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Assessing the effectiveness of internal controls

Strong internal controls can help prevent and detect fraud. That’s why Section 404(a) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) requires a public company’s management to annually assess the effectiveness of internal controls over financial reporting. And Sec. 404(b) requires the company’s independent auditors to provide an attestation report on management’s assessment of internal controls. Some smaller entities may be exempt from the latter requirement — but not the former one.

Burdensome for smaller entities

When the SEC published the regulations, smaller public companies told the SEC that the costs of complying with Sec. 404(b) would outweigh the benefits for investors. While the SEC explored ways to ease the compliance burden, the compliance deadline for Sec. 404(b) was repeatedly delayed for nonaccelerated filers — companies with a public float of less than $75 million on the last business day of their most recent second fiscal quarter.

In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act instructed the SEC to permanently exempt nonaccelerated filers from SOX Sec. 404(b). Absent this exemption, nonaccelerated filers would have been required to comply with Sec. 404(b) beginning with fiscal years ending on or after June 15, 2010.

New definition provides no new Sec. 404(b) relief

Earlier this year, the SEC expanded its definition of “smaller reporting companies” from companies with a public float of less than $75 million to those with a public float of less than $250 million. This change will allow nearly 1,000 more companies to qualify for a lighter set of disclosure rules available to smaller reporting companies. However, the SEC did not raise the public float thresholds for when a company qualifies as an accelerated filer. This means the $75 million threshold still applies in relation to the Sec. 404(b) exemption.

SEC Commissioners Michael Piwowar and Hester Peirce favored raising the accelerated filer threshold to $250 million to expand the number of companies that would be exempt from Sec. 404(b). But, based on feedback from auditors and investor advocate groups, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton decided to keep the current threshold at $75 million — at least for now.

It’s also important to note that not all companies with a public float of less than $75 million are considered nonaccelerated filers. If a company’s public float drops below $75 million, it continues to be an accelerated filer until it drops below $50 million, and thereby “exits” accelerated status.

Still on the hook

Even if your company is exempt from Sec.404(b), you’re still responsible for assessing the effectiveness of internal controls over financial reporting pursuant to Sec. 404(a). Contact us for any questions about complying with the SOX rules or for information regarding best practices in internal controls.

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