Latest survey suggests uneven costs for Sarbanes-Oxley

Sarbanes-Oxley
Sarbanes-Oxley

It seems the largest public companies are getting hit the hardest with the ongoing regulatory assault on internal controls, based on the latest survey results on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

Half of accelerated and large accelerated filers participating inProtiviti’s latest annual survey said their external audit fees related to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance increased in fiscal 2015, while 52 percent of non-accelerated filers said their fees decreased in the same period, and 7 percent said they were flat. Of large accelerated filers who reported seeing increases, 68 percent said increases ranged from 1 to 10 percent, and 32 percent said increases ranged from 11 to 20 percent.

Across public companies who responded to the survey, more than half said the hours they devoted internally to SOX compliance increased in the most recent cycle, and 68 percent said hours increased by more than 10 percent. Yet three out of four non-accelerated filers said they noted a decrease in the hours they devoted to SOX compliance, although most noted the decrease was less than 10 percent.

Protiviti asked public companies who saw significant changes in their Sarbanes-Oxley activities whether they attributed those changes to the results of audit inspections by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. Nearly three-fourths said yes or probably, while 17 percent said not much or not at all.

The survey also invited companies to rank the areas where auditors seemed to be placing the greatest focus as a result of their PCAOB inspection results. The most commonly cited areas included the testing of system reports and other information produced by the entity, testing the review of controls, and IT considerations. Auditors also focused heavily on evaluating identified control deficiencies, and risk assessments and scoping.

New to the most recent audit cycle, auditors were acting under new standards meant to bring more rigor to the scrutiny of related parties, transactions with related parties, and other significant unusual transactions. As many as 58 percent of public companies said they needed to produce updated documentation to satisfy auditor requests as they observed the new standard, and companies reported an average of eight additional hours devoted to that exercise.

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