A fresh EY study of audit committee disclosures shows audit committees are still making new strides in increasing their voluntary disclosures in annual proxy statements.
In an analysis of disclosures among the Fortune 100, EY zeroed in on 78 companies that have consistently issued proxy statements dating back to 2012 for annual meetings through Aug. 15. The analysis shows audit committees in 2016 made more incremental advances over the year before in their voluntary disclosures about a variety of audit-related matters.
An increased number of audit committees disclosed more about how they oversee and appoint external auditors, how they consider audit quality, even why audit fees may have gone up or down. “As institutional investors demand enhanced transparency and better communications from boards, audit committees at Fortune 100 companies continue to respond by offering greater insights into their oversight work. It’s encouraging that voluntary audit-related disclosures continue to grow,” said Ann Yerger, director in the EY Center for Board Matters, in a statement.
While voluntary disclosures are rising, that doesn’t mean those committees that are increasing disclosure are doing so across all audit hot topics. Some areas get much more disclosure than others, according to the data.
For example, a large majority of audit committees in the analysis disclosed that the audit committee considers non-audit fees and services when assessing auditor independence. That began with only 14 percent of audit committees in 2102 and shot up to 79 percent in 2013 and 81 percent in 2016. When it comes to explaining a change in audit fees, however, only 9 percent of audit committees provided such a disclosure in 2012, and that grew to only 21 percent by 2015 and 31 percent in 2016.
Audit committees still aren’t very forthcoming when it comes to describing the topics that audit committees have discussed with auditors either. In fact, the numbers there are low and falling.
In 2012, for example, 8 percent of audit committees addressed this voluntarily, and in 2016, it was only 6 percent of audit committees who took on that topic. If the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board gets its way, auditors will eventually be required to include some disclosure in their audit reports about “critical audit matters” that the auditors addressed in the course of the audit.
Audit committees also aren’t eager to disclose in what year the lead audit partner was appointed to the engagement. Only 3 percent disclosed this in 2012, and it rose to only 13 percent by 2016. Soon, however, audit firms will begin providing some transparency around this questions as they comply with a new PCAOB requirement to provide the names of engagement partners for each public company audit.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has given some thought to how audit committees might be the source of greater transparency on a number of financial reporting areas, but so far, it remains no more than a concept release to stir public discussion.