A public company with a class of securities registered under Section 12 or which is subject to Section 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“Exchange Act”) must file reports with the SEC. The underlying basis of the reporting requirements is to keep shareholders and the markets informed on a regular basis in a transparent manner. Reports filed with the SEC can be viewed by the public on the SEC EDGAR website. The required reports include an annual Form 10-K, quarterly Form 10Q’s and current periodic Form 8-K as well as proxy reports and certain shareholder and affiliate reporting requirements.
These reports are signed by company officers and directors. Moreover, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”) implemented a requirement that the company principal executive officer or officers and principal financial officer or officers execute certain personal certifications included with each Form 10-Q and 10-K. Certifications are not required on a periodic Form 8-K.
Although it is the function of the officer that determines the requirement to execute the certifications, for purposes of this blog, I will refer to the principal executive officer as the “CEO” and principal financial officer as the “CFO.” All companies that file reports under the Exchange Act, whether domestic or foreign, small business issuers or well-known seasoned issuers, are required to include the CEO/CFO certifications.
Under the CEO/CFO certification requirement, the CEO and CFO must personally certify the accuracy of the information contained in reports filed with the SEC and the procedures established by the company to report disclosures and prepare financial statements. In order to ensure the adequacy and accuracy of such reports and support the CEO/CFO certifications, a company must maintain adequate disclosure controls and procedures. The SEC defines “disclosure controls and procedures” as “controls and other procedures of an issuer that are designed to ensure that information required to be disclosed by the issuer in the reports filed or submitted by it under the Exchange Act is recorded, processed, summarized and reported, within the time periods specified in the Commission’s rules and forms. Disclosure controls and procedures include, without limitation, controls and procedures designed to ensure that information required to be disclosed by an issuer in its Exchange Act reports is accumulated and communicated to the issuer’s management, including its principal executive and financial officers, as appropriate to allow timely decisions regarding required disclosure.”
CEO and CFO Certifications
A company’s CEO and CFO must each provide two certifications as part of the company’s quarterly Form 10-Q and annual Form 10-K. The certifications are required under Sections 302 and 906 of the SOX. The certifications are executed individually and filed as exhibits to the applicable quarterly and annual filings. Although certifications are not included in reports other than Forms 10-Q and 10-K, the disclosure controls and procedures to which the CEO and CFO certify must ensure full and timely disclosure in all current reports, as well as definitive proxy materials and definitive information statements.
Section 302 Certification
Under Section 302, the CEO and CFO make statements related to the accuracy of the reports filed with the SEC and the controls and procedures established by the company to ensure the accuracy of such reports. The certification must be in the exact form set forth in the rule, and the wording may not be changed in any respect whatsoever. The CEO and CFO must each certify that:
- He or she has reviewed the report;
- Based on his or her knowledge, the report does not contain any untrue statement of a material fact or omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances, not misleading;
- Based on his or her knowledge, the financial statements and financial information fairly present, in all material respects, the company’s financial condition, results of operations and cash flows of the company;
- The certifying officer(s) is/are responsible for:
- establishing and maintaining disclosure controls and procedures;
- having designed such disclosure controls and procedures to ensure that they are informed of all material information;
- having each evaluated the effectiveness of the disclosure and financial controls and procedures as of the end of each period in which they are making the certification; and
- having disclosed their conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the controls and procedures in the subject Form 10-Q or 10-K;
- He or she has disclosed to the company auditors and to the audit committee any significant deficiencies or material weaknesses in the design or operation of internal controls over financial reporting which could adversely affect the company’s ability to record, process, summarize and report financial data;
- He or she has disclosed to the company auditors and to the audit committee any fraud, material or not, that involves employees who have a significant role in internal controls over financial reporting; and
- Any changes in the internal controls or financial reporting have been disclosed in the subject Form 10-Q or 10-K, including changes designed to correct deficiencies or material weaknesses.
If a material weakness is uncovered, it must be disclosed in a Form 10-K and, as a result, management cannot conclude that its controls and procedures are effective. The SEC defines a material weakness to be a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in inter control over financial reporting that creates a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of a company’s annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The disclosure of a material weakness should include the nature of the weakness, its impact on financial reports and plans or steps and changes made to correct the disclosed material weakness.
Section 906 Certification
Under Section 906, the CEO and CFO must attest that the subject periodic report with financial statements fully complies with the Exchange Act and that information in the report fairly presents, in all material respects, the company’s financial condition and results of operations. Like the Section 302 certification, the Section 906 certification must be in the exact form set forth in the rule and the wording may not be changed in any respect whatsoever.
SEC Guidance on Internal Controls
Neither Sections 302 or 906 nor any particular rule specifies methods or procedures that should be used for effective internal controls and procedures. Rather, the SEC encourages CEO’s and CFO to develop systems that best fit the facts and circumstances of their particular enterprises. However, the SEC has given some guidance, encouraging that management (i) develop and continually test its procedures and their effectiveness; (ii) that evaluation be documented in writing, including methods used to test and evaluate procedures and the conclusions and results; (iii) keep good records and documentation; and (iv) rely on outside auditors and advisors to provide input.
In order to ensure that the CEO and CFO certifications are accurate and can properly be executed, a company must establish the underlying procedures to which the CEO and CFO evaluate and attest. The controls and procedures must be designed to address both quality and timeliness of disclosure. Unlike pre-existing concepts of internal controls over financial reporting, the SOX certifications include required material non-financial information, as well as financial information.
The SEC has identified the Treadway Commission Committee of Sponsoring Organizations report and framework on internal controls as an acceptable system and accordingly, it is almost uniformly used and relied upon. The Treadway Commission has published a separate report directed towards internal control systems for smaller public companies. The report noted that smaller companies’ management tends to have a hands-on approach, wider spans of control and the ability to provide ongoing monitoring through direct relationships with key personnel, customers, vendors and capital providers that, along with in-depth knowledge of operations, processes, contractual commitments and business risks, can create opportunities for controls to be effective while being less formal. Managers in smaller public companies are more directly involved with the company’s controls on a daily basis.
Liability for False Certification
In a separate blog, I am going to discuss the liability for an issuer for including false information in its Exchange Act reports and the liability of those signing such reports. In general, as signors of such reports, the CEO/CFO can be liable for material misstatements or omissions under general antifraud standards and under the SEC authority to pursue actions against those who cause or aid or abet securities law violations. An officer providing a false certification potentially could be subject to SEC action for violating Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act and to both the SEC and private actions for violating Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5.
Click Here to Print CEO and CFO Certifications for Forms 10-Q and 10-K-CEO and CFO Certifications for Forms 10-Q and 10-K
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