Silicon Valley Bank’s third-party auditors did not mention the underlying risk to SVB’s viability in its report, which the group issued two weeks before the bank’s collapse.
When KPMG LLP gave Silicon Valley Bank a clean bill of health just 14 days before the lender collapsed, the Big Four audit firm flagged potential losses on loans as a so-called critical audit matter. But the audit opinion was silent on what actually brought down the bank—its unrealized bond losses and ability to hold them given a reliance on potentially flighty deposits.
“The auditors failed to mention the fire in the basement or the box of dynamite on the first floor, but they did point out the peeling paint on the flower box,” said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor. “How could they miss the interest-rate risk?”
And this from Martin Baumann, ex-Chief Auditor at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and who had a leading role in designing the new measure:
Silicon Valley Bank’s unrealized losses in its bond portfolio appear to “meet every definition of a possible critical audit matter[.]”
A critical audit matter is a tool intended to help investors decode risks and uncertainties buried in financial statements, to make audit opinions actually useful.
Thus, how could the auditors have missed the larger risk? Why did they?
Or did they? Maybe this is a demonstration of the weakness of auditors being paid by the auditees for the audits.
One apparent weakness in the PCAOB’s existing requirements, though, is that banks can hide the risks in their portfolios by (re)characterizing some or all of their bond holdings as “hold to maturity” rather than as marketable and so required to report their (fluctuating) market value. But when the bonds are being held in even partial satisfaction of reserve requirements, maybe those “hold to maturity” bonds still should have their current market value reported to the public. After all, SVB had no intention of selling even its “marketable” long-term bonds. That is, until it began to experience deposit withdrawals at rates it could not fill without selling those long bonds immediately, and so at losses driven by the environment’s rising interest rates.
So—again I ask: why did SVB’s auditors not report that interest rate risk? KPMG may well have a valid reason for its silence on that risk, but it should say what that risk is.
In any event, it would be useful to see the timesheets of those auditors—when I worked as a defense contractor, my timesheets were required to be submitted with 10-minute intervals—so we in the public can know what those auditors were doing instead of their jobs.