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SEC更新审计师独立规则(中文翻译仅供参考,后附英文原文为准)

https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-261


修订反映了专业人员在采用审计师独立框架方面的经验


即刻发布2020-261

华盛顿特区,2020年10月16日

证券交易委员会今天宣布,它已对SX法规第2-01条中的某些审计师独立性要求进行了最终修订。在采用审计师独立框架数十年的员工经验的基础上,最终修订对规则进行了现代化,使分析更加有效地集中于可能对审计师的客观性和公正性构成威胁的关系和服务。  
最终修订反映了根据委员会工作人员经过多年协商发现的反复出现的事实模式所做的更新,在这种情况下,某些关系和服务触发了违反技术独立性规则的行为,而并不一定损害审计师的客观性和公正性。这些关系要么触发了违反非实质性规则的行为,要么要求审计委员会对非实质性事项进行可能耗时的审核,从而使审计客户,审计师和审计委员会的时间,精力和其他资源从其他投资者保护工作中转移出来。最终修订产生了审计师独立性要求,这些要求将用于评估特定的关系和服务,重点是保护投资者免受对审计师客观性和公正性的威胁。
主席杰伊·克莱顿说:“今天的修正案反映了委员会长期以来公认的观点,即由客观,公正和熟练的专业人士进行的审计有助于保护投资者和增强投资者的信心。” “现代化的审计师独立性要求将使审计客户,审计委员会和审计师集中于可能威胁到审计师的客观性和公正性的领域,从而增强对投资者的保护。他们还将通过增加发行人可以选择的合格审计公司的数量来改善竞争和审计质量。”
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事实说明书
对规则2-01的修订
,2020年10月16日会计师资格
自2000年首次采用当前的独立性要求和2003年通过修订以来,委员会及其工作人员在不断变化的资本市场条件下,继续了解审计师独立性要求的应用,效率和有效性。此外,在2018年5月发布的《关于某些贷款或债权人/债务人关系的审计师独立性的提议稿》中,委员会征求了对独立性要求进行其他修订的建议。2019年12月,委员会发布了《规则2-01修正案提案稿》。最终修正案响应了资本市场条件的最新变化,反映了委员会工作人员在管理独立性方面的经验,并结合了近期和长期的反馈意见。
着眼于风险,以审计公司的客观性和公正性
最终修订旨在将我们的审计师独立性规则的重点放在关系和服务上,这些关系和服务更可能损害审计师的客观性和公正性。以下示例部分基于SEC人员的咨询经验,有助于举例说明当前修正案所涉及的先前规则中的一些担忧。
示例1 –学生贷款
审计事务所在亚特兰大有一个审计合伙人,在她开始在审计事务所工作之前,她继续偿还她上大学的学生贷款。亚特兰大的另一位审计合作伙伴对提供学生贷款的贷方进行审计,这是一家大型学生贷款公司,可提供数千笔学生贷款。 
根据今天的修订之前的规则,不属于审计一部分的审计合作伙伴的学生贷款,仍将导致放款人的审计业务受到侵犯。根据修订后的规则,该学生贷款将不再导致出借人的审计业务违反独立性。 
示例2 –投资组合公司
假设X公司是一家总部位于美国的基金F的投资组合公司。基金F在全球范围内投资了数十家甚至数百家公司,其中包括X公司。公司A的全球网络分支机构向基金F的两个单独的投资组合公司Y公司和Z公司提供以下讨论的服务。进一步假设公司Y和Z公司与彼此或X公司没有关系,但事实是基金F投资于每个公司。为了增加实际的背景,进一步假设:
  1. 澳大利亚审计公司A的一家澳大利亚关联公司在短时间内为满足资源需求的Y公司(一家位于澳大利亚的医疗保健投资公司)提供了有限的人员配置服务。
  2. 审计公司A的西班牙分支机构在短时间内为总部位于西班牙的住宿(酒店连锁)投资公司Z公司提供工资服务。
  3. X公司拥有自己独立的治理结构,与Y公司或Z公司无关,而Y公司和Z公司对基金F并不重要。
根据今天的修订之前的审计师独立性规则,如果X公司在SEC进行注册(例如,通过进行首次公开募股),则由于向Y公司或Y公司提供的服务,审计公司A将不独立于X公司。Z。无论是像SEC员工在类似情况下观察到的那样,对于非实质性投资组合公司(例如Y和Z公司)提供的有限服务,无论以何种方式都不会对被审计实体产生任何影响,也不会影响Z.审核员对X公司进行审核的客观性和公正性。 
根据今天的修订之前的规则,X公司将被要求:(1)用另一家审计公司代替审计公司A;(2)在终止向Y公司和Z公司提供的服务后,等待长达三年的SEC登记;(3)可能要与委员会工作人员和/或审核委员会协商,确定违反规则并不会损害审核员的客观性和公正性。 
在某些情况下,无法替换现有的审计公司,因为所有其他合格的审计公司本身都已提供服务或与F基金的投资组合公司建立了其他关系,从而违反了我们的独立性规则。通过该示例可以理解影响审计师选择的独立性规则集的问题,并且随着资产管理行业的发展,投资变得更加全球化以及全球审计服务生态系统已经整合并变得更加专业化,该问题显着增加。 
根据修改后的规则,X公司将能够聘请审计公司A提供审计服务。上述假设情景直接基于SEC员工在过去十年中的经验。近年来,SEC工作人员进行了多次磋商,在这种情况下,注册人的审计委员会及其审核员向SEC工作人员提出了这种事实模式或类似的事实,而在这种情况下,SEC工作人员并未这样做。反对审计师和审计委员会的结论,即审计师的客观性和公正性不会受到损害。在过去的十年中,SEC员工针对这些类型的场景提供了类似的反馈。修订后的规则将减轻注册人审核委员会及其审核员在这种情况下寻求SEC员工指导的需求。
强调 
最终修订将:
  • 修改规则2-01(f)(4)中的“审计客户的会员关系”和规则2-01(f)(14)中的“投资公司综合体”的定义,以解决某些会员关系,包括共同控制下的实体;
  • 修改“审计和职业参与期”的定义,特别是细则2-01(f)(5)(iii),以缩短回溯期,以便国内首次申报者评估对独立性要求的遵守情况;
  • 修改规则2-01(c)(1)(ii)(A)(1)和(E),以将某些学生贷款和最低限度的消费贷款添加到从损害独立性的贷款关系中排除的类别中;
  • 修改规则2-01(c)(3),以具有重大影响的实益拥有人的概念替换业务关系规则中对“主要股东”的引用;
  • 用新的规则2-01(e)替换规则2-01(e)中过时的过渡条款,以引入过渡框架,以解决仅由于合并或收购交易而引起的无意中违反独立性的行为;和
  • 进行其他一些其他更新。
下一步是什么?
修正案将在《联邦公报》上发布180天后生效。如果最终修订是从早期遵从之日起全面适用的,则在生效日期之前将修正案在联邦公报中发布后,便可以自愿进行早期遵从。如果审计公司选择了审计师,则不允许审计师对生效日期或早期合规日期之前存在的关系和服务追溯适用最终修订。 

