Application and Other Explanatory Material
Fraud, whether fraudulent financial reporting or misappropriation of assets, involves incentive or pressure to commit fraud, a perceived opportunity to do so and some rationalisation of the act. For example:
- Incentive or pressure to commit fraudulent financial reporting may exist when management is under pressure, from sources outside or inside the entity, to achieve an expected (and perhaps unrealistic) earnings target or financial outcome – particularly since the consequences to management for failing to meet financial goals can be significant. Similarly, individuals may have an incentive to misappropriate assets, for example, because the individuals are living beyond their means.
- A perceived opportunity to commit fraud may exist when an individual believes internal control can be overridden, for example, because the individual is in a position of trust or has knowledge of specific deficiencies in internal control.
- Individuals may be able to rationalise committing a fraudulent act. Some individuals possess an attitude, character or set of ethical values that allow them knowingly and intentionally to commit a dishonest act. However, even otherwise honest individuals can commit fraud in an environment that imposes sufficient pressure on them.
Fraudulent financial reporting involves intentional misstatements including omissions of amounts or disclosures in the financial report to deceive financial report users. It can be caused by the efforts of management to manage earnings in order to deceive financial report users by influencing their perceptions as to the entity’s performance and profitability. Such earnings management may start out with small actions or inappropriate adjustment of assumptions and changes in judgements by management. Pressures and incentives may lead these actions to increase to the extent that they result in fraudulent financial reporting. Such a situation could occur when, due to pressures to meet market expectations or a desire to maximise compensation based on performance, management intentionally takes positions that lead to fraudulent financial reporting by materially misstating the financial report. In some entities, management may be motivated to reduce earnings by a material amount to minimise tax or to inflate earnings to secure bank financing.
Fraudulent financial reporting may be accomplished by the following:
- Manipulation, falsification (including forgery), or alteration of accounting records or supporting documentation from which the financial report is prepared.
- Misrepresentation in, or intentional omission from, the financial report of events, transactions or other significant information.
- Intentional misapplication of accounting principles relating to amounts, classification, manner of presentation, or disclosure.
Fraudulent financial reporting often involves management override of controls that otherwise may appear to be operating effectively. Fraud can be committed by management overriding controls using such techniques as intentionally:
- Recording fictitious journal entries, particularly close to the end of an accounting period, to manipulate operating results or achieve other objectives.
- Inappropriately adjusting assumptions and changing judgements used to estimate account balances.
- Omitting, advancing or delaying recognition in the financial statements of events and transactions that have occurred during the reporting period.
- Omitting, obscuring or misstating disclosures required by the applicable financial reporting framework, or disclosures that are necessary to achieve fair presentation.
- Concealing facts that could affect the amounts recorded in the financial report.
- Engaging in complex transactions that are structured to misrepresent the financial position or financial performance of the entity.
- Altering records and terms related to significant and unusual transactions.
Misappropriation of assets involves the theft of an entity’s assets and is often perpetrated by employees in relatively small and immaterial amounts. However, it can also involve management who are usually more able to disguise or conceal misappropriations in ways that are difficult to detect. Misappropriation of assets can be accomplished in a variety of ways including:
- Embezzling receipts (for example, misappropriating collections on accounts receivable or diverting receipts in respect of written‑off accounts to personal bank accounts).
- Stealing physical assets or intellectual property (for example, stealing inventory for personal use or for sale, stealing scrap for resale, colluding with a competitor by disclosing technological data in return for payment).
- Causing an entity to pay for goods and services not received (for example, payments to fictitious vendors, kickbacks paid by vendors to the entity’s purchasing agents in return for inflating prices, payments to fictitious employees).
- Using an entity’s assets for personal use (for example, using the entity’s assets as collateral for a personal loan or a loan to a related party).
- Misappropriation of assets is often accompanied by false or misleading records or documents in order to conceal the fact that the assets are missing or have been pledged without proper authorisation.
