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Exploring the four stages of the audit process

Internal Audit is an independent function that provides an objective assurance and consultancy activity to improve and add value on an organization’s operation.  The auditors aim to help the Merami Berhad accomplish its objectives by evaluating the effectiveness of its risk management, control, and governance processes by bringing a discipline, systematic approach. The audit process is divided into four stages which are Planning (Preliminary Review), Fieldwork, Audit Report, and Follow-up Review. One of the main key objectives to carry out an audit is to minimize the time and avoid disrupting ongoing activities.

As we are a public accounting firm for Merami Berhad for the past five years. Meramin Berhad is a public listed company, whose sales for the year 2009 were over RM 25 million. The audit fees we normally charge to Merami Berhad are RM 50,000. Before an audit is assigned to staff, the auditor must consider a few matters such as the size of the company to be audited. If it is a Public Listed Company, 3 or 4 staff will be required. Besides that, the budget is very important as the auditor are always advised to stay within the budget so that the audit fees is sufficient to cover all the cost incurred especially the disbursements. The auditor should also consider about the deadline. An audit assignment usually has very tight deadlines and therefore staff must ensure that the Audit Report is submitted to the Partner of Review on time so that the signing of accounts is not delayed.

When the audit manager assigns a job to the senior, the first thing the senior does is to meet with his team members to discuss about the job and to delegate duties to the respective members. The audit assistant will normally be asked to retrieve the previous year’s file of the company from the filling room. The previous year file is always used as a guide only. Staff must always tailor-make the audit for the year according to the events that occurred during the year. Once the last year’s file is retrieved, a new file will be opened for the current year’s audit.

STAGE 1: PLANNING (PREMILIRARY REVIEW)

Planning is essential as this is the first time we understand Merami Berhad business and their controls in the company. During the planning stage of the audit, the auditor will contact the client to notify them of an upcoming audit and to schedule a time during the year that is most convenient for the audit to commence and take place. The auditor will send them a preliminary checklist. This is a list of documents (e.g. organization charts, financial statements) that will help the auditor learn about their unit before planning the audit. After reviewing the information, the auditor will plan the review, conduct a risk workshop primarily to identify key risks and raise risk awareness, draft an audit plan, and schedule an opening meeting.

Engagement Letter

Merami Berhad is informed of the audit through an announcement or engagement letter from the Internal Audit Director. This letter communicates the scope and objectives of the audit, the auditors assigned to the audit, the audit methodology used in the audit and other relevant information. This letter serves as a contract which outlines the responsibilities of the auditor and client to prevent any unnecessary misunderstanding of what is expected or required of the other party. The auditor and the client must also agree on the terms of the engagement.

Opening Conference

Nearer the start of the audit, the auditor will arrange a meeting with Merami Berhad to discuss the scope and objectives of the audit. The opening conference should be held to gather information about the mission, critical processes, and control procedures of the unit to be used in the preliminary survey process. The opening meeting should include senior management and any administrative staff that may be involved in the audit. Merami Berhad describes the unit or system to be reviewed, the organization, available resources (personnel, facilities, equipment, funds), and other relevant information.

The audit senior usually discusses with the client about the company’s performance for the year in terms of increase or decrease in profitability. This may due to factors ranging from launching of new products during the year to high-position staffs leaving the company. These will all be documented in the Business Understanding Document.

The internal auditor meets with the senior officer directly responsible for the unit under review and any staff members he wishes to include. It is important that the client identify issues or areas of special concern that should be addressed. The time frame of the audit will be determined, and we should discuss any potential timing issues (e.g. vacations, deadlines) that could impact the audit. The opening conference is an important step in a regular audit. It is an opportunity to establish the proper tone and to begin building good relationships.

Preliminary Survey

In this phase the auditor gathers relevant information that they have gained from the opening conference is used in conjunction with other relevant information about the unit in order to obtain a general overview of operations. He talks with key personnel and reviews reports, files, and other sources of information. This may include information on budgets and strategic plans as well as past audit reports.  There are certain risks that the auditor will always review to ensure that they are being adequately controlled and managed - these include financial transactions, local risk management and business continuity planning.

