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How to change audit standards

There is at last, says Fiona Wilkinson, a broad appetite to change auditing standards for less complex entities. The question is, how?

Since auditing standards were codified, first into the Statements of Auditing Standards and then into the International Standards on Auditing (ISAs), they have applied to all audited entities, no matter what their size, and it has been a tenet of auditing that “an audit is an audit”.

Periodically, however, questions have been asked as to whether standards which are used to audit large international groups or entities such as banks are fit for purpose when auditing small entities such as owner-managed businesses with simple systems. There are concerns that the length and complexity of the ISAs act as a barrier to their being read and properly understood.

This can lead to over-reliance on checklists with a focus on compliance and a corresponding decrease in the use of professional judgement. In 2015, the Nordic countries issued a consultation paper on the audits of small entities which was received with mixed responses but led to a call for action. In April this year, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) issued a discussion paper entitled “Audits of Less Complex Entities” (LCEs) to try to co-ordinate views on how such entities should be audited. Options considered in the paper include: whether the ISAs should be revised, which could include setting out basic requirements with additions for more complex circumstances; whether a separate standard should be developed for LCEs; or whether separate guidance should be issued for the auditors of LCEs to sit alongside the ISAs.

The consultation on this discussion paper closed in mid-September and we now await with interest the results of the submissions to the IAASB. Like other bodies, ICAEW has for several years been raising the issue of the lack of scalability of auditing standards. We believe that the holistic nature of LCE audits has been eroded by requirements that are more appropriate for larger organisations. We are also concerned that, unless the IAASB listens to the views and acts quickly and decisively, it risks losing control of standard-setting for LCE audits to more responsive governments, regulators and professional bodies. ICAEW’s Council discussed this issue at its conference in July and audits of LCEs will again feature at its meeting in October. Views so far have been mixed but there is definitely a clear appetite for change. Whether the ISAs are re-written taking better account of the needs of the auditors of less complex entities. or a whole new standard for LCEs is developed, I hope it is done expeditiously. There does seem to be broad agreement that the status quo is unsustainable.


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Originally published in Economia on 4 October 2019.