Steering Past Hostile Internal Audit Environments | Internal Audit 360

I have provided below a link to a fairly detailed discussion about internal audit situations or scenarios which can be or that become hostile, and possible actions to defuse those situations. This is a worthwhile discussion – I have heard from internal auditors for years about contentious or hostile situations, which also can be a natural outgrowth or occurrence at times in light of the nature of the services that internal auditors perform and the situations that they audit.

Similar to conduct during the performance of an outside independent audit, senior management, the board, and/or the audit committee should evaluate the internal audit environment with internal audit, senior management, and other people who are involved, and take action in situations were it is necessary. I have previously written that audit committee members often must at least in part rely on other people to help the audit committee members to perform their diligence and oversight responsibilities – internal audit is one resource that can be instrumental in that regard – an inappropriate internal audit environment is detrimental to internal audit as a resource and to internal audit’s assistance to the audit committee members, senior management, and the board directors.

Here is the link to the Internal Audit 360 discussion: https://internalaudit360.com/steering-past-hostile-internal-audit-environments/

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Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. 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 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.

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

I am also the 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

My law practice primarily involves the following areas and issues:

Probate Court Disputes and Litigation

  • Trust and estate disputes and litigation, and contentious administrations representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries; elder abuse; power of attorney disputes; elder care and nursing home abuse; conservatorships; claims to real and personal property; and other related disputes and litigation.

Business and Business-Related Disputes and Litigation: Private, Closely Held, and Family Businesses; Public Companies; and Nonprofit Entities

  • Business v. business disputes including breach of contract; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices; fraud, deceit and misrepresentation; unfair competition; licensing agreements, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; etc.
  • Misappropriation of trade secrets
  • M&A disputes
  • Founder, officer, director and board, investor, shareholder, creditor, VC, control, governance, decision making, fiduciary duty, conflict of interest, independence, voting, etc., disputes
  • Buy-sell disputes
  • Funding and share dilution disputes
  • Accounting, lost profits, and royalty disputes and damages
  • Access to corporate and business records disputes
  • Employee, employer and workplace disputes and processes, discrimination, whistleblower and retaliation, harassment, defamation, etc.

Investigations and Governance

  • Corporate and business internal investigations
  • Board, audit committee and special committee governance and processes, disputes, conflicts of interest, independence, culture, ethics, etc.

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

The following are other summary materials that you might find useful:

An internal investigation summary overview page from a prior blog post which you can find at https://wp.me/p75iWX-dk if the below scan is too difficult to read (and you will also find other posts about investigations on my blog):

 

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

 

AUDIT COMMITTEE SELF-EVALUATION

David W. Tate

Attorney at Law

Certified Public Accountant (inactive California)

Copyright 2019 David W. Tate (however, you are authorized to download and print these materials for your use, and to also pass them to other people who would be interested)

BLOGS

D&O, Audit Committees, Risk Management, Compliance, Investigations & Governance: http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

Trust, Estate, Conservatorship & Elder Abuse Litigation: http://californiaestatetrust.com

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/davetateesq

Twitter: http://twitter.com/davidtateesq

Self-evaluation is an important board and committee activity, and can be very helpful if done properly.

A.  Introduction and Overview

The following discussion covers audit committee self-evaluation and provides processes that you can use. As noted elsewhere in these materials, although many board and audit committee functions, responsibilities and tasks are specified by statute, regulation, rule or pronouncement, board and audit committee member standards of care remain significantly dependent on due diligence and prudent judgment.

Boards and audit committees of various entities are required by law, regulation or rule to conduct annual committee self-evaluations; however, it is worthwhile for boards and audit committees of all public and private companies and nonprofit entities to conduct self-evaluations. Board and audit committee jobs are challenging, ongoing, and technical in nature, and require the members to significantly interact with many people in different capacities within and outside of the entity. It only makes sense that both boards and audit committees should at least once each year take time to step back and review, evaluate and make improvements to their manners of operation, and also consider helpful actions that can be taken by other people with whom the boards and audit committees interact. Self-evaluation will be worthwhile even if it results in improving only one area of operation.

Board and audit committee responsibilities originate from several different sources at least including (1) activities and responsibilities that boards or audit committees voluntarily undertake or that are delegated to them; (2) the business judgment rule; (3) the specific laws, regulations and rules that are applicable to the entity’s directors and audit committee members; (4) the wording of the board and audit committee charters, if there are charters; (5) shareholder and stakeholder expectations, and (6) for audit committees, accounting and auditing pronouncements relating to the outside auditor’s activities.

