A vital committee that feels ineffective — even to its members

Audit committees are under a lot of pressure with increasingly hefty workloads, yet many members feel that their operations could be improved, Fortune reported March 14. 

The publication analyzed the most recent Audit Committee Practices Report from Deloitte and the Center for Audit Quality, released March 12. Its survey of 266 audit committee members — most of them serving public companies with more than $700 million in market cap — revealed that only one-third said their committee is very effective. 

The other two-thirds said their committees could take steps to improve efficiency, and 80% said there is an opportunity for internal audits to add more value. Specifically, they note that both member engagement and material quality could be higher during meetings.

The survey revealed additional priorities of audit committee members: 69% said cybersecurity is top of mind while 48% said they are zeroed in on enterprise risk management. They also indicated a focus on finding talent in finance and internal audit, complying with laws and regulations and finance transformation. Sixty-six percent said their committee has spent insufficient time discussing AI over the last year. 

These priorities mirror those of the broader healthcare industry. President Joe Biden's recent budget proposal sets aside $800 million to help low-resourced hospitals bolster their cybersecurity measures, and another $500 million to incentivize all hospitals to invest in cybersecurity. Health systems are also engaged in an increasingly strict regulatory environment, from antitrust to AI. Multiple systems allow the public to keep tabs on their audit committees' work by publishing agendas online (including Mountain View, Calif.-based El Camino Health and San Diego-based Palomar Health). 

Krista Parsons, Deloitte's Audit Committee Program leader, gave Fortune a piece of advice for audit committees: "I always tell them that as you think about your agenda, always start with the risk. Make sure you're not just rinsing and repeating the same agenda that you had. Think through the 'what-ifs.'"

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