What SSARS No. 21 Means for your Accounting Firm

SSARS No. 21 Engagement Letter

In October 2014, the AICPA announced a significant revision to its Standards for Accounting and Review Services. The updated standard, SSARS No. 21, which goes into effect on December 15, 2015, will allow accountants to provide clients with financial statements but does not require them to provide accompanying audits, reviews or compilations of these statements.

This development opens accountants up to significant exposure. To mitigate this risk, McGowanPRO encourages accounting firms to utilize an Engagement Letter. Our newly developed SSARS No. 21 Engagement Letter below provides guidance and protection for accountants.

Example SSARS No. 21 Engagement Letter Language:

Dear [Client Contact]:

This letter is to confirm our understanding of the terms and objectives of our engagement and the nature and limitations of the services we will provide.

We will prepare the financial statements of ABC Company, which comprise the balance sheet as of December 31, 20XX, and the related statements of income, changes in stockholder’s equity, and cash flows for the year then ended and the related notes to the financial statements. We are pleased to confirm our acceptance and our understanding of this engagement to prepare the financial statements of ABC Company by means of this letter.

The objective of our engagement is to prepare financial statements in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America based on information provided by you. We will conduct our engagement in accordance with Statements on Standards for Accounting and Review Services (SSARS 21) promulgated by the Accounting and Review Services Committee of the AICPA and will comply with the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct, including the ethical principles of integrity, objectivity, professional competence, and due care.

We are not required to, and will not, verify the accuracy or completeness of the information you will provide to us for the engagement or otherwise gather evidence for the purpose of expressing an opinion or a conclusion. Accordingly, we will not express an opinion or a conclusion or provide any assurance on the financial statements.

The financial statements will not be accompanied by a report. However, you agree that any cover-letter or other transmittal accompanying the financial statements will clearly indicate that no assurance is provided on them. In addition, as required by SSARS 21, each page of the financial statements will include a legend stating clearly that no assurance is being provided on them.

Our engagement cannot be relied upon to disclose errors, fraud, or other illegal acts that may exist. However, we will inform you of any material errors that come to our attention and any fraud or other illegal acts that come to our attention, unless they are clearly inconsequential. In addition, we have no responsibility to identify and communicate significant deficiencies or material weaknesses in your internal controls as part of this engagement, and our engagement cannot be relied upon to disclose the same.
Prior to preparation and execution of this engagement letter, we discussed with you the fact that we provide clients with levels of service higher than preparation of financial statements such as audit, review services, and compilation services, and we explained to you the manner in which such levels of service differ from preparation of financial statements. We also explained to you that we provide clients with services specifically focused on identifying and addressing weaknesses in internal controls (internal control review), and on searching for the existence of fraud within your company (fraud audit). We further explained the additional costs associated with such higher and different levels of service. After consideration of such services, you have informed us that you wish to retain us to perform only the preparation of financial statement services described in this letter.

You are responsible for adopting sound accounting policies, for maintaining an adequate and efficient accounting system, for safeguarding assets, for authorizing transactions, for retaining supporting documentation for those transactions, and for devising a system of internal controls that will, among other things, help assure the preparation of proper financial statements.

Furthermore, you are responsible for management decisions and functions, for designating a competent employee to oversee any of the services we provide, and for evaluating the adequacy and results of those services.

You are responsible for the design and implementation of programs and controls to prevent and detect fraud, and for informing us about all known or suspected fraud affecting the Company involving (a) management (b) employees who have significant roles in internal control, and (c) others where the fraud could have a material effect on the financial statements. You are also responsible for informing us of your knowledge of any allegations of fraud or suspected fraud affecting the Company received in communications from employees, former employees, regulators, or others. In addition, you are responsible for identifying and ensuring that the entity complies with applicable laws and regulations.

In order for us to complete this engagement, and to do so efficiently, we require unrestricted access to the following documents and individuals within your company: _______________. Any failure to provide such cooperation, and to do so on a timely basis, will impede our services, and may require us to suspend our services or withdraw from the engagement.

My liability relating to the performance of the services rendered under this letter is limited solely to direct damage sustained by you. In no event shall I be liable for the consequential, special, incidental, or punitive loss, damage or expense caused to you or to any third party (including without limitation, lost profits, opportunity costs, etc.). Notwithstanding the foregoing, our maximum liability relating to services rendered under this letter (regardless of form of action, whether in contract, negligence or otherwise) shall be limited to the fees received by me for this engagement. The provisions set forth in this paragraph shall survive the completion of the engagement.

Notwithstanding anything contained herein both accountant and client agree that regardless of where the client is domiciled and regardless of where this Agreement is physically signed this Agreement shall have been deemed to have been entered into an Accountant’s office located in <Specific County>, <Specific State>, USA and <Specific County>, <Specific State>, USA shall be the exclusive jurisdiction for resolving disputes related to this Agreement. This Agreement shall be interpreted and governed in accordance with the Laws of <State>.

Our fees for this engagement are not contingent on the results of our services. Rather, our fees for this engagement will be based on our standard hourly rates, as set forth on the attached rate sheet. In addition, you agree to reimburse us for any of our out-of-pocket costs incurred in connection with the performance of our services. We estimate that our fee for these services will range from approximately _________ to _________. You acknowledge that this range is not a limit to the total fees we may charge for our services, and that our fees may actually exceed that range. However, in the event that we encounter unusual circumstances that would require us to expand the scope of the engagement, and/or if we anticipate our fees exceeding the aforementioned range, we will adjust our estimate, and obtain your prior approval before continuing with the engagement.

