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PCAOB describes professional skepticism as a general duty of care that needs to be applied by the auditor throughout the duration of the audit engagement. Professional skepticism involves the auditor having a clear and questioning mind regarding the assertions that are presented by management or other client personnel. The auditor is instructed to not take the words or data presented by management as sufficient and appropriate audit evidence but rather the auditor needs to thoroughly audit the evidence with a questioning mind to achieve reasonable assurance about the persuasiveness of the evidence.
Skepticism is composed of three elements; auditor attributes, mindset and actions. The PCAOB instructs the auditor to always question evidence presented by the auditor for the probability of loss, fraud or financial misstatement.
Will, the auditor, exercised professional skepticism in this case when it came to the mysterious cash ticket payments for the tickets on 11/16. Having been friends with Jessica, Will needed to exhibit a higher level of skepticism.
When Jessica produced the deposit slip for the $320 ticket and asserted that the deposit slip had probably fallen in between two cabinets in the vault, Will had the opportunity of taking Jessica’s assertion as sufficient and appropriate evidence but rather decided to investigate further and noticed that the year on the bills was different than the year of the ticket and that the ink on the deposit slip was different. Will then widened the sample size to see if this was a singularity or evidence of an ongoing issue/fraud.
The two main conditions that could have affected his skepticism were his relationship with the process owner he was auditing and the materiality levels set forth for the audit. Jessica Randle, the wife of Will’s best friend, was the process owner for the area Will was currently auditing. This presents an issue in that skepticism can sometimes be influenced by the relationships auditors have made with the people they are auditing. An auditor is more likely to believe the assertions made by someone they know and trust, and this directly hinders on their skepticism. Will might also have decided to not pursue further with his investigation of cash deposits that are missing their deposit slip due to the amounts ($320), being below the materiality threshold of $5,000.
This, coupled with the fact that he felt as if he was irritating his superiors by asking many questions might have caused Will to simply abandon further investigating the area. If Will had not been exercising professional skepticism, he would simply have taken Jessica’s assertion as to why the deposit slip was missing as sufficient and appropriate evidence and moved on with another audit area. Jessica would have never gotten caught, and the fraud might have continued.
The Generally Accepted Auditing Standards require that the auditor must maintain independence in mental attitude in all matters relating to the audit. There are two types of independence that are required of auditors. Independence in appearance relates to others’ perceptions of auditors’ independence. It is of the utmost importance that users of the financial statements believe that the auditor is independent. For instance, if an auditor were to own even one share in a company that he or she was auditing, third party users would likely see that auditor as lacking independence even if the auditor was truly unbiased and considered that share irrelevant.
The Code of Professional Conduct addresses the issue of personal client relationships. The familiarity threat states that auditors “having a close or long standing relationship with an attest client or knowing individuals or entities (including by reputation) who performed nonattest services for the client” lack independence. Part e. of this section states that a member of the attest engagement team whose close friend is in a key position is unallowed. Will’s independence in this case was questionable.
His best friend’s wife, Jessica, worked for the client, but she did not hold a key position. Will’s independence in fact may be perceived differently by different users. However, Will’s independence in mind seemed to be impaired in this case. He was clearly uncomfortable accusing his best friend’s wife of fraud. Some cases may exist where auditors in similar situations were so uncomfortable that they looked the other way.
The factor that plays the greatest role in determining auditor independence is independence in mind. Auditors may or may not appear to be independent, but if the auditor is truly independent in mind, then the auditor can remain objective and unbiased. The profession should consider tightening the Code of Professional Conduct to address the issue of an audit team member knowing a close friend that holds any position at the audit client. If this scenario arises, the firm can still audit the client, but the audit member with the close relationship won’t be able to be on the audit team.
The evidence in the case is presented in a manner that leads to a stronger refute to Jessica’s claim that the money had fallen between the cabinets as opposed to supporting her claim. The evidence that would lead to support her claim would be her statement that there could be several explanations as to why the ticket was missing. She originally suggested that the ticket most likely was included with the other cash. After finding the ticket, Jessica states a story of what must have happened was that the assistant clerks were working late one night and must have decided to include the deposit with the following day’s bank deposit. Thus, when the ticket was missing, no one noticed. All of these explanations mentioned are all responses to inquiries of client.
