There are several key differences between an audit, a review, and compilation. Essentially, a compilation requires the auditor to simply present financial statements based on the representations made by management, with no effort to verify this information. In a review engagement, the auditor conducts analytical procedures and makes inquiries to ascertain whether the information contained within the financial statements is correct. The result is a limited level of assurance that the financial statements being presented do not require any material modifications. In an audit engagement, the auditor must corroborate the ending balances in the client's accounts and disclosures. This calls for the examination of source documents, third party confirmations, physical inspections, tests of internal controls, and other procedures as needed. Thus, the differences between an audit, a review, and a compilation are as follows:
- Level of assurance. The level of assurance that the financial statements of a client are fairly presented is at its highest for an audit and at its lowest (none at all) for a compilation, with a review somewhere in between.
- Reliance on management. In all three cases, the auditor begins with the account balances provided by management, but an audit requires in a significant amount of corroboration of this information. A review requires some testing of the information, while a compilation almost entirely relies on the presented information.
- Understanding of internal control. The auditor only tests the internal controls of the client in an audit; no testing is conducted for a review or a compilation.
- Work performed. An audit requires a significant number of hours to complete, since there are many audit procedures to be performed. A review requires substantially fewer hours, while the effort associated with a compilation is relatively minor.
- Price. It requires vastly more effort for an auditor to complete an audit, so audits are much more expensive than a review, which in turn is more expensive than a compilation.
Another issue is the level of demand for each of these services. The users of financial statements, such as investors and lenders, nearly always demand an audit, since it provides the greatest assurance that what they are reading is a fair representation of the financial results, financial position, and cash flows of the reporting entity.