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Accounting and internal control systems and audit risk assessments

(Issued March 1995)

Contents

 

Paragraphs

Introduction

112

Inherent risk

1315

Accounting system and control environment

1623

Internal controls and their inherent limitations

2425

Control risk in the small business

26

Control risk

2748

Detection risk

4956

Communication of weaknesses

57

Compliance with International Standards on Auditing

5859

Effective date

60

Accounting and internal control systems and audit risk assessments

Statements of Auditing Standards (SASs) are to be read in the light of The scope and authority of APB pronouncements. In particular, they contain basic principles and essential procedures (Auditing Standards), indicated by paragraphs in bold type, with which auditors are required to comply in the conduct of any audit. SASs also include explanatory and other material which is designed to assist auditors in interpreting and applying Auditing Standards. The definitions in the Glossary of terms are to be applied in the interpretation of SASs.

Introduction

The purpose of this SAS is to establish standards and provide guidance on audit risk and its components: inherent risk, control risk and detection risk, and also on the auditorsapproach to obtaining an understanding of the accounting and internal control systems. In some circumstances specic legislation and regulations require auditors to undertake procedures additional to those set out in this SAS.

1

Auditors should:

2

(a)

obtain an understanding of the accounting and internal control systems sufficient to plan the audit and develop an effective audit approach; and

(b)

use professional judgment to assess the components of audit risk and to design audit procedures to ensure it is reduced to an acceptably low level. (SAS

300.1)

Audit riskmeans the risk that auditors may give an inappropriate audit opinion on nancial statements. Audit risk has three components: inherent risk, control risk and detection risk.

3

Inherent riskis the susceptibility of an account balance or class of transactions to material misstatement, either individually or when aggregated with misstatements in other balances or classes, irrespective of related internal controls.

4

Control riskis the risk that a misstatement that could occur in an account balance or class of transactions and that could be material, either individually or when aggregated with misstatements in other balances or classes, would not be prevented, or detected and corrected on a timely basis, by the accounting and internal control systems.

5

Detection riskis the risk that auditorssubstantive procedures (tests of details of transactions and balances or analytical procedures) do not detect a misstatement that exists in an account balance or class of transactions that could be material, either individually or when aggregated with misstatements in other balances or classes.

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8

Internal control systemcomprises the control environment and control procedures. It includes all the policies and procedures (internal controls) adopted by the directors and management of an entity to assist in achieving their objective of ensuring, as far as practicable, the orderly and efcient conduct of its business, including adherence to internal policies, the safeguarding of assets, the prevention and detection of fraud and error, the accuracy and completeness of the accounting records, and the timely preparation of reliable nancial information. Internal controls may be incorporated within computerised accounting systems. However, the internal control system extends beyond those matters which relate directly to the accounting system.

9

Control environmentmeans the overall attitude, awareness and actions of directors and management regarding internal controls and their importance in the entity. The control environment encompasses the management style, and corporate culture and values shared by all employees. It provides the background against which the various other controls are operated. However, a strong control environment does not, by itself, ensure the effectiveness of the overall internal control system. Factors reec- ted in the control environment include:

the philosophy and operating style of the directors and management;

the entitys organisational structure and methods of assigning authority and responsibility (including segregation of duties and supervisory controls); and

the directorsmethods of imposing control, including the internal audit func- tion, the functions of the board of directors and personnel policies and procedures.

10

Control proceduresare those policies and procedures in addition to the control environment which are established to achieve the entitys specic objectives. They include in particular procedures designed to prevent or to detect and correct errors. The latter may be a particular focus of high level controls in small or owner-managed entities. Specic control procedures include:

approval and control of documents;

controls over computerised applications and the information technology envi- ronment;

checking the arithmetical accuracy of the records;

maintaining and reviewing control accounts and trial balances;

reconciliations;

comparing the results of cash, security and stock counts with accounting records;

comparing internal data with external sources of information; and

limiting direct physical access to assets and records.