SEC Updates Auditor Independence Rules

Amendments Reflect Staff Experience Applying the Auditor Independence Framework

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2020-261
Washington D.C., Oct. 16, 2020 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that it adopted final amendments to certain auditor independence requirements in Rule 2-01 of Regulation S-X.  Informed by decades of staff experience applying the auditor independence framework, the final amendments modernize the rules and more effectively focus the analysis on relationships and services that may pose threats to an auditor’s objectivity and impartiality.  
The final amendments reflect updates based on recurring fact patterns that the Commission staff has observed over years of consultations in which certain relationships and services triggered technical independence rule violations without necessarily impairing an auditor’s objectivity and impartiality.  These relationships either triggered non-substantive rule breaches or required potentially time-consuming audit committee review of non-substantive matters, thereby diverting time, attention, and other resources of audit clients, auditors, and audit committees from other investor protection efforts. The final amendments result in auditor independence requirements that will be used to evaluate specific relationships and services, with a focus on protecting investors against threats to the objectivity and impartiality of auditors.
“Today’s amendments reflect the Commission’s long-recognized view that an audit by an objective, impartial, and skilled professional contributes to both investor protection and investor confidence,” said Chairman Jay Clayton.  “These modernized auditor independence requirements will increase investor protection by focusing audit clients, audit committees, and auditors on areas that may threaten an auditor’s objectivity and impartiality.  They also will improve competition and audit quality by increasing the number of qualified audit firms from which an issuer can choose.”
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FACT SHEET
Amendments to Rule 2-01, Qualification of Accountants
October 16, 2020
Since the initial adoption of the current independence requirements in 2000 and amendments adopted in 2003, the Commission and its staff have continued to learn about the application, efficiency, and effectiveness of auditor independence requirements amidst changing capital market conditions.  Additionally, in the May 2018 Proposing Release for Auditor Independence with Respect to Certain Loans or Creditor/Debtor Relationships, the Commission solicited suggestions for other revisions to the independence requirements.  In December 2019, the Commission issued the Proposing Release for Amendments to Rule 2-01.  The final amendments respond to recent changes in capital market conditions, reflect the Commission staff’s experience administering the independence requirements, and incorporate both recent and long-term feedback.
Focusing on Risks to Audit Firm Objectivity and Impartiality
The final amendments seek to focus our auditor independence rules on relationships and services that are more likely to jeopardize the objectivity and impartiality of auditors.  The following examples, based, in part, on the SEC staff’s consultation experience, help to illustrate some of the concerns with the prior rules that today’s amendments address.
Example 1 – Student Loans
Audit Firm has an audit partner based in Atlanta who continues to pay her student loans taken to attend college before starting her career at Audit Firm.  A different audit partner in Atlanta audits the lender that provided the student loan, a large student loan company that originates thousands of student loans. 
Under the rules prior to today’s amendments, the student loan of the audit partner who is not part of the audit would still lead to an independence violation for the audit engagement of the lender.  Under the amended rules, that student loan would no longer result in an independence violation for the audit engagement of the lender. 
Example 2 – Portfolio Companies
Assume Company X is a U.S.-based portfolio company of Fund F.  Fund F invests in various companies around the globe, perhaps dozens or even hundreds, including Company X.  Audit Firm A is the auditor of Company X.  Also assume that two of Audit Firm A’s global network affiliates provide the services discussed below to two separate portfolio companies of Fund F, Company Y and Company Z.  Further assume that Company Y and Company Z have no relation to each other or to Company X except for the fact that Fund F is invested in each Company.  To add practical context, further assume that:
  1. An Australian affiliate of Audit Firm A provides limited staffing services to Company Y –– a healthcare portfolio company based in Australia –– for a short-period of time to meet a resource need.
  2. A Spanish affiliate of Audit Firm A provides payroll services to Company Z – a lodging (hotel chain) portfolio company based in Spain – for a short-period of time.
  3. Company X has its own separate governance structure that is unrelated to Company Y or Z, and Company Y and Z are not material to Fund F.  