Responsibility for the Prevention and Detection of Fraud
Responsibilities of the Auditor (Ref: Para. 9)
Law, regulation or relevant ethical requirements may require the auditor to perform additional procedures and take further actions. For example, the APES 110 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (including Independence Standards) issued by the Accounting and Professional and Ethical Standards Board requires the auditor to take steps to respond to identified or suspected non‑compliance with laws and regulations and determine whether further action is needed. Such steps may include the communication of identified or suspected non‑compliance with laws and regulations to other auditors within a group, including a group engagement partner, component auditors or other auditors performing work at components of a group for purposes other than the audit of the group financial report. 
Considerations Specific to Public Sector Entities
The public sector auditor’s responsibilities relating to fraud may be a result of law, regulation or other authority, applicable to public sector entities or separately covered by the auditor’s mandate. Consequently, the public sector auditor’s responsibilities may not be limited to consideration of risks of material misstatement of the financial report, but may also include a broader responsibility to consider risks of fraud.
Maintaining professional scepticism requires an ongoing questioning of whether the information and audit evidence obtained suggests that a material misstatement due to fraud may exist. It includes considering the reliability of the information to be used as audit evidence and the controls over its preparation and maintenance where relevant. Due to the characteristics of fraud, the auditor’s professional scepticism is particularly important when considering the risks of material misstatement due to fraud.
Although the auditor cannot be expected to disregard past experience of the honesty and integrity of the entity’s management and those charged with governance, the auditor’s professional scepticism is particularly important in considering the risks of material misstatement due to fraud because there may have been changes in circumstances.
An audit performed in accordance with Australian Auditing Standards rarely involves the authentication of documents, nor is the auditor trained as or expected to be an expert in such authentication. However, when the auditor identifies conditions that cause the auditor to believe that a document may not be authentic or that terms in a document have been modified but not disclosed to the auditor, possible procedures to investigate further may include:
- Confirming directly with the third party.
- Using the work of an expert to assess the document’s authenticity.
- Provides an opportunity for more experienced engagement team members to share their insights about how and where the financial report may be susceptible to material misstatement due to fraud.
- Enables the auditor to consider an appropriate response to such susceptibility and to determine which members of the engagement team will conduct certain audit procedures.
- Permits the auditor to determine how the results of audit procedures will be shared among the engagement team and how to deal with any allegations of fraud that may come to the auditor’s attention.
- An exchange of ideas among engagement team members about how and where they believe the entity’s financial report (including the individual financial statements and the disclosures) may be susceptible to material misstatement due to fraud, how management could perpetrate and conceal fraudulent financial reporting, and how assets of the entity could be misappropriated.
- A consideration of circumstances that might be indicative of earnings management and the practices that might be followed by management to manage earnings that could lead to fraudulent financial reporting.
- A consideration of the risk that management may attempt to present disclosures in a manner that may obscure a proper understanding of the matters disclosed (for example, by including too much immaterial information or by using unclear or ambiguous language).
- A consideration of the known external and internal factors affecting the entity that may create an incentive or pressure for management or others to commit fraud, provide the opportunity for fraud to be perpetrated, and indicate a culture or environment that enables management or others to rationalise committing fraud.
- A consideration of management’s involvement in overseeing employees with access to cash or other assets susceptible to misappropriation.
- A consideration of any unusual or unexplained changes in behaviour or lifestyle of management or employees which have come to the attention of the engagement team.
- An emphasis on the importance of maintaining a proper state of mind throughout the audit regarding the potential for material misstatement due to fraud.
- A consideration of the types of circumstances that, if encountered, might indicate the possibility of fraud.
- A consideration of how an element of unpredictability will be incorporated into the nature, timing and extent of the audit procedures to be performed.
- A consideration of the audit procedures that might be selected to respond to the susceptibility of the entity’s financial report to material misstatement due to fraud and whether certain types of audit procedures are more effective than others.
- A consideration of any allegations of fraud that have come to the auditor’s attention.
- A consideration of the risk of management override of controls.
Risk Assessment Procedures and Related Activities
Management’s Assessment of the Risk of Material Misstatement Due to Fraud (Ref: Para. 18(a))
Management accepts responsibility for the entity’s internal control and for the preparation of the entity’s financial report. Accordingly, it is appropriate for the auditor to make enquiries of management regarding management’s own assessment of the risk of fraud and the controls in place to prevent and detect it. The nature, extent and frequency of management’s assessment of such risk and controls may vary from entity to entity. In some entities, management may make detailed assessments on an annual basis or as part of continuous monitoring. In other entities, management’s assessment may be less structured and less frequent. The nature, extent and frequency of management’s assessment are relevant to the auditor’s understanding of the entity’s control environment. For example, the fact that management has not made an assessment of the risk of fraud may in some circumstances be indicative of the lack of importance that management places on internal control.