Prudent board and audit committee processes and diligence are also important to reduce member and entity liability and reputation risk. An increasing number of cases hold that board and audit committee members can be liable for failure to exercise sufficient diligence, failure to spot and respond to red flags, and failure to take action. Active board, committee and corporate diligence tend to demonstrate prudent business judgment and negate allegations of recklessness, improper intent, intentional wrongdoing, or “scienter” such as in the context of securities litigation, thus reducing the risk of securities liability and damages. In the context of audit committee activities, potential entity, board, and audit committee member liability typically arises in the context of alleged improper accounting practices, written and oral public misrepresentations (such as with respect to financial matters), and improper employment practices.

Although not required, there can be advantages to having a facilitator conduct an interactive interview approach to the self-evaluation process, but without performance grading or rating: it can be difficult to construct a questionnaire with standardized questions that would be similarly understood by each of the participants in the self-evaluation process; different people use different rating scales; different people express responses in different manners; and certain important issues will change from year to year. A facilitated approach may encourage better discussion and comment, compilation, continuity, explanation, and follow-up. Contact me if you are interested in committee self-evaluation assistance at a reasonable fixed fee.

Issues and topic areas to consider during the self-evaluation process will naturally vary from entity to entity, and from board and audit committee to board and audit committee. Thus, to stimulate discussion, below for both boards and audit committees I have provided lists of potential broad issues or topic areas to consider for discussion and evaluation, including both successes and possible improvements; and I have also outlined processes to assist your board and audit committee self-evaluation processes.

B.  Audit Committee Self-Evaluation

1.  Sample List of Issues and Topics to Consider for Audit Committee Self-Evaluation

The following is a list of issues and topic areas to consider for discussion and evaluation. The list is intended to help trigger thought processes, but, of course, is not exhaustive as areas of discussion and evaluation will vary from entity to entity, and from committee to committee. The following list is not intended to and does not suggest that each or any of the below issues and topics must be considered or covered and is not a checklist – instead, if your audit committee is required to conduct a specific evaluation process or to cover certain specific issues and topics, you will need to separately consider the specific requirements, if any, for your audit committee and its evaluation process pursuant to law, regulation or rule. In that regard, please also see the disclaimer and limitations at the beginning of these materials.

-Audit committee meeting agenda preparation and dissemination process.

-Committee member independence and situational independence, financial literacy, experience and expertise.

-Committee member access to information and/or education pertinent to the functions and responsibilities of the audit committee. Are the needs of the committee members being met, so that they are sufficiently knowledgeable and educated about the company or nonprofit and its industry; relevant significant accounting and auditing issues; relevant legal matters; internal controls, risk assessment and management; governance; and new developments in those and other areas?

-Committee and committee member interactions, including interaction between committee members, and between the committee and the board, the CEO, the CFO, the outside auditor, the internal auditor, legal counsel, compliance and ethics, HR, consultants, and other people.

-The committee’s processes for identifying and spotting issues, evaluation and decision making.

-The contents of the audit committee charter, and a mutual understanding of the audit committee’s responsibilities and tasks. The charter is a requirement for public companies, and is a good idea for many private companies and nonprofit entities. The charter is a prudent document to identify and clarify the audit committee’s responsibilities. In addition to the committee itself, it is important for the board, the executive officers, and other stakeholders to have a correct understanding about the committee’s responsibilities and limitations, and the extent to which state or local jurisdiction, U.S. and international requirements and responsibilities apply or may apply to your audit committee.

-Selection of the outside auditor; audit planning; review of the performance of the outside auditor; and review of the quarterly review and annual audit report and process (or compilation if appropriate).

-Review of recent developments relating to the business judgment rule, standard of care and acceptable reliance on other people.

-Review of accounting and financial internal and fraud/embezzlement related controls and processes, risk assessment and management, possible entity and individual liability and reputation risk exposure; and compliance assessment and management relating to laws, regulations, and rules that are within the scope of the audit committee’s functions and responsibilities including issues relating to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

– Review of the accounting department, and accounting and financial reporting for transactions including all of the subcomponents such as principles and policies applied (quality not just acceptability); judgments, estimates and reserves; timing and cutoff procedures; off balance sheet transactions; related party transactions; contingencies and liabilities; revenue recognition; expenses; inventories; goodwill; insider trading; and other matters relating to accounting and financial statement reports.

