AU Section 326

Evidential Matter

[Superseded, effective for audits of fiscal years beginning on or after December 15, 2010. See PCAOB Release No. 2010-004.]
(Supersedes section 330, "Evidential Matter")
Source: SAS No. 31; SAS No. 48; SAS No. 80.
See section 9326 for interpretations of this section.
Issue date, unless otherwise indicated: August, 1980

.01

The third standard of field work is:

Sufficient competent evidential matter is to be obtained through inspection, observation, inquiries, and confirmations to afford a reasonable basis for an opinion regarding the financial statements under audit.

.02

Most of the independent auditor's work in forming his or her opinion on financial statements consists of obtaining and evaluating evidential matter fn 1 concerning the assertions in such financial statements. The measure of the validity of such evidence for audit purposes lies in the judgment of the auditor; in this respect audit evidence differs from legal evidence, which is circumscribed by rigid rules. Evidential matter varies substantially in its influence on the auditor as he or she develops an opinion with respect to financial statements under audit. The pertinence of the evidence, its objectivity, its timeliness, and the existence of other evidential matter corroborating the conclusions to which it leads all bear on its competence.

Nature of Assertions

.03

Assertions are representations by management that are embodied in financial statement components. They can be either explicit or implicit and can be classified according to the following broad categories:

  • Existence or occurrence
  • Completeness
  • Rights and obligations
  • Valuation or allocation
  • Presentation and disclosure

.04

Assertions about existence or occurrence address whether assets or liabilities of the entity exist at a given date and whether recorded transactions have occurred during a given period. For example, management asserts that finished goods inventories in the balance sheet are available for sale. Similarly, management asserts that sales in the income statement represent the exchange of goods or services with customers for cash or other consideration.

.05

Assertions about completeness address whether all transactions and accounts that should be presented in the financial statements are so included. For example, management asserts that all purchases of goods and services are recorded and are included in the financial statements. Similarly, management asserts that notes payable in the balance sheet include all such obligations of the entity.

.06

Assertions about rights and obligations address whether assets are the rights of the entity and liabilities are the obligations of the entity at a given date. For example, management asserts that amounts capitalized for leases in the balance sheet represent the cost of the entity's rights to leased property and that the corresponding lease liability represents an obligation of the entity.

.07

Assertions about valuation or allocation address whether asset, liability, equity, revenue, and expense components have been included in the financial statements at appropriate amounts. For example, management asserts that property is recorded at historical cost and that such cost is systematically allocated to appropriate accounting periods. Similarly, management asserts that trade accounts receivable included in the balance sheet are stated at net realizable value. [As amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.08

Assertions about presentation and disclosure address whether particular components of the financial statements are properly classified, described, and disclosed. For example, management asserts that obligations classified as long-term liabilities in the balance sheet will not mature within one year. Similarly, management asserts that amounts presented as extraordinary items in the income statement are properly classified and described.

Use of Assertions in Developing Audit Objectives and Designing Substantive Tests

.09

In obtaining evidential matter in support of financial statement assertions, the auditor develops specific audit objectives in the light of those assertions. In developing the audit objectives of a particular engagement, the auditor should consider the specific circumstances of the entity, including the nature of its economic activity and the accounting practices unique to its industry. For example, one audit objective related to the assertion about completeness that an auditor might develop for inventory balances is that inventory quantities include all products, materials, and supplies on hand.

.10

There is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between audit objectives and procedures. Some auditing procedures may relate to more than one objective. On the other hand, a combination of auditing procedures may be needed to achieve a single objective. Paragraph .26 provides illustrative audit objectives for inventories of a manufacturing company for each of the broad categories of assertions listed in paragraph .03 and examples of substantive tests that may achieve those audit objectives.

.11

In selecting particular substantive tests to achieve the audit objectives he or she has developed, an auditor considers, among other things, the risk of material misstatement of the financial statements, including the assessed levels of control risk, and the expected effectiveness and efficiency of such tests. These considerations include the nature and materiality of the items being tested, the kinds and competence of available evidential matter, and the nature of the audit objective to be achieved. For example, in designing substantive tests to achieve an objective related to the assertion of existence or occurrence, the auditor selects from items contained in a financial statement amount and searches for relevant evidential matter. On the other hand, in designing procedures to achieve an objective related to the assertion of completeness, the auditor selects from evidential matter indicating that an item should be included in the relevant financial statement amount and investigates whether that item is so included.

