Trust begets opportunity for accountants in assurance

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Accountants are, behind doctors, the top most trusted professional in the country — and this trust is a major opportunity to become assurance leaders of the future, said Susan Coffey, executive vice president of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, at the 2019 AICPA Engage conference in Las Vegas.

Coffey kicked off Engage with a Sunday evening session exploring how trust in the accounting profession has the potential to create value and opportunity in audit and assurance services.

“Trust is very easily lost and hard to gain back,” Coffey said. “You have to constantly work on it. This trust creates great opportunity that other professions don’t have and would kill to have.”

While accountants do command a significant amount of trust from the marketplace, clients are still asking for more: Forty-seven percent say auditors should perform even deeper analysis in areas they already cover, and 78 percent say auditors should be using more sophisticated technologies for data gathering and analytics, according to a KPMG and Forbes report.

Coffey named technology as one of the key drivers towards embracing the opportunity facing accountants today. The same KPMG and Forbes report found that 94 percent of executives feel that advanced technologies promote the quality of an audit.

Coffey used data analytics as an example, citing how technology can enhance traditional audit procedures, contribute to every phase of the audit and offer a new way of visualizing and analyzing results. She even went so far as to say that analytics have the capacity to one day eliminate the need for human-verified audits, but admitted that that is a controversial take.

But technology alone will not be enough to move the assurance profession forward, Coffey said. Standards development, skills and methodology should all work hand-in-hand with tech to create a new professional landscape.

In a list of the top 10 declining roles in the U.S. job landscape last year, the World Economic Forum listed accounting, bookkeeping and payroll clerks in second place, and accountants and auditors in seventh. But this implies a “static environment with no change and implies that no one in our profession is doing anything to evolve or change,” Coffey said. “It’s our job to create the change that ensures a vibrant and secure profession.”

Part of changing the environment of the profession is growing skills along with adopting technology. Coffey pointed out that in the same WEF report, some of the top emerging roles were data analysts and scientists, and specialists in AI, machine learning, big data, digital transformation and new technology. Accountants have the potential to become these future experts by harnessing their naturally creative, analytical skillset to build new skills and areas of expertise.

“Tech alone cannot transform audit,” Coffey said. “We have to take a white box approach. We need to be able to trace the algorithms through the system, and we have to understand how the system works. We can’t do it in a black box fashion.”

Coffey ended her session on an encouraging note: “There’s a lot going on in profession — uncertainty, complexity, and change.
But with that comes great opportunity that is ours for the taking because of the value we provide and the trust the marketplace already has in us.”

Some resources Coffey shared during the presentation include:

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