Internal Control Review

All of this information is then used to make a preliminary assessment of the risks and controls for Merami Berhad unit. The auditor will review the unit's internal control structure, a process which is usually time-consuming. In doing this, the auditor uses a variety of tools and techniques to gather and analyze information about the operation. The review of internal controls helps the auditor determine the areas of highest risk and design tests to be performed in the fieldwork section. In the interests of quality and consistency, the Head of Internal Audit reviews this work and agrees the scope of work to be carried out.

Audit Program

Preparation of the audit program concludes the preliminary review phase. The audit program establishes the procedures necessary to complete an efficient and effective audit. It includes a detailed plan of the work to be performed as well as the steps required to achieve the audit objectives. There should be sufficient detail for less experienced staff to perform the steps however it should not be overly detailed whereby it might cause auditors to execute steps routinely and override their judgment.

STAGE 2: FIELDWORK

Transaction Testing

Revenue Cycle

Sales procedure and cash receipt transaction are the 2 checking procedures under revenue cycle.

Sales Procedure

A sales quotation provides a pre-sales processing environment which allows prospective buyers to examine the costs involved for a completion of work. A sales quotation typically consists of information like quantity, item and its description, unit prices and etc. Many businesses cannot have an upfront price for the service they provide. Thus, sale quotation should be provided by companies to its customers to give them an estimate of the cost involved.

In addition, a delivery order is written directions from a consignor or shipper of a shipment to a carrier or freight forwarder to release the shipment to the named delivery party in freight-prepaid shipment. It allows direct delivery of goods to the carrier or warehouseman.

Invoices are essentially a detailed bill left by vendors and outside supplier for goods or services rendered to a company under sales procedure. The document may be called a “Sales Invoice”, from the point of view of the vendor, or a “Purchase Invoice” by the buyer. A typical invoice might list the quantity of each item, prices, billable hours, service description and a contact address for payment. While some expenses may be paid through an accounts payable department by the posted due date.

Besides, cash sale can be used in several different contexts. A cash sale has to do with the purchase of goods or services and involves the immediate possession of the new owner, without any delay in time between purchase and assuming full ownership in just about every situation. In the world of finance and in retail situations, people are engage in cash sales on a delay basis,

Segregation of duties is critical to effective internal control. It reduces the risk of both erroneous and inappropriate actions. The handling of cash receipts and accounting for such receipt need to segregate. This is to reduce the likelihood that errors will remain undetected by providing an accounting check over the receipt of cash. For example, those who handle cash receipts would not have the authority to prepare or sign cheques, would not have access to accounting records and would not be involved in reconciling bank accounts. If a person has access to both the cash receipts and the accounts receivable records, it is possible for cash to be diverted and the shortage of cash in the accounting records to be covered which can result in theft of the entity’s cash. In the other hand, for those who perform sales activity including those who maintain contact with customers and issue sales orders, would not perform any credit approval, billing, shipping, credit memo, cash receipts and accounting activities.

Cash Receipt Transaction

Most business customers pay by cheque or electronically. Cash receipts are only given to acknowledge cash payments; which are rarely made by business customers. Cash register and lockboxes are often used as safeguards here. In order to prevent fraud and error, different employees should be responsible for receiving and recording cash collections here.

The purpose of preventing fraud and error is the validity, completeness, timeliness, authorization, valuation, classification, posting and summarization. It’s very important to the cash receipt transaction.

The auditor can check monthly bank reconciliation to prevent any recorded cash receipts not deposited in order to ensure the validity of the cash receipt transaction. For instance, misstatement in sales that may occur includes fictitious sale being recorded in the account o f a regular customer.

Expenditure Cycle

There are two checking procedures under expenditure cycle, which are purchasing procedure and cash disbursement transaction.

Purchasing Procedure

A purchasing transaction normally begins with a purchase requisition generated by a department or support function. A purchasing order is then the purchase of goods or services from a supplier. As soon as the goods and services have been rendered, the entity records a liability to the supplier and pays later.

Basically, there are three types of for purchase transactions which are the purchase of goods or services on cash or credit, payment of the liabilities arising from such purchases and return of goods or services. The second type is cash disbursement transaction to clear liabilities resulting from purchase of goods or services. The final type is a purchase return transaction which involves the return of goods previously purchased to supplier for cash or credit.