-Implementing revenue recognition rules, and other important, new or changing accounting principles.

-Review of internal investigation processes, procedures and needs.

-Review of the financial and internal audit functions, and how they can be helpful to the audit committee in the performance of its responsibilities and tasks.

-Review of risk management and uncertainty issues, practices and processes that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Implementing COSO 2013 or other appropriate processes.

-Documenting and reporting the audit committee’s activities and minutes.

-The audit committee’s use of attorneys and consultants.

-The company’s investor communication processes.

-Whistleblower, ethics, anonymous reporting and complaint handling processes to the extent that the reporting is within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Document retention policies.

-Review of the compliance and ethics function and processes that are within the scope of the audit committee’s responsibilities, and how they can be helpful to the audit committee in the performance of its responsibilities and tasks.

-Governance, including tone at the top, financial leadership, transparency and appearance.

-Review of employer, employee and workplace processes, culture, safety, and disciplinary practices that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of tax compliance and reporting issues that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of cybersecurity and internet security issues that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Insurance.

-Review of pension and health plan related issues that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of information privacy issues, practices and processes that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of asset protection, IP, trade secret, etc. practices to the extent that they are within the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of environmental issues and safety that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of product and consumer safety issues, practices and processes that are within the scope of the audit committee’s function and responsibilities.

-Review of ESG, ESG processes, and ESG discussions and disclosures.

-Review of billing and accounting relating to the receipt of funds or revenue from governmental sources such as Medicare and Medicaid; compliance with applicable laws, regulations, rules and other requirements; and oversight of expenses relating to these areas.

-Review of the acceptance, receipt, allocation, expenditure or distribution, and accounting for all charitable and donor funds, grants, contributions, pledges and other resources, including compliance with all requirements, restrictions and special uses.

-Review of accounting for collaboration and joint venture arrangements, including the allocation of receipts/income and distributions/expenses between the entities.

-And, in this economic environment, review of the fair value of funds and investments, including loss of value; liquidity concerns; possible going concern issues; estimates for uncollectibles and related reserves; debt/loan covenants; and funding source uncertainties including those that relate to collaboration and joint venture arrangements.

-It is also important for the audit committee to clarify with the board what responsibilities it has, if any, for oversight of the numerous and various areas of taxation and compliance; ERISA, pension and health and welfare plans; investments; tax exempt status including fund raising, dues, solicitation, and political, campaign and lobby activities; and other areas significant to the entity.

-Discussion about audit committee membership and recruitment needs.

-Additional significant topics or issues that should be discussed.

2.  A Self-Evaluation Process and Format for Audit Committees

The following eight primary steps outline a proposed audit committee self-evaluation process that is workable for audit committees of public companies, private companies and nonprofit entities, whether using or not using, an outside facilitator.

 

Step 1. Determine the people who will be participating in the evaluation process, including the audit committee members, and other people, if any, to interview for comment.

Provide the names of the people who will participate in the evaluation process.

 

 

Step 2. Determine how the participant interviews will be conducted, individually or in a group, in person or by telephone, skype or some other means.

Provide comments or information about how the interviews will be handled with the various different people who will participate in the evaluation.

 

 

Step 3. Arrange participant individual or group interview dates and times.

Provide participant individual or group interview date and time information.

 

 

Step 4. Provide the participants with pre-interview materials and a list of possible issue or topic areas (broad and specific) for consideration and discussion. Of course, the participants can add additional issues or topics. Use this paper for that purpose.

Provide information regarding the status of disseminating the pre-interview materials.

 

 

Step 5. Have each participant provide a list of one to five, or more, issues or topic areas that the participant would specifically like to discuss during the evaluation process.

Provide comments and information regarding receipt of issues or topic areas from the self-evaluation process participants, and the respective issues or topic areas listed.

 

 

Step 6. Conduct information intake or interviews with participants individually or as a group.

Provide comments and information from the participants or the status of such – the input can be made by the participants themselves or by a facilitator during self-evaluation interviews.

 

 

Step 7. Summarize in a report format the issues and topic areas, information received, and suggestions made during the self-evaluation process.

