Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (often shortened to SOX) is legislation enacted in response to the high-profile Enron and WorldCom financial scandals to protect shareholders and the general public from accounting errors and fraudulent practices in the enterprise. The act is administered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which sets deadlines for compliance and publishes rules on requirements. Sarbanes-Oxley is not a set of business practices and does not specify how a business should store records; rather, it defines which records are to be stored and for how long. The legislation not only affects the financial side of corporations, but also affects the IT departments whose job it is to store a corporation's electronic records. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act states that all business records, including electronic records and electronic messages, must be saved for "not less than five years." The consequences for non-compliance are fines, imprisonment, or both. IT departments are increasingly faced with the challenge of creating and maintaining a corporate records archive in a cost-effective fashion that satisfies the requirements put forth by the legislation. The following sections of Sarbanes-Oxley contain the three rules that affect the management of electronic records. The first rule deals with destruction, alteration, or falsification of records.
Sec. 802(a) "Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both." The second rule defines the retention period for records storage. Best practices indicate that corporations securely store all business records using the same guidelines set for public accountants.
Sec. 802(a)(1) "Any accountant who conducts an audit of an issuer of securities to which section 10A(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C 78j-1(a)) applies, shall maintain all audit or review work papers for a period of 5 years from the end of the fiscal period in which the audit or review was concluded." This third rule refers to the type of business records that need to be stored, including all business records and communications, including electronic communications.
Sec. 802(a)(2) "The Securities and Exchange Commission shall promulgate, within 180 days, such rules and regulations, as are reasonably necessary, relating to the retention of relevant records such as work papers, documents that form the basis of an audit or review, memoranda, correspondence, communications, other documents, and records (including electronic records) which are created, sent, or received in connection with an audit or review and contain conclusions, opinions, analyses, or financial data relating to such an audit or review."
Contributor: Bob Spurzem , 20 Sep 2007
"History & Context"
History & context: events contributing to the adoption of SOX The neutrality of this section is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. (December 2007) Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved.
A variety of complex factors created the conditions and culture in which a series of large corporate frauds occurred between 2000-2002. The spectacular, highly-publicized frauds at Enron (see Enron scandal), WorldCom, and Tyco exposed significant problems with conflicts of interest and incentive compensation practices. The analysis of their complex and contentious root causes contributed to the passage of SOX in 2002.- In a 2004 interview, Senator Paul Sarbanes stated:
“ The Senate Banking Committee undertook a series of hearings on the problems in the markets that had led to a loss of hundreds and hundreds of billions, indeed trillions of dollars in market value. The hearings set out to lay the foundation for legislation. We scheduled 10 hearings over a six-week period, during which we brought in some of the best people in the country to testify...The hearings produced remarkable consensus on the nature of the problems: inadequate oversight of accountants, lack of auditor independence, weak corporate governance procedures, stock analysts' conflict of interests, inadequate disclosure provisions, and grossly inadequate funding of the Securities and Exchange Commission. ”
Auditor conflicts of interest: Prior to SOX, auditing firms, the primary financial "watchdogs" for investors, were self-regulated. They also performed significant non-audit or consulting work for the companies they audited. Many of these consulting agreements were far more lucrative than the auditing engagement. This presented at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. For example, challenging the company's accounting approach might damage a client relationship, conceivably placing a significant consulting arrangement at risk, damaging the auditing firm's bottom line. Boardroom failures: Boards of Directors, specifically Audit Committees, are charged with establishing oversight mechanisms for financial reporting in U.S. corporations on the behalf of investors. These scandals identified Board members who either did not exercise their responsibilities or did not have the expertise to understand the complexities of the businesses. In many cases, Audit Committee members were not truly independent of management. Securities analysts' conflicts of interest: The roles of securities analysts, who make buy and sell recommendations on company stocks and bonds, and investment bankers, who help provide companies loans or handle mergers and acquisitions, provide opportunities for conflicts. Similar to the auditor conflict, issuing a buy or sell recommendation on a stock while providing lucrative investment banking services creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Inadequate funding of the SEC: The SEC budget has steadily increased to nearly double the pre-SOX level.In the interview cited above, Sarbanes indicated that enforcement and rule-making are more effective post-SOX. Banking practices: Lending to a firm sends signals to investors regarding the firm's risk. In the case of Enron, several major banks provided large loans to the company without understanding, or while ignoring, the risks of the company. Investors of these banks and their clients were hurt by such bad loans, resulting in large settlement payments by the banks. Others interpreted the willingness of banks to lend money to the company as an indication of its health and integrity, and were led to invest in Enron as a result. These investors were hurt as well. Internet bubble: Investors had been stung in 2000 by the sharp declines in technology stocks and to a lesser extent, by declines in the overall market. Certain mutual fund managers were alleged to have advocated the purchasing of particular technology stocks, while quietly selling them. The losses sustained also helped create a general anger among investors. Executive compensation: Stock option and bonus practices, combined with volatility in stock prices for even small earnings "misses," resulted in pressures to manage earnings. Stock options were not treated as compensation expense by companies, encouraging this form of compensation. With a large stock-based bonus at risk, managers were pressured to meet their targets.
