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jueves, 17 de mayo de 2012

El escepticismo y la verificación contable

A través de una referencia publicada en Company Law Newsletter de  Sweet & Maxwell's (nº 314, 20 de abril de 2012, p. 6), encuentro una noticia sobre la publicación por el Auditing Practices Board (APB) de un documento de 30 de marzo de 2012, sobre el escepticismo profesional. El documento –Professional Scepticism Establishing a Common Understanding and Reaffirming its Central Role in Delivering Audit Quality- me ha parecido interesante para la práctica de la auditoría, sobre todo en una fase convulsa de cuál es el papel de los auditores y de la expectación que existe sobre su actuación en situaciones de crisis.

En el citado documento se abordan distintas cuestiones con respecto a ese escepticismo profesional desde los fundamentos de la función y de la actuación del auditor:

Evidence, trust and agency in the audit process

An audit is an evidence-based process to assess and report on the truth and fairness of the financial statements prepared by the directors to whom capital resources are entrusted by the shareholders. The audit is entrusted to another agent of the shareholders – the auditor.

This description refers to two features of an audit which are relevant to scepticism – the evidence-based nature of the audit and the entrustment and agency relationships inherent in the audit. The role of scepticism in relation to each of these is explored further below. The evidence-based nature of the process suggests some parallels with, and is explored in the context of, the scientific method and scientific skepticism in Section 3. In Section 4, lessons about the expression of professional skepticism are also identified by considering the nature of the entrustment and agency relationships and the need for assurance that gave rise to the tradition of auditing servants in the manorial estates of the fourteenth century in the origins of the modern audit in the UK”.

Una actividad en la que la Sección 4 del documento plantea la aplicación del escepticismo profesional:

“Looking back, it would seem that, in its origin, the audit was essentially a check, carried out on behalf of a principal by their trusted associate or agent, on the fidelity of other agents to whom the principal’s resources were entrusted. The trust that existed between principal and auditor was a critical ingredient, if not the critical ingredient of the audit. The importance of professional skills only came later. The whole rationale for the audit was that the principal could not assume, and therefore sought assurance about, the fidelity of those to whom their assets were entrusted.

This may suggest how far the auditor should pursue professional scepticism in the audit. The strong bond of trust between the principal and the auditor and the principal’s need for assurance about the fidelity of those to whom they had entrusted their assets would have determined the mindset of the auditor. That would have guided the appropriate degree of scepticism in the auditor when holding a hearing to question those entrusted with the principal’s assets and to assess whether they had given a proper account of their handling of those assets. They would have asked the questions they would expect their principal to ask, they would have challenged where they would expect their principal to challenge and they would have pursued matters until they were satisfied that the evidence would satisfy their principal.


It is perhaps not surprising that auditors often refer to the audited entity as the ‘client’, given the strength of these relationships and the all but formal appointment of the auditor by the directors and not by the shareholders. However, trust in management may compromise the auditor's exercise of scepticism because that trust may colour his/her judgement as to when and where a sceptical approach is required. It is important to lean against unjustified trust developing, just as it is important to address threats to the auditor’s objectivity that may arise from the provision of non-audit services – it is interesting to note in this context that the auditor originally was not permitted to have any interest in any transaction with the company.

Despite the increasing role of audit committees as independent non-executive directors in monitoring and challenging the entity’s financial information and controls (in effect as the representatives of the shareholders), there is also a risk that audit committees’ views may be seen too readily by the auditor as a surrogate for those of the shareholders. Just addressing the concerns of the audit committee does not necessarily amount to meeting the expectations of shareholders (and other (stakeholders).

Especial referencia se hace a la implicación de los Comités de Auditoría en esa  orientación:

“The APB believes that this is consistent with the FRC’s Effective Company Stewardship proposals, under which it is proposed that Audit Committees should produce fuller reports for the Board, in particular setting out their advice on the integrity of the Annual Report and explaining how they discharged their responsibilities for this and other aspects of their remit (such as their oversight of the external audit process and appointment of external auditors). Taken together with the proposal for Boards to discuss these matters in the Annual Report, the effect should be to ensure that the Annual Report demonstrates that the audit addressed those matters of most interest to shareholders and other stakeholders with appropriate challenge and scepticism”.

El APB concluye explicando su objetivo:

The main purpose of this document is to explain the APB’s views on professional scepticism and to encourage auditors to apply its principles in executing high quality sceptical audits and in documenting and demonstrating that they have done so. The APB has also considered the definition of professional scepticism and the extent and manner in which it has been dealt with in the ISAs (UK & I) and in ISQC 1 (UK &I), in light of the conclusions drawn in this Paper.

Although these standards contain many elements that support the understanding of professional scepticism developed in this Paper, it is also possible for an auditor to follow the ‘letter’ of the standards without conducting a truly sceptical audit. The APB acknowledges that these standards may well need to be improved further to reflect better some of the conclusions reflected in this Paper and to be clearer about the performance, documentation and communication of professional scepticism”.

Madrid, 17 de mayo de 2012