11

Auditors are only concerned with those policies and procedures within the account- ing and internal control systems that are relevant to the nancial statement assertions. The understanding of relevant aspects of the accounting and internal control systems, together with the inherent and control risk assessments, enables auditors to:

assess the adequacy of the accounting system as a basis for preparing the nancial statements;

identify the types of potential misstatements that could occur in the nancial statements;

consider factors that affect the risk of misstatements; and

design appropriate audit procedures.

When planning their audit, auditors consider the likelihood of error in the light of inherent risk and the system of internal control (control risk) in order to determine the extent of work (and hence the level of detection risk) required to satisfy themselves that the risk of error in the nancial statements is sufciently low.

Inherent risk

In developing their audit approach and detailed procedures, auditors should assess inherent risk in relation to financial statement assertions about material account balances and classes of transactions, taking account of factors relevant both to the entity as a whole and to the specific assertions. (SAS 300.2)

In the absence of knowledge or information to enable auditors to make an assess- ment of inherent risk for a specic account balance or class of transactions they assume that inherent risk is high. However, when an assessment is made and inherent risk is not considered to be high, they document the reasons for their assessment and are able to reduce the work they would otherwise carry out.

To assess inherent risk, auditors use their professional judgment to evaluate numer- ous factors, having regard to their experience of the entity from previous audits, any controls established by management to compensate for a high level of inherent risk (as described in paragraph 32 below), and their knowledge of any signicant changes which have taken place. Examples of relevant factors are:

At the entity level

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13

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the integrity of directors and management;

management experience and knowledge and changes in management during the period, for example inexperience may affect the preparation of the nancial statements of the entity;

unusual pressures on directors or management, such as tight reporting dead- lines, market expectations or other circumstances that might predispose them to misstate the nancial statements, for example the industry experiencing a large number of business failures or an entity that is close to breaching borrowing covenants;

the nature of the entitys business, for example the potential for technological obsolescence of its products and services, the complexity of its capital structure, the signicance of related parties and the number of locations and geographical spread of its production facilities; and

factors affecting the industry in which the entity operates, for example eco- nomic and competitive conditions as indicated by nancial trends and ratios, regulatory requirements and changes in technology, consumer demand and accounting practices common to the industry.

At the account balance and class of transactions level

nancial statement accounts likely to be susceptible to misstatement, for example accounts which required adjustment in the previous period or which involve a high degree of estimation;

the complexity of underlying transactions and other events which might require the use of the work of an expert;

the degree of judgment involved in determining account balances;

susceptibility of assets to loss or misappropriation, for example assets which are highly desirable and movable such as cash;

the quality of the accounting systems;

the completion of unusual and complex transactions, particularly at or near period end; and

transactions not subjected to ordinary processing.

Accounting system and control environment

16 In planning the audit, auditors should obtain and document an understanding of the accounting system and control environment sufficient to determine their audit approach. (SAS 300.3)

17 Auditors obtain an understanding of the accounting system sufcient to enable them to identify and understand:

(a)

major classes of transactions in the entitys operations;

(b)

how such transactions are initiated;

(c)

signicant accounting records, supporting documents and accounts in the nancial statements; and

(d)

the accounting and nancial reporting process, from the initiation of signicant transactions and other events to their inclusion in the nancial statements.

18 An understanding of the control environment enables auditors to assess the likely effectiveness of control procedures. A strong control environment, for example one with strong budgetary controls and an effective internal audit function, increases the effectiveness of control procedures. A small entitys control environment may be strengthened by the close involvement of the directors, including their review of nancial information.

19 Based on their understanding of the accounting system and control environment, auditors can make a preliminary assessment of the adequacy of the system as a basis for the preparation of the nancial statements, and of the likely mix of tests of control and substantive procedures.

20 As control procedures are often incorporated within accounting systems, gathering information to obtain the understanding of the accounting system is likely to result in some understanding of specic control procedures. In any event, as the accounting system, control environment and control procedures are closely related, auditors often seek to obtain information about all the relevant aspects of the accounting and internal control systems (the systems) as one exercise. However, in order to design and select the appropriate audit tests it may be necessary for them to undertake additional work to obtain a more detailed understanding of specic control proce- dures.

