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Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act gives these codes teeth, protecting employees of publicly traded companies that provide evidence of fraud, by prohibiting actions to discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass or in any other manner discriminate against an employee because of a lawful act done by the employee 4 and provides remedies in the form of compensatory damages Amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations became effective on November 1, 2004 Importantly, the guidelines provide that if a compliance and ethics program is deemed to be effective it will not only protect a corporation in the penalty phase of a criminal proceeding; it also should help lessen the likelihood that a criminal proceeding or an SEC civil enforcement action is initiated in the first place Effective whistle-blower protections are critical to directors Without them, important sources of information may be reticent to come forward out of fear that their job is on the line A sound compliance and ethics program may go even further in helping protect the corporation It is in every director s interest to ensure that whistle-blower mechanisms are effective and that their efforts visibly contribute to the enforcement of their company s compliance program
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An interesting and unexpected development arising from implementation of certain sections of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is auditor rotation The extra work required of the independent auditors under the Act have strained their resources The Big Four accounting firms have responded by shedding clients at an accelerating rate and raising fees for those they choose to keep AuditAnalyticscom is an independent research firm that tracks the accounting industry and provides access to detailed audit information on over 1,500 accounting firms and 20,000 publicly registered companies They track who is auditing whom, issues surrounding the audit, and how much the registrants are paying for what services According to AuditAnalyticscom, the Big Four resigned 70 clients in 2001, 78 in 2002, 152 in 2003, and 210 in 2004, which is illustrated in Exhibit 51 National firms have benefited the most from the clients shed
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from the Big Four, but these firms are also resigning more clients Some see auditor resignations accelerating through 2005 as smaller public companies prepare for their Section 404 deadline The more aggressive a company s accounting policies, the more likely they will be on their auditor s short list of clients they are prepared to eject Immediately after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley and prior to 2004, clients that had going concern issues were the most likely to be shed by the Big Four In 2004, with the focus shifting to the internal control provisions of the Act, those companies with internal control issues were the most likely to be shed as illustrated in Exhibit 52 Fully 74 percent of the affected companies had revenues of less than $100 million (96 percent less than $500 million in market capitalization), therefore, mid-cap and small-cap companies are bearing the brunt of these resignations Losing a large accounting firm can be negatively viewed by the investment community It can also leave a company scrambling to fill the void left by an auditor s resignation Auditor resignation is a risk that the boards of midsized and smaller public companies should evaluate and monitor as finding a suitable replacement will not be easy for some companies The audit committee now has the expressed power to hire and fire the independent auditors, subject to the approval of shareholders
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EXHIBIT 51 Auditor Resignations
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Source: Used with permission Courtesy of AuditAnalyticscom
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EXHIBIT 52 Auditor Departures
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Source: Used with permission Courtesy of AuditAnalyticscom
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This authority is supported by the Act s requirement that the company provide the funding the committee needs to hire outside advisors To execute this duty, procedures for evaluating the independence and effectiveness of the outside auditors must be well defined Prior to Enron, the possible conflicts that occur from the delivery of consulting services by a company s external auditors was largely tolerated within the accounting profession The cross-selling of services was the Holy Grail, and big firms were willing to accept lower margins on their audits if there were consulting opportunities available Despite these economic entanglements, the firms were expected to self-police these potential conflicts For several years, Arthur Andersen performed Enron s internal audit function and served as an advisor for the financial structuring of the company in addition to providing audit services The last year before Enron filed for bankruptcy, Andersen collected over $25 million in audit fees, but consulting and other fees totaled more that $27 million5 Congress responded to these potential conflicts in Section 201 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act It specifically identifies which nonaudit services are not allowed:
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Bookkeeping or other services related to the accounting records or financial statements of the audit client Financial information systems design and implementation services
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