Considerations specific to smaller entities
In the case of entities with multiple locations, management’s processes may include different levels of monitoring of operating locations, or business segments. Management may also have identified particular operating locations or business segments for which a risk of fraud may be more likely to exist.
The auditor’s enquiries of management may provide useful information concerning the risks of material misstatements in the financial report resulting from employee fraud. However, such enquiries are unlikely to provide useful information regarding the risks of material misstatement in the financial report resulting from management fraud. Making enquiries of others within the entity may provide individuals with an opportunity to convey information to the auditor that may not otherwise be communicated.
Examples of others within the entity to whom the auditor may direct enquiries about the existence or suspicion of fraud include:
- Operating personnel not directly involved in the financial reporting process.
- Employees with different levels of authority.
- Employees involved in initiating, processing or recording complex or unusual transactions and those who supervise or monitor such employees.
- In‑house legal counsel.
- Chief ethics officer or equivalent person.
- The person or persons charged with dealing with allegations of fraud.
ASA 315 and ASA 610 establish requirements and provide guidance relevant to audits of those entities that have an internal audit function. In carrying out the requirements of those Auditing Standards in the context of fraud, the auditor may enquire about specific activities of the function including, for example:
- The procedures performed, if any, by the internal audit function during the year to detect fraud.
- Whether management has satisfactorily responded to any findings resulting from those procedures.
Those charged with governance of an entity oversee the entity’s systems for monitoring risk, financial control and compliance with the law. In many circumstances, corporate governance practices are well developed and those charged with governance play an active role in oversight of the entity’s assessment of the risks of fraud and of the relevant internal control. Since the responsibilities of those charged with governance and management may vary by entity and by the circumstances, it is important that the auditor understands their respective responsibilities to enable the auditor to obtain an understanding of the oversight exercised by the appropriate individuals.
An understanding of the oversight exercised by those charged with governance may provide insights regarding the susceptibility of the entity to management fraud, the adequacy of internal control over risks of fraud, and the competency and integrity of management. The auditor may obtain this understanding in a number of ways, such as by attending meetings where such discussions take place, reading the minutes from such meetings or making enquiries of those charged with governance.
Considerations Specific to Smaller Entities
In some cases, all of those charged with governance are involved in managing the entity. This may be the case in a small entity where a single owner manages the entity and no one else has a governance role. In these cases, there is ordinarily no action on the part of the auditor because there is no oversight separate from management.
In addition to information obtained from applying analytical procedures, other information obtained about the entity and its environment may be helpful in identifying the risks of material misstatement due to fraud. The discussion among team members may provide information that is helpful in identifying such risks. In addition, information obtained from the auditor’s client acceptance and retention processes, and experience gained on other engagements performed for the entity, for example engagements to review interim financial information, may be relevant in the identification of the risks of material misstatement due to fraud.
The fact that fraud is usually concealed can make it very difficult to detect. Nevertheless, the auditor may identify events or conditions that indicate an incentive or pressure to commit fraud or provide an opportunity to commit fraud (fraud risk factors). For example:
- The need to meet expectations of third parties to obtain additional equity financing may create pressure to commit fraud;
- The granting of significant bonuses if unrealistic profit targets are met may create an incentive to commit fraud; and
- A control environment that is not effective may create an opportunity to commit fraud.
Fraud risk factors cannot easily be ranked in order of importance. The significance of fraud risk factors varies widely. Some of these factors will be present in entities where the specific conditions do not present risks of material misstatement. Accordingly, the determination of whether a fraud risk factor is present and whether it is to be considered in assessing the risks of material misstatement of the financial report due to fraud requires the exercise of professional judgement.
Examples of fraud risk factors related to fraudulent financial reporting and misappropriation of assets are presented in Appendix 1. These illustrative risk factors are classified based on the three conditions that are generally present when fraud exists:
- An incentive or pressure to commit fraud;
- A perceived opportunity to commit fraud; and
- An ability to rationalise the fraudulent action.
