The earliest Form AP filings by audit firms are providing a first glimpse into who is overseeing and signing off on audit reports for public companies.
PwC has reported, for example, that William Corey is the partner in charge of the firm’s engagement for Laureate Education Inc., while EY has reported that James McCaulley is the engagement partner for its external audit of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. Grant Thornton is the only other firm to have reported so far, providing the names of engagement partners overseeing 15 separate audits for a series of investment companies.
The Public Company Accounting Oversight instituted a requirement for audit firms to provide the names of engagement partners beginning in 2017, after years of wrangling over how best to give investors greater visibility into who performs audit work. Audit firms must complete a new filing, called Form AP, to not only identify engagement partners but also provide information on anyone outside the principal audit firm whose work the firm relies on to reach its audit conclusion.
The PCAOB is assembling filings into a searchable database on its website to enable investors to easily identify the engagement partner on any given audit. The PCAOB sought such transparency into public company audit work based on a belief that it will hold auditors to a greater measure of personal responsibility for their work. That was a repeated flashpoint over the years that the PCAOB proposed a new standard, which began first as a PCAOB drive to require auditors to sign audit reports much the way CEOs and CFOs certify financial statements.
Under the new filing requirement, audit firms must file Form AP for public company audit reports issued on or after Jan. 31, 2017, to identify engagement partners. Firms have until June 30 2017, to begin identifying other accounting firms that participated on their audit work. The PCAOB staff recently issued guidance directed at audit firms to assist them with the details and the logistics of the filing process.
James Doty, chairman of the PCAOB, says in a video podcast accompanying the searchable database, that the filing and the information it will produce will give investors greater insight into who is performing audits of public companies traded in the United States. “Auditing is a profession built on reputation, and one important way investors can assess the quality of an audit is to know who conducted that audit,” he says. “Now for first time investors will be able to see who led each audit and to find out what other audits that person has led.”
The database also will give investors information on who outside of the principal audit firm contributed to an audit, which might be important especially if the work originates in a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has not gained access to perform its audit inspections. “It will enable investors analysts, audit committees, and others the ability to conduct meaningful analysis and comparisons among auditors,” Doty said.