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PCAOB Considers Changing Fair Value Audit Standards

October 13, 2009

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s Standing Advisory Group will be meeting Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the controversial issue of auditing fair value measurements.

Fair value has proven to be a thorny matter for both the Financial Accounting Standards Board and its global counterpart, the International Accounting Standards Board. The PCAOB advisory group plans to talk about how to audit such measurements in the wake of the financial crisis, as well as using the work of specialists who have been hired by companies to help make the fair value assessments.

The meeting could be an important step in the process of changing the PCAOB’s existing fair value standards. “The staff believes that a standards-setting project to revise its existing standards on auditing fair value measurements and using the work of a specialist may be appropriate for a number of reasons,” said a briefing paper on the PCAOB Web site. “Information obtained from the board's inspection and enforcement programs indicate that some auditors might not be exercising sufficient professional skepticism when performing audit procedures and evaluating results in higher risk areas of the audit. Fair value measurements, and other accounting estimates, and the related use of the work of a specialist frequently entail elevated audit risk.”

Banks and other financial institutions have pressured the accounting standard-setters to revise their fair value standards as they seek to avoid putting assets on their balance sheets that have declined steeply in value. Auditors too have come under pressure to conform to those revised standards or apply the loosest interpretation possible to give companies the greatest leeway to value their assets. But as the standards for auditing also undergo a shift, it’s going to become harder to tell what’s a real standard, and what’s only the standard of the moment.

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