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RAB Request for Proposals – Topics of Interest in 2020

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The March 20th deadline for submitting proposals for the 2020 RAB grant cycle has passed. Please consider submitting a proposal next year. The Request for Proposals will be released in November 2020, with proposals due Monday, March 15, 2021.

The CAQ’s Research Advisory Board (RAB) is interested in research questions that can substantively inform audit practice or address policy and regulatory issues that impact audit quality and the profession. Below are brief descriptions of suggested topics that are listed in the current Request for Proposals (RFP).

A copy of the 2020 grant cycle RFP can be found here.

Key Topics of Interest for 2020

Corporate Disclosures over Non-Financial Information
Companies are increasingly providing information on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices so as to provide transparency on how they are addressing climate change, social and governance issues. Investors are recognizing that ESG issues can have an influence on the risk-return profile of their portfolios.  The CAQ is interested in research that describes the preponderance of ESG reports; how companies are choosing to report this information (e.g., in separate ESG reports; in their annual report; on an investor relations ESG page on the company website.); the number and type of ESG issues reported; the reporting framework used; and whether the information reported is attested to by a third-party. The CAQ is also interested in how companies are disclosing their risk assessment with respect to cybersecurity.

Non-GAAP Measures
Non-GAAP measures are frequently used by companies to explain financial performance and company results. Use of non-GAAP measures are permitted when complying with certain SEC regulations. Regulators have expressed concern about inappropriate use of such measures. The CAQ is interested in research that will add to the current understanding of the use of non-GAAP measures: whether non-GAAP measures are beneficial to investors; the historical trends in the use of non-GAAP measures; the common areas of abuse or potential abuse of non-GAAP measures; and the role the auditor might have in review of non-GAAP measures. In July, 2018, the CAQ’s Anti-Fraud Collaboration held a webcast, Non-GAAP Measures What Do They Say About Fraud Risk, in which a panel of experts explored the potential implications for fraud risk when it comes to the use of financial measures presented outside the audited financial statements that do not conform to US GAAP.

Topics of Continued Interest

Critical Audit Matters (CAMs)
Beginning with the audits of large accelerated filers with fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019, the auditor must include in the auditor’s report disclosure of critical audit matters (CAMs).  The applicable Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) standard defines a CAM as the following: any matter arising from the audit of the financial statements that was communicated or required to be communicated to the audit committee, and that (1) relates to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements, and; (2) involved especially challenging, subjective, or complex auditor judgment. In December 2018, the CAQ published a report, Critical Audit Matters: Lessons Learned, Questions to Consider, and an Illustrative Example, which highlights the results of the processes that the CAQ Governing Board firms used to conduct “dry runs” in advance of implementation of the new standard. The 2019 CAQ Symposium included panels that provided insights into the “dry runs” for the new auditor’s reporting model as well as issues that firms consider when assessing the impact that a proposed auditing standards will have on audit methodologies and enablement. These panels, as well as the highlights from the smaller group breakout sessions, include issues that can be informed by scholarly academic research. 

Innovative Technologies Used in the Audit
The integration of innovative technologies in the audit continues to evolve. Data analytics, data visualization, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation are just some of the tools being used in audits of public companies. Many are still in their nascent stage.  Suggested areas for research include the potential role and uses of data visualization tools; how the integration of these various tools can enhance critical thinking and professional skepticism; thought leadership on the definition of data analytics and how data analytics works within the context of existing auditing standards; and the introduction and integration of data analytics into the classroom. Research questions in this area could benefit greatly from a multidisciplinary academic team to potentially generate more “out of the box” thinking.

The determination of materiality is important to the conduct of an audit. Not only does it provide a framework to address uncorrected errors, but it also is the foundation from which audit scope decisions are made. There have been survey pieces relative to firms’ materiality policies and technical event studies attempting to correlate the magnitude of earnings’ surprises to stock price performance; however, there does not appear to be extensive research on other quantitative measures such as EBITDA, operating cash flows, etc. – all of which are often discussed in analysts’ calls.

Professional Skepticism
Professional skepticism is a fundamental element underlying the effectiveness of the external audit. Audit firms continue to seek ways to foster the proper application of professional skepticism in practice. The CAQ is interested in research on the antecedents to and fostering of the proper application of professional skepticism that has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the extant research. This topic has also been mentioned under the accounting estimates and data analytics headings above, but professional skepticism applies well beyond those areas.

Auditing Accounting Estimates and Fair Value Measurements
Auditors face many challenges when auditing more complex accounting estimates and fair value measurements. PCAOB inspection reports have highlighted numerous deficiencies in this area, such as a lack of consistent application of professional skepticism including insufficient consideration of contradictory evidence when auditing areas that involve significant judgments; inappropriate levels of supervision/reliance on specialists (both inside and outside audit firms); insufficient evaluations of the reasonableness of certain assumptions; insufficient testing of certain inputs used in the determination of significant estimates in the face of contradictory evidence; and insufficient testing of estimates with fair value measurements. The CAQ is interested in research that addresses these areas.

Audits of Internal Control over Financial Reporting (ICFR)
Though there have been many improvements in ICFR reporting, it continues to pose challenges for preparers and auditors. The CAQ is interested in research on the relationship between reported ICFR deficiencies and measures of the quality of financial statements, such as restatements, numeric and non-numeric disclosure quality measures, and measures of disclosure timeliness, etc. On a company-level basis, research around the material weakness decision process (including forecasting the magnitude of errors that could exist) is extremely relevant to both regulators and practitioners.

 Auditor Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is the process of synthesizing that information to identify risks of material misstatement that are relevant to the audit and assessing the inherent risk of those factors in order to design an appropriate audit response. PCAOB standards require that the auditor consider a variety of sources of information to obtain an understanding of the entity, its processes, account balances, classes of transactions, disclosures, etc. At the Ninth Annual CAQ Symposium held in 2017 one of the panels focused on the Challenges and Opportunities of Auditor Risk Assessment.

Fraudulent Financial Reporting
Financial statement fraud continues to be an area of key importance to the CAQ and its Anti-Fraud Collaboration. Broad areas of interest for academic research include understanding the conditions that contribute to financial reporting fraud and assessing related risks; mitigating the risks associated with a focus on short-term results on financial reporting; the role of information technology in facilitating the deterrence and detection of fraudulent financial reporting; and the effectiveness of whistleblower programs.

Effectiveness of Boards and Audit Committees
The CAQ is interested in research that will add to the current understanding of the responsibilities, best practices, characteristics, policies, and structure of effective audit committees. Also of interest is audit committee oversight of the adequacy and effectiveness of corporate disclosures, and consideration of the materiality and timeliness of the information being disclosed.