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RBI | Guidelines for Appointment of Statutory Central Auditors, Statutory Auditors of Commercial Banks, UCBs and NBFCs

Devangi Singh 
Updated on 07 May 2021

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I. Introduction

  • These Guidelines provide necessary instructions for appointment of Statutory Central Auditors (SCAs'), Statutory Auditors ('SAs'), the number of auditors, their eligibility criteria, tenure and rotation, etc. while ensuring the independence of auditors.
  • The Guidelines have been issued to ensure that Statutory Auditors are appointed in a timely, transparent and effective manner which is in turn expected to improve the quality of financial reporting by the aforesaid Entities and also improve the audit quality.
  • The Guidelines have been issued vide RBI circular Ref. No. DoS. CO.ARG / SEC.01 / 08.91.001 / 2021-22 dated April 27, 2021.

II. Applicability

Guidelines are Applicable to the following:

  1. Commercial Banks excluding Regional Rural Banks ('RRBs')]
  2. Urban Cooperative Banks ('UCBs')
  3. Non Banking Financial Companies ('NBFCs'), including Housing Finance Companies ('HFC')

However, non-deposit taking NBFCs with asset size below INR 1,000 crore (India Rupees One Thousand Crore Only) have the option to continue with their extant procedure.

RBI   Guidelines for Appointment of Statutory Central Auditors, Statutory Auditors  of Commercial Banks, UCBs and NBFCs

III. Implementation

  • The guidelines shall be implemented from FY 2021-22.
  • However, UCBs and NBFCs shall have the flexibility to adopt these guidelines from second half of FY 2021-22 (i.e. 1st October 2021).

IV. Prior Approval of RBI

  1. Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs) and UCBs should be to obtain prior approval of RBI for appointment / reappointment of SCAs / SAs, on an annual basis.
  2. For the purpose, they should apply to Department of Supervision, RBI before 31st July of the reference year and the Public Sector Banks (PSBs) should approach RBI within one month of receipt of list of eligible audit firms from RBI.
  3. All Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs) in India and UCBs under Mumbai Region shall approach the Central Office of RBI. Other UCBs shall approach the concerned Regional Office of RBI, under whose jurisdiction their Head Office is located.
  4. NBFCs shall not require prior approval of RBI for appointment of SCAs / SAs. However, NBFCs should file an intimation to RBI (to the same office as applicable to UCBs, as stated above) about the appointment each year by way of a certificate in Form A within one month of such appointment.

V. Number of SCAs / SAs and Branch Coverage

For Entities with asset size of Rs. 15,000 crore and above as at the end of previous year - Statutory audit should be conducted under joint audit of a minimum of two audit firms and such joint auditors of the Entity do not have any common partners and they are not under the same network of audit firms. Further, the Entity may finalise the work allocation among SCAs/SAs, before the commencement of the statutory audit, in consultation with their SCAs/SAs.

All other Entities - Appoint minimum of one audit firm for conducting statutory audit.

  1. The Entities should decide on the number of SCAs / SAs based on a Board / Local Management Committee (LMC) Approved Policy, inter alia, taking into account the relevant factors such as the size and spread of assets, accounting and administrative units, complexity of transactions, level of computerization, availability of other independent audit inputs, identified risks in financial reporting, etc.
  2. The actual number of SCAs/SAs to be appointed shall be decided by the respective Boards/LMC, subject to the following limits:
 

Sr. No.

Asset Size of the Entity (*)

Maximum number of SCAs/SAs

1

Up to Rs. 5,00,000 crore

4

2

Above Rs. 5,00,000 crore and up to Rs. 10,00,000 crore

6

3

Above Rs. 10,00,000 crore and up to Rs. 20,00,000 crore

8

4

Above Rs. 20,00,000 crore

12

* This limits will be subject to review in future based on the experience.

In terms of RBI guidelines on ‘Norms on eligibility, empanelment and selection of Statutory Branch Auditors in Public Sector Banks (PSBs)’, PSBs shall allot the Top 20 branches (to be selected strictly in order of the level of outstanding advances) to SCAs in such a manner as to cover a minimum of 15% of total gross advances of the bank by SCAs. For other Entities (excluding Payment Banks and Core Investment Companies), SCAs/SAs shall visit and audit at least the Top 20 branches/Top 20% of the branches of the Entities (in case of Entities having less than 100 branches), to be selected in order of the level of outstanding advances, in such a manner as to cover a minimum of 15% of total gross advances of the Entities. In addition, the banking companies and NBFCs shall ensure adherence to the provisions of Section 143 (8) of the Companies Act, 2013 regarding audit of accounts of all branches.

