Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

A New Look at the Attestation Standards

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

A New Look at the Attestation Standards

Article excerpt

SSAE no. 10 supersedes all previous statements on Attest engagement standards.

The Auditing Standards Board (ASB) has issued Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) no. 10, Attestation Standards: Revision and Recodification. Because of the growing market demand for different kinds of attest services, it is the ASB's aim in releasing the statement to clarify and broaden the applicability of the attestation standards and to provide guidance on practice issues. In the past, practitioners considered the line between consulting service engagements and attest engagements a somewhat blurry one. Thus, another goal of the SSAE no. 10 project is to remove that ambiguity (see "Drawing the Line," page 42).

In 1986 the ASB issued the first SSAE, Attestation Standards, to capitalize on existing CPA skills and to provide guidance on applying that expertise to information other than historical financial statements. Using those attestation standards and succeeding ones, practitioners began to render assurance on many new types of information and business systems (see "What Are SysTrust and WebTrust?" page 44). The new statement--SSAE no. 10--supersedes all previously issued SSAEs; the effective date is June 1, 2001.

Chapter 1, "Attest Engagements," of SSAE no. 10 provides a framework that establishes how practitioners are to conduct attest engagements and that can be used for developing guidance on specific services. (See "Official Releases, page 94). The ASB conformed the existing guidance on specific attest engagements, such as financial forecasts and projections and compliance with laws or regulations, and folded it into chapters 2 through 7. (See "A Guide to Services CPAs Can Offer and the Rules That Apply," page 43, for examples of attest engagements and relevant guidance.)

WHAT IS AN ATTEST ENGAGEMENT?

In an attest engagement, the practitioner is attesting to, or providing assurance on, subject matter that is the responsibility of another party. The attestation standards apply, therefore, whenever an independent CPA has been engaged to issue, or issues, an examination report, a review report or an agreed-upon procedures (AUP) report on subject matter--or an assertion about the subject matter--that is the responsibility of another party.

However, chapter 1 of SSAE no. 10 specifically identifies certain engagements, such as a financial statement audit, that are not subject to the attestation standards. Consequently, when performing engagements under professional standards other than those governing attest engagements, practitioners should take steps to ensure that readers of their reports do not mistake them for attest reports. They can accomplish this by not drawing conclusions similar to those in an examination or a review attest report.

For example, a client may engage a practitioner to make recommendations for improvements in its internal control. If, in his or her report, the practitioner were to state that the client's internal control was adequate or effective, a reader might mistakenly assume that statement is an attest report. Whether or not the practitioner intended such an interpretation, the attestation standards still would apply.

THE RESPONSIBLE PARTY--A MUST-HAVE

The practitioner and the responsible party have distinctly different roles in an attest engagement. The latter--who often is the client--is responsible or accountable for the subject matter and typically provides the practitioner with a written assertion about it. The responsible party, for example, might be a corporate officer charged with overseeing his or her company's compliance with a law or regulation. In contrast, the practitioner acts as an objective, independent attester by performing the attest engagement and providing the examination, review or agreed-upon procedures attest report. He or she is not responsible for the subject matter or selecting the criteria. …

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