As technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain become increasingly integrated in the auditing industry, auditors will need to adjust their focus in order to thrive in this rapidly changing environment.
To prepare themselves for the auditing roles of the future, auditors should focus on three key areas: technology, strategy, and professional ethics.
The future of auditing is one where auditors have near instantaneous access to large amounts of data, which will allow them to work more collaboratively and consistently. Blockchain will provide complete sets of financial records. RPA will enable data streamlining. AI will allow auditors to glean deeper insights into client estimates and more accurately predict trends, opportunities and pain points.
In short, the advanced analytics enabled by new technology will provide auditors with a much deeper and broader view of their clients’ finances.
Technological literacy will be of paramount importance in the coming years. Auditors will essentially be faced with two options: react to change or embrace it. This is not to say that all auditors must become software engineers. Far from it. As technologies improve, digital systems will become progressively more intuitive and easier to use. But it is absolutely crucial that auditing professionals remain open-minded and curious about new technologies. They should invest the time and effort needed to learn how to use these new tools to extract added value for their clients.
As the auditor’s job moves away from number-crunching and towards deeper analysis, critical thinking and judgment will become ever more important. The skilled auditors of the future will have the opportunity to be much more involved in developing strategy. As such, a renewed commitment to professional ethics will also be essential to the continued success of the industry.
In the past, auditors were largely confined to assessing paper records that could be months or even years old in some cases. Now that they have access to near-instant data, the insights they can provide to an organisation are much more valuable.
Auditors are ideally placed to give advice to leaders and be more involved in the decision-making and strategy development processes of their clients’ organisations. To advise effectively in these ways, auditors will need to have a comprehensive understanding of what drives the business, as well as the emotional intelligence and strong communication skills needed to effectively deliver independent analysis. Traditional auditors, who were usually restricted to backrooms, had scant need of these soft skills. But as auditors become more visible participants within organisations, such interpersonal abilities will become increasingly important.
While technology undoubtedly enhances positive capabilities, it can also be used in unscrupulous practices such as record manipulation. Moreover, as more former accountants move into C-suite positions, these incentives can unfortunately lead to cases where unethical executives subvert financial reporting norms.
External auditors will need to be extra diligent and completely transparent when analysing a client’s financial statements.
The auditors of the future will need to develop many important abilities, with adaptability to technology and communication skills being foremost among them. However, new skills are not the only thing that will matter in this changing landscape. Strong moral character and a commitment to professional ethics will also be crucial for both individual auditors and the future of the industry.