21 When seeking an understanding of the accounting systems and control environment sufcient to plan the audit, auditors obtain a knowledge of the design and operation of the systems. This understanding also assists the auditorsassessment of inherent risk. In order to obtain this knowledge, they often perform walk-through tests, that is tracing one or more transactions through the accounting system and observing the application of relevant aspects of the internal control system.

The nature, timing and extent of the procedures performed by auditors to obtain an understanding of the systems vary with, among other things;

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materiality considerations;

the size and complexity of the entity;

their assessment of inherent risk;

the complexity of the entitys computer systems;

the type of internal controls involved; and

the nature of the entitys documentation of specic internal controls.

Usually, the auditorsunderstanding of the systems is obtained through previous experience with the entity updated as necessary by:

23

(a)

enquiries of appropriate supervisory and other personnel at various organisa- tional levels within the entity, together with reference to documentation such as procedures manuals, job descriptions and systems descriptions;

(b)

inspection of relevant documents and records produced by the systems; and

(c)

observation of the entitys activities and operations, including the information technology functions organisation, personnel performing control procedures and the nature of transaction processing.

Internal controls and their inherent limitations

Internal controls established by the directors relating to the accounting system are concerned with achieving objectives such as;

24

transactions are executed in accordance with proper general or specic authorisation;

all transactions and other events are promptly recorded at the correct amount, in the appropriate accounts and in the proper accounting period so as to permit preparation of nancial statements in accordance with the applicable reporting framework (eg relevant legislation and applicable accounting standards);

access to assets is permitted only in accordance with proper authorisation; and

recorded assets are compared with the existing assets at reasonable intervals and appropriate action is taken with regard to any differences.

An internal control system can only provide the directors with reasonable con- dence that their objectives are reached because of inherent limitations such as;

25

the usual requirement that the cost of an internal control is not disproportionate to the potential loss which may result from its absence;

most systematic internal controls tend to be directed at routine transactions rather than non-routine transactions;

the potential for human error due to carelessness, distraction, mistakes of judgment and the misunderstanding of instructions;

the possibility of circumvention of internal controls through collusion with parties outside or inside the entity;

the possibility that a person responsible for exercising an internal control could abuse that responsibility, for example by overriding an internal control; and

the possibility that procedures may become inadequate due to changes in conditions or that compliance with procedures may deteriorate over time.

These factors indicate why auditors cannot obtain all their evidence from tests of the system of internal control.

Control risk in the small business

26 Auditors obtain an appropriate level of audit evidence to support their audit opinion regardless of the size of the entity. However, many internal controls relevant to large entities are not practical in the small business; for example, in small businesses accounting procedures may be performed by few persons who may have both operating and custodial responsibilities and, consequently, segregation of duties may be severely limited. Inadequate segregation of duties may, in some cases, be offset by other control procedures and close involvement of an owner or manager in strong supervisory controls where they have direct personal knowledge of the entity and involvement in transactions though this in itself may introduce other risks. In circumstances where segregation of duties is limited and evidence of supervisory controls is lacking, the audit evidence necessary to support the auditorsopinion on the nancial statements may have to be obtained entirely through the performance of substantive procedures and any audit work carried out in the course of preparing the nancial statements. What follows is to be read with this in mind.

Control risk

27 If auditors, after obtaining an understanding of the accounting system and control environment, expect to be able to rely on their assessment of control risk to reduce the extent of their substantive procedures, they should make a preliminary assessment of control risk for material financial statement assertions, and should plan and perform tests of control to support that assessment. (SAS 300.4)

28 If, as a result of their work on the accounting system and control environment, auditors decide it is likely to be inefcient or impossible to rely on any assessment of control risk to reduce their substantive procedures, no such assessment is necessary and control risk is assumed to be high.

Preliminary assessment of control risk

29 The preliminary assessment of control risk is the process of evaluating the likely effectiveness of an entitys accounting and internal control systems in preventing and correcting material misstatements. This entails consideration of the design of the accounting and internal control systems to assess their likely effectiveness. There is, however, always some control risk because of the inherent limitations of any internal control system.