Under the auditor independence rules prior to today’s amendments, if Company X registers with the SEC (e.g., by conducting an initial public offering), Audit Firm A would not be independent of Company X as a result of the services provided to either Company Y or Z.  This is the case regardless of whether, as the SEC staff has observed in similar situations, these limited services at immaterial portfolio companies (like Companies Y and Z) have no impact on the entity under audit in any way and do not affect the objectivity and impartiality of the auditor in conducting the audit for Company X. 
Under the rules prior to today’s amendments, Company X would be required: (1) to replace Audit Firm A with another audit firm; (2) to wait to register with the SEC for up to three years after termination of the services provided to Company Y and Company Z; or (3) to make a determination, likely in consultation with Commission staff and/or the audit committee, that the rule violation did not impair the auditor’s objectivity and impartiality. 
In some situations, the existing audit firm cannot be replaced as a practical matter because all other qualified audit firms have themselves provided services or established other relationships with portfolio companies of Fund F that triggered a breach of our independence rules.  The issue of the independence rule set affecting auditor choice is brought home by this example and has increased significantly as the asset management industry has grown, investments have become more global and the global audit services ecosystem has consolidated and become more specialized. 
Under the rules as amended, Company X would be able to engage Audit Firm A for audit services.  The hypothetical scenario described above is based directly on SEC staff’s experience over the past decade.  In recent years, the SEC staff conducted a number of consultations in which this fact pattern, or one similar to it, was raised to the SEC staff by the registrant’s audit committee and its auditor, and the SEC staff, under such circumstances, did not object to the auditor’s and the audit committee’s conclusion that the auditor’s objectivity and impartiality would not be impaired.  SEC staff has provided similar feedback in these types of scenarios over the past decade.  The amended rules would mitigate the need for registrants audit committees and their auditors to seek SEC staff guidance in these scenarios.
Highlights 
The final amendments will:
  • Amend the definitions of “affiliate of the audit client,” in Rule 2-01(f)(4), and “investment company complex,” in Rule 2-01(f)(14), to address certain affiliate relationships, including entities under common control;
  • Amend the definition of “audit and professional engagement period,” specifically Rule 2-01(f)(5)(iii), to shorten the look-back period, for domestic first time filers in assessing compliance with the independence requirements;
  • Amend Rule 2-01(c)(1)(ii)(A)(1) and (E) to add certain student loans and de minimis consumer loans to the categorical exclusions from independence-impairing lending relationships;
  • Amend Rule 2-01(c)(3) to replace the reference to “substantial stockholders” in the business relationships rule with the concept of beneficial owners with significant influence;
  • Replace the outdated transition provision in Rule 2-01(e) with a new Rule 2-01(e) to introduce a transition framework to address inadvertent independence violations that only arise as a result of a merger or acquisition transactions; and
  • Make certain other miscellaneous updates.
What’s Next?
The amendments will be effective 180 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Voluntary early compliance is permitted after the amendments are published in the Federal Register in advance of the effective date provided that the final amendments are applied in their entirety from the date of early compliance.  Auditors are not permitted to retroactively apply the final amendments to relationships and services in existence prior to the effective date or the early compliance date if selected by an audit firm. 

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