VI. Eligibility Criteria of the Auditors

Eligibility Criteria is broadly divided into three categories:

  1. Basic Eligibility
  2. Additional Consideration
  3. Continued Compliance with basic eligibility criteria

Same is discussed briefly hereunder:

1. Basic Eligibility

Asset Size of Entity as on 31st March of Previous Year

Minimum No. of Full-Time partners (FTPs) associated with the firm for a period of at least three (3) years (Note 1)

Out of total FTPs, Minimum No. of Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) Partners associated with the firm for a period of at least three (3) years

Minimum No. of Full Time Partners/ Paid CAs with CISA/ISA Qualification (Note 2)

Minimum No. of years of Audit Experience of the firm (Note 3)

Minimum No. of Professional staff (Note 4)

Up to Rs. 1,000 crore

2

1

1*

6

8

Above Rs. 1,000 crore and Up to Rs. 15,000 crore

3

2

1

8

12

Above Rs. 15,000 crore

5

4

2

15

18

*Not mandatory for UCBs/NBFCs with asset size of up to Rs. 1,000 crore

Note 1:

  • There should be at least one-year continuous association of partners with the firm as on the date of empanelment (for PSBs)/ shortlisting (for other Entities) for considering them as full-time partners. Further, for appointment as SCAs/SAs of all Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs), and other Entities with asset size above Rs. 1,000 crore, at least two partners of the firm shall have continuous association with the firm for at least 10 years.
  • For all Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs), and UCBs/NBFCs with asset size above
    Rs. 1,000 crore, the full-time partner’s association with the firm would mean exclusive association. The definition of ‘exclusive association’ will be based on the following criteria:

(a) The full-time partner should not be a partner in other firm/s.

(b) She/He should not be employed full time / part time elsewhere.

(c) She/He should not be practicing in her/his own name or engaged in practice otherwise or engaged in other activity which would be deemed to be in practice under Section 2(2) of the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949.

(d) In case of PSBs, the income of the partner from the firm/LLP should not be below the threshold limits prescribed by the Office of C&AG for the purpose of consideration as full-time partners for appointment as auditors of Public Sector Undertakings. For other Entities, the Board/ACB/LMC shall examine and ensure that the income of the partner from the firm/LLP is adequate for considering them as full-time exclusively associated partners, which will ensure the capability of the firm for the purpose.

Note 2:

There should be at least one-year continuous association of Paid CAs with CISA/ISA qualification with the firm as on the date of empanelment (for PSBs)/ shortlisting (for other Entities) for considering them as Paid CAs with CISA/ISA qualification for the purpose.

Note 3:

  • For Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs), audit experience shall mean experience of the audit firm as Statutory Central/Branch Auditor of Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs)/ AIFIs.
  • For UCBs and NBFCs, audit experience shall mean experience of the audit firm as Statutory Central/Branch Auditor of Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs)/ UCBs/NBFCs/ AIFIs.
  • In case of merger and demerger of audit firms, merger effect will be given after 2 years of merger while demerger will be effected immediately for this purpose.

Note 4:

Professional staff includes audit and article clerks with knowledge of book-keeping and accountancy and who are engaged in on-site audits but excludes typists/stenos/computer operators/ secretaries/subordinate staff, etc. There should be at least one-year continuous association of professional staff with the firm as on the date of empanelment (for PSBs)/ shortlisting (for other Entities) for considering them as professional staff for the purpose.

2. Additional Consideration

  1. The audit firm, proposed to be appointed should be duly qualified for appointment as auditor of a company in terms of Section 141 of the Companies Act, 2013.
  2. The audit firm should not be under debarment by any Government Agency, NFRA, ICAI, RBI or Other Financial Regulators.
  3. The Entities shall ensure that appointment of SCAs/SAs is in line with the ICAI’s Code of Ethics/any other such standards adopted and does not give rise to any conflict of interest.
  4. If any partner of a Chartered Accountant firm is a director in any Public Sector Bank (PSB), the said firm shall not be appointed as SCA/SA of any PSB. Further, if any partner of a Chartered Accountant firm is a director in any Entity, the said firm shall not be appointed as SCA/SA of any of the group entities of that Entity.
  5. The auditors for Entities with asset size above Rs. 1,000 crore should preferably have capability and experience in deploying Computer Assisted Audit Tools and Techniques (CAATTs) and Generalized Audit Software (GAS), commensurate with the degree/ complexity of computer environment of the Entities where the accounting and business data reside in order to achieve audit objectives.
  6. For audit of UCBs, the SA of the firm should have a fair knowledge of the functioning of the cooperative sector and shall preferably have working knowledge of the language of the state in which the UCB/branch of the UCB is located.

