The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has voted to adopt a new ethics and independence rule concerning communications with audit committees, as well as an amendment to its existing tax services rule.
The PCAOB adopted Rule 3526, “Communication with Audit Committees Concerning Independence,” and an amendment to Rule 3523, “Tax Services for Persons in Financial Reporting Oversight Roles.”
The board adopted Rule 3526 to enhance communication between audit committees and registered firms regarding the firm’s independence. Rule 3526 will require a registered public accounting firm, before accepting an initial engagement pursuant to the standards of the PCAOB, to describe in writing to the audit committee all relationships between the firm or any of its affiliates and the issuer or persons in a financial reporting oversight role at the issuer that may reasonably be thought to bear on the firm's independence.
Registered firms will also be required to discuss with the audit committee the potential effects of any such relationships on the firm’s independence. Rule 3526 will require firms to make a similar communication annually for continuing engagements. If approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, rule 3526 will supersede the board’s interim independence requirement, Independence Standards Board Standard No. 1, “Independence Discussions with Audit Committees,” and two related interpretations.
The board also adopted an amendment to rule 3523, “Tax Services for Persons in Financial Reporting Oversight Roles.” The amendment excludes from the scope of the rule tax services provided during the portion of the audit period that precedes the beginning of the professional engagement period.
As originally adopted by the board, the rule provided that a registered public accounting firm is not independent of its audit client if it or any of its affiliates provide any tax service to a person in a financial reporting oversight role or an immediate family member of such a person during the audit and professional engagement period. The board determined that providing tax services to such a person during the portion of the audit period preceding the beginning of the professional engagement period does not necessarily impair a firm’s independence.
The board further adjusted the implementation schedule for Rule 3523 and will not apply the rule to tax services provided on or before Dec. 31, 2008, when those services are provided during the audit period and are completed before the professional engagement period begins. Rule 3526, if approved by the SEC, will become effective on the later of Sept. 30, 2008, or 30 days after SEC approval. The amendment to Rule 3523 will become effective immediately if approved by the SEC.
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