Good segregation of duties must be done in order to prevent embezzlement or any fraudulent activities. Firstly, a purchaser who orders should not be the person who receives goods. This can prevent the purchaser from placing excessive orders and keeping the rest of goods. Next, a person who purchases items should not be the person who writes the cheques for it. This can avoid the person from creating orders and make payments to fictitious companies. Then, the person who writes cheques should not handle the reconciliation. This is because nobody will aware even if he writes cheques to himself or relatives.

Cash Disbursement Transaction

Cash disbursement can be defined as paying out of funds in a discharge of a debt or expense. Transaction Related Audit Objective (TRAO) is used here to evaluating the existence and quality of controls. The auditor’s transaction-related audit objectives follow and are closely related to management assertion. That is because the auditor’s primary responsibility is to determine whether management assertions about financial statements are justified. These transaction-related audit objectives help the auditor accumulate sufficient competent evidence required by the standard of fieldwork and decide proper evidence to accumulate for classes of transactions with a framework.

In order to ensure the validity of the cash disbursement transaction, the auditor tests the validity of purchase transactions whether there is any fictitious or non-existent purchases may have been recorded in the client’s records. Assets or expenses will be overstated if fraudulent transactions are recorded.

As for Completeness, auditor must ensure that purchase that has been made in recorded accordingly. If fail to do so will lead to understating of assets or expenses, and the corresponding accounts payable will also be understated.

As for Timing, a timing error occurs if transactions are not recorded on the dates the transaction took place.

As for Authorization, the person who has authority to approve purchase should not have access to cash disbursement for the purchase.

As for Valuation, appropriate methodology is used to calculate transactions and to review various reconciliations. The valuation of accruals depends on the type and the nature of the accrued expenses.

As for Classifications, the major issues related to the presentation and disclosure assertions are identifying and reclassifying any material debits contained in accounts payable. For instance, segregation of purchasing and cash disbursement journal is crucial to ensure that correct amount would be allocated properly. If purchase transactions are not properly classified, assets and expenses will be misstated.

As for Posting and summarization, control tools should be used to reconcile vouchers to the daily accounts payable listing or else the daily postings to the purchases journal should be reconciled to the accounts payable subsidiary records.

Income Statement or Profit and Loss Account

First of all, the auditor should determine and try to find out the major changes or the modification that would affect the normal relationship has been made in the production and sales area. Audit assistant are responsible to handle on detect the significant adjustment in the policies of company that would affect the item stated in the income statement. After analyze on such adjustment to ensure that no material error is found then it will continue proceed to the final stage of the audit section. For example, significant changes in employee benefits might affect salaries and employee compensation and have an effect on the income statement.

Other than checking in the income statement of a company, the auditor would also look into the balance sheet on the assets and liabilities. Before the auditor start to work on it, a copy of client’s balance sheet should be prepared to working papers.

There are procedures of carrying out an audit on assets and liabilities. Auditors should categorize each item in the balance sheet accordingly to the audit checklist.

Assets

All of these are the components of assets.

For Cash in Bank

To ensure the information that stated in the column of the balance is complied what it really had in the bank, a confirmation request letter will be sent to all the related bank which the entity had dealing with within the financial period. In addition to get confirm to relevant bank that the balance in the bank of the company, the auditors also can get an opportunity to request the bank to provide other information such as the securities that the company held in the safekeeping.

The response from the bank give the company a gold evidence to prove that cash at bank that stated in the balance sheet is complied with the real amount in bank at the balance sheet date. With the cooperation of bank, the confirmation of cash on deposit provides evidence to the existence of cash at bank and as to rights and obligations. If the balance per bank statement is different, bank reconciliation would have to be done by the audit assistants.

For Account Receivable

A details list of account receivables balances of the customer should be obtain before the auditor and access to the balance. The auditor will trace totals to comparative summary of accounts receivables balance and randomly select customers’ account from the listing to send itemized statements to get the response or confirmation of the balance. Review the confirmation replies letter from them and test accounts where there are no replies. Keep track with the potential bad debts to be written off, if exist, check the opening balances again.

For Inventories

When inventory is material to the financial statements, the auditor is required to attend the entity’s physical inventory counting unless it is impracticable. Examine client’s physical inventories count determine whether the client’s counting methods are effective. The purpose of inventory attendance is to enable the auditor to obtain audit evidence regarding the existence and condition of the inventory and consider if there is any obsolescence in it. The auditor may select a sample of inventory items from the client count records and trace them to the perpetual inventory records for checking purposes.