3. Continued Compliance with basic eligibility criteria

  • In case any audit firm (after appointment) does not comply with any of the eligibility norms (on account of resignation, death etc. of any of the partners, employees, action by Government Agencies, NFRA, ICAI, RBI, other Financial Regulators, etc.), it may promptly approach the Entity with full details. Further, the audit firm shall take all necessary steps to become eligible within a reasonable time and in any case, the audit firm should be complying with the above norms before commencement of Annual Statutory Audit for Financial Year ending 31st March and till the completion of annual audit.
  • In case of any extraordinary circumstance after the commencement of audit, like death of one or more partners, employees, etc., which makes the firm ineligible with respect to any of the eligibility norms, RBI will have the discretion to allow the concerned audit firm to complete the audit, as a special case.

VII. Independence of Auditors

  1. For Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs) and NBFCs, the Audit Committee of the Board (ACB)/ LMC shall monitor and assess the independence of the auditors and conflict of interest position in terms of relevant regulatory provisions, standards and best practices. Any concerns in this regard may be flagged by the ACB/LMC to the Board of Directors of the Commercial Bank (excluding RRBs)/NBFC and concerned Senior Supervisory Manager (SSM)/Regional Office (RO) of RBI.
  2. For UCBs/remaining NBFCs, the Board of Directors shall monitor and assess the independence of the auditors. Any concerns in this regard may be flagged by the Board of the UCB/NBFC to the concerned SSM/RO of RBI.
  3. In case of any concern with the Management of the Entities such as non-availability of information/non-cooperation by the Management, which may hamper the audit process, the SCAs/SAs shall approach the Board/ACB/LMC of the Entity, under intimation to the concerned SSM/RO of RBI.
  4. Concurrent auditors of the Entity should not be considered for appointment as SCAs/SAs of the same Entity. The audit of the Entity and any entity with large exposure to the Entity for the same reference year should also be explicitly factored in while assessing independence of the auditor.
  5. The time gap between any non-audit works (services mentioned at Section 144 of Companies Act, 2013, Internal assignments, special assignments, etc.) by the SCAs/SAs for the Entities or any audit/non-audit works for its group entities should be at least one year, before or after its appointment as SCAs/SAs. However, during the tenure as SCA/SA, an audit firm may provide such services to the concerned Entities which may not normally result in a conflict of interest, and Entities may take their own decision in this regard, in consultation with the Board/ACB/LMC.
  6. The restrictions as detailed in para VII.3 and VII.4 above, should also apply to an audit firm under the same network of audit firms or any other audit firm having common partners.

VIII. Professional Standards of SCAs/SAs

  1. The SCAs/SAs shall be strictly guided by the relevant professional standards in discharge of their audit responsibilities with highest diligence.
  2. The Board/ACB/LMC of Entities shall review the performance of SCAs/SAs on an annual basis. Any serious lapses/negligence in audit responsibilities or conduct issues on part of the SCAs/SAs or any other matter considered as relevant shall be reported to RBI within two months from completion of the annual audit. Such reports should be sent with the approval/recommendation of the Board/ACB/LMC, with the full details of the audit firm.
  3. In the event of lapses in carrying out audit assignments resulting in misstatement of an Entity’s financial statements, and any violations/lapses vis-à-vis the RBI’s directions/guidelines regarding the role and responsibilities of the SCAs/SAs in relation to Entities, the SCAs/SAs would be liable to be dealt with suitably under the relevant statutory/regulatory framework.

IX. Tenure and Rotation

  1. Entities will have to appoint the SCAs/SAs for a continuous period of three years, subject to the firms satisfying the eligibility norms each year. Further, Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs) and UCBs can remove the audit firms during the above period only with the prior approval of the concerned office of RBI (Department of Supervision), as applicable for prior approval for appointment, as mentioned at Para IV.3 above.
  2. NBFCs removing the SCAs/SAs before completion of three years tenure shall inform concerned SSM/RO at RBI about it, along with reasons/justification for the same, within a month of such a decision being taken.
  3. An audit firm would not be eligible for reappointment in the same Entity for six years (two tenures) after completion of full or part of one term of the audit tenure. However, audit firms can continue to undertake statutory audit of other Entities.
  4. One audit firm can concurrently take up statutory audit of a maximum of four Commercial Banks [including not more than one PSB or one All India Financial Institution (NABARD, SIDBI, NHB, EXIM Bank) or RBI], eight UCBs and eight NBFCs during a particular year, subject to compliance with required eligibility criteria and other conditions for each Entity and within overall ceiling prescribed by any other statutes or rules. For clarity, the limits prescribed for UCBs exclude audit of other co-operative societies by the same audit firm. For the purpose of this circular, a group of audit firms having common partners and/or under the same network, will be considered as one entity and they will be considered for allotment of SCA/SA accordingly. Shared/Sub-contracted audit by any other/associate audit firm under the same network of audit firms is not permissible. The incoming audit firm shall not be eligible if such audit firm is associated with the outgoing auditor or audit firm under the same network of audit firms.

