What is Material Weakness?

Material Weakness

Share This...

Material Weakness

A material weakness refers to a deficiency in a company’s internal control over financial reporting that creates a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement in the financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis.

Internal controls are policies and procedures designed to provide reasonable assurance that the company’s operations are effective and efficient, that its financial reporting is reliable, and that it is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

A material weakness might exist due to factors such as:

  • Insufficient oversight by the company’s leadership.
  • Lack of segregation of duties (i.e., one person has control over all parts of a significant process, increasing the chance for error or fraud).
  • Information technology controls are weak (e.g., lack of controls over system access, changes, data integrity, etc.).
  • Personnel lack the qualifications and training to perform their assigned functions.
  • Key reconciliations of significant accounts are not performed.

An example could be a company lacking a process to review and reconcile its financial statements. Without this control, there is an increased risk that errors or fraudulent activity could occur and not be detected, leading to materially incorrect financial statements.

Auditors are responsible for assessing a company’s internal controls as part of their audit process, and they are required to communicate any material weaknesses they identify to those charged with governance.

Example of Material Weakness

Let’s say a software company named “TechSoft Inc.” has poor controls over recognizing revenue from its software licenses. According to the revenue recognition principle, revenue should only be recognized when it is earned and realizable. This means that for TechSoft Inc., they should only recognize revenue from their software licenses once the software has been delivered and installed at the client’s site and the payment is either received or reasonably assured.

However, suppose TechSoft Inc. has a system where revenue from software licenses is automatically recognized once the sales order is logged into the system, even before the software is delivered or the payment is confirmed. This might lead to overstatement of revenues if the software cannot be successfully delivered or if the customer defaults on the payment.

This deficiency in the internal control over revenue recognition is a material weakness. It is “material” because an overstatement of revenue could potentially mislead investors or creditors about the company’s financial health. It could also impact decision-making regarding the company’s operations.

To correct this material weakness, TechSoft Inc. would need to improve its internal controls, for example by not recognizing revenue until all the necessary conditions are fulfilled: the software is delivered and installed, and the payment is received or reasonably assured.

Other Posts You'll Like...

Want to Pass as Fast as Possible?

(and avoid failing sections?)

Watch one of our free "Study Hacks" trainings for a free walkthrough of the SuperfastCPA study methods that have helped so many candidates pass their sections faster and avoid failing scores...