.12

The auditor's specific audit objectives do not change whether information is processed manually or electronically. However, the methods of applying audit procedures to gather evidence may be influenced by the method of processing. The auditor may use either manual auditing procedures, information technology-assisted audit techniques, or a combination of both to obtain sufficient competent evidential matter. Because of the growth in the use of computers and other information technology, many entities process significant information electronically. Accordingly, it may be difficult or impossible for the auditor to access certain information for inspection, inquiry, or confirmation without using information technology. [Paragraph added, effective for periods beginning after August 31, 1984, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48. As amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.13

The nature, timing, and extent of the procedures to be applied on a particular engagement are a matter of professional judgment to be determined by the auditor, based on the specific circumstances. However, the procedures adopted should be adequate to achieve the auditor's specific objectives and reduce detection risk to a level acceptable to the auditor. The evidential matter obtained should be sufficient for the auditor to form conclusions concerning the validity of the individual assertions embodied in the components of financial statements. The evidential matter provided by the combination of the auditor's assessment of inherent risk and control risk and on substantive tests should provide a reasonable basis for his or her opinion (see section 319, Consideration of Internal Control in a Financial Statement Audit, paragraphs .105 through .108). [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. As amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80. Revised, May 2001, to reflect conforming changes necessary due to the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 94.]

.14

In entities where significant information is transmitted, processed, maintained, or accessed electronically, the auditor may determine that it is not practical or possible to reduce detection risk to an acceptable level by performing only substantive tests for one or more financial statement assertions. For example, the potential for improper initiation or alteration of information to occur and not be detected may be greater if information is produced, maintained, or accessed only in electronic form. In such circumstances, the auditor should perform tests of controls to gather evidential matter to use in assessing control risk, fn 2 or consider the effect on his or her report (see paragraph .25 of this section). [Paragraph added, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

Nature of Evidential Matter

.15

Evidential matter supporting the financial statements consists of the underlying accounting data and all corroborating information available to the auditor. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80, December 1996.]

.16

The books of original entry, the general and subsidiary ledgers, related accounting manuals, and records such as work sheets and spreadsheets supporting cost allocations, computations, and reconciliations all constitute evidence in support of the financial statements. These accounting data are often in electronic form. Accounting data alone cannot be considered sufficient support for financial statements; on the other hand, without adequate attention to the propriety and accuracy of the underlying accounting data, an opinion on financial statements would not be warranted. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.17

Corroborating evidential matter includes both written and electronic information such as checks; records of electronic fund transfers; invoices; contracts; minutes of meetings; confirmations and other written representations by knowledgeable people; information obtained by the auditor from inquiry, observation, inspection, and physical examination; and other information developed by, or available to, the auditor which permits him or her to reach conclusions through valid reasoning. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.18

In certain entities, some of the accounting data and corroborating evidential matter are available only in electronic form. Source documents such as purchase orders, bills of lading, invoices, and checks are replaced with electronic messages. For example, entities may use Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or image processing systems. In EDI, the entity and its customers or suppliers use communication links to transact business electronically. Purchase, shipping, billing, cash receipt, and cash disbursement transactions are often consummated entirely by the exchange of electronic messages between the parties. In image processing systems, documents are scanned and converted into electronic images to facilitate storage and reference, and the source documents may not be retained after conversion. Certain electronic evidence may exist at a certain point in time. However, such evidence may not be retrievable after a specified period of time if files are changed and if backup files do not exist. Therefore, the auditor should consider the time during which information exists or is available in determining the nature, timing, and extent of his or her substantive tests, and, if applicable, tests of controls. [Paragraph added, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.19

[The following paragraph is effective for audits of fiscal years ending on or after November 15, 2004, for accelerated filers, and on or after July 15, 2005, for all other issues. See PCAOB Release No. 2004-008.

For audits of fiscal years ending before November 15, 2004, for accelerated filers, and before July 15, 2005, for all other issuers, click here.]