X. Audit Fees and Expenses

  1. The audit fees for SCAs/SAs of all the Entities shall be decided in terms of the relevant statutory/regulatory provisions. Public Sector Banks will continue to be guided by relevant RBI instructions in the matter.
  2. The audit fees for SCAs/SAs of all the Entities shall be reasonable and commensurate with the scope and coverage of audit, size and spread of assets, accounting and administrative units, complexity of transactions, level of computerization, identified risks in financial reporting, etc.
  3. The Board/ACB/LMC of Entities shall make recommendation to the competent authority as per the relevant statutory/regulatory instructions for fixing audit fees of SCAs/SAs.
 

XI. Statutory Audit Policy and Appointment Procedure

1. Each Entity shall formulate a Board/LMC Approved Policy to be hosted on its official website/public domain and formulate necessary procedure thereunder to be followed for appointment of SCAs/SAs. Apart from conforming to all relevant statutory/regulatory requirements in addition to these instructions, this should afford necessary transparency and objectivity for most key aspects of this important assurance function.

2. Procedure for Appointment of SCAs/SAs is hereunder:

  • The Entities shall shortlist minimum of 2 audit firms for every vacancy of SCAs/SAs. However, in case of reappointment of SCAs/SAs by banks/UCBs till completion of tenure of continuous term of 3 years, there would not be any requirement of shortlisting and sending names of multiple audit firms to RBI while seeking approval to appointment.
  • The banking companies shall continue to follow the existing procedure followed by them for selection of SCAs/SAs. They shall place the name of shortlisted audit firms, in order of preference, before their ACB/LMC. Upon selection of SCAs/SAs by the bank in consultation with their ACB/LMC and verifying their compliance with the eligibility norms prescribed by RBI, the bank shall seek RBI’s prior approval for appointment of SCAs/SAs.
  • For PSBs, empanelment of audit firms eligible for appointment as SCAs will continue to be done by the Office of C&AG, based on the norms prescribed by RBI, as on January 1 of the relevant year.
  • The list of firms as furnished by C&AG to RBI will be subjected to scrutiny by RBI for identifying the eligible firms and excluding audit firms who have been denied audit by C&AG/RBI. RBI will forward a single list of all audit firms eligible for appointment as SCAs to all PSBs on an annual basis. PSBs shall shortlist audit firms from the said list of eligible audit firms as received from RBI, based on certain objective criteria (like number of full time partners, number of professional staff, number of CISA/ISA qualified partners/paid CAs, number of FCAs, etc.) as laid down in the bank’s policy for appointment of statutory auditors. Further, the PSBs shall place the list of shortlisted firms, in order of preference, before the ACB for selection of SCAs in a transparent manner. Upon selection of SCAs by the PSBs in consultation with their ACB and verifying their compliance with the eligibility norms prescribed by RBI, the PSBs shall seek RBI’s prior approval for appointment of SCAs.
  • The UCBs shall place the name of shortlisted audit firms, in order of preference, before their Board for selection as SCA/SA. Upon selection of SCAs/SAs by the UCBs in consultation with their Board and verifying their compliance with the eligibility norms prescribed by RBI, the UCBs shall seek RBI’s prior approval for appointment of SCAs/SAs.
  • The Entities shall obtain a certificate, along with relevant information as per Form B, from the audit firm(s) proposed to be appointed as SCAs/SAs by the Entity to the effect that the audit firm(s) complies with all the eligibility norms prescribed by RBI for the purpose. Such certificate should be signed by the main partner/s of the audit firm proposed for appointment of SCAs/SAs of the Entities, under the seal of the said audit firm.
  • The Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs)/UCBs shall verify the compliance of audit firm(s) to the eligibility norms prescribed by RBI for the purpose and after being satisfied of their eligibility, recommend the names along with a certificate, in the format as per Form C, stating that the audit firm(s) proposed to be appointed as SCA/SA by them comply with all eligibility norms prescribed by RBI for the purpose.
  • While approaching the RBI for its prior approval for appointment of SCAs/SAs, Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs)/UCBs shall indicate their total asset size as on March 31st of the previous year (audited figures), forward a copy of Board/ACB Resolution (resolution not needed for foreign banks operating under branch mode) recommending names of audit firms for appointment as SCAs/SAs in the order of preference and also furnish information as per Form B and Form C as mentioned above, to facilitate expeditious approval of appointment/re-appointment of the concerned audit firm.

Format of Form A, B and C are prescribed in the guidelines issued by RBI link for the same is https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=12079&Mode=0

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to avoid error or omission in the article. It is suggested to cross check all the facts, law and content with original government publication/notification. This article is for information purpose and not a formal opinion. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice.


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