Original Research

An analysis of audit committee effectiveness at the largest listed companies in South Africa from a CFO and audit committee perspective

Ben Marx
Acta Commercii | Vol 9, No 1 | a90 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ac.v9i1.90 | © 2009 Ben Marx | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 December 2009 | Published: 06 December 2009

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Ben Marx, Department of Accountancy, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of the study is to investigate and analyse the effective functioning of audit committees at the largest listed companies in South Africa.

Problem investigated: The modern audit committee is often seen as the panacea of the corporate world and as such is looked upon to cure all the financial reporting and control-related problems of entities. Audit committees are, however, not always as effective as they are held to be, as is evidenced by the many well-known corporate scandals and business failures that occurred where audit committees existed and fraudulent financial reporting, audit failures, internal control breakdowns and other irregularities prevailed. The modern audit committee will be of value only if it is properly constituted, is functioning effectively and if its role is clearly understood by all the parties concerned. The research problem investigated stems precisely from this issue, and the paper therefore aims to analyse the effective functioning of the audit committees at the largest listed companies in South Africa.

Methodology: The study empirically tested the audit committee practices at the largest listed companies in South Africa. This was done through questionnaires addressed to the CFOs and audit committee chairs.

Findings: The study found that audit committees at the largest listed companies in South Africa are well established, properly constituted, have the authority and resources to effectively discharge their responsibilities and consist of members who act independently and who have the right mix of appropriate experience, financial literacy and financial expertise amongst their members. The audit committee's role was found to be generally well understood and supported by the board and the Chief Financial Officers. It was further found that the audit committees are effective in discharging their oversight responsibilities on the board's behalf, with the only real exception being their effectiveness regarding IT-related aspects.

Value of research: The study provides valuable information on audit committee practices and the effectiveness of audit committees at the largest listed companies in South Africa. These findings can therefore serve as guidelines for best practice standards for audit committees at other companies and institutions.

Conclusion: Audit committees at the largest listed companies in South Africa were found to be well established and according to the views of the CFOs and audit committee chairs to be functioning effectively. Further research regarding the subject field of audit committees should focus on the status and effective functioning thereof at smaller companies, unlisted entities, higher education institutions and public sector entities.


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