This type of evidence is not conclusive and could be biased in the client’s favor; hence, why this is the only evidence that is in favor of Jessica’s statement. When Will went back to his desk and counted the money he made sure the money on the slip was all there, $320, which is way under the set amount of $5,000 for materiality on the job. However, he noticed that the bills were crisp and has been printed in 2006. He checked this back to the bank deposit slip where he reconfirmed that the deposit was dated November 16, 2005. He then traced it back to the cash receipt to find that it was indeed recorded on November 16, 2005.
This document tracing is important evidence that clearly shows a discrepancy in the documentation which lead to the first real line of evidence towards fraud. Another discrepancy that caught Will’s eye was the entry in the in receipt book was recorded in black ink while the writing on the envelope was in blue ink. Although this is not a strong form of evidence, it is enough to bring into question the evidence that has been traced back to recorded items.
Effective controls that if installed would have prevented or detected this theft include: Segregation of Duties (SoDs) and Daily payment and bank deposit reconciliations. The first area of controls deals with the Receipt books and proper SoDs. The recipient of cash payments should be different from the individual that records that cash payments into the Sheriff’s computer records as paid. The other control deals with reconciliations. The morning after the daily payment vouchers are processed and deposited, a reconciliation by someone who was not a recipient of cash payments the previous day needs to be done to reconcile that the total amount deposited into the bank matches the bank statement of amounts deposited by check, cash and money order. A monthly reconciliation needs to be performed for all payments done by credit card.
After Will presented Vince with the evidence that he has found after Jessica showed him the missing deposit slip along with the cash, the two decided to test eight more cash paid tickets. When five of the eight tickets were also not included in the bank deposit of the day, Will and Vince decided to have a meeting to discuss how they were going to proceed. With the evidence leading to fraudulent activity, the auditors could have decided to proceed in one of two ways. The first being to assess the level of materiality and decide if the amounts were immaterial, and if so they could leave the report as is. The other route the auditors could take is to further examine revenue, specifically the tickets paid in cash. If the decision is to proceed even further with the audit, there are multiple steps the auditors would take to reach reasonable assurance.
First, they could examine internal controls to see if there was any other person who could have been using Jessica’s name as a cover up, for she was not the only assistant Clerk of Court. Next, they could examine every cash transaction for 2006, and if the trend continues, examine through previous years. Along with further testing of the transactions, the auditors would be conscious of the level of materiality. The auditors could even go to the extent of checking the bank statements to verify that the cash tickets aren’t being put with other cash deposits in the department. Ultimately, the auditors would have to contact the sheriff and police department to report their findings.
In pursuing the matter, Will faced a number of pressures. At first he was concerned because Jessica was his best friend’s wife and he did not feel comfortable working in the situation. But Vince Huston, the partner that he had usually worked with assured him that knowing Jessica may not be such a bad thing. When Will was completing the audit and found that a cash receipt had not been deposited, he did not want to believe that Jessica was responsible so he double-checked his work and then he asked her about it. After receiving the bank deposit from Jessica, he was still skeptical because he had noticed a few minor things. The pen ink was two different colors in the receipt book and on the envelope. And then he noticed that it is impossible for a 2005 cash receipt to be paid for with a bill marked 2006.
Will asked Jessica about the matter but she brushed it off and he was forced to report what he found out to Vince. In dealing with the misappropriation of assets of fraudulent financial reporting, auditors are to maintain professional skepticism throughout the engagement. This is because fraud is often committed by a person that the auditor least expects. In this case, it was Jessica. Will maintained his professional skepticism and did not let the fact that Jessica is his best friend’s wife affect his work. Auditors, in general, must also be aware of the basics of fraud awareness. Auditors should be able to notice any signs or signals of fraud and then be able to trace the documents back to anything that may help to uncover fraudulent activity.
When most people make ethical decisions, one of the things they do is try to find alternatives to the problem or situation and ask themselves what the consequences of those alternatives would be. In Will’s situation, after finding out that Jess was involved in misappropriating the cash associated with the ticket he had the options of letting what he had found out slide because Jess was his best friend’s wife, or confronting her about the situation and reporting her or letting her report herself.
Ignoring the obvious signs that Jess was stealing money would only lead to her continuing to steal more money. The auditor would be putting their career in jeopardy and it would be highly unethical of any auditor to act in this way because they have a responsibility to maintain professional skepticism throughout the audit process. The other alternatives of reporting Jessica or letting her report herself to the authorities would be the right and ethical alternative to the situation. The consequences would be pretty much the same as they had turned out. Consequences for reporting Jess would be what they turned out to be. She would get punished for her crimes and on a more personal level, reporting her would lead to Will losing his best friend.
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