herself or himself that the auditor is appropriately independent (consider also, e.g., the business judgment rule). If an audit committee member has any concerns, uncertainties or unknowns, red flags, or doubts about the auditor’s independence, the committee member should consider seeking professional including legal help, advice and representation. Ultimately, the issue is whether under the circumstances it is appropriate to engage the auditor or to continue engaging the auditor, or to engage a new auditor.

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the new Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

The following are copies of the tables of contents of three of the more formal materials that I have written over the years about accounting/auditing, audit committees, and related legal topics – Accounting and Its Legal Implications was my first formal effort, which resulted in a published book that had more of an accounting and auditing focus; Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, for the California Continuing Education of the Bar has a more legal focus; and the most recent Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (February 2017) also has a more legal focus:

Accounting and Its Legal Implications

Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, CEB Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers

Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide

 

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

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A Few Comments About Going Concern Uncertainties, CAMs, Etc.

I don’t hear or see much in the news about disclosures about an entity’s going concern, but I have a feeling that this is going to become a bigger issue for certain public companies, their boards and audit committees, and their auditors. Evaluating going concern is a complicated topic – thus, in this post I am highlighting one aspect, but an important aspect. See, FASB ASU No. 2014-15, and subsequent materials relating thereto. I suspect that most people would conclude that evaluating a potential issue relating to going concern involves, or depending on the circumstances could involve, especially challenging, subjective, or complex auditor judgment – thus, potentially raising critical audit matters or CAMs. Click on the following link  https://wp.me/p75iWX-fr for a prior summary post about CAMs. I digress here for one comment: in regard to CAMs, one might ask, for example, “When are the circumstances of an auditor’s judgment simply ‘challenging’ v. ‘especially challenging’”?

Going concern can generally be defined as an evaluation of the entity’s expected ability to continue as an ongoing viable going concern business entity within one year after the date that its financial statements are issued (or within one year after the date that the financial statements are available to be issued, when applicable). Thus, for example, obviously for some business entities it can become a question of liquidity or liquid assets v. rate of cash burn. For the purpose of this post, I am looking at this issue only from an accounting/auditing viewpoint. Many other issues can arise, such as, for example, possible shareholder, investor, and creditor rights, and possible officer, director, and shareholder or majority shareholder liability relating thereto.

Now to the single point of this post, ASU No. 2014-15 provides that when evaluating conditions and events as to whether there is substantial doubt about an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, the “initial” evaluation does not take into consideration the potential effect of management’s plans that have not been fully implemented as of the date that the financial statements are issued (for example, the initial evaluation might not take into consideration plans to raise capital, borrow money, restructure debt, or dispose of an asset, that have been approved but that have not been fully implemented as of the date that the financial statements are issued). Again, I digress for one comment: in the above discussion, consider, for example, how to evaluate when a matter is “approved” v. “fully implemented.”

Importantly, I note, however, that later in the going concern evaluation process, mitigating factors should be taken into consideration including, for example, the probability that management’s plans will be effectively implemented within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued, and the probability that management’s plans, when implemented, will mitigate the relevant conditions or events that raise substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued. Thus, in the evaluation process there is a timing aspect to considering possible mitigating factors: first they are not considered, but subsequently they are considered including their probability of implementation and success. Obviously, the going concern evaluation can be or can become complicated.

With the development of CAMs, I am sensing that issues such as these will be discussed more in public and investor view.

Onward.

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the new Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

 

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

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PCAOB – Implementation of Critical Audit Matters Deeper Dive

As I discussed in a prior post re critical audit matters (Click Here), external auditors are required to include a discussion of critical audit matters in their audit opinion reports for large accelerated filers for audits of fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019, and for other public companies for audits of fiscal years ending on or after December 31, 2020. I expect that CAMs and the wording of CAMs will in some instances present or cause contentions between the external auditor on the one hand, and the audit committee, board, and executive officers on the other hand.

A Critical Audit Matter or CAM is defined as:

Any matter arising from the audit of the financial statements that was communicated or required to be communicated to the audit committee: and that:

  1. Relates to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements; and
  2. Involved especially challenging, subjective, or complex auditor judgment.

