To answer year-end questions about how U.S. audit rules intersect with those in China, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board published a four-page Q&A to explain its views that firms auditing U.S. issuers should observe U.S. rules.
The five questions posed and answered in the PCAOB release are focused on how U.S. auditing standards might conflict with expectations explained by the Chinese Ministry of Finance in its 2015 statement outlining interim provisions on audits of domestic Chinese companies. The MOF provisions say overseas or domestic firms auditing mainland China companies are expected to follow Chinese law, especially with respect to protecting work papers that must be kept inside China.
That expectation has long been understood by audit firms operating in China who are registered with the PCAOB to perform audits on financial statements that are filed in the United States because shares are listed in U.S. capital markets. The PCOAB and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been working, largely unsuccessfully, for years to try to gain greater access to China-based companies and auditors whose work is relied on by U.S. investors.
The PCAOB’s new staff Q&As say the 2015 MOF statement has no effect on obligations to cooperate with the PCAOB on work that is overseen by the PCAOB. “A firm should not anticipate any form of relief from the obligation to comply with any PCAOB demand for documentation or other information, whatever the circumstances,” the PCAOB says. “Firms should bear this in mind when considering accepting continuing engagements.”
The Q&As also address questions around participation of non-U.S. auditors in U.S. engagements, including retention of audit documentation and any other reporting obligations. That includes for example, some discussion around new reporting obligations taking effect in 2017 for PCAOB-registered firms to provide information to the PCAOB through “Form AP” about who oversees audit engagements and to what extent firms other than the principal audit firm are participating in audit engagements.
Form AP received the greatest attention over its requirement for audit firms to identify the engagement partner on each public company audit engagement, a provision auditors and their legal counsel long protested when the PCAOB first pursued having partners named directly in audit reports. The requirement for Form AP to also give transparency to how much of their audit work is actually being performed by others outside the principal audit firm gained less attention, but also takes effect in mid-2017.
The release reminds principal firms that in addition to reporting the involvement of any firm that performs more than 5 percent of the work on an audit, the principal firm “must also affirm on Form AP that it is responsible for the audits or audit procedures performed by the other accounting firm and that it supervised or performed procedures to assume responsibility for the other firm’s work in accordance with PCAOB standards.”