The Audit Revolution

Photograph by Josh Robenstone

THE AUDIT REVOLUTION

The audit world is being turned upside down by technology and it seems everyone wins.

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Industry: Accounting The traditional world of accounting is being turned on its head. What was once the bread and butter in the life of an auditor is now being done faster and better by robots and the latest generation of software tools.

The old stereotype of what an auditor does has never been more irrelevant and that's a good thing. Ironically, technology, the very thing that has taken over much of our traditional roles, has created a future full of opportunities for auditors.

Matt Graham

Yet, the future for auditors has never been brighter. “Providing confidence and insights is still at the heart of what we do in audit. But how we do that could not be more different,” says Matt Graham, managing partner Assurance at PwC Australia. Artificial intelligence (AI) is big business. PwC research found that it could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, with $6.6 trillion of this from increased productivity. Organisations across diverse industries and skillsets are identifying opportunities to leverage its capabilities. Auditors are now working side-by-side with tech experts to develop tools that can perform low-value, transactional tasks faster and more accurately than humans could ever achieve.

This is freeing up people who can use their training and experience to analyse the significantly deeper datasets that software is helping to produce, and bring value to a diverse range of topics in a way that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.

“In days gone by, auditing a payroll system, for example, would have involved taking a sample and providing a recommendation based on that information,” Graham says. “Now, we use robots to check all system data, which provides a more accurate picture and gives businesses greater confidence in the audit results.”

Because of the added depth of analysis, insights can be gained on almost anything related to information contained in that source. “We recently audited a payroll system and, as well as ticking off their compliance, because of the data it contained, we were able to provide that organisation with a detailed analysis of pay imbalances between genders. That’s not something you would traditionally associate with an audit,” Graham says. “When you start thinking of all the different data sources that an organisation has audited, you can see the potential for where else value can be added.”

Already, the same principles are being extended to fields as diverse as the supply chain of fresh produce, occupational health and safety and the mining sector. This revolution in the audit industry is flowing through to the skills that organisations seek when recruiting. Previously the domain of accounting, economic and commerce graduates, Graham says you are now just as likely to find engineers and tech experts in an audit team.

“This is an unprecedented change for our industry,” he says. “But the core traits that make a good auditor, such as a critical mind and an ability to leverage experience from other industries in a way that’s relevant, are just as critical as they have ever been.”

What has become more important are the skills needed to have diverse and deep conversations about the analysis. “From a career perspective, this has added a new dimension to the role,” Graham says.

“The insights being gained from richer data, the analysis required and the conversations that enables, is creating better business people.”

Far from being a ‘lift and shift’ approach, building the technology that is powering the audit revolution is a collaborative process. “For these solutions to be most effective, it’s important that auditors are part of the build process,” Graham says. “Not only can they make sure it meets the need for which it’s being built, but also that the final product is user-friendly. What we don’t want is a tool that can only be operated by a tech expert.”

This also creates another opportunity for auditors to expand their skillset. “We are seeing auditors with a passion for technology putting up their hands to be part of these new projects, which is great for the employer due to a better end result being delivered, and great for the employee as they are getting new opportunities to develop their skills and careers,” he says.

Graham says the blurring of industries and skillsets is happening at a rapid pace and it’s the customer who is gaining the most.

Across the PwC network alone, Graham is seeing AI take over many tasks that are mundane or otherwise unable to be conducted at the ideal frequency. “In the traditional audit space, bots are predicting patterns in journal entries to automatically prepare statements and we have software autonomously creating audit tests,” he says.

“In our more contemporary fields of work, the capabilities of drones are rewriting the playbook for how we work on mining and agricultural sites.”

Graham says the more auditors do, the more opportunities appear.

“The old stereotype of what an auditor does has never been more irrelevant and that’s a good thing. Ironically, technology, the very thing that has taken over much of our traditional role, has created a future full of opportunities for auditors.”

The Press is a publication by PwC Australia, aimed at sharing expertise,capturing insights and working together to solve important problems.

This article first appeared in Edition 3 of The Press
By Chris Carter, Senior Reporter, The Press

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