Testing the Reliability of Documents

Part of an auditor’s job for a client can include verifying company documents. Attestation is a subset of assurance services that focuses on whether your engagement’s subject matter complies with the applicable criteria for measurement and disclosure. Most attestation engagements have three parties:

  • Practitioner: The CPA engaged to issue a written communication that expresses a conclusion about a client subject matter or assertion.

    You never use the term auditor for attestation engagements because you’re not conducting an audit.

  • Responsible party: The client’s representative who prepares the documents relating to the subject matter or assertion for the practitioner’s evaluation. The responsible party is usually client management, although it could be another party such as the client’s attorney.

  • User: The person who hires the CPA to perform the work.

In many attestation engagements you have only two parties because the responsible party and the user are the same person.

Your guidance for attestation engagements comes from the Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE), which you can access at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Web site.

The number of topics you may focus on during an attestation engagement is pretty much limitless. For example, the subject matter may be a company’s financial forecast, which is an estimate of the company’s future success. Or you may conduct a break-even point analysis, which involves figuring out how much revenue the client has to bring in to cover expenses. Or you may consider a management assertion — whether a private, closely held company maintains an effective system of internal controls over its financial reporting, for example.

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