Taking the wraps off materiality

Materiality is an important concept in auditing. The point of an audit is to certify the financial statements as being free of material misstatement. A material misstatement is one which would affect the decisions of a user of those statements.

This recent blog post at the VeraSage Institute, more known for their pioneering work in the area of value pricing for professional services firms than their work revolutionizing the audit report, brings up an interesting idea:

During a specific conversation on materiality and how it should be determined I suggested that maybe the first step to improving our audit reports would be to include the level of materiality used in performing the audit.

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Would the reader of audited financial statements utilize and appreciate knowing the level of materiality used to test and determine the correctness and completeness of the associated financial statements?

I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is yes. I also think it would go a long way to closing the expectation gap when it comes to audited financial statements. It further emphasizes that an audit doesn’t mean 100% of transactions are examined, and that there is a level of acceptance for errors within the statements.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to me (with my limited experience) that much is done within the profession until it is mandated by the governing bodies or various governments. Going above and beyond what is required isn’t seen very frequently in terms of the disclosure in financial statements, either in the audit report or the explanatory notes appending the statements.

I don’t think it is entirely the auditor’s fault. The statements are still the responsibility of management, but it is the auditor who is in the unique position to make the suggestion to management that additional details would be helpful. For that matter, auditors need to start making the suggestion to their governing bodies as well.

We’re essentially in the business of ensuring that complete and useful information is provided, and this might be a situation where we aren’t doing a great job.

One reply on “Taking the wraps off materiality”

  1. Neil,
    Thanks for the info linking to VeraSage institute’s suggestion for disclosure of how materiality is determined, it is interesting to learn of what the think tanks are thinking, although the suggestion is sure to raise controversy as you and they note. I have been following discussion of materiality that takes place at SEC’s ‘Complexity Committee’ chaired by Robert Pozen, particularly the subcommittee on Audit Process & Complaince, as noted in the 2 blog posts Nov. 2nd in our Financial Executives International (FEI) Financial Reporting Blog.

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