Next-generation audits: Better, faster, cheaper?

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Our profession is understandably shaken by the impact of automation on our audit services. A substantial portion of what we do now as auditors can and will be accomplished by machines in the not-too-distant future.

Oddly enough for a client service profession, the topic of how these changes will impact our clients never seems to come up. A quick Google search shows no articles or information on what audit clients should expect to experience in the next three to seven years. With all the focus on our profession, processes and standards, we have lost focus on the most important part of our services: the client.

So what should our clients expect from our new audit services?

1. More focus on them. An automated audit approach will allow many of the less technical and more time-consuming tasks to go the way of the dodo bird. This change should allow audit teams to focus on higher-risk areas and delve deep into the client’s businesses to provide the genuine market insights and business advice most of my clients ask for every day.

The overall quality of the engagements should improve due to this risk-based approach. Auditors should have more time to consult, guide, and deliver value to clients. I’ve never had a client thank me for an excellently performed payroll voucher exam. I have been thanked for resolving regulatory conundrums or improving the customer’s experience through more effective processes. Next-generation audits should allow for more of this type of consultation.

2. More accurate audits. Audit automation could result in testing of 100 percent of a population of transactions year-round. There shouldn’t be a need to tie up conference rooms and the finance team for weeks or months of the year when the audit can be performed on each day’s transactions as they occur. If transactions are tested daily or weekly, exceptions can be brought to the client’s attention throughout the year. There will be less testing performed at year end, allowing for more timely and speedy sign-offs of financial information. Because auditors will be looking at a larger number of transactions than are currently tested using sampling, they should be able to identify redundancies in controls and processes. The value delivered by an audit should increase significantly and potentially increase operational efficiency for clients.

3. More specialized firms. Audits can and will be performed from anywhere in the world. Firms will deepen their specialization, increasing competition and allowing clients to select auditors that may meet their needs better than firms did in the past. The drawback to using a remote firm isn’t necessarily the face-to-face component (which can be addressed through video conferencing and travel) but more the security of the data being transferred. Cybersecurity will be key to both clients and auditors as audits become more virtual.

Normally when automation comes online and competition increases, fees/costs will decrease. I’m not certain that will happen in the brave new world of audit. Auditors will be expected to deliver so much more than we have in the past. The value clients should expect to see from their audits will be exponentially greater than what we deliver now. The level of effort should shift and result in improved deliverables, but not necessarily cheaper ones.

Clients should look forward to these next-generation audits. Even though the overall audit cost may not change, the value to be delivered through these services will increase exponentially.

Clients should start the conversation today with their current service providers to plan for this future approach.

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