Transforming the audit from the inside out

Learn how upskilled finance pros armed with the latest digital tools are boosting quality and revamping the profession.

When you think about the team that’s conducting your company’s financial statement audit, you probably focus on the fundamentals: accounting acumen, professional skepticism and industry expertise. Beyond that “audit IQ,” you might also expect professionals to be skilled in data analysis and other tech capabilities and able to enhance quality and increase efficiency. But even with such strong skills, you might not immediately think of auditors as innovators.

Yet that’s exactly how many of our people now see their jobs—powerfully combining their financial knowledge with newly acquired digital skills to rethink how the audit is performed. From less experienced staff to seasoned partners, upskilled auditors are applying digital tools and new ways of working to automate tasks they encounter in their daily work. This has proven especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, when many of our people seamlessly transitioned to working remotely, facilitating our ability to complete much of our audit work virtually.

That’s possible thanks to our ground-breaking approach called citizen-led innovation. It creates a more well-rounded professional and also makes the audit experience better. Here’s how: Automations reduce time-intensive routine tasks so people can spend more time performing analysis. Custom data visualizations bring insights to life. And quality is enhanced because manual work that may be error-prone (think about endless spreadsheet copying and pasting) is done consistently every time.

Upskilling tomorrow’s auditor — today

Take Zachary Aronson’s story. When he started at PwC three years ago, he didn’t imagine that technology innovation would become essential to his day-to-day work. But when he heard about the firm’s Digital Accelerator program—part of a $3 billion global investment in upskilling, technologies and individuals to increase value for the firm’s people, clients and communities—he applied right away.

Aronson had already identified a few areas for improving efficiency and accuracy. For example, audit testing for one transportation industry client required a reconciliation process that involved hours of digging through spreadsheet tables that contained hundreds of records and pivot tables. The situation was essentially a “claims triangle,” industry speak describing the lag time between an incident and the time it takes to settle a claim. Testing these transactions was part of Aronson and his team’s job a few times a year—and, each time, it took 20 to 30 hours of manual labor to complete.

Aronson learned to use a range of automation tools, including Alteryx, a platform for creating automated data workflows. He automated the testing process, reducing the time required to complete is to only minutes - an estimated 80 percent reduction. Accuracy and quality also improved, since the audit team no longer has to pore through spreadsheets manually.

“I felt like Superman,” Aronson says, describing the empowerment he experienced from his role as a Digital Accelerator — not only gaining the skills to automate the testing process but also knowing that his managers, colleagues and clients encouraged and appreciated his taking the initiative to do so

Scaling innovation

Automating claims testing for one client significantly improved the process, but scaling it so more clients can benefit is even better. We did that through the firm’s Digital Lab, an online storefront where people can download vetted automations and customize them for their own projects.

Aaronson’s story is just one example. Another involves Kelsey Kitsen, an associate who built an extraction bot that improves substantive audit testing of property, plant, and equipment. Typically, this is a manual, time-consuming process for both audit and client teams, which involves requesting third-party invoices from the client, who has to gather each one. Then the auditor must download and log each invoice, before completing the testing.

The bot Kitsen created, which was given read-only access to the client’s ERP system, handles it all automatically. A task that originally took hours and could span over days or weeks of coordination can now be accomplished in just minutes. All that she has to do now is open the prepared files and review the information for accuracy. With the time saved, Kitsen can focus on areas of testing that require more judgment or analysis. In addition, the bot, which can be used for similar testing that involves pulling invoices, has been modified for other support tasks. Now, many other teams and processes are benefiting from her efforts.

There’s also Dan Croghan, a senior associate who is not only practicing and leading others in this type of grassroots innovation, but is also applying his digital skills on a bigger scale. As a Digital Accelerator, he also solves challenges affecting the audit process for an entire industry or financial statement line item. Last year, for example, Croghan helped develop an automation that streamlined and simplified the data analysis, reporting and basic testing that audit teams perform for utility clients during the course of the audit.

The bot saves time for both audit teams and clients by reducing back-and-forth data requests, spreadsheet analysis, and testing for quality and completeness. Today, Croghan is doing even more problem-solving by helping other teams bring their automation ideas to life.

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Our commitment to digital upskilling means our people are creating new solutions to help solve old problems.

Changing expectations — and careers

We could go on: We have more than 400 Digital Accelerators in the US focused specifically on enhancing audit quality and efficiency through citizen-led innovation. (They are part of a community of almost 2,000 Digital Accelerators across our business, one that’s close to 3,000 globally and growing.) It’s a truly engaged group of on-the-ground innovators, who are excited about the work they’re doing and are dedicated to making a difference for their clients, teams and our firm every day.

Our auditors are passionate about the challenging and rewarding work they’re doing, and they’re excited about how they’re redefining the role of the auditor in an increasingly digital world.

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Wes Bricker

Wes Bricker

Vice Chair—US and Mexico Assurance Leader, PwC US

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