30 The more effective the entitys accounting and internal control systems are assessed to be, the lower the auditorsassessment of control risk. Where auditors obtain satisfactory audit evidence from tests of control as to the effectiveness of the accounting and internal control systems, the extent of substantive procedures may be reduced.

31 Auditors may conclude that the accounting and internal control systems are not effective, or they may decide that it is likely to be inefcient to adopt an audit approach which relies on tests of control. In these circumstances they plan the audit approach on the basis that sufcient appropriate audit evidence needs to be obtained entirely from substantive procedures and from any audit work carried out in the preparation of the nancial statements.

Relationship between the assessments of inherent and control risks

Management often react to situations where inherent risk is high by designing accounting and internal control systems to prevent and detect misstatements and therefore, in many cases, inherent risk and control risk are highly interrelated. In such situations, the effects of inherent and control risk may be more appropriately determined by making a combined assessment.

32

Documentation of understanding and assessment of control risk

When control risk is assessed at less than high, auditors document the basis for that conclusion.

33

Different techniques may be used to document information relating to accounting and internal control systems and the assessment of control risk. Selection of a particular technique is a matter for the auditorsjudgment. Common techniques, used alone or in combination, are narrative descriptions, questionnaires, checklists and ow-charts. The form and extent of this documentation is inuenced by the size and complexity of the entity and the nature of the entitys accounting and internal control systems. Generally, the more complex the entitys accounting and internal control systems and the more extensive the auditorsprocedures, the more extensive the documentation needs to be.

34

Tests of control

Tests of control are performed to obtain audit evidence about the effective opera- tion of the accounting and internal control systems that is, that properly designed controls identied in the preliminary assessment exist in fact and have operated effectively throughout the relevant period. They include tests of elements of the control environment where strengths in the control environment are used by auditors to reduce control risk assessments.

35

Some of the procedures performed to obtain the understanding of the accounting and internal control systems may not have been specically planned as tests of control but may provide audit evidence about the effectiveness of the operation of internal controls relevant to certain assertions and, consequently, serve as tests of control. For example, in obtaining the understanding of the accounting and internal control systems pertaining to cash, auditors may obtain audit evidence about the effectiveness of the bank reconciliation process through enquiry and observation.

36

In these circumstances, when auditors conclude that procedures performed to obtain the understanding of the accounting and internal control systems also provide audit evidence about the operating effectiveness of policies and procedures relevant to a particular nancial statement assertion, they may use that evidence, on its own or (if not in itself sufcient) with other appropriate audit evidence, to support a control risk assessment at less than high.

37

Tests of control may include:

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corroborative enquiries about, and observation of, internal control functions;

inspection of documents supporting controls or events to gain audit evidence that internal controls have operated properly, for example verifying that a transaction has been authorised or a reconciliation approved;

examination of evidence of management reviews, for example minutes of management meetings at which nancial results are reviewed and corrective action decided on;

reperformance of control procedures, for example reconciliation of bank accounts, to ensure they were correctly performed by the entity; and

testing of the internal controls operating on specic computerised applications or over the overall information technology function, for example access or program change controls.

39 When obtaining evidence about the effective operation of internal controls, relevant factors for auditors to consider are how they were applied, the consistency with which they were applied during the period and by whom they were applied. The concept of effective operation recognises that some deviations may have occurred. Deviations from prescribed controls may be caused by such factors as changes in key personnel, signicant seasonal uctuations in volume of transactions and human error. In particular, staff changes in key internal control functions may increase control risk. If there have been such changes in the period under review, auditors may need to modify their tests of control to conrm effective operation during and after the period of change.

40 If substantially different controls are used at different times during the period, auditors consider each separately. A breakdown in internal controls for a specic portion of the period requires separate consideration of the nature, timing and extent of the audit procedures to be applied to the transactions and other events of that period.

41 Auditors may nd it necessary, or may prefer, to use computer-assisted audit techniques. The use of such techniques, for example le interrogation tools or audit test data, may be appropriate when the accounting and internal control systems provide no visible evidence documenting the performance of internal controls which are programmed into a computerised accounting system.