Timeline and passage of SOX The House passed Rep. Oxley's bill (H.R. 3763) on April 25, 2002, by a vote of 334 to 90. The House then referred the "Corporate and Auditing Accountability, Responsibility, and Transparency Act" or "CAARTA" to the Senate Banking Committee with the support of President George W. Bush and the SEC. At the time, however, the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), was preparing his own proposal, Senate Bill 2673.
Senator Sarbanes’s bill passed the Senate Banking Committee on June 18, 2002, by a vote of 17 to 4. On June 25, 2002, WorldCom revealed it had overstated its earnings by more than $3.8 billion during the past five quarters (15 months), primarily by improperly accounting for its operating costs. Sen. Sarbanes introduced Senate Bill 2673 to the full Senate that same day, and it passed 97-0 less than three weeks later on July 15, 2002.
The House and the Senate formed a Conference Committee to reconcile the differences between Sen. Sarbanes's bill (S. 2673) and Rep. Oxley's bill (H.R. 3763). The conference committee relied heavily on S. 2673 and “most changes made by the conference committee strengthened the prescriptions of S. 2673 or added new prescriptions.” (John T. Bostelman, The Sarbanes-Oxley Desk Book § 2-31.)
The Committee approved the final conference bill on July 24, 2002, and gave it the name "the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002." The next day, both houses of Congress voted on it without change, producing an overwhelming margin of victory: 423 to 3 in the House and 99 to 0 in the Senate. On July 30, 2002, President George W. Bush signed it into law, stating it included "the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt."
Analyzing the cost-benefits of Sarbanes-Oxley A significant body of academic research and opinion exists regarding the costs and benefits of SOX, with significant differences in conclusions. This is due in part to the difficulty of isolating the impact of SOX from other variables affecting the stock market and corporate earnings. Conclusions from several of these studies and related criticism are summarized below:
FEI Survey (Annual): Finance Executives International (FEI) provides an annual survey on SOX Section 404 costs. These costs have continued to decline relative to revenues since 2004. The 2007 study indicated that, for 168 companies with average revenues of $4.7 billion, the average compliance costs were $1.7 million (.036% of revenue). The 2006 study indicated that, for 200 companies with average revenues of $6.8 billion, the average compliance costs were $2.9 million (.043% of revenue), down 23% from 2005. Cost for decentralized companies (i.e., those with multiple segments or divisions) were considerably more than centralized companies. Survey scores related to the positive effect of SOX on investor confidence, reliability of financial statements, and fraud prevention continue to rise. However, when asked in 2006 whether the benefits of compliance with Section 404 have exceeded costs in 2006, only 22 percent agreed. Foley & Lardner Survey (2007): This annual study focused on changes in the total costs of being a U.S. public company, which were significantly affected by SOX. Such costs include external auditor fees, directors and officers (D&O) insurance, board compensation, lost productivity, and legal costs. Each of these cost categories increased significantly between FY2001-FY2006. Nearly 70% of survey respondents indicated public companies with revenues under $250 million should be exempt from SOX Section 404. Butler/Ribstein (2006): Their book proposed a comprehensive overhaul or repeal of SOX and a variety of other reforms. For example, they indicate that investors could diversify their stock investments, efficiently managing the risk of a few catastrophic corporate failures, whether due to fraud or competition. However, if each company is required to spend a significant amount of money and resources on SOX compliance, this cost is borne across all publicly traded companies and therefore cannot be diversified away by the investor. Institute of Internal Auditors (2005): The research paper indicates that corporations have improved their internal controls and that financial statements are perceived to be more reliable. Skaife/Collins/Kinney/Lefond (2006): This research paper indicates that borrowing costs are lower for companies that improved their internal control, by between 50 and 150 basis points (.5 to 1.5 percentage points). Zhang (2005): This research paper estimated SOX compliance costs as high as $1.4 trillion, by measuring changes in market value around key SOX legislative "events." This number is based on the assumption that SOX was the cause of related short-duration market value changes, which the author acknowledges as a drawback of the study. Iliev (2007): This research paper indicated that SOX 404 indeed led to conservative reported earnings, but also reduced -- rightly or wrongly -- stock valuations of small firms. Lower earnings often cause the share price to decrease. Lord & Benoit Report (2006): This study included a population of nearly 2,500 companies and indicated that companies with no material weaknesses in their internal controls, or companies that corrected them in a timely manner, experienced much greater increases in share prices than companies that did not. The report indicated that the benefits to a compliant company in share price (10% above Russell 3000 index) were greater than their SOX Section 404 costs.
