January 13, 2020
Auditor Independence: Proposed Rule Changes are Good News for Dealmakers
This recent blog from Weil’s Howard Dicker & Lyuba Goltser reviews the potential benefits to PE funds, IPOs & participants in M&A transactions associated with proposed changes to the SEC’s auditor independence rules. This excerpt discusses how the rule changes would address inadvertent independence violations that can arise in M&A transactions when the buyer’s auditor has also performed impermissible non-audit services for the target:
The SEC proposes a transition framework to address these types of inadvertent independence violations. An accounting firm’s independence will not be impaired because an audit client engages in a merger or acquisition that gives rise to a relationship or service that is inconsistent with the independence rules, provided that the accounting firm:
– is in compliance with applicable independence standards from inception of the relationship or service;
– corrects the independence violations arising from the merger or acquisition as promptly as possible (and in no event later than six months post-closing); and
– has in place a quality control system to monitor the audit client’s M&A activity and to allow for prompt identification of potential independence violations before closing.
The blog also points out that for PE funds, rule changes would codify Staff practice concerning independence issues that arise when sister companies with a common PE fund owner have engaged an audit firm to provide non-audit services that could impair the independence of the audit firm with respect to another sibling company. The rule changes would also shorten the look-back period for auditor independence from three years to one year, which would provide increased flexibility for IPO companies to address potential disqualifying relationships with their audit firms.
– John Jenkins