PCAOB adjusts its audit inspections to remote work amid coronavirus

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The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has changed the way it operates in response to the novel coronavirus, with officials and employees working from home starting Thursday and doing inspections of U.S. audit firms remotely to protect them from infection.

“First and foremost, we are focused on the health and safety of our employees and those with whom we interact,” said the PCAOB in an email Wednesday. “As a result, following a transition period of more flexible work from home, we will begin a mandatory, organization-wide work from home policy effective close of business today. We will continue to closely monitor the evolving situation and reassess our policy as appropriate.”

The PCAOB has also suspended travel to auditing firms outside the U.S. for this month and April to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

“We are positioned to conduct our domestic firm inspections remotely to the maximum extent possible as we closely coordinate with audit firms,” said the PCAOB. “We have suspended international travel, including for non-U.S. firm inspections, for the months of March and April.

Our enforcement and investigative efforts are continuing to the maximum extent possible as we prioritize and address issues that pose the greatest risk to investors.”

The PCAOB is also still accepting comments on its proposed changes in quality control standards for auditing firms (see our story). The deadline was on March 16, but the PCAOB said it would treat any comments it receives “within a reasonable timeframe” in the same way as comments submitted on or before Monday’s deadline.

The PCAOB is continuing to register auditing firms, process their applications and respond to their questions about registration matters. However, it has now canceled its in-person stakeholder events, including audit committee and preparer roundtables, the PCAOB/AAA annual meeting, and student visits. The PCAOB has been criticized for not holding meetings of its Standing Advisory Groups last year, but it now plans to host “virtual meetings” and webinars.

The PCAOB board members will continue to meet, albeit remotely, and vote on pending items. It is also coordinating with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other financial regulators and governmental authorities in the U.S. and international audit regulators.

“As we navigate these uncharted waters, we remain operational and focused on our mandate to protect investors and the public interest by promoting informative, accurate and independent audit reports,” said the PCAOB. “We will, however, adjust our regulatory and operational activities as necessary. While the COVID-19 situation continues to present a unique set of challenges, we are grateful to our staff for their flexibility and dedication as we continue to carry out our core oversight functions and other important work to support the PCAOB’s mission, vision and values.”

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