Group Financial Statement Audits: An Overview

When do the group audit standards apply?

Do you audit financial statements that contain subsidiaries or equity method investments? Then the group audit standards apply, even if you audit all components. Peer reviewers are looking for the required group audit documentation, and they, in many cases, are not seeing what they should.

Audits of Group Financial Statements (AU-C 600) provides guidance for group audits. This article gives an overview of those standards.

Group Audits

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When is AU-C 600 Applicable?

AU-C 600 applies whenever there is an audit of group financial statements (meaning financial statements that include the financial information of more than one component). A component is an entity or business activity whose financial statements are required to be included in the group financial statements under the applicable reporting framework (e.g., U.S. GAAP).

AU-C 600 does apply even if a firm audits all of the components that comprise consolidated financial statements.

What is a Component?

A component includes:

  • Subsidiary
  • Joint venture
  • Division of a company
  • Geographic or functional activity (e.g., program in a not-for-profit organization)
  • Equity-method investment

Why the Group Audit Standard?

When there are multiple components audited by different firms, the risk of error–specifically, an incorrect opinion–increases. AU-C 600 decreases this risk by providing the group audit firm with guidance for group audit situations. Here are a couple of examples where the group audit standards are in play.

Consider, for example, a group audit in which a significant unaudited subsidiary is located in California, but the parent company is in Georgia. Since the subsidiary is not audited, the group auditor does not have the option to reference another audit firm (see below). Nevertheless, he has to obtain audit evidence to support the group audit opinion. The group auditor might direct a California-based audit firm to perform certain audit procedures and provide the results. These procedures provide audit evidence for the group audit opinion.

Likewise, if the California subsidiary is audited, AU-C 600 provides the group auditor with the ability to get the information necessary to render an appropriate audit opinion. In this instance, the component auditor issues an opinion on the California subsidiary, and the group auditor can rely on that work. There is no need for the group auditor to request certain procedures of the California audit team. The group audit firm communicates with the component audit firm concerning issues such as materiality, competence, and independence.

The Auditing Standards Board created AU-C 600 to give the group audit firm and partner the resources and information to get things right.  

When multiple firms audit various components, the group auditor can assume responsibility for the related audits or he can reference the component audit firm in his audit opinion.

The Big Decision: Referencing Another Audit Firm

While AU-C 600 applies to group audits when the same firm audits all components, it also applies when the group auditor does not audit a component–for example, the group audit firm audits the parent company and another audit firm audits a subsidiary (a component).

The group engagement partner (the partner responsible for the group audit) will decide if he or she will make reference to the component auditor. An example opinion can be seen here

If reference is made, the auditing standards state:

  1. The auditor’s report on the group financial statements should clearly indicate that the component was not audited by the auditor of the group financial statements but was audited by the component auditor.
  2. The group auditor’s report should also communicate the magnitude of the component audited by the component auditor.

If reference is not made, then the group audit firm is responsible for the full audit and related audit evidence. 

The group auditor has the option to name or not name the component audit firm. Typically the group audit firm will not name the component audit firm, but will reference the other firm with opinion language such as “those statements were audited by other auditors.”

Requirements for Referencing a Component Auditor

The group auditor can make reference to the component auditor only if the following is true:

  1. The component auditor must meet independence requirements 
  2. The group audit team must not have serious concerns about whether the component auditors will understand and comply with ethical requirements (including independence)
  3. The group audit team must not have serious concerns about the component audit team’s professional competence
  4. The component financial statements must be presented using the same financial reporting framework as the group financial statements
  5. The component auditor must audit the component in accordance with GAAS (or when required, PCAOB standards)
  6. The component auditor’s report must not be restricted as to use

Requirements to Communicate with Component Auditor 

Regardless of whether reference is made, the group audit team should obtain an understanding of the following:

  1. Whether a component auditor understands and will comply with the ethical requirements that are relevant to the group audit and, in particular, is independent
  2. A component auditor’s professional competence
  3. The extent, if any, to which the group engagement team will be able to be involved in the work of the component auditor
  4. Whether the group engagement team will be able to obtain information affecting the consolidation process from a component auditor
  5. Whether a component auditor operates in a regulatory environment that actively oversees auditors

Peer Review

The group audit standards are in the crosshairs of peer reviews, so make sure your audit documentation (especially your planning documents) is appropriate.

Do the Group Audit Standards Apply When Only One Firm Audits Consolidated Financial Statements?

Understanding when the group audit standards apply and the related documentation requirements

Do the group audit standards apply when one firm audits all of the entities comprising a consolidated whole?

Yes.

You say, “confusing.” I say, “I agree.”

The confusion–at least for me–lies in the pre-clarity auditing standard, AU 543, Part of Audit Performed by Other Independent Auditors, which focused on who was performing the audit. The clarity standard, AU-C 600 Special Considerations — Audits of Group Financial Statements, focuses on what is being audited. The word group (as applied to the group audit standards) does not mean more than one auditor.

Regarding applicability (of the group audit standards), we look at the entities and business activities being audited rather than how many audit firms are involved. We used to focus on the interaction with other auditors; now we focus on the risks associated with the group financial statements.

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The picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com.