The auditor tests underlying accounting data by (a) analysis and review, (b) retracing the procedural steps followed in the accounting process and in developing the allocations involved, (c) recalculation, and (d) reconciling related types and applications of the same information. Through the performance of such procedures, the auditor may determine that the accounting records are internally consistent. Such internal consistency ordinarily provides evidence about the fairness of presentation of the financial statements. Additionally, the auditor's substantive procedures must include reconciling the financial statements to the accounting records. The auditor's substantive procedures also should include examining material adjustments made during the course of preparing the financial statements.

[Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.20

The pertinent accounting data and corroborating evidential matter to support entries in the accounts and assertions in the financial statements ordinarily are available from the entity's files and accessible to the auditor for examination at certain points or periods in time. Both within the entity's organization and outside it are knowledgeable people to whom the auditor can direct inquiries. Assets having physical existence are available to the auditor for his or her inspection. Activities of the entity's personnel can be observed. Based on observations of these or other conditions or circumstances, the auditor may reach conclusions about the validity of various assertions in the financial statements. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

Competence of Evidential Matter

.21

To be competent, evidence, regardless of its form, must be both valid and relevant. The validity of evidential matter is so dependent on the circumstances under which it is obtained that generalizations about the reliability of various kinds of evidence are subject to important exceptions. If the possibility of important exceptions is recognized, however, the following presumptions, which are not mutually exclusive, about the validity of evidential matter in auditing have some usefulness:

  1. When evidential matter can be obtained from independent sources outside an entity, it provides greater assurance of reliability for the purposes of an independent audit than that secured solely within the entity.
  2. The more effective the internal control, the more assurance it provides about the reliability of the accounting data and financial statements.
  3. The independent auditor's direct personal knowledge, obtained through physical examination, observation, computation, and inspection, is more persuasive than information obtained indirectly.

[Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

Sufficiency of Evidential Matter

.22

The independent auditor's objective is to obtain sufficient competent evidential matter to provide him or her with a reasonable basis for forming an opinion. The amount and kinds of evidential matter required to support an informed opinion are matters for the auditor to determine in the exercise of his or her professional judgment after a careful study of the circumstances in the particular case. However, in the great majority of cases, the auditor has to rely on evidence that is persuasive rather than convincing. Both the individual assertions in financial statements and the overall proposition that the financial statements as a whole are fairly presented are of such a nature that even an experienced auditor is seldom convinced beyond all doubt with respect to all aspects of the statements being audited. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

.23

An auditor typically works within economic limits; the auditor's opinion, to be economically useful, must be formed within a reasonable length of time and at reasonable cost. The auditor must decide, again exercising professional judgment, whether the evidential matter available to him or her within the limits of time and cost is sufficient to justify expression of an opinion. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80, December 1996.]

.24

As a guiding rule, there should be a rational relationship between the cost of obtaining evidence and the usefulness of the information obtained. The matter of difficulty and expense involved in testing a particular item is not in itself a valid basis for omitting the test. [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80, December 1996.]

Evaluation of Evidential Matter

.25

In evaluating evidential matter, the auditor considers whether specific audit objectives have been achieved. The independent auditor should be thorough in his or her search for evidential matter and unbiased in its evaluation. In designing audit procedures to obtain competent evidential matter, he or she should recognize the possibility that the financial statements may not be fairly presented in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles or a comprehensive basis of accounting other than generally accepted accounting principles. fn 3 In developing his or her opinion, the auditor should consider relevant evidential matter regardless of whether it appears to corroborate or to contradict the assertions in the financial statements. To the extent the auditor remains in substantial doubt about any assertion of material significance, he or she must refrain from forming an opinion until he or she has obtained sufficient competent evidential matter to remove such substantial doubt, or the auditor must express a qualified opinion or a disclaimer of opinion. fn 4 [Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered and amended, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

Appendix

Financial Statement Assertions, Illustrative Audit Objectives, and Examples of Substantive Tests

.26

Illustrations for Inventories of a Manufacturing Company

This appendix illustrates the use of assertions in developing audit objectives and designing substantive tests. The following examples of substantive tests are not intended to be all-inclusive nor is it expected that all of the procedures would be applied in an audit.
 
