Determining materiality for nonquantitative subject matters

Materiality is a concern for engagements in which measurement is a challenge.

Determining materiality has long been one of the most difficult exercises in auditing and financial reporting.

The challenge can become even more daunting when quantitative measurements are not relevant. This topic is addressed in an AICPA invitation to comment and discussion paper issued in August, Materiality Considerations for Attestation Engagements Involving Aspects of Subject Matters That Cannot Be Quantitatively Measured.

These challenges related to materiality have become an increasing concern as the demand for certain types of attestation engagements has risen. For example, with respect to an entity's sustainability reporting, it may not be difficult to determine materiality related to quantitative measurements such as greenhouse gas emissions or fuel. But it may be much more challenging to determine materiality related to the competence of employees or fair labor practices as discussed in a sustainability report.

The discussion paper, prepared by a Materiality Working Group established by the AICPA Assurance Services Executive Committee (ASEC) provides information for preparers as they address materiality challenges and provides examples for common engagements such as System and Organization Controls (SOC) examinations, examinations or reviews of sustainability information, and examinations or reviews of compliance with contractual or other requirements.

Feedback on the discussion paper is sought from those with practical experience in such attestation engagements, including preparers, practitioners, investors, and regulators. Feedback was to be accepted by email to Sherry Hazel at Sherry.Hazel@aicpa-cima.com by Oct. 31.

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