Committing to the Public Interest

Remarks to the Public Interest Oversight Board 15th E-Anniversary Seminar

Tom Seidenstein | Chair, International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board

Sep 29, 2020 | English

I would like to wish the PIOB a happy 15th anniversary and thank the many people who have volunteered time to the PIOB for their service. You have created an important institution, one whose relevance to the external reporting architecture should continue to grow. 

I joined the IAASB last year, as a non auditor, with the firm conviction that the public interest is best served when market participants have confidence in reported information and those that provide assurance. At its best, the audit profession is at the heart of driving market confidence. However, despite the good work of many auditors, recent corporate failures do raise questions regarding the relevance and quality of audits. Together regulators, oversight bodies such as the PIOB, independent standard-setters, and practitioners can be constructive forces in addressing those questions.

In my brief remarks today, I want to:

  1. Emphasize the value of independent, publicly accountable standard-setting and therefore the PIOB’s role
  2. Describe the IAASB’s effort to be more responsive, agile, and connected to our key partners, including IESBA
  3. Highlight a recent accomplishment that should form a foundation to support audit quality

Let me turn to the importance of independent standard-setting. I strongly believe that setting standards at the international level is the most effective way to respond to the relentless globalization of business and avoid the economic costs and regulatory arbitrage that come with a fragmentation in rules. At the same time, international standards are best set by an independent standard-setting body with appropriate expertise and perspective, free of undue influence, and committed to a thorough due process.

However, independence is not omnipotence. With the privilege of independence, the system requires appropriate accountability mechanisms and standard setters constantly willing to prove that the public interest comes first. I commend the Monitoring Group for recently completing its reform recommendations. The reforms end a period of uncertainty and should produce positive change by bolstering the independence of the standard-setting boards. The changes also should improve public accountability. I particularly highlight the PIOB’s critical oversight role now clearly articulated through a Public Interest Framework. I am also pleased that the recommendations preserve the two-board structure, IESBA and IAASB, and the technical competence of the two standard-setters. The standard-setting boards look forward to work closely with the Monitoring Group, the PIOB, IFAC, and other key stakeholders to implement those changes.

While the Monitoring Group was deliberating the proposed reform, the IAASB took the position that our best contribution to the public interest is to take the proverbial bull by its horns. The IAASB instituted a new strategy, after PIOB review, aimed at putting the public interest front and center of all that we do. After completing foundational standards, we are now pivoting our workplan to focus on the most pressing emerging challenges facing audit and assurance. This shift includes dedicated efforts to reduce the growing complexity of our standards, where appropriate, and workstreams on fraud, going concern, assurance of non-financial information, and the impact of technology. Those topics are raised in nearly every conversation that I have had since becoming chair and the IAASB is now acting.

A common complaint of standard setters is that we move too slowly. While respecting due process, our strategy calls for us to make the standard-setting setting process more agile. For example, we heard that our standards have stood up well during the Covid 19 crisis. At the same time, we recognized that practitioners and others needed help. We responded quickly with a series of Staff Alerts aimed at applying our standards under the current environment and coordinated closely with National Standard-Setters and IFAC to disseminate our work.

Our strategy seeks tighter coordination with the broader ecosystem—including securities regulators, inspection regimes, and standard-setters. Our reporting system will work better when the different parts of the system speak together. Indeed, the level of consultation has intensified over recent months and has allowed us to identity the public interest better on key topics.

Maybe the most intense coordination has occurred with my partners at IESBA, a path forged by my predecessor, Arnold Schilder, and Stavros. Indeed, the completion of our recent Quality Management standards benefited from alignment on many topics, including the key public interest issue of a mandatory cooling off period where both boards are aligned. I can honestly say that IESBA and IAASB are working together in all aspects of their work these days.

Finally, I highlight a reason for optimism that our collective efforts will generate greater trust in audit engagements. IAASB approved its new and revised suite of Quality Management standards last week. In doing so, we addressed the PIOB’s public interest issues and now await PIOB approval. The resulting suite of standards is aimed at a more robust System of Quality Management for firms using the IAASB’s standards, and is a significant evolution from a traditional, more linear approach to quality control.  What I think is maybe most significant about the new the standards is that they greatly enhance the expectations and accountability of firm leadership for quality management and create an appropriate culture committed to the consistent performance of quality engagements.

The new requirements reinforce firm leadership’s responsibility for ensuring the system operates efficiently and effectively. The standards require more rigorous monitoring of the system of quality management, understanding the root causes of deficiencies, and swift remediation of those deficiencies. A culture that facilitates proactive and regular self-scrutiny will help engagement teams feel supported in their goals for quality engagements and enable continual improvements in quality.

The PIOB has come a long way in 15 years. From my life at the IFRS Foundation and now at the IAASB, I recognize how challenging and crucial oversight is—it is an essential ingredient to an independent standard-setting process. I look forward to participating and working closely with the PIOB as it takes on its next 15.


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