December 31, 2019

SEC Proposes “Modernization” of Auditor Independence Rules

Yesterday, the SEC announced this New Year’s gift: proposed amendments to Rule 2-01 of Reg S-X that would “modernize” the auditor independence rules and codify Staff consultations – which have been influencing how the rules are interpreted since they were adopted in 2000 and last amended in 2003. If adopted, the proposed amendments would:

– Amend the definitions of affiliate of the audit client, in Rule 2-01(f)(4), and Investment Company Complex, in Rule 2-01(f)(14), to address certain affiliate relationships, including entities under common control

– Amend the definition of the audit and professional engagement period, specifically Rule 2-01(f)(5)(iii), to shorten the look-back period, for domestic first time filers in assessing compliance with the independence requirements

– Amend Rule 2-01(c)(1)(ii)(A)(1) and (E) to add certain student loans and de minimis consumer loans to the categorical exclusions from independence-impairing lending relationships

– Amend Rule 2-01(c)(3) to replace the reference to “substantial stockholders” in the business relationship rule with the concept of beneficial owners with significant influence

– Replace the outdated transition and grandfathering provision in Rule 2-01(e) with a new Rule 2-01(e) to introduce a transition framework to address inadvertent independence violations that only arise as a result of merger and acquisition transactions

– Make certain miscellaneous updates

The announcement runs through a couple of hypos that show how the proposal would address interpretive issues that have been popping up. As always, there’ll be a 60-day comment period that runs from when the proposing release is published in the Federal Register. Also see the summary in this Cooley blog

Audit Committee Role & Reminders: Statement from SEC & Corp Fin

Also yesterday, this statement from SEC Chair Jay Clayton, Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia and Corp Fin Director Bill Hinman was issued to remind audit committees of their oversight responsibilities in financial reporting – and to remind companies that audit committees need adequate resources & support to fulfill their obligations. Here’s an excerpt:

Non-GAAP Measures – Non-GAAP measures and other metrics used to gauge company performance, when used appropriately in combination with GAAP measures, can provide decision-useful information to investors on the company’s performance from management’s perspective. It is important that audit committees understand whether—and how and why—management uses non-GAAP measures and performance metrics, and how those measures are used in addition to GAAP financial statements in the company’s financial reporting and in connection with internal decision making. We encourage audit committees to be actively engaged in the review and presentation of non-GAAP measures and metrics to understand how management uses them to evaluate performance, whether they are consistently prepared and presented from period to period and the company’s related policies and disclosure controls and procedures.

Reference Rate Reform (LIBOR) – The expected discontinuation of LIBOR could have a significant impact on financial markets and may present a material risk for many companies. The risks associated with this discontinuation and transition will be exacerbated if the work necessary to effect an orderly transition to an alternative reference rate, a process often referred to as reference rate reform, is not completed in a timely manner. We encourage audit committees to understand management’s plan to identify and address the risks associated with reference rate reform, and specifically, the impact on accounting and financial reporting and any related issues associated with financial products and contracts that reference LIBOR.

Critical Audit Matters – Beginning in 2019, certain public companies’ auditors are required to communicate critical audit matters (CAMs) in the auditor’s report. While the independent auditor is solely responsible for writing and communicating CAMs, we encourage audit committees to engage in a substantive dialogue with the auditor regarding the audit and expected CAMs to understand the nature of each CAM, the auditor’s basis for the determination of each CAM and how each CAM is expected to be described in the auditor’s report. In short, we would expect that the discussion of the CAM in the auditor’s report will capture and be consistent with the auditor-audit committee dialogue regarding the relevant matter. We encourage audit committees to continue their efforts to understand the new standard and remain engaged with auditors in the implementation process.

We’re Gonna Party Like It’s…

Who else is in shock that we’re 20 years into this century?! Our flip from 2019 to 2020 feels momentous in its own right – but we’re lacking in catchy tunes to celebrate. When in doubt, tune to Prince:

My resolution this year is to finally visit Paisley Park…I live just down the road and I’m still kicking myself for never making it to one of “The Artist’s” impromptu parties. I did, however, join thousands of my closest friends outside First Ave the night he died, where he was honored by lots of local talent, including Lizzo before many people knew who Lizzo was – quite the scene with everyone singing along to “Purple Rain.”

Liz Dunshee