Provide a summary in a report format.

 

 

Step 8. Provide a report back to the audit committee, and possibly conduct a committee group review of the self-evaluation process, information obtained, and suggestions made, and possible future actions or follow-up.

Provide additional comments and information about the self-evaluation process or results.

 

 

Concluding comments. I hope you have found this discussion helpful and at least a good starting point for your audit committee self-evaluation. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in discussing the audit committee self-evaluation process, or if you would like help with facilitation of committee self-evaluation at a reasonable fixed fee.

Best to you,

David Tate, Esq.

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Discussions About The New COSO ERM Framework And Related Topics

By: David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, Northern and Southern California (Silicon Valley/Menlo Park Office) http://rroyselaw.com/

I have pasted below four links in which the authors discuss enterprise risk management (ERM) and risk management, the new COSO ERM framework, and some aspects of internal audit.

I appreciate what the authors are discussing; however, my preference would have been to have more defined tasks or requirements in the new COSO ERM framework (I use the word “requirements” broadly because generally there is no mandated risk management framework that must be followed, although for some industries and businesses there are some risk management requirements that are mandated by law and which must be followed).

It is clear that whatever risk management framework or process a business uses will remain largely discretionary based on the business judgment of management and the board, and that in fact might be better for possible liability purposes; however, it is my belief that people and businesses usually will implement policies or processes or procedures (other than, for example, for how to design, develop and manufacturer a product or service that they provide) if they are required to follow or adopt certain specific requirements by law, statute, regulation, or rule, or perhaps as required by the expectations of the community or stakeholders. That having been said, we are where we are on this. And it is now also generally accepted (and in some instances mandated) that a business will adopt and implement risk management, the board will oversee risk management, sometimes audit committees and/or risk committees are required to be involved in or oversee risk management, and in some businesses the board will delegate risk management oversight to a committee of the board, to the extent that risk oversight can be delegated (I would maintain that the board still must oversee risk management with the help of the committee and that the board cannot delegate its overall responsibility to oversee risk management).

In my view, the components and principles outlined in the new COSO ERM framework are essentially only broad in nature, which allows for each business to decide how to design and implement, etc., enterprise risk management based on the business judgment of management and the board of that particular business, in light of the business’ mission, core values, business objectives, strategies, and views and evaluations of related risks.

Let me also say this, I do appreciate that the first of the five core components in the new COSO ERM framework is Governance and Culture, and that the fifth of the five components is Information, Communication, and Reporting which also includes principle 19 (Communicates Risk Information) and principle 20 (Reports on Risk, Culture, and Performance). I believe that including governance, culture, communication and reporting (if they are adopted – remember, no specific framework is mandated) will help to move ERM and risk management to a more visible position. And, it is my belief, based on recent business, nonprofit, and governmental entity shortcomings and failures, that governance, culture, communication and reporting need to be moved more front and center. In fact, COSO listed governance and culture as the first of the five core components because governance and culture can be central to the entirety of the entity’s ERM.

The following are the links to the four enterprise risk management, etc., discussions that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, and below those links I have copied and pasted from my September 7, 2017, post in which I discussed the new COSO ERM framework and which you can also read at http://wp.me/p75iWX-aQ 

The following are the links to the four additional discussions:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/254243/posts/1619082863

https://iaonline.theiia.org/2017/Pages/COSO-ERM-Getting-Risk-Management-Right.aspx

https://normanmarks.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/should-you-adopt-the-updated-coso-erm-framework-my-assessment/

https://www.protiviti.com/US-en/insights/bulletin-vol6-issue8?utm_medium=social&utm_source=ProSocial

COSO ERM Framework – Enterprise Risk Management – Integrating with Strategy and Performance (five components, and twenty principles)

I.  Governance and Culture Component:

Supporting Principles:

  1. Exercises Board Risk Oversight
  2. Establishes Operating Structures
  3. Defines Desired Culture
  4. Demonstrates Commitment to Core Values
  5. Attracts, Develops, and Retains Capable Individuals

II.  Strategy and Objective-Setting Component:

  1. Analyzes Business Context
  2. Defines Risk Appetite
  3. Evaluates Alternative Strategies
  4. Formulates Business Objectives

III.  Performance Component:

  1. Identifies Risk
  2. Assesses Severity of Risk
  3. Prioritizes Risks
  4. Implements Risk Responses
  5. Develops Portfolio View

IV.  Review and Revision Component:

  1. Assesses Substantial Change
  2. Reviews Risk and Performance
  3. Pursues Improvement in Enterprise Risk Management

V.  Information, Communication, and Reporting Component:

  1. Leverages Information and Technology
  2. Communicates Risk Information
  3. Reports on Risk, Culture, and Performance

Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) and internal controls work together and should complement each other. The following is the broad outline of the COSO 2013 Internal Control Framework.