Quality and timeliness of audit evidence

42 As described in SAS 400 Audit evidence, certain types of audit evidence obtained by auditors are more reliable than others. Usually, auditorsobservations provide more reliable audit evidence than merely making enquiries, for example they might obtain audit evidence about the proper segregation of duties by observing the individual who applies a control procedure or by making enquiries of appropriate personnel. Audit evidence obtained by some tests of control, such as observation, pertains only to the point in time at which the procedure was applied. Auditors may decide, therefore, to supplement these procedures with other tests of control capable of providing audit evidence about other periods of time before or after that point.

43 If intending to rely on tests of control performed in advance of the period end, auditors should obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence as to the nature and extent of any changes in design or operation of the entitys accounting and internal control systems within the accounting period since such procedures were performed. (SAS 300.5)

44 Auditors may decide to perform some tests of control at an interim audit visit in advance of the period end. However, they cannot rely on the results of such tests

without considering the need to obtain further evidence relating to the remainder of the period. Factors to be considered include:

the results of the interim tests;

the length of the remaining period;

whether any changes have occurred in the accounting and internal control systems during the remaining period;

the nature and amount of the transactions and other events and the balances involved;

the control environment; and

the nature, timing and extent of the substantive procedures which they plan to undertake.

Likewise, in determining the appropriate audit evidence to support a conclusion about control risk, auditors may consider the audit evidence obtained in previous audits having regard to the guidance in paragraph 44 above. In a continuing engagement, auditors have knowledge of the accounting and internal control sys- tems through work carried out previously but update this information and consider the need to obtain further audit evidence. The longer the time elapsed since part of the accounting and internal control system was subject to tests of control, the less persuasive are the results of that work in providing audit evidence to support an assessment of control risk that is less than high.

45

Final assessment of control risk

Having undertaken tests of control, auditors should evaluate whether the 46 preliminary assessment of control risk is supported. (SAS 300.6)

Whenever deviations are detected, auditors make specic enquiries in order to consider their implications. It may be that, in the circumstances, they can obtain sufcient appropriate audit evidence to conclude that, despite those deviations, their preliminary assessment is supported. On the other hand, if they conclude that the deviation rate is such that the preliminary assessment is not supported, they amend their assessment of control risk unless audit evidence obtained from other tests of control supports that assessment.

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If the evaluation of deviations results in auditors concluding that the assessed level of control risk needs to be revised, they modify the nature, timing and extent of their planned substantive procedures.

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Detection risk

Auditors should consider the assessed levels of inherent and control risk in 49 determining the nature, timing and extent of substantive procedures required to reduce audit risk to an acceptable level. (SAS 300.7)

The level of detection risk relates to the auditorssubstantive procedures (tests of details of transactions and balances and analytical procedures). It is primarily the consequence of the fact that auditors do not, and cannot, examine all available evidence; auditors seek reasonable condence and so do not examine all items, nor all evidence concerning any item that is examined. Moreover, as audit evidence is generally persuasive rather than conclusive, some detection risk is usually present

50

even if they examine all evidence available of an account balance or an entire class of transactions.

51 To form their audit opinion, auditors obtain sufcient appropriate audit evidence as to whether the nancial statements are free of material misstatement. Internal controls, even if fairly simple and unsophisticated, may contribute to this evidence. The auditorscontrol risk assessment, together with the inherent risk assessment, inuences the nature, timing and extent of substantive procedures to be performed to reduce detection risk, and therefore audit risk, to an acceptably low level.

52 While tests of control and substantive procedures are distinguishable as to their purpose, the results of either type of procedure may contribute to the purpose of the other. Misstatements discovered in conducting substantive procedures may cause auditors to modify the previous assessment of control risk.

53 Regardless of the assessed levels of inherent and control risks, auditors should perform some substantive procedures for financial statement assertions of material account balances and transaction classes. (SAS 300.8)

54 The assessed levels of inherent and control risks cannot be sufciently low to eliminate the need for auditors to perform any substantive procedures for material account balances and transaction classes. However, these substantive procedures may comprise only analytical procedures where such procedures provide sufcient appropriate evidence.

