An Analysis of Materiality and Reasonable Assurance: Professional Mystification and Paternalism in Auditing SpringerLink


Estimates cannot be considered accurate with certainty, and therefore auditors generally develop a range of amounts for each estimate that would be considered reasonable. Management’s estimate would normally be acceptable if it falls within this range. Judgemental misstatements are differences arising from the judgements of management including those concerning recognition, measurement, presentation and disclosure in the financial statements that auditors consider unreasonable or inappropriate. Individual component materiality thresholds in a group audit may differ from the materiality threshold established for a separate audit of the stand-alone financial statements of a component. While rules of thumb mentioned in the section above are commonly applied to state and local government financial statements, government auditors may also use different means to quantify materiality such as total cost or net cost . In a cash accounting environment, total expenditures is often used as a benchmark.

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Although A Guide To Audit Materiality And Performance Materiality ors would report both misstatements to management , they can evaluate the impact of this misstatement based on the net amount of £3,000. This is less prevalent now, in large part because there is no mention of taking averages in ISA 320. That said, the same fact means there is also nothing in the ISA to say it is inappropriate. Also, while there is typically the option of a judgement override there is a tendency to accept the result, removing the all-important thinking . The primary purpose for setting overall materiality when planning the audit is that it is used to identify performance materiality and a clearly trivial threshold for accumulating misstatements. DETERMINING OVERALL MATERIALITY Auditors set the materiality for the financial statements as a whole (referred to in this guide as ‘overall materiality’) at the planning stage. ICAEW’s international objectives and discussions with professional bodies outside the UK prompted us to issue an international guide in this area.

Materiality in the audit of financial statements

Effective for audits of financial statements for periods ending on or after December 14, 2010. Whether accounting standards, laws, or regulations affect users’ expectations regarding the measurement or disclosure of certain items. Apply a factor necessary to achieve the desired level of Performance Materiality/Tolerable Misstatement for the item.

How do you explain materiality?

Definition of Materiality

In accounting, materiality refers to the relative size of an amount. Relatively large amounts are material, while relatively small amounts are not material (or immaterial). Determining materiality requires professional judgement.

The auditor’s job is to identify and examine risk areas in the financial statements and determine whether the risk of material misstatement is high enough to warrant further testing. If the auditor determines that the risk is high, they will perform additional tests to ensure that the financial statements are free from material misstatement.

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Examples of auditors’ business risks include the probability of adversarial action by users of the audit report, punitive action by regulators, or adverse publicity from either. Judgments used in setting the level of planning materiality are generally based on considerations of user needs, and they include business risk considerations relative to the reporting entity. Reply—If the component is a significant component on which the group engagement team will be performing audit procedures, the group engagement team is required to determine component materiality. The amount or amounts set by the auditor at less than materiality for the financial statements as a whole to reduce to an appropriately low level the probability that the aggregate of uncorrected and undetected misstatements exceeds materiality for the financial statements as a whole. If applicable, performance materiality also refers to the amount or amounts set by the auditor at less than the materiality level or levels for particular classes of transactions, account balances, or disclosures. Performance materiality is to be distinguished from tolerable misstatement.

The assessment of what is material – where to draw the line between a transaction that is big enough to matter or small enough to be immaterial – depends upon factors such as the size of the organization’s revenues and expenses, and is ultimately a matter of professional judgment. This Frequently Asked Questions helps address investigating exceptions and the concept of performance materiality when performing audit procedures using automated tools & techniques . While not unique to ATT, questions on these topics have become more prevalent with the increasing use of ATT, which enable analyzing data sets with large volumes of information. Performance materiality is the quantitative value below which errors or omissions in financial statements would be considered immaterial and therefore not affect the decisions of a reasonable person relying on those statements. Materiality would be applied to quantitative and qualitative disclosures individually and in the aggregate in the context of the financial statements as a whole; therefore, some, all, or none of the requirements in a disclosure Section may be material. Performance materiality is another key to ensuring your audits don’t result in improper audit opinions.

Lower Level of Planning Materiality

Ultimately, determining component materiality is a matter of professional judgment. Similar to other areas requiring the exercise of professional judgment, the audit standards do not provide specific quantitative guidance or thresholds for setting component materiality.

financial reporting

If non-GAAP benchmarks result in higher materiality thresholds, they could reduce the scope of audit procedures and audit evidence gathered (Hallman et al., 2022). The auditor should determine tolerable misstatement at an amount or amounts that reduce to an appropriately low level the probability that the total of uncorrected and undetected misstatements would result in material misstatement of the financial statements. Accordingly, tolerable misstatement should be less than the materiality level for the financial statements as a whole and, if applicable, the materiality level or levels for particular accounts or disclosures. Business risk to the entity “is broader than the risk of material misstatement of the financial statements, though it includes the latter” (AU-C section 315.A37); the authors, however, use the term even more broadly than that. In the authors’ view, business risks also refer to risks that are not mentioned in the standards but that affect an auditor’s judgment as to the level of risk of material misstatement that would be acceptable under any circumstances.

Audit Materiality Summary

The IAASB issues the International Standards on Auditing, which consists of a growing number of individual standards. The IFRS Foundation has as its mission to develop a single set of high quality, understandable, enforceable and globally accepted financial reporting standards based upon clearly articulated principles. PM is vital for auditors because it provides a basis for assessing risk and determining the extent of testing needed. By understanding PM, auditors can ensure that they provide users with accurate and reliable financial information. It is also essential to consider how sensitive users are likely to be to other misstatements. For example, errors in revenue may be more misleading than expenses, so that they would require a lower threshold for disclosure. Similarly, some users may be more concerned with information about cash flow than profitability.


Although neither SAS 39 nor SAS 47 discussed it in considerable depth, it was covered further in Appendix L of the 2006 guide, Assessing and Responding to Risk in a Financial Statement Audit, and this guidance was brought forward to more recent editions. As noted above, the waived adjustment threshold initially determined in planning should often be reduced based on qualitative considerations regarding sensitivity to user needs on certain items, such as related party transactions or illegal acts. In some circumstances, the threshold for waiving adjustments should be near zero, such as when the entity is on the cusp of a debt covenant violation. Auditor should consider the level of risk of material misstatement.

But if that is taken to its logical conclusion, sooner or later auditors of a multi-billion pound business are going to be faced with a very low materiality. The appropriate benchmark chosen should therefore link to what the users are most concerned about in the financial statements. This publication is one of many resources from International Accounting, Auditing & Ethics . IAAE is an ICAEW initiative − an online service offering resources to support the practical implementation of international standards on accounting, auditing and ethics. All components should be considered when determining component materiality. Nor is the group engagement team required to determine materiality for those components for which only analytical procedures at the group level will be performed.

  • As a simple example, an expenditure of ten cents on paper is generally immaterial, and, if it were forgotten or recorded incorrectly, then no practical difference would result, even for a very small business.
  • According to Audit & Assurance Services Policy , the concept of materiality is applied by the auditor when planning and performing the audit since the auditor has to provide an opinion on whether the financial statements are materially correct.
  • Exercise caution when documenting the assessment at the audit area level.
  • Judgemental misstatements are differences arising from the judgements of management including those concerning recognition, measurement, presentation and disclosure in the financial statements that auditors consider unreasonable or inappropriate.
  • And as noted in the table above, as aggregation risk increases, component materiality decreases relative to group materiality.

This is referred to in this guide as a ‘clearly trivial threshold’. In determining the amount of this threshold, auditors use professional judgement, taking into account their experience of the entity including, for example, the past history of misstatements detected during the audit and their assessment of audit risk.

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