Risk factors reflective of an attitude that permits rationalisation of the fraudulent action may not be susceptible to observation by the auditor. Nevertheless, the auditor may become aware of the existence of such information. Although the fraud risk factors described in Appendix 1 cover a broad range of situations that may be faced by auditors, they are only examples and other risk factors may exist.
The size, complexity, and ownership characteristics of the entity have a significant influence on the consideration of relevant fraud risk factors. For example, in the case of a large entity, there may be factors that generally constrain improper conduct by management, such as:
- Effective oversight by those charged with governance.
- An effective internal audit function.
- The existence and enforcement of a written code of conduct.
Furthermore, fraud risk factors considered at a business segment operating level may provide different insights when compared with those obtained when considered at an entity‑wide level.
Considerations Specific to Smaller Entities
In the case of a small entity, some or all of these considerations may be inapplicable or less relevant. For example, a smaller entity may not have a written code of conduct but, instead, may have developed a culture that emphasises the importance of integrity and ethical behaviour through oral communication and by management example. Domination of management by a single individual in a small entity does not generally, in and of itself, indicate a failure by management to display and communicate an appropriate attitude regarding internal control and the financial reporting process. In some entities, the need for management authorisation can compensate for otherwise deficient controls and reduce the risk of employee fraud. However, domination of management by a single individual can be a potential deficiency in internal control since there is an opportunity for management override of controls.
Identification and Assessment of the Risks of Material Misstatement Due to Fraud
Risks of Fraud in Revenue Recognition (Ref: Para. 27)
Material misstatement due to fraudulent financial reporting relating to revenue recognition often results from an overstatement of revenues through, for example, premature revenue recognition or recording fictitious revenues. It may result also from an understatement of revenues through, for example, improperly shifting revenues to a later period.
The risks of fraud in revenue recognition may be greater in some entities than others. For example, there may be pressures or incentives on management to commit fraudulent financial reporting through inappropriate revenue recognition in the case of listed entities when, for example, performance is measured in terms of year‑over‑year revenue growth or profit. Similarly, for example, there may be greater risks of fraud in revenue recognition in the case of entities that generate a substantial portion of revenues through cash sales.
The presumption that there are risks of fraud in revenue recognition may be rebutted. For example, the auditor may conclude that there is no risk of material misstatement due to fraud relating to revenue recognition in the case where there is a single type of simple revenue transaction, for example, leasehold revenue from a single unit rental property.
Management may make judgements on the nature and extent of the controls it chooses to implement, and the nature and extent of the risks it chooses to assume. In determining which controls to implement to prevent and detect fraud, management considers the risks that the financial report may be materially misstated as a result of fraud. As part of this consideration, management may conclude that it is not cost effective to implement and maintain a particular control in relation to the reduction in the risks of material misstatement due to fraud to be achieved.
It is therefore important for the auditor to obtain an understanding of the controls that management has designed, implemented and maintained to prevent and detect fraud. In doing so, the auditor may learn, for example, that management has consciously chosen to accept the risks associated with a lack of segregation of duties. Information from obtaining this understanding may also be useful in identifying fraud risks factors that may affect the auditor’s assessment of the risks that the financial report may contain material misstatement due to fraud.
Responses to the Assessed Risks of Material Misstatement Due to Fraud
Overall Responses (Ref: Para. 29)
Determining overall responses to address the assessed risks of material misstatement due to fraud generally includes the consideration of how the overall conduct of the audit can reflect increased professional scepticism, for example, through:
- Increased sensitivity in the selection of the nature and extent of documentation to be examined in support of material transactions.
- Increased recognition of the need to corroborate management explanations or representations concerning material matters.
It also involves more general considerations apart from the specific procedures otherwise planned; these considerations include the matters listed in paragraph 29, which are discussed below.
Incorporating an element of unpredictability in the selection of the nature, timing and extent of audit procedures to be performed is important as individuals within the entity who are familiar with the audit procedures normally performed on engagements may be more able to conceal fraudulent financial reporting. This can be achieved by, for example:
- Performing substantive audit procedures on selected account balances and assertions not otherwise tested due to their materiality or risk.