Sarbanes-Oxley section 404 requires public company management and its external auditors to attest to the design and operating effectiveness of a company’s internal control over external financial reporting. Internal controls should also be designed and implemented for private company, nonprofit and governmental entities.

COSO 2013 Internal Control Framework – 5 Components, and 17 Principles

1.  Control Environment Component:

Mandatory Principles

  1. Demonstrate commitment to integrity and ethical values.
  2. Board of directors demonstrates independence from management and exercises oversight of the development and performance of internal control.
  3. Management establishes, with board oversight, structures and reporting lines and appropriate authorities and responsibilities in the pursuit of objectives.
  4. Demonstrate commitment to attract, develop and retain competent individuals in alignment with objectives.
  5. Hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities in the pursuit of objectives.

2.  Risk Assessment Component:

Mandatory Principles

  1. Specify objectives with sufficient clarity to enable the identification and assessment of risks relating to objectives.
  2. Identify risks to the achievement of its objectives across the entity and analyze risks as a basis for determining how the risks should be managed.
  3. Consider the potential for fraud in assessing risks to the achievement of objectives.
  4. Identify and assess changes that could significantly impact the system of internal control.

3.  Control Activities Component:

Mandatory Principles

  1. Select and develop control activities that contribute to the mitigation of risks to the achievement of objectives and acceptable levels.
  2. Select and develop general control activities over technology to support the achievement of objectives.
  3. Deploy control activities through policies that establish what is expected and procedures that put policies into action.

4.  Information & Communication Component:

Mandatory Principles

  1. Obtain or generate and use relevant, quality information to support the functioning of internal control.
  2. Internally communicate information, including objectives and responsibilities for internal control, necessary to support the functioning of internal control.
  3. Communicate with external parties regarding matters affecting the functioning of internal control.

5.  Monitoring Activities Component:

Mandatory Principles

  1. Select, develop and perform ongoing and/or separate evaluations to ascertain whether the components of internal control are present and functioning.
  2. Evaluate and communicate internal control deficiencies in a timely manner to those parties responsible for taking corrective action, including senior management and the board of directors, as appropriate.

The Business Judgment Rule

The business judgment rule also is relevant on these topics (from Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide). 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. Thus, the business judgment rule provides one standard of care, although other standards may very well also apply to specific tasks and responsibilities. The business judgment rule provides a very good overall approach for directors and audit committee members to follow, although the rule itself is 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

In summary, as a general principle the business judgment rule provides that a director should undertake his or her duties:

-In good faith, with honesty and without self-dealing, conflict or improper personal benefit;

-In a manner that the director reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and its shareholders; and

-With the care, including reasonable inquiry, that an ordinarily prudent person in a like position with like expertise would use under similar circumstances. The rule itself doesn’t require a particular level of expertise, knowledge or understanding; however, as you might be aware, public company audit committee members do have such a requirement, and you can at least argue that, depending on the facts and circumstances, a board or committee member should have or should obtain a certain unspecified level of knowledge or understanding to be sufficiently prepared to ask questions, evaluate information provided, and make decisions.

Reliance Upon Other People Under the Business Judgment Rule

In the course and scope of performing his or her duties, a director must necessarily obtain information from and rely upon other people. An independent director is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. The director provides an oversight function. Pursuant to the business judgment rule, a director is entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, prepared or presented by any of the following:

-Officers or employees of the corporation whom the director reasonably believes to be reliable and competent in the relevant matters;

-Legal counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters that the director reasonably believes are within the person’s professional or expert competence; or

-A committee of the board on which the director does not serve, as to matters within that committee’s designated authority, so long as the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry as warranted by the circumstances, and without knowledge that would cause reliance to be unwarranted.

David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, California (Silicon Valley/Menlo Park office), with additional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County, http://rroyselaw.com/

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