A cadre of auditors at PwC are doing a lot more with their accounting knowledge than they imagined they would when they earned accounting degrees and joined the workforce.
These finance professionals are among the hundreds of PwC employees who participated in an advanced technology training program as part of the firm’s sweeping effort to digitally upskill all employees. Today, each digitally savvy auditor is applying digital know-how to their audit work — whether it’s increasing the efficiency of audit processes or improving communication with clients.
Known as digital accelerators, these PwC auditors have completed training in a number of technologies, including how to automate time-consuming data-related audit tasks using workflow creation software. The bottom-line benefits: saving time and enhancing audit quality.
Automations created by digital accelerators have saved thousands of hours by automating manual processes, extracting necessary client data seamlessly, and more efficiently performing hundreds of data validations that are part of client audits.
“Automation is how technology can harness points in the audit process to achieve synergy between our people and the machines that they use, so that the sum is greater than those individual parts.”
It’s one example of how combining people and the right technologies, we can apply an innovative mindset to help drive the right business outcomes. It creates a more well-rounded professional, vastly increases auditors’ engagement in their work, and makes the audit experience better for clients, too. This effort encompasses all our people, at every level and across the diversity of their experiences.
Take Zachary Aronson, for example. When he started at PwC as an auditor four years ago, he couldn’t have predicted that today he’d be an audit manager who splits his time between working on audit engagements and focusing on integrating more and better tech innovations into the audits PwC performs for clients.
As a new digital accelerator, Aronson helped streamline a particularly cumbersome aspect of the audit for a transportation industry client. He automated a reconciliation process that previously involved hours of digging through spreadsheets that contained hundreds of records and pivot tables. The automation he built helped trim reconciliation time from more than 20 hours to a matter of minutes.
Today he’s part of a group dedicated to identifying bottlenecks and pain points specific to certain industries and coming up with tech-powered solutions for the audit.
Crucial to the digital accelerators’ success is a repository called Digital Lab that houses thousands of tools created to streamline day-to-day work that we perform for clients. Assets in the lab, which operates like an app store, are primarily workflow automations and bots that automate formerly manual audit tasks, saving time and enabling repeatable processes.
Today, with more than 2,500 automations available to teams in assurance, says Brad Helferich, Assurance Digital Lab Lead, “We’ve reached the point where most tasks have some form of automation available.” (And, in fact, PwC recently launched a marketplace of curated digital assets that non-audit client companies can use to work faster and smarter.)
Hours saved for PwC engagement teams through automation leave additional time for auditors to focus on other improvements, such as helping increase transparency and communication with clients.
Michael Conan, who worked on an audit engagement for a Fortune 100 apparel manufacturer, helped streamline communications with clients about the status of our audit work by creating dashboards that provided detailed real-time updates. The dashboards use visualization software that presents audit status data graphically and allows clients to drill down to see what tasks or data is outstanding and who’s responsible for it.
Matthew Frankel, a digital accelerator who is on the team that serves a large financial services company, helped improve workflow by automating daily status updates to show what information or action items are needed from the audit client and what’s needed on the PwC side. This became particularly useful in 2020 when the COVID-19 crisis necessitated completing the client’s audit remotely. “Keeping everyone on the same page with the daily report was especially helpful because, due to the pandemic, we weren’t in the same office anymore,” Frankel says.
Even more encouraging, however, are the benefits derived from having access to a larger percentage of client data needed for the audit. Being able to pull whole populations of certain types of data for testing—rather than samples—could help uncover audit-related insights that executives at the client company can potentially consider to inform business strategy.
Meanwhile, a team focused on sector-specific audit innovations has made notable progress on a project for the healthcare services industry. Katie Wood, a director who leads the team, says they’re hard at work creating a number of automations to assist with the audit process of recalculating how much a hospital or medical center has earned on patient medical procedures and services, known in the industry as net-patient service revenue.
The tools being built for the net-patient revenue project work in tandem with a common data model platform, which extracts anonymized data from different healthcare systems into a common format and utilizes a dozen downstream automations to execute testing.
Streamlining testing is definitely a perk, but perhaps better is that this is another case where performing analysis on the full population of client data helps enhance audit quality without taking more time for PwC or the client. This could also provide healthcare clients with valuable business insights resulting from our audit procedures performed on net-patient service revenue.
The digital upskilling program and Digital Lab serve as a solid innovation-driven foundation as PwC explores ways to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in its assurance practice. Imagine where we’ll be just five years from now in our quest to reimagine the audit with equal parts tech innovation and human ingenuity.