- Adjusting the timing of audit procedures from that otherwise expected.
- Using different sampling methods.
- Performing audit procedures at different locations or at locations on an unannounced basis.
The auditor’s responses to address the assessed risks of material misstatement due to fraud at the assertion level may include changing the nature, timing and extent of audit procedures in the following ways:
- The nature of audit procedures to be performed may need to be changed to obtain audit evidence that is more reliable and relevant or to obtain additional corroborative information. This may affect both the type of audit procedures to be performed and their combination. For example:
- Physical observation or inspection of certain assets may become more important or the auditor may choose to use computer‑assisted audit techniques to gather more evidence about data contained in significant accounts or electronic transaction files.
- The auditor may design procedures to obtain additional corroborative information. For example, if the auditor identifies that management is under pressure to meet earnings expectations, there may be a related risk that management is inflating sales by entering into sales agreements that include terms that preclude revenue recognition or by invoicing sales before delivery. In these circumstances, the auditor may, for example, design external confirmations not only to confirm outstanding amounts, but also to confirm the details of the sales agreements, including date, any rights of return and delivery terms. In addition, the auditor might find it effective to supplement such external confirmations with enquiries of non‑financial personnel in the entity regarding any changes in sales agreements and delivery terms.
- The timing of substantive procedures may need to be modified. The auditor may conclude that performing substantive testing at or near the period end better addresses an assessed risk of material misstatement due to fraud. The auditor may conclude that, given the assessed risks of intentional misstatement or manipulation, audit procedures to extend audit conclusions from an interim date to the period end would not be effective. In contrast, because an intentional misstatement—for example, a misstatement involving improper revenue recognition—may have been initiated in an interim period, the auditor may elect to apply substantive procedures to transactions occurring earlier in or throughout the reporting period.
- The extent of the procedures applied reflects the assessment of the risks of material misstatement due to fraud. For example, increasing sample sizes or performing analytical procedures at a more detailed level may be appropriate. Also, computer‑assisted audit techniques may enable more extensive testing of electronic transactions and account files. Such techniques can be used to select sample transactions from key electronic files, to sort transactions with specific characteristics, or to test an entire population instead of a sample.
If the auditor identifies a risk of material misstatement due to fraud that affects inventory quantities, examining the entity’s inventory records may help to identify locations or items that require specific attention during or after the physical inventory count. Such a review may lead to a decision to observe inventory counts at certain locations on an unannounced basis or to conduct inventory counts at all locations on the same date.
The auditor may identify a risk of material misstatement due to fraud affecting a number of accounts and assertions. These may include asset valuation, estimates relating to specific transactions (such as acquisitions, restructurings, or disposals of a segment of the business), and other significant accrued liabilities (such as pension or superannuation and other post‑employment benefit obligations, or environmental remediation liabilities). The risk may also relate to significant changes in assumptions relating to recurring estimates. Information gathered through obtaining an understanding of the entity and its environment may assist the auditor in evaluating the reasonableness of such management estimates and underlying judgements and assumptions. A retrospective review of similar management judgements and assumptions applied in prior periods may also provide insight about the reasonableness of judgements and assumptions supporting management estimates.
Examples of possible audit procedures to address the assessed risks of material misstatement due to fraud, including those that illustrate the incorporation of an element of unpredictability, are presented in Appendix 2. The appendix includes examples of responses to the auditor’s assessment of the risks of material misstatement resulting from both fraudulent financial reporting, including fraudulent financial reporting resulting from revenue recognition, and misappropriation of assets.
Material misstatement of the financial report due to fraud often involves the manipulation of the financial reporting process by recording inappropriate or unauthorised journal entries. This may occur throughout the year or at period end, or by management making adjustments to amounts reported in the financial report that are not reflected in journal entries, such as through consolidating adjustments and reclassifications.
Further, the auditor’s consideration of the risks of material misstatement associated with inappropriate override of controls over journal entries is important since automated processes and controls may reduce the risk of inadvertent error but do not overcome the risk that individuals may inappropriately override such automated processes, for example, by changing the amounts being automatically passed to the general ledger or to the financial reporting system. Furthermore, where IT is used to transfer information automatically, there may be little or no visible evidence of such intervention in the information systems.