For Prepayment expenses

Randomly choose the official receipts or documents that can support prepayment expenses and test on it. Then, send conformation letter to conform the amount due.

For Non – Current Assets

The auditor should obtain a list of fixed asset’s expenses that register under the client’s company such as depreciation charges, loss or gain on the disposal of the fixed asset, net book value, revaluation amount and etc. The revaluation done should be back by the evidence or documentation authorized by the professional. Check to invoice and agree to the description, price, date and etc. The physical existence and the condition of the assets should be check and determine whether it is located at company’s premises. As for disposal of fixed assets, ensure that there is proper authorization and that profit or loss on disposal is properly recorded.

Liabilities

For Short – Term Notes Payable

A bank conformation letter should be sent out to inquire loan balance status of the company. Auditors have to calculate the principal and interest paid to check whether it comply with the figure in the balance sheet.

For Long – Term Debts

Review the loan agreement and direct the attention to the relevant information to acquire the accurate interest charged based on the nominal interest rate calculation and auditor have to be ensuring that the interest rate stated in the income statement same with the result of calculation.

For Income Tax Account

The documentation of the transaction of the company is required to keep for minimum 7 year required by law. Client is required to show documentation and support for every aspects of company’s tax return. For example, if the client claims itemized deductions, receipts for those deductions must be produced. In addition, to justifications for why the taxpayer felt that those deductions were legitimate. Besides that, taxpayers must open their accounting methods to inspection and demonstrate that all of their income was in fact properly documented and claimed on the tax return. This can be done through proper recording and classification for provision for taxation and deferred taxation.

Advice & Informal Communications

As the fieldwork progresses, the auditor discusses any significant findings with the client. Hopefully, the client can offer insights and work with the auditor to determine the best method of resolving the finding. Usually these communications are oral. However, in more complex situations, memos and/or e-mails are written in order to ensure full understanding by the client and the auditor. A lot of information is shared via e-mail, of course, but there is more face-to-face conversation. Other than that, I would like to mention for this communication question is language. Most communications with a greater group of people (and formal meetings) are held in English; however it depends a lot on who is speaking if you will understand that person. Also if it is only me and, says, two other Indians, it is very likely that they switch to Hindi or Kannada (local language) without noticing. I then sometimes have to remind them to stay with English. Distinguishing between first and surnames is also impossible for me, same with deciding if a name is male or female – I just have to guess or find some “neutral” ways to address or ask for people. In particular cases, we may also provide drafts of organizations charts, proposed forms or modifications to forms, financial data or other statistics, or drafts of findings and recommendations that later may be incorporated into the formal audit report. These are all considered informal communications between the auditor and the client. Their purpose is to promote constructive communication and avoid misunderstandings. Our goal: NO SURPRISES.

Audit Summary / Financial Monitoring

Upon completion of the fieldwork, the auditor summarizes the audit findings, conclusions, and recommendations necessary for the audit report discussion draft. Write a summary memo to document the results of fieldwork. Conclude as to whether the information reported by the state agency in the Section 1512 reports is accurate, reliable, and timely. The audit summary gives an overview of all work done sheets according to their topics. The audit summary template gives the title, the audit number, the topic of the summary and of the work done sheets, and the creation date. In addition to the work done sheets, the audit summary also contains a summary of the observations and findings as well as an overall assessment and conclusion of the audit result. Before writing the audit summary, auditors should agree the working papers on which the summary is based with their audit lead.

Working Papers

Working papers are a vital tool of the audit profession. They are the support of the audit opinion. They connect the client’s accounting records and financials to the auditor’s opinion. They are comprehensive and serve many functions. The result of audit activities must be documented truthfully, consistently, clearly, and completely, with a comprehensible description of all material details. This involves both the contents of a fieldwork activity and the procedure itself. This documentation of fieldwork activities is referred to as “working papers” to express its connection with the work results. The basic requirements for proper documentation apply to all types of fieldwork activities, although there are different types of documents, depending on the nature of the audit. In addition to the working papers which are mandatory, other documents can be created as optional extras; they contain information beyond the minimum information requirement. The working papers are an indication of the audit quality in general. This needs to be considered because queries by different groups of addresses or their requests for information may often require access to this documentation. Accordingly, the working papers may serve as discussion or evidence documents, for example for queries from the Board, the unit requesting the audit, Internal Audit Management, the Audit Committee, or the external auditors. The preparation of working papers is subject to certain organizational requirements. Each auditor always has the main responsibility for preparing the documents, both during and immediately after fieldwork. Even though the audit lead and Audit Manager have ultimate responsibility for quality assurance, each auditor has to prepare and maintain the working papers with the necessary attention to detail. Working papers may be compiled by hand or entered directly into a system (which is normally more expedient, because it makes it easier to access the information again).

