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The whole nine yards

With the right methodology and processes entire complex and multi-faceted reports can be assured, as John Ward explains.

Accountants already provide assurance on component parts of the annual report, such as audits and assurance review engagements on financial statements, and discrete assurance of information such as sustainability reports and other types of key performance information; eventually, they may be called upon to provide assurance on entire annual reports (or integrated reports) and all of their constituent parts; likewise any other 'whole' report on any other subject matter or subject matters. However, assuring a whole report and providing an opinion about its entirety is not without challenges. The nature of such assurance begs questions, such as:

  1. How do you ensure that the report is complete in the first place?
  2. How do you decide what needs to be assured and differentiate that from other material that does not need to be evidenced?
  3. How do you evaluate narrative that includes a variety of statements and representations by management? And if we assume - for the purposes of this article and to ensure coverage of the major issues - that this will be a reasonable assurance engagement, rather than limited assurance, these are the three big questions.

How do you ensure the report is complete?

There is self-evidently no document or standard that can pre-determine what management should put into a whole report on an undefined subject. However, that does not mean that completeness cannot be validated. ICAEW has followed its first two milestone papers on assurance over key performance indicators and assurance over risk disclosures with a third paper on completeness, which sets out a methodology and a process that enables such a set of checks to be performed. It describes a process that can be used by management to establish the comprehensiveness of a report’s content that is also capable of being used by a practitioner to validate the outcome - and it will shortly be available on the website.

This is an extract from an article in the July/August 2015 edition of Audit & Beyond, the magazine of the Audit and Assurance Faculty.