The effect of SOX on non-US companies Some have asserted that Sarbanes-Oxley legislation has helped displace business from New York to London, where the Financial Services Authority regulates the financial sector with a lighter touch. In the UK, the non-statutory Combined Code of Corporate Governance plays a somewhat similar role to SOX. However, a greater amount of resources are dedicated to enforcement of securities laws in the UK than in the US—see Howell E. Jackson & Mark J. Roe, “Public Enforcement of Securities Laws: Preliminary Evidence,” (Working Paper January 16, 2007). The Alternative Investment Market claims that its spectacular growth in listings almost entirely coincided with the Sarbanes Oxley legislation. In December 2006 Michael Bloomberg, New York's mayor, and Charles Schumer, a U.S. senator, expressed their concern.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act's effect on Non-US companies cross-listed in the US is different on firms from developed and well regulated countries than on firms from less developed countries according to Kate Litvak. Companies from badly regulated countries benefit from better credit ratings by complying to regulations in a highly regulated country (USA) that is higher than the cost, but companies from developed countries only incur the cost, since transparency is adequate in their home countries as well. On the other hand, the benefit of better credit rating also comes with listing on other stock exchanges such as the London Stock Exchange.
Implementation of Key Provisions
SOX Section 302: Internal control certifications Under Sarbanes-Oxley, two separate certification sections came into effect—one civil and the other criminal. 15 U.S.C. § 7241 (Section 302) (civil provision); 18 U.S.C. § 1350 (Section 906) (criminal provision).
Section 302 of the Act mandates a set of internal procedures designed to ensure accurate financial disclosure. The signing officers must certify that they are “responsible for establishing and maintaining internal controls” and “have designed such internal controls to ensure that material information relating to the company and its consolidated subsidiaries is made known to such officers by others within those entities, particularly during the period in which the periodic reports are being prepared.” 15 U.S.C. § 7241(a)(4). The officers must “have evaluated the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls as of a date within 90 days prior to the report” and “have presented in the report their conclusions about the effectiveness of their internal controls based on their evaluation as of that date.” Id..
The SEC interpreted the intention of Sec. 302 in Final Rule 33-8124. In it, the SEC defines the new term "disclosure controls and procedures", which are distinct from "internal controls over financial reporting".
Under both Section 302 and Section 404, Congress directed the SEC to promulgate regulations enforcing these provisions. (See Final Rule: Management’s Report on Internal Control Over Financial Reporting and Certification of Disclosure in Exchange Act Periodic Reports, Release No. 33-8238 (June 5,2003), available at http://www.sec.gov/rules/final/33-8238.htm.)
External auditors are required to issue an opinion on whether effective internal control over financial reporting was maintained in all material respects by management. This is in addition to the financial statement opinion regarding the accuracy of the financial statements. The requirement to issue a third opinion regarding management's assessment was removed in 2007.
SOX Section 404: Assessment of internal control The most contentious aspect of SOX is Section 404, which requires management and the external auditor to report on the adequacy of the company's internal control over financial reporting (ICFR). This is the most costly aspect of the legislation for companies to implement, as documenting and testing important financial manual and automated controls requires enormous effort.
Under Section 404 of the Act, management is required to produce an “internal control report” as part of each annual Exchange Act report. See 15 U.S.C. § 7262. The report must affirm “the responsibility of management for establishing and maintaining an adequate internal control structure and procedures for financial reporting.” 15 U.S.C. § 7262(a). The report must also “contain an assessment, as of the end of the most recent fiscal year of the Company, of the effectiveness of the internal control structure and procedures of the issuer for financial reporting.” To do this, managers are generally adopting an internal control framework such as that described in COSO.
