10 ways COVID-19 is increasing audit risks

Anne-Lise Dorry

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has rightly become the focus of massive public attention, and financial markets around the world have reacted accordingly. As a result, auditors have to be mindful of heightened audit risks, such as:

1. Valuation of financial assets

With financial markets reacting to concerns over the spread of the virus, the measurement of financial assets will be a risk. The duration of the disruption is still unknown, but auditors and management need to consider the potential for impairment. Financial assets reported at fair value on the balance sheet may also result in realized and unrealized losses. Management and auditors will also have to exercise judgment around critical estimates and cash flow projections used in the fair value measurement of non-quoted financial instruments.

2. Hedging

Hedge accounting may be disrupted by higher-than-anticipated levels of volatility resulting in higher levels of hedge ineffectiveness to recognize in earnings. Clients may also rethink the likelihood of occurrence of a hedged forecasted transaction, with potential immediate consequences on earnings as well. Finally, management may be re-thinking their hedging strategies.

3. Valuation of inventory

Supply chains are disrupted, and production levels may be affected. If your client has reduced or idle production capacity, their overhead costs may not be allocated to inventory as they usually are. In addition, inventory that cannot be turned over because of travel restrictions may have to be evaluated for impairment. Finally, changes in prices and reduction in the level of demand will also have to be taken into consideration.

4. Credit and liquidity risks

Your clients' customers, as well as your clients themselves, may find themselves in financial difficulty, resulting in additional credit risks, higher than usual bad debt and even potentially impairments and write-offs. Cash flows from operations may also be affected. Don't forget that liquidity risks must be disclosed and are often scrutinized by users of the financial statements.

5. Measurement and funded status of pension and other post-retirement plans

Both the expected return on plan assets and the funded status of the plans may have to be revisited in light of the volatility in financial markets.

6. Valuation allowance on deferred tax assets

If estimates of earnings of foreign subsidiaries change, management may have to reconsider some of their tax strategies or may not be able to realize all deferred tax assets. This is another area that auditors should consider carefully when assessing critical estimates.

7. Valuation of goodwill on subsidiaries in affected areas of the globe

Subsidiaries in areas heavily affected by COVID-19 may see their revenues or net income affected by the outbreak. This may trigger a goodwill impairment test. The reassessment of key accounting estimates and projections may result in an immediate goodwill impairment. Goodwill may also have to be tested more than once this year if management considers that evolving circumstances result in more than one triggering event over the next year. This is equally true for other intangible assets.

8. Subsequent events

The situation around the spread of COVID-19 is evolving daily, sometimes even hourly. Auditors should ensure that their clients include the appropriate subsequent event disclosures in their financial statements. Should a subsequent event just provide additional information about conditions that exist as of the end of the reporting period, they may even require an adjustment to the financial statements.

9. Disclosures

Events that significantly affect customers' businesses and operations may require disclosures, both in the financial statements and outside of the financial statements. For public companies, that may include various SEC filings and other parts of the 10-K or 10-Q (business, risk factors, management's discussion and analysis, etc.). The SEC has already signaled that it will be looking for disclosures around the impact of COVID-19.

10. Critical audit matters and communication to audit committees

A number of critical accounting estimates and assumptions may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak and they may rise to the level of critical audit matters that may now have to be communicated in a public company’s auditor's report. With this in mind, auditors should engage in a dialogue with the audit committee. No doubt that audit committees of both public and private companies will also have questions for you regarding your clients’ preparedness to this continuing crisis.

While COVID-19 generates significant audit risks, Thomson Reuters continues to provide tools like PPC’s Guide to PCAOB Audits, PPC’s Guide to Audits of Nonpublic Companies, PPC’s Guide to Audits of Nonprofit Organizations, PPC’s Guide to Construction Contractors, and PPC’s Guide to Quality Control, to help you address those risks and demonstrate your value as a trusted business advisor.

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