Minding the Numbers: The Audit Committee in VS .NET

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CHAPTER
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Minding the Numbers: The Audit Committee
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ften overshadowed by the noise surrounding implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, are the increased strength and visibility provided audit committees Congress understands the vital importance of audit committees in the governance framework and paid particular attention to their role when drafting the Sarbanes-Oxley Act Audit committees add value to board operations by bringing powerful oversight authority to the organization s financial reporting, internal control, and audit processes This becomes more challenging as financial engineering grows more sophisticated, financial systems more complex, and opportunities for financial reporting fraud multiply The goal of this chapter is to provide directors with the information they need to organize the audit committee and focus their time on those financial reporting areas that need the most attention To effectively execute their function, audit committees need structural support in the form of a strong charter Additionally, they need directors with the time, the professional skepticism, and the well-developed financial, accounting, and control skills necessary to carry out this critical oversight function In this chapter, we review the contents of a strong, empowering audit committee charter We will also discuss other audit committee requirements such as the need for a financial expert, an operational complaint procedure, a process for the hiring and firing of advisors, and an approach for providing financial reporting oversight
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ORGANIZE TO LEAD
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A STRONG CONSTITUTION: THE AUDIT COMMITTEE CHARTER
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The foundation for audit committee activities is formed by the audit committee charter The NYSE listing standards (approved by the SEC) requires every audit committee to have at least three members, consist solely of independent directors, and have a charter that details the committee s mission, duties, and responsibilities The audit committee charter must, at a minimum, address the following
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Purpose:
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Assist board oversight of the: Integrity of the company s financial statements Company s compliance with legal and regulatory requirements Independent auditor s qualifications and independence Performance of the company s internal audit function and independent auditor Prepare the report that SEC rules require be included in the company s annual proxy statement
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Duties and Responsibilities:
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Retain and terminate the independent auditor (subject to shareholder ratification) At least annually, obtain and review a report provided by the independent auditor describing: Its internal quality control procedures Any material issues raised by the most recent internal quality control review, or peer review, of the firm, or by any inquiry or investigation by governmental or professional authorities, within the preceding five years, respecting one or more of the firm s audits, and any steps taken to deal with any such issues All relationships between the independent auditor and the company Discuss with management and the independent auditor the annual and quarterly financial statements, including disclosures in Management s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) Discuss earnings press releases, as well as financial information and earnings guidance provided to analysts and rating agencies
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Minding the Numbers: The Audit Committee
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As appropriate, obtain advice and assistance from outside legal, accounting, or other advisors Discuss policies with respect to risk assessment and risk management Periodically, meet separately with management, with internal auditors, and with the independent auditor Review with the independent auditor any audit problems or difficulties and management s responses Set clear hiring policies for employees or former employees of the independent auditor Report regularly to the board of directors Conduct an annual performance evaluation of the audit committee1
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While extensive, charters that are best practice contain additional information such as the membership criteria, minimum number of meetings to be held each year, responsibilities for the receipt, retention and treatment of financial reporting and internal control complaints together with the anonymous receipt of such concerns, and committee education and orientation The audit committee should periodically assess the committee s performance against this charter General Motors (GM) has long been recognized as leading the way for improvement in corporate governance, having received a perfect score from Governance Metrics International and also recently named the winner of Treasury & Risk Management s Corporate Governance Award (The GM board s audit committee charter, which represents best practice, can be examined in Appendix B) Directors who sit on the audit committee can be well served using this charter as a guide for evaluating the charter of their company
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