Updated: Jul 5, 2019
Each morning I walk down Oxford Street in London on my way to work. On the escalator out of the Oxford Circus Underground tube station, I pass flashing advertisements dotted along the wall. Once on the street, I am faced with buses covered in giant adverts. I walk past shop after shop, each with a glitzy marketing campaign splashed across their shop windows. Each morning I think of how fun and exciting the adverts make the store look (even if it is just a sunglasses shop). This got me thinking about the impression we, as auditors, must give our customers, and furthermore, what is our job actually like? Is audit fun and sexy like the adverts we see down Oxford Street?
It’s no lie that accountants are probably considered to be paper pushers and dull. I once had someone say that thought all accountants / auditors were like Dilbert (that was until they got to know us). The comment from this person rings true tho.
Accounting really isn’t a ‘fun’ or ‘sexy’ profession. On face value, it can seem quite dull and boring. Sure, we have those jobs we hate to do, those clients we dread dealing with, and the repetitive tasks that would make anyone question their own existence; but there are still fun times. The clients that you get to help through tough times, the exciting work trips, and just generally the people you get to meet. None of this however, changes the fact, that our day to day job can appear to be quit mundane.
It's my personal opinion that audit has not changed enough to suit current times. Our old school approach of doing up scoping up an assignment, writing workpapers and finally, presenting a report, is heavily paper based and largely process driven. Whilst I acknowledge that an audit should be tailored to suit the situation, and developments in data analytics and AI are becoming more involved in the audit approach, our audits are still… boring.
For instance, I recently worked at one company where the process for an audit was so rigid, we actually had to justify why we would use CAATs in our audit approach. Using CAAT’s was not encouraged, and in fact, the audit was largely based off walkthroughs. Our reports were prepared in line with a ‘reporting guide’, which stated how blunt an issue should be presented. The entire audit report was presented in size 10 Arial font (except for the headings; they were size 12 and bold). The only colour in the document was the company logo.
The audit report was a direct reflection of our audit approach. Basic, no value-add, and boring. Had I been on the other side and received that audit report, I would not give it the time of day. The report would have gone either in the cabinet or the recycling bin. If it was lucky, I may have used it as scrap paper. The report would generally tell the business area what they already knew, and in rare circumstances, might actually identify something. The audit process and associated report was not fun or sexy for the auditor, and certainly not for the client. So how can we make this all more exciting?
For me, there are a couple of things we can do to achieve this:
Make it visually appealing. It may sounds stupid, but colours, nice workpapers, etc all keep my attention. Give me a heap of text and I’m gone.
Make it agile. Whilst all good audits are planned and have a structured approach, we should be engaging with our clients better to understand what the real issues are. Focus on the core assurance, but also add value by helping the business with their issues. There is more to an audit than just ‘ticking and bashing’ through controls.
Make it interactive. Maybe not technically feasible for all audit departments, but make the audit process interactive and transparent. Thinking out loud, but a website / portal where the business can link in at any time and see where we are at with the testing, what issues or questions we have, and continually updating results. I do acknowledge that this could go two ways. Either the business area / client checks this portal all day and is forever telling the audit team where they are wrong. Alternatively, it could help build a trust relationship between the business and the audit team as all the work is transparent and they have been involved throughout the process.
Make it accessible. A report should not be something that is provided and locked away. It should be something that can be accessed at any time, anywhere. Whilst programs do exist for this, making a report entirely digital is not only one way for business areas to access reports more easily, but, providing it has good tracking, will also show the number of times the report has been accessed. Combine this with online action tracking and suddenly the report already has slightly more value than a paper copy. Where a report does not get accessed often, it provides audit with an opportunity to ask why and understand what we can do better to offer more value through our reports.
Whilst our job does have many perks (for example the unlimited alcohol at the end of financial year parties), our job really isn't as exciting or as sexy as it could be. Our marketing campaigns next those on Oxford Street reflect that, and deep inside, I think we all feel that also. In saying all this, I still wouldn't change my job.
How do you think our audit profession could be more sexier?