To help alleviate the high costs of compliance, guidance and practice have continued to evolve. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) approved Auditing Standard No. 5 for public accounting firms on July 25, 2007. This standard superseded Auditing Standard No. 2, the initial guidance provided in 2004. The SEC also released its interpretive guidance on June 27, 2007. It is generally consistent with the PCAOB's guidance, only intended for management. Both management and the external auditor are responsible for performing their assessment in the context of a top-down risk assessment, which requires management to base both the scope of its assessment and evidence gathered on risk. This gives management wider discretion in its assessment approach. These two standards together require management to:
Assess both the design and operating effectiveness of selected internal controls related to significant accounts and relevant assertions, in the context of material misstatement risks; Understand the flow of transactions, including IT aspects, sufficient enough to identify points at which a misstatement could arise; Evaluate company-level (entity-level) controls, which correspond to the components of the COSO framework; Perform a fraud risk assessment; Evaluate controls designed to prevent or detect fraud, including management override of controls; Evaluate controls over the period-end financial reporting process; Scale the assessment based on the size and complexity of the company; Rely on management's work based on factors such as competency, objectivity, and risk; Conclude on the adequacy of internal control over financial reporting.
SOX 404 and smaller public companies The cost of complying with SOX 404 impacts smaller companies disproportionately, as there is a significant fixed cost involved in completing the assessment. For example, during 2004 U.S. companies with revenues exceeding $5 billion spent .06% of revenue on SOX compliance, while companies with less than $100 million in revenue spent 2.55%.
This disparity is a focal point of 2007 SEC and U.S. Senate action. The PCAOB intends to issue further guidance to help companies scale their assessment based on company size and complexity during 2007. The SEC issued their guidance to management in June, 2007.
After the SEC and PCAOB issued their guidance, the SEC required smaller public companies (non-accelerated filers) with fiscal years ending after December 15, 2007 to document a Management Assessment of their Internal Controls over Financial Reporting (ICFR). Outside auditors of non-accelerated filers however opine or test internal controls under PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) Auditing Standards for years ending after December 15, 2008. Another extension was granted by the SEC for the outside auditor assessment until years ending after December 15, 2009. The reason for the timing disparity was to address the House Committee on Small Business concern that the cost of complying with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was still unknown and could therefore be disproportionately high for smaller publicly held companies.
SOX Section 802 Criminal Penalties for Violation of SOX Section 802(a) of the SOX, 18 U.S.C. § 1519 states:
“ Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. ”
SOX Section 1107 Criminal Penalties for Retaliation Against Whistleblowers Section 1107 of the SOX 18 U.S.C. § 1513(e) states:
“ Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any federal offence, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. ”
Criticism Detractors such as congressman Ron Paul contend that SOX was an unnecessary and costly government intrusion into corporate management that places U.S. corporations at a competitive disadvantage with foreign firms, driving businesses out of the United States. In an April 14, 2005 speech before the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul stated, "These regulations are damaging American capital markets by providing an incentive for small US firms and foreign firms to deregister from US stock exchanges. According to a study by the prestigious Wharton Business School, the number of American companies deregistering from public stock exchanges nearly tripled during the year after Sarbanes-Oxley became law, while the New York Stock Exchange had only 10 new foreign listings in all of 2004. The reluctance of small businesses and foreign firms to register on American stock exchanges is easily understood when one considers the costs Sarbanes-Oxley imposes on businesses. According to a survey by Korn/Ferry International, Sarbanes-Oxley cost Fortune 500 companies an average of $5.1 million in compliance expenses in 2004., while a study by the law firm of Foley and Lardner found the Act increased costs associated with being a publicly held company by 130 percent."
Legal Challenges A lawsuit (Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) was filed in 2006 challenging the constitutionality (legality) of the PCAOB. The complaint argues that since the PCAOB has regulatory powers over the accounting industry, its officers should be appointed by the President, rather than the SEC. Further, because the law lacks a "severability clause," if part of the law is judged unconstitutional, so is the remainder. If the plaintiff prevails, the U.S. Congress may have to devise a different method of officer appointment. Further, the other parts of the law may be open to revision. The lawsuit was dismissed from a District Court; the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals on August 22, 2008. Judge Kavanaugh, in his dissent, argued strongly against the constitutionality of the law, and The Supreme Court of the U.S. is expected to grant certiorari.
Legislative information House: HR 3763, H. Rept. 107-414, H. Rept. 107-610 Senate: S 2673, S. Rept. 107-205 Law: Pub. L. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745
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