55 The auditorsassessment of the components of audit risk may change during the course of an audit, for example information may come to their attention when performing substantive procedures that differs signicantly from the information on which they originally assessed inherent and control risks. In such cases, they modify the planned substantive procedures based on a revision of the assessed levels of inherent and control risks for the relevant nancial statement assertions.

56 When both inherent and control risks are assessed as high, auditors consider whether substantive procedures can provide sufcient appropriate audit evidence to reduce detection risk, and therefore audit risk, to an acceptably low level. For example, they may not be able to obtain sufcient evidence about the completeness of income in the absence of some internal controls. When auditors determine that detection risk regarding a material nancial statement assertion cannot be reduced to an acceptably low level, they consider the implications for their report.

Communication of weaknesses

57 As a result of obtaining an understanding of the accounting and internal control systems and of performing audit procedures, auditors may become aware of weak- nesses in the systems. Guidance on the communication of such weaknesses to directors or management is included in SAS 610 Reports to directors or manage- ment.

Compliance with International Standards on Auditing

58 International Standard on Auditing 400 Risk Assessments and Internal Controlincludes the following requirements which are not reected in Auditing Standards in this SAS:

(a)

The auditor should obtain an understanding of the accounting system sufcient to identify and understand:

(a)

major classes of transactions in the entitys operations;

(b)

how such transactions are initiated;

(c)

signicant accounting records, supporting documents and accounts in the nancial statements; and

(d)

the accounting and nancial reporting process, from the initiation of signicant transactions and other events to their inclusion in the nancial statements.

(b)

The auditor should obtain an understanding of the control environment sufcient to assess directorsand managements attitudes, awareness and actions regarding internal controls and their importance in the entity.

(c)

The auditor should obtain an understanding of the control procedures suf- cient to develop the audit plan.

As the SAS contains an Auditing Standard requiring auditors to obtain and document an understanding of the accounting system and control environment sufcient to determine their audit approach, it is considered more appropriate to include the requirements in (a), (b) and (c) above as guidance rather than as Auditing Standards.

(d)

The preliminary assessment of control risk for a nancial statement assertion should be high unless the auditor:

(a)

is able to identify internal controls relevant to the assertion which are likely

 

to prevent or detect and correct a material misstatement; and

 

(b)

plans to perform tests of control to support the assessment.

This requirement is inherent in SAS 300.4 in paragraph 27 above. It is therefore considered sufcient for the corresponding idea to be included as guidance only in paragraph 31 above. This states that, when auditors conclude that they do not wish to rely on tests of control, they plan the audit approach on the basis that sufcient appropriate audit evidence needs to be obtained entirely from sub- stantive procedures and from any audit work carried out in the preparation of the nancial statements.

(e)

The auditor should document in the audit working papers:

(a)

the understanding obtained of the entitys accounting and internal control systems; and

(b)

the assessment of control risk.

This requirement is reected generally in SAS 200 Planningand SAS 230 Working papers.

(f)

The higher the assessment of inherent and control risk, the more evidence the auditor should obtain from the performance of substantive procedures.This requirement is reected in SAS 400 Audit evidence.

(g)

When the auditor determines that detection risk regarding a nancial state- ment assertion for a material account balance or class of transactions cannot be reduced to an acceptably low level, the auditor should express a qualied opinion or disclaimer of opinion.

This requirement is reected in SAS 600 Auditorsreports on nancial state- ments.

(h) The auditor should make management aware, on a timely basis and at an appropriate level of responsibility, of material weaknesses in the design or operation of the accounting and internal control systems, which have come to the auditors attention.

This requirement is reected generally in Auditing Standards in SAS 610 Reports to directors or management.

59 With the explanations noted in paragraph 58, compliance with this SAS ensures compliance in all material respects with International Standard on Auditing 400 Risk Assessments and Internal Control.

Effective date

60 Auditors are required to comply with the Auditing Standards contained in this SAS in respect of audits of nancial statements for periods ending on or after 23 December 1995.

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