An auditor’s responsibility is to gather audit evidence regarding a subject matter. This evidence comes from several audit procedures. Based on this evidence, the auditor must conclude whether the subject matter meets specific criteria. In the case of external audits, it includes examining a client’s financial statements to establish whether they are free from material misstatements.
In some cases, however, auditors may not have the option to apply some substantive audit procedures. However, that does not imply the auditor must not consider those areas. It also does not infer that auditors must provide a negative opinion regarding those areas. In these cases, auditors can also obtain a representation letter from the client’s management.
What is a Representation Letter?
A representation letter is a form of written representation obtain from a client. Written representations are audit evidence that auditors collect. Similarly, they are necessary information that auditors may require related to a specific audit assignment. These are similar to audit inquiries but in a written form. The international auditing standard that deals with written representations are ISA 580 Written Representations.
It is a written statement written by auditors. This statement attests to the accuracy of the financial statements given to the auditors for analysis. Auditors present this letter to the client’s management, who signs the letter constructing a form of audit evidence. While this evidence is necessary, it may not represent sufficient appropriate audit evidence.
Once presented to the management, a senior official will sign the representation letter. Usually, a client’s CEO, CFO, or other higher senior accounting personnel sign the letter. This process must take place before auditors present an audit report regarding the client’s financial statements. The content of the representation letter may vary from one firm to another. However, there are some similar elements or contents that are present in every representation letter.
What are the Contents of the Representation Letter?
A typical representation letter will include various areas to cover the auditors’ liability towards the audit assignment. It will also include areas to ensure the management is aware of its responsibility to prepare accurate financial statements. According to accountingtool.com, representation letters will cover the following areas.
1. The management is responsible for the proper presentation and accurate preparation of the financial statements. It will also include a reference to the applicable accounting framework for this purpose.
2. The auditors have received all the financial records related to the audit.
3. The board of directors meeting minutes are complete.
4. There are no unrecorded transactions.
5. The management has disclosed all related party transactions.
6. The management has provided all letters from regulatory agencies regarding financial reporting noncompliance if required.
7. The net effect of all uncorrected misstatements is immaterial.
8. The financial statements conform to the applicable accounting standards.
9. The management doesn’t have any knowledge of fraud within the company.
10. The financial statements account for all material transactions.
11. The management is responsible for systems designed to detect and prevent fraud.
12. The client has disclosed all liens and other encumbrances on its assets.
13. The management has disclosed all contingent liabilities.
14. The management acknowledges its responsibility for the system of financial controls.
15. The client has disclosed all unasserted claims or assessments.
Overall, the representation letter will consist of all the management’s responsibilities for the financial statements and the audit. This letter will decrease the auditors’ responsibility if there is a future dispute. Similarly, it places responsibility on the management for areas where it must ensure proper accounting and controls. Auditors will not allow the management to make changes to the representation letter before signing.
What Happens If Auditors Cannot Obtain Reliable Representation Letters?
In some cases, auditors cannot obtain a reliable representation letter from the management. These may occur when the auditor has concerns about the competence, integrity, or diligence of the management. In these cases, the standards require auditors to determine the effect that such issues may have on the reliability of the representation letters.
When auditors obtain representation letters that are inconsistent with other audit evidence, they must perform procedures to resolve any discrepancies. If they cannot do so, they will need to reconsider the prior assessment of the client’s management. The auditors must also determine the effects such circumstances will have on the reliability of the representation letter or the audit assignment.
If auditors conclude that the representation letter is not reliable, they must take appropriate actions. These may include establishing the possible effect on the opinion in the auditor’s report. The same cases will apply when the management refuses to provide a representation letter. The auditor must discuss it with the management before taking any actions.
Representation letters are a form of written representation and constitute an essential part of audits. These letters attest to the accuracy of the financial statements presented by the client’s management. There are several areas which representation letters cover. If auditors cannot obtain reliable representation letters, they will need to evaluate the situation and take appropriate actions.