Thus, based on the above definition, simply determining whether a matter is a CAM could be a challenging issue.

For example, in any given audit situation consider:

-What matters were communicated, or were required to be communicated to the audit committee;

-Relating to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements; and

-Involved especially challenging, subjective, or complex auditor judgment?

The PCAOB has issued a more detailed and worthwhile discussion about critical audit matters and the reporting requirements that is entitled Implementation of Critical Audit Matters Deeper Dive. To view the paper, Click Here

In some circumstances critical audit matters will now become important topics for discussion. The Implementation of Critical Audit Matters Deeper Dive paper also identifies many uncertainties that are yet to be resolved relating to CAMs. Indeed, CAMs are principles based, and likely will vary from auditor to auditor based in part on the auditor’s objective, or subjective, evaluation and judgment. I note that the PCAOB’s paper provides a worthwhile discussion and many examples that should be studied. And the PCAOB also notes twice in the paper that they expect that most audits will include at least one or more CAM. And it should also be noted that the existence of a CAM should not automatically be thought of as a negative or detrimental item – it all depends on the nature of the CAM and how it is worded, as not all CAMs are equal.

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

 

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

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Tate – Business Judgment Rule Slides

The business judgment rule provides a director with a defense to personal liability, holding that as a general principle of law, a director, including a director who serves as a member of a board committee, who satisfies the business judgment rule has satisfied his or her duties, standard of care, or responsibilities. Thus, the business judgment rule provides one standard of care, although other standards may very well also apply to specific tasks and responsibilities, or in different circumstances. The business judgment rule provides a standard, and a good overall approach, for directors and audit committee members to follow, although the rule is somewhat lacking in specific detail. In some states the business judgment rule is codified by statute while in other states the rule is established by case law (see, i.e., Cal. Corp. Code §309 for California corporations, Del. Gen. Corp. Law §141 for Delaware corporations, in addition to relevant case law). The rule also applies to directors as board committee members. The business judgment rule also simply makes sense.

Also note that in California the business judgment rule is separately codified at Cal. Corp. Code §5231 for nonprofit public benefit corporations, and at Cal. Corp. Code §7231 for nonprofit mutual benefit corporations, and although those sections are in many respects similar to Cal. Corp. Code §309, the differences can be important.

Click on the following link for my Business Judgment Rule Slides (presented in pdf format): The Business Judgment Rule Slides. The slides are presented in two parts – the first part is focused on the business judgment rule from a mostly legal perspective (slides 1-14), whereas the second part is focused on a non-legal less formal perspective (slides 15-23).

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

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New April 2019, DOJ Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs – the word risk is used 49 times, the board 11 times, and the audit committee 2 times

I have provided below a link to the new 19-page, April 2019, DOJ Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs guidance. Obviously a tremendous number of law firms will be discussing and advising about this new guidance. I note that the term risk management is used only once in the document but the word risk or words associated with risk are used 49 times, board or board of directors are used 11 times, and audit committee is used twice. With respect to boards or boards of directors, and audit committees, the guidance is looking for oversight by a source that is autonomous from management, and for there to be a means to allow (or encourage) reporting to a source that is autonomous from management. But in that regard I note that autonomy from management can be a complicated issue as some board members might be involved in management, and other board members, although independent from management, might have conflicts or might not truly be independent such as because of relationships, or perceived alliances, influences, or pressures, or other possible situations.

Click on the following link for the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs guidance: DOJ – Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs April 2019, 

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

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New Musk / SEC Agreement – Will It Work? – Red Flags – If I Were The Judge

At this point most reasonable people would not dispute that Mr. Musk has difficulty wording his communications (tweets) in a manner that is acceptable or more likely to be acceptable under the securities laws. Greatly summarizing the law, ask yourself if the wording and information that Mr. Musk has communicated or is proposing to communicate is or would be (1) viewed as being material to the average investor, (2) vague puffery, (3) a statement or assertion of current fact, (4) a statement or assertion of forward-looking wording and information, or (5) a mixed combination of any of (1)-(4)?

