Picture an image of an auditor and likely you will envision a person hunched over a clipboard, scanning endless columns of numbers. But, that image is outdated in the new digital era. Today, the hallmark of an effective auditor isn’t an aptitude for sorting through massive amounts of information manually; it is an ability to navigate relationships, think critically and leverage innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies.
“We used to joke that auditors were drowning in documents,” says Panos Kakoullis, Deloitte Global Audit & Assurance Business Leader. “Now, dynamic technology has had an enormous impact on the profession. Thanks to new tools and resources, auditors are able to work smarter and more effectively – with each other and with clients.”
Setting the Stage for the Future
From natural language processing to the potential for remote-operated drones, audits are experiencing an unprecedented transformation. Machine-learning based tools like Deloitte’s Argus can rapidly analyze hundreds of documents and identify key areas of interest in a fraction of the time it took a decade ago. What would have required days of review can now happen in near real time.
Similarly, mobile tools have reimagined the asset inspection process (such as inventory counts and property, plant and equipment inspections). Icount, Deloitte’s proprietary tablet-based application, enables auditors to conduct counts, capture results and share the information in real time with all members of the audit team.
Talent Mix: Rise of the Digitally Fluent Auditor
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The emergence of new audit technology has recast the talent mix. While recruitment at organizations like Deloitte remains strong — in the latest financial year Deloitte’s Audit headcount grew by approximately 2,000 people over the previous year — the skillsets and professional development needs of the auditor have evolved.
As a result, Deloitte is recruiting across a broader spectrum of skills and actively diversifying the skillsets of new and established auditors. Additionally, Deloitte is working with a variety of business schools across the world to identify and hire from a diverse pool of talent.
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Technological Literacy: The Ingredient We Can’t Live Without
Future auditors do not need to all be programmers, but they do need to be fluent in emerging technology and comfortable analyzing and presenting robust streams of data. As important, they need to be savvy navigators of the new digital world, recognizing how and when to leverage new technologies to improve the quality and value of the audit.
“Technology represents a tremendous opportunity not just to fortify the audit process but to enhance what it uncovers and unlock deeper, strategic insights,” said Kakoullis.
Further, developing talent with more advanced data analytics capabilities is critical, from data exploration to data visualization. Business schools and CPA programs are beginning to introduce initiatives focused in these areas. For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and Rutgers University Business School announced a research initiative in December 2015 that integrates analytics into the audit process and explores how this information can enhance audit quality.
A key test for future auditors will be their ability to turn raw data into actionable insights for stakeholders to consider.
The Human Touch: Premium on Interpersonal Skills
New technology dramatically reduces the time needed for data capture and reconciliation. However, auditors of the future still need superior communication and critical thinking skills to proactively problem solve and manage relationships.
These next-wave auditors must also be masters of collaboration. They must be willing and able to support team members across a range of disciplines. This doesn’t negate the need for deep industry knowledge. Individual curiosity to stay abreast of the changing business landscape will remain critical.
“Strong interpersonal skills are the gold standard across all industries in the digital era,” says Michele Parmelee, Global Managing Principal-Talent, Brand and Communications. “Think about all the stakeholders auditors interact with. They must be able to listen and explain, challenge and build rapport up and down an organization.”
The profession will increasingly place a premium on good judgment and the ability to distinguish the signal from the noise when it comes to information.
The Audit & Assurance profession is continuously evolving but in the next 5 to 6 years, it will change more than it has in the last 30. In order to keep pace with the advancing technology it is essential to match it with the right talent mix.