Modified Audit Opinions: Determining Which is Appropriate

Options include qualified, disclaimer and adverse

You are performing an audit that has a material misstatement, and the client is unwilling to post the proposed audit adjustment. So, you are wondering, “how do I modify the opinion?”

First, let’s take a look at a summary of opinion options, and then we will review sample opinion language.

modified audit opinions

 

Opinion Modification Options

Opinion TypeCircumstance
QualifiedMaterial misstatement is not pervasive
AdverseMaterial misstatements are pervasive
DisclaimerSufficient audit evidence not available; potential material misstatements are pervasive
QualifiedSufficient audit evidence not available; potential material misstatement is not pervasive

Definitions

Before we explore potential opinions, let’s review relevant definitions included in AU-C 705:

Modified opinion. A qualified opinion, an adverse opinion, or a disclaimer of opinion

Pervasive. A term used in the context of misstatements to describe the effects on the financial statements of misstatements or the possible effects on the financial statements of misstatements, if any, that are undetected due to an inability to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence [my italics]. Pervasive effects on the financial statements are those that, in the auditor’s professional judgment:

  • are not confined to specific elements, accounts, or items of the financial statements;
  • if so confined, represent or could represent a substantial proportion of the financial statements; or
  • with regard to disclosures, are fundamental to users’ understanding of the financial statements.

Sample Modified Audit Opinions 

1. Qualified Opinion

Suppose your audit reveals inventories are materially misstated, the client will not record your proposed audit adjustment, and there are no other material misstatements. If this is your situation (a material misstatement exists that is not pervasive), then audit standards allow for the issuance of a qualified opinion.

The sample opinion language provided by AU-C 705 is as follows:

Basis for Qualified Opinion

The Company has stated inventories at cost in the accompanying balance sheets. Accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America require inventories to be stated at the lower of cost or market. If the Company stated inventories at the lower of cost or market, a write-down of $XXX and $XXX would have been required as of December 31, 20X1 and 20X0, respectively. Accordingly, cost of sales would have been increased by $XXX and $XXX, and net income, income taxes, and stockholders’ equity would have been reduced by $XXX, $XXX, and $XXX, and $XXX, $XXX, and $XXX, as of and for the years ended December 31, 20X1 and 20X0, respectively.

Qualified Opinion

In our opinion, except for the effects of the matter described in the Basis for Qualified Opinion paragraph, the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of ABC Company …

2. Adverse Opinion

Now let’s suppose that you are auditing a consolidated entity, and your client is not willing to include a material subsidiary and which, if included, would have a pervasive impact on the statements.

The sample opinion language provided by AU-C 705 is as follows:

Basis for Adverse Opinion

As described in Note X, the Company has not consolidated the financial statements of subsidiary XYZ Company that it acquired during 20X1 because it has not yet been able to ascertain the fair values of certain of the subsidiary’s material assets and liabilities at the acquisition date. This investment is therefore accounted for on a cost basis by the Company. Under accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, the subsidiary should have been consolidated because it is controlled by the Company. Had XYZ Company been consolidated, many elements in the accompanying consolidated financial statements would have been materially affected. The effects on the consolidated financial statements of the failure to consolidate have not been determined.

Adverse Opinion

In our opinion, because of the significance of the matter discussed in the Basis for Adverse Opinion paragraph, the consolidated financial statements referred to above do not present fairly the financial position of ABC Company and its subsidiaries as of …

3. Disclaimer of Opinion

Finally, let’s suppose you are performing an audit in which insufficient audit information is provided with regard to receivables and inventories (both of which are material) and that the misstatements have a pervasive impact on the financial statements as a whole.

The sample opinion language provided by AU-C 705 is as follows:

Basis for Disclaimer of Opinion

We were not engaged as auditors of the Company until after December 31, 20X1, and, therefore, did not observe the counting of physical inventories at the beginning or end of the year. We were unable to satisfy ourselves by other auditing procedures concerning the inventory held at December 31, 20X1, which is stated in the balance sheet at $XXX. In addition, the introduction of a new computerized accounts receivable system in September 20X1 resulted in numerous misstatements in accounts receivable. As of the date of our audit report, management was still in the process of rectifying the system deficiencies and correcting the misstatements. We were unable to confirm or verify by alternative means accounts receivable included in the balance sheet at a total amount of $XXX at December 31, 20X1. As a result of these matters, we were unable to determine whether any adjustments might have been found necessary in respect of recorded or unrecorded inventories and accounts receivable, and the elements making up the statements of income, changes in stockholders’ equity, and cash flows.

Disclaimer of Opinion

Because of the significance of the matters described in the Basis for Disclaimer of Opinion paragraph, we have not been able to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence to provide a basis for an audit opinion. Accordingly, we do not express an opinion on these financial statements.

Resolving Conflict with Clients

If, as described above, you have a client that is unwilling to post a material audit adjustment, consider creating a draft of the opinion and providing it to them. This is not a threat, just a clear way to communicate the effect of not posting the adjustment. 

Before doing anything, allow the client to fully explain their position. There is no profit in upsetting a client with needless talk about a modified opinion, if they are correct (and I am wrong). But after the discussion, if the auditor is still convinced there is a material misstatement, a modified opinion may be necessary.

Research

Deciding on the opinion is often the most important decision you will make in an audit. So, do your research, and, if needed, consult with others to gain assurance about your decisions. 

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