Vague puffery should not be actionable. Information that is not “material” also should not be actionable; however, whether information is material (quantitatively or qualitatively) can be a slippery slope question of fact, and you might ask why Mr. Musk would be communicating the information if he did not consider the information to be important as to Tesla? Regarding (3), well . . . is the statement or assertion of current fact true and accurate as expressed? Regarding (4), well . . . even if the statement or assertion includes forward-looking warnings or disclaimers (which it should/must), is there a reasonable factual basis for making and believing the truth and accuracy of the forward-looking statement or assertion?

The players involved at least include Mr. Musk, the SEC, the Board, the Audit Committee, the Disclosure Controls Committee, and the new experienced securities attorney who is supposed to review, fix/modify, and authorize Mr. Musk’s communications before Mr. Musk makes them. Obviously, this has been, and will be a challenge for Ms. Musk. Presumably, he views Tesla and Tesla’s further future success, or not, as his creation, and rightly so. Mr. Musk has accomplished an amazing task thus far. But public companies have rules of communication that must be followed. And it is arguable that at this point his manner of communications might be hurting Tesla as much as they help. Assertions of current fact, and assertions of forward-looking statements certainly can be made, and it is arguable that they are supposed to be or at times must be made or disclosed, but they need to be made in an appropriate manner.

Where has the Board been in all of this? We don’t know, because the Board has not said. The Board is overall responsible for risk management.

These certainly are risk management, governance, and internal controls issues.

Where has the Audit Committee been in all of this? We don’t know, because the Audit Committee has not said. The Audit Committee Charter in part states that the Audit Committee assists the Board with oversight of the Company’s compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and also assists the Board with oversight of the Company’s risk management. The Charter further states that the Audit Committee also is involved in the oversight of internal controls and at least some of Tesla’s corporate communications.

Tesla also has a Disclosure Controls Committee. Where has the Disclosure Controls Committee been in all of this? We don’t know because the Disclosure Controls Committee has not said.

And, assuming that the Court approves the new Musk / SEC agreement, going forward where will then be the experienced securities attorney who is supposed to review, fix/modify, and authorize Mr. Musk’s communications before Mr. Musk makes them?

Thus far, oversight has not worked. And, there are red flags all over the place. Although Boards, and Board Committees (e.g., the Audit Committee), and in-house legal and compliance professionals usually are not personally liable for unlawful activities of the company or its officers, that is a changing environment, and cases also do hold that liability can attach when red flags are ignored or not remedied.

This is really easy to resolve if Mr. Musk wants to modify how he does his communications, as frustrating as that might be for him.

What will/should the Judge do? I would approve the new agreement, perhaps with a few minor changes. I would put in place a process for meet and confer between the parties, and then also quick Court involvement if there is a perceived new violation of the new agreement, and I would schedule a new status hearing in the not-to-distant future, such as 30 days.

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

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Forwarding a post by Eugene Fram – Nonprofit & Business Directors Must Be Vigilant – Board Liability Costs Could be $2.2 Million!

Below I have provided a link to a blog post by Eugene Fram. Eugene writes good materials for nonprofits. There have been rumblings for some time now about the possibility that a couple of states might start more actively overseeing nonprofits and their operations. And a few of the big players in the nonprofit community have suggested that more robust nonprofit governance might be beneficial. I ask that you click on the link below to Eugene’s post – although state action is unusual, the example situations that Eugene describes are less unusual. I am also updating my materials for nonprofit audit committees, which I will post soon.

Here is the link to Eugene’s post:  https://non-profit-management-dr-fram.com/2019/01/27/nonprofit-business-directors-must-be-vigilant-board-liability-costs-could-be-2-2-million-3/

Thanks for reading this post. If you have found value in this post, I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly. And please also subscribe to this blog and my other blog (see below), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Every case situation is different. You do need to consult with professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; D&O, audit committee, governance and risk management http://auditcommitteeupdate.com