Group Audit Standards When There is Only One Audit Firm

The AICPA’s Technical Questions and Answers (8800.24) says the following about the applicability of AU-C Section 600 (Audits of Group Financial Statements) when only one engagement team is involved:

Inquiry—Company X consolidates the operations of Entity A. The same group engagement team that audits Company X also audits Entity A. Because only one engagement team is involved, does AU-C section 600 apply? If so, what does AU-C Section 600 require that is not already covered by other auditing standards?

ReplyAU-C section 600 applies to all audits of group financial statements, which are financial statements that contain more than one component. In the circumstances when the same engagement team audits all components of the group, the considerations addressed in AU-C Section 600 that relate to component auditors are not relevant. However, considerations addressed in AU-C section 600, such as understanding the components; identifying components that are significant due to individual financial significance and the significant risk of material misstatement; determining component materiality; understanding the consolidation process; and addressing the risks, including aggregation risk, of material misstatement in the group financial statements; are relevant in all group audits.

What does this mean?

If your firm audits consolidated financial statements, then the group audit standards apply, and you do need to comply with certain provisions (even though your firm audits all entities included in the consolidation). Consequently, you have some additional documentation requirements. Your audit file should contain the following documentation:

  • Your understanding of the components
  • Your identification of significant components (due to financial significance or risk)
  • Component materiality
  • Your understanding of the consolidation process
  • How you plan to address the identified risk of material misstatement (including aggregation risk)

Group Financial Statements

What are group financial statements? They are statements that include the financial information of more than one component.

Here are examples of components:

  • Subsidiaries
  • Geographical locations
  • Divisions
  • Investments (equity method)
  • Products or services
  • Component units of a state or local government

You can see from these examples of components, the concept of group financial statements is broader than that of consolidated or combined financial statements.

The idea behind the group audit standards is to highlight the risk of material misstatement whether at the group level or a lower level. If for example, a component is not financially significant but it has particularly risky assets (e.g., derivatives), then the group audit standards direct our attention here.

Examples of When Group Audit Standards are Applicable

Here are examples of when the group audit standards are in play:

  • Consolidated subsidiary
  • Combined financial statements due to common control
  • Investment accounted for using the equity method
  • Consolidated affiliate (due to variable-interest considerations)

Notice we made no mention of other auditors in these examples. It is possible that another firm may audit a subsidiary (for example), but this factor is not the determinant of when the group audit standards apply.

Group Audits – Referencing Component Auditors

Does your firm audit consolidated financial statements that contain a subsidiary audited by another firm? How about a governmental audit that contains a component unit audited by another firm? Or maybe an audit of an entity that has an equity-method investment audited by another firm?

Decision – Assume Responsibility or Not

If you audit an entity (e.g., Father Company, Inc.) that contains a component (Son Company, Inc.) audited by another firm, you will, under the new Clarity standards, make a decision to reference or not reference the component auditor.

assume

If you reference the component auditors, you are not taking responsibility for the component.

If you don’t reference the component auditors, you are, in effect, taking responsibility for the audit of all entities comprising the entity. (There will be additional work for the group auditor as he directs audit activities related to the entity as a whole, including procedures of the component auditor.)

1. When to Reference Component Auditors

photo-1First Question – Are there any significant components of the consolidated financial statements that are audited by an external audit firm?

If yes, go to the second question below.

If no, then there is no need to reference the component auditor (and you – the group auditor – will probably just perform analytical procedures for the component).

Second Question – Do you (the group auditor) want to assume responsibility for the work of the component auditor?

Sometimes the answer will be “no,” and you will reference the other firm.

When referencing occurs, the group auditor’s report will normally state “we did not audit the financial statements of X Company” and that “those statements were audited by other auditors.”

The component auditor is usually not named, but you may, if you wish, provided that you:

  • Obtain permission from the component auditor
  • Include the component auditor’s report with the group auditor’s report

Communication with Component Auditor

Whether you name the component auditor or not, AU-C 600 requires the group auditor to check (orally or in writing) on the component auditor’s:

  • Compliance with independence and ethical requirements
  • Competence

Referencing should not occur unless the following are true:

  • The financial statements were prepared using the same accounting framework as the group financial statements.
  • The component auditor follows GAAS (or, when required by law, PCAOB audit standards).
  • The component auditor’s report is not restricted as to use.

2. How to Reference Component Auditors

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Changes will be made to two auditor’s report paragraphs:

Auditor’s Responsibility Paragraph

You will add a paragraph like the following:

We did not audit the financial statements of ABC Company, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary, which statements reflect total assets of $3,020,000 as of March 31, 2013, and total revenues of $7,050,200 for the year then ended. Those statements were audited by other auditors, whose report has been furnished to us, and our opinion, insofar as it relates to the amounts included for ABC Company, Inc., is based solely on the report of the other auditors.

Notice you will disclose the magnitude of the financial statements not audited in:

  • Dollar amounts or
  • Percentages

Those magnitudes may be expressed using one or more of the following:

  • Total assets
  • Total revenues
  • Other appropriate criteria (whichever appropriately describes the portion not audited)

Opinion Paragraph

The opinion paragraph will state “In our opinion, based on our audits and the report of the other auditors…”

To see a full sample auditor’s report (with these changes), click here.

Your Thoughts

I’m curious. Do you think your firm will normally reference or not reference outside component auditors?