Prior to commencing our services, we require that you provide us with a retainer in the amount of __________. The retainer will be applied against our final invoice, and any unused portion will be returned to you upon our collection of all outstanding fees and costs related to this engagement. Our fees and costs will be billed monthly, and are payable upon receipt. Invoices unpaid 30 days past the billing date may be deemed delinquent, and are subject to a finance charge of 1.0% per month. In the absence of a written objection to any invoice within 30 days of the invoice date, you will be deemed to have accepted and acknowledged, as correct, the services rendered as described in the invoice and the value thereof.

We reserve the right to suspend our services or to withdraw from this engagement in the event that any of our invoices are deemed delinquent. In the event that any collection action is required to collect unpaid balances due us, you agree to reimburse us for our costs of collection, including attorneys’ fees. If we elect to terminate our services for nonpayment, or for any other reason provided for in this letter, our engagement will be deemed to have been completed upon written notification of termination, even if we have not completed our report. You will be obligated to compensate us for all time expended, and to reimburse us for all of our out-of-pocket costs, through the date of termination.

In connection with this engagement, we may communicate with you or others via email transmission. As emails can be intercepted and read, disclosed, or otherwise used or communicated by an unintended third party, or may not be delivered to each of the parties to whom they are directed and only to such parties, we cannot guarantee or warrant that emails from us will be properly delivered and read only by the addressee. Therefore, we specifically disclaim and waive any liability or responsibility whatsoever for interception or unintentional disclosure of emails transmitted by us in connection with the performance of this engagement. In that regard, you agree that we shall have no liability for any loss or damage to any person or entity resulting from the use of email transmissions, including any consequential, incidental, direct, indirect, or special damages, such as loss of revenues or anticipated profits, or disclosure or communication of confidential or proprietary information.

It is our policy to retain engagement documentation for a period of seven years, after which time we will commence the process of destroying the contents of our engagement files. To the extent we accumulate any of your original records during the engagement, those documents will be returned to you promptly upon completion of the engagement, and you will provide us with a receipt for the return of such records. The balance of our engagement file, other than the compiled financial statement, which we will provide to you at the conclusion of the engagement, is our property, and we will provide copies of such documents at our discretion and if compensated for any time and costs associated with the effort.

In the event we are required to respond to a subpoena, court order or other legal process for the production of documents and/or testimony relative to information we obtained and/or prepared during the course of this engagement, you agree to compensate us at our hourly rates, as set forth above, for the time we expend in connection with such response, and to reimburse us for all of our out-of-pocket costs incurred in that regard.

In the event that we are or may be obligated to pay any cost, settlement, judgment, fine, penalty, or similar award or sanction as a result of a claim, investigation, or other proceeding instituted by any third party, then to the extent that such obligation is or may be a direct or indirect result of your intentional or knowing misrepresentation or provision to us of inaccurate or incomplete information in connection with this engagement, and not any failure on our part to comply with professional standards, you agree to indemnify us, defend us, and hold us harmless as against such obligations.

You agree that any dispute (other than our efforts to collect an outstanding invoice) that may arise regarding the meaning, performance or enforcement of this engagement or any prior engagement that we have performed for you, will, prior to resorting to litigation, be submitted to mediation, and that the parties will engage in the mediation process in good faith once a written request to mediate has been given by any party to the engagement. Any mediation initiated as a result of this engagement shall be administered within the county of [County and State], by [Name of Mediation Organization], according to its mediation rules, and any ensuing litigation shall be conducted within said county, according to [State] law. The results of any such mediation shall be binding only upon agreement of each party to be bound. The costs of any mediation proceeding shall be shared equally by the participating parties.

Any litigation arising out of this engagement, except actions by us to enforce payment of our professional invoices, must be asserted within one year from the date any such cause of action accrues, or within three years from the completion of the engagement, whichever is earlier, notwithstanding any statutory provision to the contrary.

This engagement letter is contractual in nature, and includes all of the relevant terms that will govern the engagement for which it has been prepared. The terms of this letter supersede any prior oral or written representations or commitments by or between the parties. Any material changes or additions to the terms set forth in this letter will only become effective if evidenced by a written amendment to this letter, signed by all of the parties. If you would like us to provide you with any other services not specifically outlined in this engagement letter, you must make that request of us in writing. If we agree to provide the requested additional services, we will create a separate engagement letter specifically addressing the same, and that engagement letter, upon your signature, will govern our provision of those additional services.
If, after full consideration and consultation with counsel if so desired, you agree that the foregoing terms shall govern this engagement, please sign the copy of this letter in the space provided and return the original signed letter to me, keeping a fully-executed copy for your records.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and please contact me with any questions that you may have.

Very truly yours,
[Firm Contact]
_____________________________________ ___________
By: [Name of Signatory] Date
Its: [Title]

This information is intended solely for general educational purposes. It is not intended for the purpose of providing specific legal, accounting, or other professional advice to any particular recipient or with respect to any particular jurisdiction. The author, publisher, and distributor of this document (1) make no representations, warranties, or guarantees as to its technical accuracy or compliance with any law ( federal, state, or local) or professional standard; and, (2) assume no responsibility to any recipient of this document to correct or update its contents for any reason, including changes in any law or professional standard. Before using any engagement letter in your practice, you should formally retain the counsel of an attorney knowledgeable as to the accounting industry, your practice, and the laws of any jurisdiction(s) within which you conduct your practice to ensure the documents maximum usefulness and compliance with applicable laws and professional standards.