When identifying and selecting journal entries and other adjustments for testing and determining the appropriate method of examining the underlying support for the items selected, the following matters are of relevance:
- The assessment of the risks of material misstatement due to fraud – the presence of fraud risk factors and other information obtained during the auditor’s assessment of the risks of material misstatement due to fraud may assist the auditor to identify specific classes of journal entries and other adjustments for testing.
- Controls that have been implemented over journal entries and other adjustments – effective controls over the preparation and posting of journal entries and other adjustments may reduce the extent of substantive testing necessary, provided that the auditor has tested the operating effectiveness of the controls.
- The entity’s financial reporting process and the nature of evidence that can be obtained – for many entities routine processing of transactions involves a combination of manual and automated steps and procedures. Similarly, the processing of journal entries and other adjustments may involve both manual and automated procedures and controls. When information technology is used in the financial reporting process, journal entries and other adjustments may exist only in electronic form.
- The characteristics of fraudulent journal entries or other adjustments – inappropriate journal entries or other adjustments often have unique identifying characteristics. Such characteristics may include entries (a) made to unrelated, unusual, or seldom‑used accounts, (b) made by individuals who typically do not make journal entries, (c) recorded at the end of the period or as post‑closing entries that have little or no explanation or description, (d) made either before or during the preparation of the financial report that do not have account numbers, or (e) containing round numbers or consistent ending numbers.
- The nature and complexity of the accounts – inappropriate journal entries or adjustments may be applied to accounts that (a) contain transactions that are complex or unusual in nature, (b) contain significant estimates and period‑end adjustments, (c) have been prone to misstatements in the past, (d) have not been reconciled on a timely basis or contain unreconciled differences, (e) contain inter‑company transactions, or (f) are otherwise associated with an identified risk of material misstatement due to fraud. In audits of entities that have several locations or components, consideration is given to the need to select journal entries from multiple locations.
- Journal entries or other adjustments processed outside the normal course of business – nonstandard journal entries may not be subject to the same level of internal control as those journal entries used on a recurring basis to record transactions such as monthly sales, purchases and cash disbursements.
The auditor uses professional judgement in determining the nature, timing and extent of testing of journal entries and other adjustments. However, because fraudulent journal entries and other adjustments are often made at the end of a reporting period, paragraph 33(a)(ii) requires the auditor to select the journal entries and other adjustments made at that time. Further, because material misstatements in the financial report due to fraud can occur throughout the period and may involve extensive efforts to conceal how the fraud is accomplished, paragraph 33(a)(iii) requires the auditor to consider whether there is also a need to test journal entries and other adjustments throughout the period.
The preparation of the financial report requires management to make a number of judgements or assumptions that affect significant accounting estimates and to monitor the reasonableness of such estimates on an ongoing basis. Fraudulent financial reporting is often accomplished through intentional misstatement of accounting estimates. This may be achieved by, for example, understating or overstating all provisions or reserves in the same fashion so as to be designed either to smooth earnings over two or more accounting periods, or to achieve a designated earnings level in order to deceive financial statement users by influencing their perceptions as to the entity’s performance and profitability.
The purpose of performing a retrospective review of management judgements and assumptions related to significant accounting estimates reflected in the financial report of the prior year is to determine whether there is an indication of a possible bias on the part of management. It is not intended to call into question the auditor’s professional judgements made in the prior year that were based on information available at the time.
A retrospective review is also required by ASA 540. That review is conducted as a risk assessment procedure to obtain information regarding the effectiveness of management’s previous accounting estimates, audit evidence about the outcome, or where applicable, their subsequent re‑estimation to assist in identifying and assessing the risks of material misstatement in the current period and audit evidence of matters, such as estimation uncertainty, that may be required to be disclosed in the financial report. As a practical matter, the auditor’s review of management judgements and assumptions for biases that could represent a risk of material misstatement due to fraud in accordance with this Auditing Standard may be carried out in conjunction with the review required by ASA 540.
Indicators that may suggest that significant transactions that are outside the normal course of business for the entity, or that otherwise appear to be unusual, may have been entered into to engage in fraudulent financial reporting or to conceal misappropriation of assets include:
- The form of such transactions appears overly complex (for example, the transaction involves multiple entities within a consolidated group or multiple unrelated third parties).
