The general definition of an audit is an evaluation of a person, organization, system, process, enterprise, project or product. The term most commonly refers to audits in accounting, but similar concepts also exist in project management, quality management, and energy conservation.
1. Audits in accounting
Audits are performed to ascertain the validity and reliability of information; also to provide an assessment of a system's internal control. The goal of an audit is to express an opinion on the person / organization / system (etc.) in question, under evaluation based on work done on a test basis.
Auditing is a vital part of accounting. Traditionally, audits were mainly associated with gaining information about financial systems and the financial records of a company or a business (see financial audit). However, recent auditing has begun to include non-financial subject areas, such as safety, security, information systems performance, and environmental concerns. With nonprofit organizations and government agencies, there has been an increasing need for performance audits, examining their success in satisfying mission objectives. As a result, there are now audit professionals who specialize in security audits, information systems audits, and environmental audits.
In financial accounting, an audit is an independent assessment of the fairness by which a company's financial statements are presented by its management. It is performed by competent, independent and objective person(s) known as auditors or accountants, who then issue anauditor's report based on the results of the audit.
In cost accounting, it is a process for verifying the cost of manufacturing or producing of any article, on the basis of accounts measuring the use of material, labour or other items of cost. In simple words the term, cost audit, means a systematic and accurate verification of the cost accounts and records, and checking for adherence to the cost accounting objectives. According to the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of Pakistan, a cost audit is "an examination of cost accounting records and verification of facts to ascertain that the cost of the product has been arrived at, in accordance with principles of cost accounting."
The Definition for Auditing and Assurance Standard (AAS) 1 by ICAI - "Auditing is the independent examination of financial information of any entity, whether profit oriented or not, and irrespective of its size or legal form, when such an examination is conducted with a view to expressing an opinion thereon."
2. Types of auditors
Auditors of financial statements can be classified into two categories:
§ External auditor / Statutory auditor is an independent Public accounting firm engaged by the client subject to the audit, to express an opinion on whether the company's financial statements are free of material misstatements, whether due to fraud or error. For publicly-traded companies, external auditors may also be required to express an opinion over the effectiveness of internal controls over financial reporting. External auditors may also be engaged to perform other agreed-upon procedures, related or unrelated to financial statements. Most importantly, external auditors, though engaged and paid by the company being audited, are regarded as independent auditors.
§ Internal auditors are employed by the organization they audit. They perform various audit procedures, primarily related to procedures over the effectiveness of the company's internal controls over financial reporting. Due to the requirement of Section 404 of the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 for management to also assess the effectiveness of their internal controls over financial reporting (as also required of the external auditor), internal auditors are utilized to make this assessment. Though internal auditors are not considered independent of the company they perform audit procedures for, internal auditors of publicly-traded companies are required to report directly to the board of directors, or a sub-committee of the board of directors, and not to management, so to reduce the risk that internal auditors will be pressured to produce favorable assessments.