Illustrative Audit Objectives
Examples of Substantive Tests
Existence or Occurrence
Inventories included in the balance sheet physically exist •    Observing physical inventory counts
  •    Obtaining confirmation of inventories at locations outside the entity
  •    Testing of inventory transactions between a preliminary physical inventory date and the balance sheet date.
Inventories represent items held for sale or use in the normal course of business. •    Reviewing perpetual inventory records, production records, and purchasing records for indications of current activity.
  •    Comparing inventories with a current sales catalog and subsequent sales and delivery reports.
  •    Using the work of specialists to corroborate the nature of specialized products.
Completeness
Inventory quantities include all products, materials, and supplies on hand •    Observing physical inventory counts
  •    Analytically comparing the relationship of inventory balances to recent purchasing, production, and sales activities.
  •    Testing shipping and receiving cutoff procedures.
Inventory quantities include all products, materials, and supplies owned by the company that are in transit or stored at outside locations. •    Obtaining confirmation of inventories at locations outside the entity.
  •    Analytically comparing the relationship of inventory balances to recent purchasing, production, and sales activities.
  •    Testing shipping and receiving cutoff procedures.
Inventory listings are accurately compiled and the totals are properly included in the inventory accounts. •    Tracing test counts recorded during the physical inventory observation to the inventory listing.
  •    Accounting for all inventory tags and count sheets used in recording the physical inventory counts.
  •    Testing the clerical accuracy of inventory listings.
  •    Reconciling physical counts to perpetual records and general ledger balances and investigating significant fluctuations.
Rights and Obligations
The entity has legal title or similar rights of ownership to the inventories. •    Observing physical inventory counts.
  •    Obtaining confirmation of inventories at locations outside the entity.
  •    Examining paid vendors' invoices, consignment agreements, and contracts.
Inventories exclude items billed to customers or owned by others. •    Examining paid vendors' invoices, consignment agreements, and contracts.
  •    Testing shipping and receiving cutoff procedures.
Valuation or Allocation
Inventories are properly stated at cost (except when market is lower). •    Examining paid vendors' invoices.
  •    Reviewing direct labor rates.
  •    Testing the computation of standard overhead rates.
  •    Examining analyses of purchasing and manufacturing standard cost variances.
Slow-moving, excess, defective, and obsolete items included in inventories are properly identified. •    Examining an analysis of inventory turnover.
  •    Reviewing industry experience and trends.
  •    Analytically comparing the relationship of inventory balances to anticipated sales volume.
  •    Touring the plant.
  •    Inquiring of production and sales personnel concerning possible excess or obsolete inventory items.
Inventories are reduced, when appropriate, to replacement cost or net realizable value. •    Obtaining current market value quotations.
  •    Reviewing current production costs.
  •    Examining sales after year-end and open purchase order commitments.
Presentation and Disclosure
Inventories are properly classified in the balance sheet as current assets. The major categories of inventories and their bases of valuation are adequately disclosed in the financial statements. •    Reviewing drafts of the financial statements.
•    Reviewing drafts of the financial statements.
  •    Comparing the disclosures made in the financial statements to the requirements of generally accepted accounting principles.
The pledge or assignment of any inventories is appropriately disclosed. •    Obtaining confirmation of inventories pledged under loan agreements.
 
[Paragraph renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 48, July 1984. Paragraph subsequently renumbered by the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80, December 1996.]
Footnotes (AU Section 326 — Evidential Matter):

fn 1 See section 319, Consideration of Internal Control in a Financial Statement Audit, paragraphs .90 through .104, for further guidance on evidential matter. [Footnote added, May 1994, to cross-reference guidance on evidential matter to section 319. Footnote revised, May 2001, to reflect conforming changes necessary due to the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 94.]

fn 2 Section 319.107 states that ordinarily the assessed level of control risk cannot be sufficiently low to eliminate the need to perform any substantive tests for significant account balances and transaction classes and, consequently, the auditor should perform substantive tests for such balances and classes regardless of the assessed level of control risk. [Footnote added, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80. Footnote revised, May 2001, to reflect conforming changes necessary due to the issuance of Statement on Auditing Standards No. 94.]

fn 3 The term comprehensive basis of accounting other than generally accepted accounting principles is defined in section 623, Special Reports, paragraph .04. [Footnote added, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

fn 4 See section 508, Reports on Audited Financial Statements, paragraphs .20 through .34 and .61 through .63, for further guidance on expression of a qualified opinion or a disclaimer of opinion. [Footnote added, effective for engagements beginning on or after January 1, 1997, by Statement on Auditing Standards No. 80.]

Copyright © 2002, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Inc.