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PwC US charged with violating auditor independence rules

The US’ Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged PwC US with improper professional conduct and violating auditor independence rules. PwC has agreed to settle the charges and will pay over $7.9m in monetary relief.

The SEC also charged PwC partner Brandon Sprankle with causing the firm’s independence violations. He has also agreed to settle the charges.

The SEC’s order finds that PwC violated the SEC’s auditor independence rules by performing prohibited non-audit services during an audit engagement, including exercising decision-making authority in the design and implementation of software relating to an audit client’s financial reporting, and engaging in management functions.

The SEC’s order found that PwC violated the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) Rule 3525, which requires an auditor to describe in writing to the audit committee the scope of work, discuss with the audit committee the potential effects of the work on independence, and document the substance of the independence discussion.

According to the order, PwC’s actions deprived numerous issuers’ audit committees of information necessary to assess PwC’s independence. As further detailed in the order, the violations occurred due to breakdowns in PwC’s independence-related quality controls, which resulted in the firm’s failure to properly review and monitor whether non-audit services for audit clients were permissible and approved by clients’ audit committees.

The SEC’s Division of Enforcement associate director Anita Brandy said: “Auditors play a fundamental role in protecting the reliability and integrity of financial reporting and must ensure that non-audit services do not come at the cost of their independence on audits of public companies. PwC repeatedly provided non-audit services without having effective quality controls in place for monitoring whether the services impaired its independence on audit engagements and were properly disclosed to audit committees.” 

The SEC’s order found PwC and Sprankle violated the auditor independence provisions of the federal securities laws and caused one audit client to violate its obligation to have its financial statements audited by independent public accountants.

PwC and Sprankle consented to the SEC’s order without admitting or denying the findings and agreed to cease and desist from future violations.

PwC agreed to pay disgorgement of $3,830,213, plus prejudgment interest of $613,842 and a civil money penalty of $3.5m, and to be censured. Sprankle agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $25,000, and to be suspended from appearing or practicing before the Commission, with a right to reapply for reinstatement after four years.

PwC also agreed to perform a detailed set of undertakings requiring the firm to review its current quality controls for complying with auditor independence requirements for non-audit services and for evaluating its provision of non-audit services.

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