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OPINION: What is happening with the changing reports on financial statements?

You may wish to discuss whether the users of your financial statements need assurance – the cost and the benefit – with your management team and your public accountant.

The only constant – is change. A year ago I addressed the changes to the Review Standard – now let’s talk about the new Audit Report as well as the potential changes to the Compilation Standard.

There have historically been three levels of service provided by public accountants for financial statements, namely, audits, reviews and compilations (notice to reader).

As you may recall, the revised review standards were designed to increase the amount of assurance provided. While it is still more limited than that of an audit, it was reflected as a higher standard than the assurance previously. The new review standards apply to periods ending on or after Dec. 14, 2017.

The audit report is changing this year (for periods ending on or after Dec. 15, 2018). The level of assurance provided will not change, but the report provides an expanded description of responsibilities; the report is reordered to provide the opinion in the first section. This is to provide more clarity. The report has grown and you can’t glance at the report to see if there are three paragraphs to know whether you are looking at a clean opinion as was the case years ago.

The compilation report has not historically provided ANY assurance. This standard was issued in 1987 and has not been revised significantly since that time. An exposure draft has been issued discussing proposed changes and why they are needed.

Consultations were conducted with representatives of the provincial accounting bodies, practitioners and lenders to better understand how compilation engagements are performed today and the issues identified by stakeholders.

These consultations identified:

•    a gap between the premise that the financial statements are meant for use by management and the reality that the statements are often provided to a third party;
•    variability in the extent of work performed by practitioners in compilation engagements;
•    a gap between lenders’ perception of the extent of work practitioners perform and what is required under the standards; and
•    lack of clarity among lenders as to the basis of accounting applied in the preparation of compiled financial statements.

In an attempt to provide further clarity, the proposed compilation engagement standard and report will:

I.    describe the responsibilities of management and the practitioner, and the nature and scope of the engagement;
II.    establish requirements for the minimum work effort by the practitioner;
III.    disclose the basis of accounting applied in the preparation of the financial statements in a note to the financial statements; and
IV.    establish boundaries for when the standard does not apply (both as to the scope that fits the circumstances and when it is appropriate to compile information that is intended for distribution to a third party).

Those who use and rely on these financial statements – bankers, shareholders or potential shareholders, and regulators – need to know how these changes will affect them and whether they need to consider modifying their current level of assurance requirement.

What does this mean to the difference in assurance?

The proposed compilation standard is designed to provide clarity. While there is still no assurance provided, the statements compiled reflect management’s policies and the work undertaken. The proposed standard may increase the time required and the cost to complete the work.

This information is critical to anyone who uses these financial statements and needs to know how much reliance can be placed on them. The proposed changes to the compilation standard do not result in the practitioner expressing any assurance on the financial statements. The report will continue to explicitly state that the practitioner does not “provide any assurance” on the financial statements. 

You may wish to discuss whether the users of your financial statements need assurance – the cost and the benefit – with your management team and your public accountant.