New Report Updates on CPA Profession's Progress in Enhancing Audit Quality

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) has issued a report detailing the past year's activities and accomplishments as part of its Enhancing Audit Quality (EAQ) initiative.

According to a media release, the publication outlines the CPA profession's work to enhance the quality of private company audits in the areas of Pre-licensure, Standards and Ethics, CPA Learning and Support, Peer Review, Practice Monitoring of the Future, and Enforcement.

Audit quality has been a focus in the United States, and abroad, for several years. An increasingly complex business environment in a state of constant change has added to the challenges practitioners are experiencing. Given this new reality, the AICPA began a bold effort, the EAQ initiative, in 2014. The report, AICPA Enhancing Audit Quality Initiative, Highlights and Progress 2016, highlights the effort's progress since the AICPA issued the 6-Point Plan to Improve Audits in 2015.

In a letter prefacing the report, Susan C. Coffey, CPA, CGMA, AICPA executive vice president for public practice, stated, "Looking at the progress we've made, I am especially excited about what the profession can accomplish with newly-implemented initiatives. For example, new quality-control tools, resources and training help firms establish and maintain effective quality-control systems. Enhancements to the Peer Review Program better identify practice issues and require more targeted and timely remediation. And new industry-specific training programs focus on competency development - that is, applying knowledge and skills - and related certificate programs help highly competent auditors distinguish themselves in the marketplace."

Key accomplishments in the last year include:

Pre-licensure - To encourage students to pursue CPA licensure, continuous engagement occurs across the pipeline. The AICPA recognizes that expanding the Uniform CPA Examination provides another opportunity to enhance audit quality in the pre-licensure phase. The next version of the CPA Exam, launching in April 2017, will increase the focus on higher-order skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical ability.

Standards and Ethics - The Auditing Standards Board continues to monitor the implementation of the Clarified Statements on Auditing Standards and is working to improve the communicative value and relevance of the auditor's report through proposed revisions to generally accepted auditing standards. The new Assurance Research Advisory Group was formed to drive practice-oriented assurance research to inform the standard-setting process.

CPA Learning and Support - The AICPA | CIMA Competency and Learning Website provides a means for auditors to assess and improve their knowledge and competencies in various subject matter areas, including employee benefit plans audits (EBP), governmental audits, information technology assurance, not-for-profit, financial accounting and reporting, and other assurance. Competency-based learning programs specific to EBP and single audit engagements include intermediate and advanced offerings that allow proficient practitioners to distinguish themselves in the marketplace through a certificate provided as a digital badge.

Peer Review - The AICPA has instituted reforms directed at enhancing the accountability of enrolled firms and their peer reviewers. The Enhanced Oversight Program, piloted in 2014 and expanded in 2015-16, has identified where peer reviews could be strengthened, particularly regarding issue detection and remediation. In 2016, the number of engagements subject to Enhanced Oversight will double, and a root-cause analysis process will be added.

Practice Monitoring of the Future - Response to the purposely provocative concept paper on transforming peer review into a near real-time practice monitoring process was robust, with more than 70 responses. Those responses, together with the pilot of a self-monitoring tool for firms' internal use, will help inform next steps for the initiative.

Enforcement - The AICPA Professional Ethics Division is collaborating with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on an initiative that allows the AICPA Ethics Team and DOL to share investigative files with state boards of accountancy. Additionally, the Ethics Division is mining publicly available databases to identify potential issues for outreach to firms.

"As the AICPA continues and expands its efforts to increase audit quality over the next several years, the Enhanced Audit Quality initiative is expected to have an even greater impact on quality within the profession," the report concludes. "Enhancing Audit Quality and the 6-Point Plan to Improve Audits are long-term initiatives involving thousands of firms and audit professionals, dozens of regulatory bodies and standard-setting organizations at the state and federal levels."

"While we've achieved a great deal in this first year, there is still much more to do," Coffey stated. "Ultimately, audit quality results from a profession-wide dedication to continuous improvement and evolution. The profession has taken significant steps to keep pace with the expectations and demands to protect the public."

The American Institute of CPAs is a member association representing the accounting profession, with more than 418,000 members in 143 countries, and a history of serving the public interest.

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  • Alexandra Scarborough
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Among other insights, the roundup revealed:

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