STAGE 3: AUDIT REPORT

The third stage of carrying an audit is to prepare an audit report. After all the evidence for each of the item in the financial statement have been collected and proven, the senior audit and the audit assistant is going to check the closing balance amount of the balance sheet and the trial balance with the ledger account whether they are compatible with each other and to ensure that each figure is agreeing with the previous year audit account in order to prepare a working trial balance and the working paper. After this all procedure has been done, our audit assistant will prepare an audit report which expresses the opinion of the auditor, evidence of audit and recommendation for the information improvement.

Discussion Draft

In order to implement this process, first the auditors will discuss to prepare a draft for internal audit report to outlining the audit’s work, recommendation for the information that should provided and the timeframe to complete the report. The draft that prepared by the management department will show that who will responsible to implement the job, the action to be taken and the timeline to do the job. After the draft has been discussing, a meeting among the auditor will be held in order to assign the job to the person selected for preparing the report and meanwhile the draft will be sent to the particular auditor.

Formal Draft

The report will become the final report if the response of the management is integrated with the audit report draft. The important information that present in the report includes the title of the report, the duty of the management and the auditor in preparing the report, the scope paragraph that show the evidence of the examination and the accounting principles use to prepare the report, the opinion paragraph which expresses the opinion of the auditor and whether the financial statement is complying with the statutory requirement and the name, signature and address of the auditor who preparing the report. This is to make sure that if there is any fault present in the report, it is the responsibility of the particular auditor to in charge with the case.

Final Report

After that, the auditor will present the final report to the audit committee and the copies of the report will sent to the senior auditor, the management department of the audit firm and our client, Merami Berhad to review and get the approval.

Client Response

In our report, we could include or attached the client response in the audit finding prior to issuance of the final report. The client should highlight how report findings will be determined and include an implementation timetable in the response. However, some managers may likely to make a decision which not to implement an audit recommendation and to accept the risks that might occur with an audit finding. For example, the treasury balances are reconciled monthly instead of reconciled daily. The differences are out of the way and have been controlled since that date. The adjusting entries are made with proper documentation and review.

Client Comments

In our report, we always include the clients comment on our Internal Audit’s performance as it is part of the Internal Audit’s self-evaluation program. The feedback has proven to be very beneficial to us as we improve our procedures due to clients’ suggestion.

STAGE 4: FOLLOW-UP

Followed-Up Review

These required certain actions taken to resolve the audit report findings may be tested to ensure the desired result were achieved. For each item included in the follow-up, review status information provided by management to determine if information addresses all parts of finding and if a corrected date or revised due date has been provided. During this stage, we will contact unit management to obtain any missing information. We also evaluate action reported as taken in response to each finding to see whether the finding has been satisfactorily corrected. If necessary, develop audit tests to prove that the finding has been corrected based on the nature of the finding and responses. The Director of Internal Audit or the auditor in charge of the follow-up review will prepare a memorandum for senior management that notifies them that audit activities are underway and describes the follow-up process.  This memo should include timeframes for the project, a copy of the outstanding findings relating to areas reporting to that senior manager, a request that they distribute the findings to these areas and ask the managers to provide Internal Audit with the information requested, a statement that these comments were previously distributed as part of an audit report or close-out letter, and notification that the results will be reported to the Chancellor and Board of Trustees. 

Followed-Up Report

In the follow-up report, it lists all of the actions taken by the client to resolve the original report findings. Unresolved findings will also appear in the follow-up report and will include a brief description of the finding, the original audit recommendation, the client response, the current condition, and the continued exposure to board of company. A discussion draft of each report with unresolved findings is circulated to the client before the report is issued. The follow-up review results will be circulated to the original report recipient’s officials as deemed appropriate.

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