MOST SMEs NOW AUDIT EXEMPT
|By Usi Waida:
Most companies will be exempt from the mandatory statutory audit when the Companies Act No. 71 of 2008 becomes effective on 1 April 2011. This is a topical issue as there are pros and cons of this of legislation.
It has been noted globally and recently in South Africa that statutory audit of SME is expensive and creating unnecessary burdens on SME. An audit exempt company can now opt to be voluntarily audited. The majority of the eligible companies have chosen not to spend their limited funds on a voluntary audit.
For so many years the auditors have been relying, clinging on regulatory, mandatory or statutory backing for their existence. Firms who do not provide innovative tailor made services demanded by the client will suffer in fee reduction .If accountants benefited more than their clients this could explain why the stakeholders perceive no value in small audits resulting in statutory audit not being wanted by the owner managed shareholders.
There is also now an increased competition for providing assurance and audit related services to the released audit exempt SME’s hence some of the affected accountants will not want this legislation to go through. Independent professional accountants in good standing holding CA, ACCA, CIMA, and SAIPA qualifications can now provide the new statutory Independent reviews.
The audit profession is continuously being damaged as a result of company failures soon after obtaining clean audit reports as well as the negative interpretation of introducing audit exemptions to SME’s. The users of financial statements do not fully understand the responsibility of auditors especially on fraud detection. The misunderstanding on the responsibility is also partially being caused by accountants themselves who are giving contradictory views on the benefits and disadvantages of exempting SME from statutory audit. Yes, an audit can assist to detect fraud although fraud detection is not the main objective of auditing financial statements.
Briefly the main responsibility and objective of auditors is to express an opinion whether the financial statements give a true and fair view of the state of company’s affairs and whether the financial statements have been prepared in accordance with applicable financial reporting framework. It does not mean that unaudited accounts do not give a true and fair view of the state of company affairs and those creditors of unaudited SME companies will be affected. There is no Independent auditor’s report which states that auditor’s responsibility is to detect fraud. It’s not possible for auditors to certify non-existence of fraud given that audit is based on sampling. It is the responsibility of management to ensure that financial statements are free from material misstatement due to fraud.
Best practice now requires that fraud detection assignments should be awarded to fraud expects ,fraud specialist such Certified Fraud Examiners, Certified Forensic Accountants or auditors who are interested in forensic audit must do a forensic specialist course. One qualification can no longer fit in all business areas given the complexities of modern day businesses. Countries such as Nigeria, USA, Canada, and India have established Institutes of Forensic Accounting in order to align with modern business needs.
The companies act still requires companies to keep and maintain proper accounting records and those who do not comply will be committing a criminal offence.
WHAT ARE THE NEEDS OF SME’s
Accountants should have a detailed understanding of the economic purposes of companies. They must now develop innovative ways to satisfy the demands of the market. It can be a waste of time of taking a protectionist stance in trying to defend the benefits of statutory audit for SME’s , by the way most SME ‘s are owner managed. What is the benefit of auditing the owner? There is no point in reporting to shareholders how they have run their business since they are the same people. Actually these owners are best placed to tell the auditors how they run their business. If your existing audit client whom you have been auditing for many years has opted not to be audited. Ask yourself if you have been adding value to the client or you have just been relying on the statutory audit backing to provide an unwanted service. Most SME do not need a statutory audit they need business advice that add value to their businesses.
Accountants for SME should move away from just looking at historical figures they must expand their services to say: business advice, agreed upon procedures, business reviews, Outsourced CFO services, risk management and special purpose assignments in order to add value to client business.
SME that cannot prepare the financial statements still need the services of an independent accounting professional.
IMPACT ON THE AUDIT/ ACCOUNTING PROFESSION
In my view the audit profession could suffer in the short to medium term. If the audit exempt SME obtain good business advice they can grow to large auditable firms thereby benefiting the economy and the audit profession. Accounting firms will continue to merge in order to provide expanded services from a large pool of skilled human capital. There is still a big lucrative market for skilled accountants in South Africa.
Usi Waida, Fund Accountant – Investment Data Services Group (Pty) Ltd – email@example.com
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