- Management has not discussed the nature of and accounting for such transactions with those charged with governance of the entity, and there is inadequate documentation.
- Management is placing more emphasis on the need for a particular accounting treatment than on the underlying economics of the transaction.
- Transactions that involve non‑consolidated related parties, including special purpose entities, have not been properly reviewed or approved by those charged with governance of the entity.
- The transactions involve previously unidentified related parties or parties that do not have the substance or the financial strength to support the transaction without assistance from the entity under audit.
ASA 330 requires the auditor, based on the audit procedures performed and the audit evidence obtained, to evaluate whether the assessments of the risks of material misstatement at the assertion level remain appropriate. This evaluation is primarily a qualitative matter based on the auditor’s judgement. Such an evaluation may provide further insight about the risks of material misstatement due to fraud and whether there is a need to perform additional or different audit procedures. Appendix 3 contains examples of circumstances that may indicate the possibility of fraud.
Determining which particular trends and relationships may indicate a risk of material misstatement due to fraud requires professional judgement. Unusual relationships involving year‑end revenue and income are particularly relevant. These might include, for example: uncharacteristically large amounts of income being reported in the last few weeks of the reporting period or unusual transactions; or income that is inconsistent with trends in cash flow from operations.
Since fraud involves incentive or pressure to commit fraud, a perceived opportunity to do so or some rationalisation of the act, an instance of fraud is unlikely to be an isolated occurrence. Accordingly, misstatements, such as numerous misstatements at a specific location even though the cumulative effect is not material, may be indicative of a risk of material misstatement due to fraud.
The implications of identified fraud depend on the circumstances. For example, an otherwise insignificant fraud may be significant if it involves senior management. In such circumstances, the reliability of evidence previously obtained may be called into question, since there may be doubts about the completeness and truthfulness of representations made and about the genuineness of accounting records and documentation. There may also be a possibility of collusion involving employees, management or third parties.
- The entity does not take the appropriate action regarding fraud that the auditor considers necessary in the circumstances, even where the fraud is not material to the financial report;
- The auditor’s consideration of the risks of material misstatement due to fraud and the results of audit tests indicate a significant risk of material and pervasive fraud; or
- The auditor has significant concern about the competence or integrity of management or those charged with governance.
Because of the variety of the circumstances that may arise, it is not possible to describe definitively when withdrawal from an engagement is appropriate. Factors that affect the auditor’s conclusion include the implications of the involvement of a member of management or of those charged with governance (which may affect the reliability of management representations) and the effects on the auditor of a continuing association with the entity.
The auditor has professional and legal responsibilities in such circumstances and these responsibilities may vary according to circumstances. In some circumstances, for example, the auditor may be entitled to, or required to, make a statement or report to the person or persons who made the audit appointment or, in some cases, to regulatory authorities. Given the exceptional nature of the circumstances and the need to consider the legal requirements, the auditor may consider it appropriate to seek legal advice when deciding whether to withdraw from an engagement and in determining an appropriate course of action, including the possibility of reporting to shareholders, regulators or others.
For an audit engagement under the Corporations Act 2001 (the Act), the possibility of withdrawing from the engagement or resigning from the appointment as an auditor can only be made in accordance with the provisions of the Act, including in certain circumstances, obtaining consent to resign from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
Considerations Specific to Public Sector Entities
ASA 580 establishes requirements and provides guidance on obtaining appropriate representations from management and, where appropriate, those charged with governance in the audit. In addition to acknowledging that they have fulfilled their responsibility for the preparation of the financial report, it is important that, irrespective of the size of the entity, management and, where appropriate, those charged with governance acknowledge their responsibility for internal control designed, implemented and maintained to prevent and detect fraud.
Because of the nature of fraud and the difficulties encountered by auditors in detecting material misstatements in the financial report resulting from fraud, it is important that the auditor obtain a written representation from management and, where appropriate, those charged with governance confirming that they have disclosed to the auditor:
- The results of management’s assessment of the risk that the financial report may be materially misstated as a result of fraud; and
- Their knowledge of actual, suspected or alleged fraud affecting the entity.
