The concept of materiality provides a topic for continuing educational discussion that many firms across the country find essential to the development of their audit staff. Measuring and using materiality to obtain desired results during an audit becomes the responsibility of the staff member of a CPA firm. Partners and managers of a firm typically allow the staff member to use his/her judgment when applying this concept during the fieldwork of an audit. The overall success of an audit relies at least in part on the materiality concept; therefore, staff members’ continuing education on the concept becomes important and necessary. This report will define the term materiality, determine how to measure materiality, and explain the importance of the concept to the field of auditing.
The utilization of the concept of materiality in auditing dates many years. Varying definitions of materiality during the preliminary stages of utilization prove that auditors recognized a need for this concept but did not have a standard for defining the term. The recognition by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) of the need for this concept prompted a decision to determine a universally recognized definition of materiality. In the book, Auditing Concepts for a Changing Environment, the FASB defines materiality as, “the magnitude of an omission or misstatement of accounting information that, in light of surrounding circumstances, makes it probable that the judgment of a reasonable person relying on the information would have been changed or influenced by the omission or misstatement” (Rittenberg and Schwieger 2001, 92). In essence, the concept helps auditors determine the financial information that individual companies must disclose in their financial statements.
The initial FASB definition of the term remains today as universally accepted for conducting an audit; however, the article, “The Erosion of the Materiality Standard in the Enforcement of the Federal Securities Laws,” introduces a definition allowing the average investor to understand the concept’s reasoning. The article discusses that in 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in one case that omitted financial statement information altering a reasonable investor’s decision proves the material nature of the information. The article continues by describing that lower courts earlier ruled that all financial information whether material or not must have full disclosure in a company’s financial statements. The rejection of the lower courts’ ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court gives the investor the ability to focus on the aspects of the financial statements that are most important by allowing the elimination of minute details (Sauer 2007, 317-357). In essence, this ruling allows for the elimination of financial information below the determined materiality threshold unless otherwise required by the ruling of a regulatory body.