The 3 Cs of auditing in a remote world
The change to completely remote work has challenged the profession in many ways, particularly for audit and attest. It’s hard for many auditors to imagine not going on-site for an audit. At some firms, the audit staff don’t even have their own desks, but share space in a big room, lined with locking cabinets where they can keep their personal items when they’re in the field. But, however audit is performed, three critical components of auditing remain the same: computer use, collaboration and corroboration.
Let’s start by talking on a high level about how we can take advantage of remote work by understanding the underlying components of each of the Cs.
When we think of computers, I want you to extend this to the understanding of broadly leveraging technology, tools and techniques. In today's world, most firms use technology in a manner that replicates the paper-based world of audit from decades ago. Working remotely makes this even more difficult. Replicating the paper-based world requires auditors to be on-site at a client’s location.
While we’re now working in a remote world out of necessity, many of these techniques should have been deployed years ago. However, we are creatures of habit and continue to do things the same way we always have. Fortunately, today’s technology makes it easier than ever to innovate new ways of getting our work done. By leveraging technology, we can find new — and often, better — methods for getting the work we would normally do on-site, even if we can’t be there in real life.
One typical audit procedure is inquiry. Most auditors do this on-site so they can have face-to-face conversations with the client’s staff. In a world of video technology, there's no reason in the world face-to-face conversations cannot continue with easy-to-use tools like Skype, Teams and GoToMeeting.
One advantage of using video-conferencing tools is that these conversations can be recorded and transcribed. Tools like Otter.ai and Rev.com make transcription quick and affordable, if not free. Summaries of those conversations can be easily added to the audit file.
Computers and the power behind them through software and other applications should seriously facilitate the efficient and effective conduct of the audit process while working in a remote environment.
Collaboration in a remote world may mean establishing ways for your team to communicate with clients and ways to communicate with other members of the team. Whether internally or externally, this is key to maintaining relationships with staff and clients. We offer a few suggestions on how to maintain, or possibly improve, communications right now by taking better advantage of your systems.
Let’s look first at how to communicate with your client.
Be proactive and go to the client with a communication plan. By taking the responsibility for this off their plates, you will reduce their stress. Your communication plan with clients should include the following:
- Establish a plan before fieldwork begins. Agree to the methods you will use to share documents and for video conferencing. Include the timelines for getting the work done. Add your clients as contacts for your video conferencing tool. For sharing documents, mandate the use of a cloud-based system such as Suralink, SharePoint or Collaborate. These are more secure and easier to manage than a series of emails with attachments.
- Teach them to use remote technologies. You can be a true asset and hero to your client by taking the time to show them tips and tricks on getting the most out of these tools.
- Provide a sense of stability. Establish a plan of regular check-ins and stick to them. Use these to deepen your understanding of your client, not just as a checklist exercise, but to more fully grasp what they are going through.
Collaborating with a remote team may be an uncomfortable adjustment for leaders who are accustomed to observing people at their desks. In a remote world, responsibility and accountability move from time spent at a desk to the deliverable itself.
The key to successfully managing a remote team is establishing — and adhering to — a defined rhythm and process for internal firm communications. Depending on your firm size, you may need different processes at the engagement team, manager and partner levels. Engagement teams may need daily meetings, while the partner group may only need to meet weekly.
Obtaining audit evidence to corroborate a client answer or management position is a key component of the audit. The level of corroborative information obtained should be greater as the risk becomes greater. This can be determined as the team reflects on the risk assessment procedures.
The audit standards require documentation such that an experienced professional, not familiar with the client, could understand what was done and be able to repeat the procedure. Documentation of the evidence obtained is necessary, but the documentation standard doesn’t require that the audit file must contain actual copies of every document examined.
We like the “PPC” approach to documentation, which stands for “Purpose, Procedure and Conclusion.” Under this approach, memos, video recordings of conversations, screenshots from shared screens on video calls can all be leveraged to fulfill the requirements of the standards. Your team can be creative and extend the definition of corroborative evidence beyond the paper-and-pencil world.
The challenges from the pandemic have hit your clients as hard as your firm, if not more so. Of these three Cs, perhaps the most important for successfully transitioning to remote work is collaboration, which requires the use of computers to keep your team connected to each other, and your client connected to your team.
Solving this part is your opportunity to be a sense of calm for them, and to be that trusted business advisor. You can be the same “trusted advisor” for your teams.