Maria Castañón Moats is the new leader for PwC’s U.S. assurance practice, effective July 1. She succeeds Tim Ryan, who advanced to PwC’s U.S. chairman after the election of Bob Mortiz to global chairman for the Big 4 firm.
Moats served as chief diversity officer from 2011 and as assurance leader for the firm’s East region since 2015. As leader of the U.S. assurance practice, she is now responsible for the transformation of the audit practice to answer heightened demands from both regulators and the market alike. She took some time in the early days of her new assignment to talk about the challenges ahead.
CW: The call for better performance from the audit profession has gotten louder in recent years. How has your experience prepared you for this?
MM: I was leading the East region from an operations perspective when I got the call from Tim Ryan asking me to lead the assurance practice. I worked with the assurance practice in Dallas for several years leading the practice in risk management, helping partners and engagement teams on the really challenging situations that involved liquidity, going concerns, investigations, evaluations of errors, and resolutions. It was a great opportunity to work in the national office.
In 2011, when I was asked to be a member of the U.S. leadership team and lead diversity and inclusion, I spent a lot of time listening to people and growing myself as a professional. All that time, I continued to serve clients as an audit partner. Those experiences have really prepared me for this leadership opportunity.
I want to continue what my predecessor did around maintaining quality in the audit. That’s critical when I think of quality and the integrity of our brand. A strong audit practice is part of our brand strategy and our success as a firm, so we will continue that journey on quality.
CW: What are your goals for the audit practice at PwC?
MM: I want to continue what my predecessor did around maintaining quality in the audit. That’s critical when I think of quality and the integrity of our brand. A strong audit practice is part of our brand strategy and our success as a firm, so we will continue that journey on quality.
When we think about what’s next for the audit, we’re thinking about innovating the audit with more technology, more data extraction, and more analysis. That is changing how our people are experiencing the audit. If we use more technology, that frees people up to work on more complex areas. We have a global platform to document the audit work that we do, and it’s a very powerful tool that is helping us standardize the audit. So an audit in Southern California is the same as an audit in New York or London.
CW: What more do you have planned to try to improve the quality of audit work?
MM: An audit is a process at its core, so we are looking at process improvement around project management. We are using technology here as well. We have a tool that connects us to clients, so when we ask for certain things and have to evaluate that evidence, the clients provide it through that tool and we evaluate it. It helps both us and our clients understand what needs to be done and what’s outstanding, so that improves the experience for both us and our clients. We also are using data extraction and data visualization tools. We are talking more about using these types of tools with our clients, and that changes the types of insights our clients get from us and the audit.
ABOUT MARIA MOATS
Maria Castañón Moats is the US Assurance Leader of PwC, where she serves as a member of the US Leadership Team and the Global Assurance Executive Leadership Team. Maria's leadership of the national Assurance practice encompasses business strategy, quality and regulatory relations, innovation, risk management, portfolio strategy and business development, and human capital.
She's a results-oriented leader who has built her career by delivering great client service, primarily to retail, consumer and industrial product clients. She currently serves as the lead engagement partner on a large Northeast retail company.
Maria’s professional experience spans accounting, financial reporting, investigations and M&A. She has led audits of both public and private entities, initial and secondary public offerings, and private placement and public debt registrations.
Prior to becoming the US Assurance Leader, Maria served as the Regional Assurance Leader for the East Region, overseeing operations for offices from Boston to Florida. From 2011 to early 2016, Maria was PwC's Chief Diversity Officer where she led the strategy and execution of the Firm's diversity and inclusion efforts. During that time she led the firm to significant achievements, including the #1 ranking on DiversityInc's list of “50 Best Companies to Work For.”
Maria’s significant technical accounting and auditing experience led to her appointment in 2009 as a consulting partner in our National Office, advising partners and engagement teams in assessing risk, including client and engagement acceptance, error evaluation and resolution, going concern and investigations.
She's fluent in Spanish and has traveled extensively on client assignments throughout the US, Europe and Latin America.
In addition to technology, there are several other things involving the work itself. We are trying to move forward more of what traditionally gets done late in the audit. We want to see more of the issues and the transactions earlier so that we and the management team can have more runway to react to issues. That will improve the quality of the audit and the quality of the experience for our clients and our own people. Gone are the days when it was okay to be in a conference room very late working hour after hour. Our people want more and demand more, and I’m there with them. As a working mom, I want to have flexibility to step back and work in different ways.
The talent shortage in the audit profession is no secret. What is your strategy for attracting and retaining more talented people to the profession?
I spent a lot of time thinking about this in my diversity role with PwC. When you look at our community, as a firm we need to reflect more and be more like the communities we serve. It’s critical that people experience an inclusive environment within our firm. They need and want a sense of belonging, so it is up to each one of us to deliver on that promise of inclusion. People have choices. If someone leaves the firm, they leave me. I take it that personally.
I also think people don’t understand what we do. It’s important to get in front of students and experienced hires, even talking to their extended network of friends and family. That’s particularly important in certain communities, like the Hispanic community, which is my community. This is a very noble profession, and at times people don’t fully understand what we do.
It is critical that the actual work people do day in and day out be interesting. That’s why we need to continue on this journey to take some of the work and have it done somewhere else, like a delivery center, so people in the conference room are working on the more complex, more interesting things. I applaud the Millennials. They’re making us better with their ideas and their demands for more flexibility and better hours.
CW: How do you propose to restore confidence in the audit?
MM: The public, regulators, organizations, everyone wants to restore confidence in the audit. When you’re looking for more confidence, you want enhanced transparency from all organizations, including ours. So how do we respond as a profession to the need for more transparency? We put out a quality report every year, and we try to be as transparent as possible on where we are on the journey to quality and what we are doing with our people. We are really trying to get as transparent as possible. As a profession, our regulators have introduced this notion of naming engagement partners on audit engagements. We were supportive of those efforts.
I couldn’t be more excited to lead this practice at this point in time. These are very important times for our firm and our profession. Our role is very significant, and we will continue our relentless focus on quality. We will be part of the conversation around transparency, and we will change and innovate in the way we deliver the audit.