There is an urgent need around the world for reform of the audit market for listed companies and other Public Interest Entities (PIEs) to enable it to serve properly the needs of shareholders, other stakeholders and wider society. Key concerns relate to the interlinked areas of audit quality, unduly high concentration, inherent conflicts of interest and relevance.
There is now unanimous agreement that the overwhelming dominance of just four firms in the global audit market is unsustainable and that reform is required to go from “four to more”. Unfortunately, and even though it is still in its early stages, there are clear signs already that the 2014 EU Audit Regulation and other interlinked initiatives are not going to achieve their desired objectives of reducing market concentration, increasing competition and improving audit quality.
The auditor’s report is the final output of the audit process. Many users of the financial statements and stakeholders have called to have a more informative and relevant auditor’s report. There has been increasing criticism over standardised wording and a request for audit reports to be more transparent and tailored to individual clients.
These queries have been taken into account by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and a revised set of auditing standards on auditors’ reports were issued in 2015. These are effective for companies with financial years ending on or after 15 December 2016.
The UK has anticipated the changes embedded in the new auditor’s report and adopted a new standard on the auditor’s report in 2013. The reading of the 2014 audit reports of UK listed entities (especially FTSE 100 companies) provides an insight into what is expected in terms of communication in the new auditor’s report according to the ISAs for the audit reports on the 2016 financial statements.
Note that the UK regulation goes even beyond the obligations of the ISAs: for example, the UK auditors have communicated in their auditor’s reports on materiality and scoping considerations for group audits, which is not required by the ISAs.