Does SOX 404 Compliance Really Provide Benefit?
Richard Steinberg 270004HRBG firstname.lastname@example.org | | 0 Comments | 117 Visits
Accelerated filers of course have long been subject to SOX 404 (a), requiring management reporting on the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting, as well as section (b), where auditor attestation is required. While having to incur tremendous costs, with some companies seeing little commensurate benefit, others have seen improvement in business process effectiveness, internal control beyond financial reporting, and improved compliance more broadly. Non-accelerated filers, already subject to management reporting, have gained another reprieve from the auditor attestation requirements of section (b). Great news, many are saying. They hail the opportunity to avoid incurring additional costs and taking focus away from running and growing their businesses.
Recently I came across an article in Directors & Boards by a former colleague of mine that offers a different perspective, which in my view is worth considering. His view is, in addition to the SEC losing credibility – agreeing to another deferral after making clear and definitive statements that no more would be forthcoming – that requiring and adhering to section (b) offers benefits beyond the costs, for a number of reasons. These include (1) Smaller companies traditionally have less sophisticated systems and less experienced individuals in management positions, with statistics showing greater incidences of fraud and restatement of financial results (2) The 404(b) compliance costs have come down with the advent of AS 5 and COSO’s guidance for smaller businesses (3) Studies indicate that companies that are not SOX compliant or have material weaknesses in their internal controls receive a lower valuation, whereas those that are compliant receive higher multiples when sold (4) These companies are less likely to take advantage of IT solutions that provide enhanced efficiently and management capabilities well beyond better controlled financial reporting, and (5) CEOs and CFOs who already must certify to the effectiveness of financial reporting controls are on the hook by themselves, failing to receive the comfort provided by auditor attestation.