Technology empowers auditors today. But the people and their skill sets make the difference.
Just as an artist chooses which chisel is right to help delicately sculpt a hand on a marble statue, so too must today’s audit practitioners know which of the available advanced technologies available to them are appropriate for deriving audit evidence that supports financial reports. It can be complex work, and practitioners must know how to choose the appropriate tool and how to use it.
Robotics, natural language processing, predictive analysis, cognitive capabilities, workflow automation, etc., are emerging tools that can allow more (and better) analyses in a shorter timeframe. In some cases, tools can offer the capability to analyze up to 100 percent of an organization’s transactions.
Advanced technology: the price of entry
In a recent report by KPMG and Forbes Insights, 99 percent of senior corporate financial executives surveyed agreed that advanced technologies can enhance the quality of financial reporting and the external audit. Finding the top technologically skilled practitioners represents the root of our ongoing search for the best talent. Moreover, companies expect their auditors to use those advanced technologies on their behalf.
Advanced technology is playing an increasingly greater role in corporate financial reporting and external audits. Executives can use such technology to gather information that will allow them to identify and manage potential risks, analyze trends, drill down into various metrics, and gain greater insight into operations, financial reporting, internal controls, and their business.
There lies the vision that is coming into focus more and more throughout the audit profession. We’re not only looking for technologically advanced professionals to join our ranks, we’re training them to use our proprietary tools and advancing a learning culture. We’re leveraging technology to promote audit quality. Finding the top technologically skilled practitioners represents the root of our ongoing search for the best talent.
Advancing an innovative culture
Executives surveyed said innovation is driving the use of advanced technologies that are increasing data reliability (36 percent), improving real-time insights into areas of heightened risk and internal controls (27 percent), raising the visibility of internal processes (18 percent), and heightening their ability to identify anomalies (18 percent).
“Innovation allows audit teams to create new ways to leverage tools, automation, and technology-enabled analysis to deliver market-leading audit quality.”
Shaun Budnik, Audit Partner and National Audit Innovation Leader, KPMG
“Innovation allows audit teams to create new ways to leverage tools, automation, and technology-enabled analysis to deliver market-leading audit quality,” said KPMG Audit Partner and National Audit Innovation Leader Shaun Budnik. “Simplification and automation of audit processes drive increased productivities, lower error rates and rework, and have the capability to improve client satisfaction. Our sharp focus on maintaining relevance in a constantly changing business landscape enables us to attract forward-thinking professionals.”
New technologies must be matched with people who know how to use technology effectively and who can exercise professional judgment in examining these transactions to arrive at an audit conclusion.
As ever, talented individuals are a company’s greatest asset. Since audit professionals are required to take continuing professional education classes, training programs are critical to success. Training opportunities motivate employees, lower turnover, and increase employee satisfaction.
Auditor skill sets continue to evolve. Yes, auditors often have an accounting degree and a Certified Public Accounting (CPA) license. Auditing teams, however, are no longer just CPAs. Audit teams already include auditors looking at the controls of a company’s digital systems and applications and increasingly will include data scientists and professionals steeped in artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies.
Today’s audit teams have become as diverse as the audits they conduct. Advanced technologies will not make an auditor’s job simpler. Using advanced technologies will allow greater analysis and require a greater skillset.
Companies continue to expect that their auditor will utilize the most advanced technologies to deliver their audit opinion. Innovative, analytical, and critical thinkers will make the difference. They must demonstrate the ability to ask the right questions, understand particular industries, and leverage advanced technologies. Promotion of a culture of life-long learning can ensure our professionals have the skills needed to implement advanced enabling technology.
“Corporate learning has already come a long way from passive, lecture-based sessions. Training programs have evolved by incorporating technology and adding experience-based training and will become even more personalized over time,” said Susan St. Amant, partner in charge, KPMG Business School—Audit, which coordinates digital and in-person career development learning solutions, along with digital resources to support learning in the flow of work.
KPMG is building a new learning and innovation center in Florida to offer a variety of learning opportunities that will adapt to an individual’s needs. There will be live, virtual, and on-demand programs. The wide-ranging offerings are designed to better engage learners and help them better remember what they learned—one concept at a time.
Our journey toward building the right teams starts with finding the right people. While technology continues to disrupt all aspects of the business landscape, we need new innovative ways to attract exceptional talent. We’re reaching deeper into schools, advancing the culture of learning, and changing internal development programs.
For instance, the KPMG Master of Accounting with Data and Analytics program has disrupted the education experience for the audit profession, as it integrates courses in accounting and auditing with the real-world application of technologies and advanced D&A capabilities. Our goal is to develop auditors for an era of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other digital advances. The program collaborates with nine leading business schools across the nation. It involves KPMG funding master’s degree programs for 135 students who will be offered a chance to join our firm upon graduation.
Our desire to find the best people to drive knowledge from the most advanced technologies will continue at a geometric rate.
After all, the tools are only as good as the hands they are in.
John Ebner is the National Managing Partner of KPMG LLP’s Audit practice, where he works with the Vice Chair of Audit to lead a team of more than 800 Audit partners and 7000 Audit professionals, all of whom are committed to delivering a quality audit that is risk-based, industry-specific and tailored to a client’s operational structure and size.