SEC and PCAOB on Audit Committees

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, Jack B. Jacobs and Thomas J. Kim.

Public company counsel and audit committee members should be aware of recent activity at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that could lead to additional regulation of audit committee disclosure and to federal normative expectations for how audit committees and their members behave.


Chamber of Commerce Airs Grievances Related To Internal Controls Inspections

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and William J. Foley Jr.

In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.

By way of background, “internal controls” refers to the procedures and practices that companies use to manage risk, conduct business efficiently, and ensure compliance with the law and company policy. Public companies are required to maintain sufficient internal controls by the securities laws. In particular, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act) requires, among other things, that: (i) company management assess and report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over its financial reporting, and (ii) the company’s independent auditors verify management’s disclosures. Sarbanes-Oxley also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) to oversee public company audits, including the audits of internal control reporting. The PCAOB, in turn, conducts regular inspections to ensure compliance with laws, rules and professional standards.


SEC Seeks Input on Enhanced Disclosures for Audit Committees

Michael J. Scanlon is a partner and member of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

At an open meeting held on July 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a concept release addressing the prospect of enhanced disclosures for audit committees. The much-publicized concept release is available here and requests comment on a number of possible changes to existing SEC disclosure requirements about the work of audit committees, focusing in particular on audit committees’ selection and oversight of independent auditors. The SEC said that it has issued the release in response to views expressed by some that current disclosures may not provide investors with sufficient information about what audit committees do and how they perform their duties. The release seeks feedback on whether certain audit committee disclosures should be added, removed or modified to provide additional meaningful disclosures to investors.


Audit Committees: 2015 Mid-Year Issues Update

Rick E. Hansen is Assistant Corporate Secretary and Managing Counsel, Corporate Governance, at Chevron Corporation.

Board audit committee agendas continue to evolve as companies are faced with a rapidly-changing global business landscape, the proliferation of standards and regulations, increased stakeholder scrutiny, and a heightened enforcement environment. In this post, I summarize current issues of interest for audit committees.

The Audit Committee And Oversight

During her remarks at the Stanford Directors’ College in June 2014, SEC Chair Mary Jo White observed that “audit committees, in particular, have an extraordinarily important role in creating a culture of compliance through their oversight of financial reporting.” [1] Since then, various Commissioners of the SEC and its Staff have reinforced this message by reminding companies of the audit committee’s duties under federal securities laws to:

  • oversee the quality and integrity of the company’s financial reporting process, including the company’s relationship with the outside auditor;
  • oversee the company’s confidential and anonymous whistleblower complaint policies and procedures relating to accounting and auditing matters; and
  • report annually to stockholders on the performance of these duties.


Preparing for the Regulatory Challenges of the 21st Century

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent remarks at the Georgia Law Review’s Annual Symposium, Financial Regulation: Reflections and Projections; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

During my tenure as an SEC Commissioner, our country’s economy has experienced extreme highs and lows. In fact, the country experienced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, followed by the current period of significant economic growth where the stock market has grown by around 165% from the low point of the financial crisis.

I have had a front-row seat to all of this, as I became an SEC Commissioner just weeks before the financial crisis hit our nation. As a result, I witnessed first-hand just how fragile our capital markets can be, and the need for a robust and effective SEC to protect them. First, let me provide a snapshot of what went on. I was sworn-in as an SEC Commissioner on July 31, 2008. Within a few weeks, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. To give you a sense of its rapid decline, within 15 days, its share price went from $17.50 per share to virtually worthless. The demise of Lehman Brothers is often seen as the first in a rapid succession of events that led to an unimaginable market and liquidity crisis. These events included:


Pre-Flight Checklist: 2014 Update

Eric Geringswald is Director of CSC® Publishing at Corporation Service Company. This post is an excerpt from the 2014 Edition of The Directors’ Handbook, by Thomas J. Dougherty of Skadden, Arps.

In this year’s Foreword, Dougherty differentiates the need for directors to focus on their core mission of informed oversight and vigilance rather than merely reacting to the constant influx of “daily corporate governance commentary,” and explores other front-burner issues, such as the marked increase in SEC enforcement actions and other recent SEC initiatives; the continuing trend of class action suits as de facto settlement instruments; proxy advisory firm priorities for directors; and new guidance from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that recommends that audit committee directors discuss internal auditing deficiencies with their auditors.


PCAOB Adopts New and Amended Auditing Standards

The following post comes to us from Michael Scanlon, partner in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance and Corporate Transactions practice groups at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Mr. Scanlon.

On June 10, 2014, The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) adopted new and amended auditing standards that expand audit procedures required to be performed with respect to three important areas: (1) related party transactions; (2) significant unusual transactions; and (3) a company’s financial relationships and transactions with its executive officers. The standards also expand the required communications that an auditor must make to the audit committee related to these three areas. They also amend the standard governing representations that the auditor is required to periodically obtain from management.


The PCAOB Proposed Auditor’s Reporting Model

Alan L. Beller is a partner focusing on complex securities, corporate governance and corporate matters at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on Mr. Beller’s testimony at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s (PCAOB) public hearing in Washington, D.C. on proposed enhancements to the auditor’s reporting model; the complete text is available here. The views expressed in his testimony are based on his knowledge and experience as both a government official and a legal advisor to private clients.

The proposed enhancements to the auditor’s reporting model would be the first change to the standards in more than 70 years. Furthermore, they could significantly impact the content and format of auditors’ reports; the treatment of that information by investors and other users of financial statements; and the relationship and structure of interactions among management, audit committees and auditors as they have developed since the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.


Achieving High Quality Audits to Promote Integrity and Investor Protection

The following post comes to us from Jeanette M. Franzel, board member of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. This post is based on Ms. Franzel’s remarks at the NACD 2013 Board Leadership Conference, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Ms. Franzel and should not be attributed to the PCAOB as a whole or any other members or staff.

I want to commend the NACD on its mission to “advance exemplary board leadership” with the compelling vision of aspiring to “a world where businesses are sustainable, profitable, and trusted; shareowners believe directors prioritize long-term objectives and add unique value to the company; [and] directors provide effective oversight of the corporation and strive to deliver exemplary board performance.”

Audit committees are instrumental in achieving this vision and maintaining public trust and investor protection through their oversight of corporate financial reporting and auditing. I would also like to recognize the important role and difficult jobs that each of you have as audit committee members in these oversight functions, as well as the many other areas that are being assigned to audit committees during a time of ever increasing business complexity and risk.


PCAOB Proposes Significant Changes to Audit Standards

Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Ms. Goodman and Michael J. Scanlon.

Today, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) proposed for public comment two audit standards that, if adopted, would significantly change the audit report model, and dramatically expand the auditor’s responsibilities in reporting on management’s disclosures outside the financial statements. PCAOB Chairman Doty remarked that the proposed standards—running to almost 300 pages—mark a “watershed moment” for auditing in the United States.

The first proposal—The Auditor’s Report on an Audit of Financial Statements—moves well beyond the traditional audit report and would require the following additional statements:


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