In some jurisdictions, law or regulation may restrict the auditor’s communication of certain matters with management and those charged with governance. Law or regulation may specifically prohibit a communication, or other action, that might prejudice an investigation by an appropriate authority into an actual, or suspected, illegal act, including alerting the entity, for example, when the auditor is required to report the fraud to an appropriate authority pursuant to anti‑money laundering legislation. In these circumstances, the issues considered by the auditor may be complex and the auditor may consider it appropriate to obtain legal advice.
When the auditor has obtained evidence that fraud exists or may exist, it is important that the matter be brought to the attention of the appropriate level of management as soon as practicable. This is so even if the matter might be considered inconsequential (for example, a minor defalcation by an employee at a low level in the entity’s organisation). The determination of which level of management is the appropriate one is a matter of professional judgement and is affected by such factors as the likelihood of collusion and the nature and magnitude of the suspected fraud. Ordinarily, the appropriate level of management is at least one level above the persons who appear to be involved with the suspected fraud.
Legislation may require the auditor or a member of the audit team to maintain the confidentiality of information disclosed to the auditor, or a member of the audit team, by a person regarding contraventions or possible contraventions of the law.* In such circumstances, the auditor or a member of the audit team may be prevented from communicating that information to management or those charged with governance in order to protect the identity of the person who has disclosed confidential information that alleges a breach of the law. In such circumstances, the auditor may consider obtaining legal advice to assist in determining the appropriate course of action and may need to consider the implications for the audit engagement.
The auditor’s communication with those charged with governance may be made orally or in writing. ASA 260 identifies factors the auditor considers in determining whether to communicate orally or in writing. Due to the nature and sensitivity of fraud involving senior management, or fraud that results in a material misstatement in the financial report, the auditor reports such matters on a timely basis and may consider it necessary to also report such matters in writing.
In some cases, the auditor may consider it appropriate to communicate with those charged with governance when the auditor becomes aware of fraud involving employees other than management that does not result in a material misstatement. Similarly, those charged with governance may wish to be informed of such circumstances. The communication process is assisted if the auditor and those charged with governance agree at an early stage in the audit about the nature and extent of the auditor’s communications in this regard.
- Concerns about the nature, extent and frequency of management’s assessments of the controls in place to prevent and detect fraud and of the risk that the financial report may be misstated.
- A failure by management to appropriately address identified significant deficiencies in internal control, or to appropriately respond to an identified fraud.
- The auditor’s evaluation of the entity’s control environment, including questions regarding the competence and integrity of management.
- Actions by management that may be indicative of fraudulent financial reporting, such as management’s selection and application of accounting policies that may be indicative of management’s effort to manage earnings in order to deceive financial statement users by influencing their perceptions as to the entity’s performance and profitability.
- Concerns about the adequacy and completeness of the authorisation of transactions that appear to be outside the normal course of business.
ASA 250 provides further guidance with respect to the auditor’s determination of whether reporting identified or suspected non‑compliance with laws or regulations to an appropriate authority outside the entity is required or appropriate in the circumstances, including consideration of the auditor’s duty of confidentiality.
The determination required by paragraph 44 may involve complex considerations and professional judgements. Accordingly, the auditor may consider consulting internally (e.g., within the firm or a network firm) or on a confidential basis with a regulator or professional body (unless doing so is prohibited by law or regulation or would breach the duty of confidentiality). The auditor may also consider obtaining legal advice to understand the auditor’s options and the professional or legal implications of taking any particular course of action.
Considerations Specific to Public Sector Entities
See, for example, paragraphs R360.16-360.18 A1 of the APES 110 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (including Independence Standards).
See ASA 260, paragraphs A1‑A8, that discuss with whom the auditor communicates when the entity’s governance structure is not well defined.
Relevant ethical requirements may provide guidance on communications with a proposed successor auditor. See ASA 102 Compliance with Ethical Requirements when Performing Audits, Reviews and Other Assurance Engagements.
See ASA 250, Consideration of Laws and Regulations in an Audit of a Financial Report, paragraphs A28–A34
See ASIC Regulatory Guide 34 Auditor’s obligations: reporting to ASIC (May 2013), which provides guidance to help auditors comply with their obligations, under sections 311, 601HG and 990K of the Corporations Act 2001, to report contraventions and suspected contraventions to ASIC.