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Genevra Cavallo

Audit & Assurance Partner, Deloitte Australia

Genevra Cavallo is an Audit & Assurance Partner with Deloitte, where she started as a cadet in 1998. She serves Australian and global clients in the ASX 100 across a number of industries and during her longstanding career has worked in Toronto and as a Group Financial Controller with an ASX-listed business.

People trust you when you do the right thing even when it's difficult.

         - Genevra Cavallo , Audit & Assurance Partner, Deloitte Australia

For Gen, trust begins at a personal level – formed through integrity and honesty

Even if the answer to a tough question is good, bad or otherwise, Gen believes honesty is the pivotal principle of trust. As an auditor, once others understand you’ll be honest no matter what, trust builds quickly.

It’s much more about what you do, than what you say. Trust is built through alignment, rather than you don't say something, and then go and do something else ... It’s ensuring that people can trust you to do the right thing, even when it's difficult.

In business, the phrase ‘doing the right thing’ seems obvious, almost trite. In auditing, Gen believes it is guided by a level of healthy scepticism, upheld by a belief in a broader societal purpose and guaranteed by the conviction to have the difficult conversations if needed.

“It’s an interesting balance because the client needs to trust us so that we can work together effectively. The relationship must be one that is honest, open and transparent, but we also have to challenge. It’s the balance between personal trust and professional scepticism.

On a day-to-day basis, Gen manages this balancing act, working with multiple stakeholders, typically the CFO, the finance team and regularly the CEO. For governance reasons, and to ensure an independent perspective, she has a separate responsibility to an audit committee chair, and ultimately a company’s shareholders.

Respectful scepticism

With such a range of stakeholders, professional scepticism is crucial. It’s not an adversarial view – more of a respectful search for the truth, looking for contradictory evidence, to confidently challenge management or even the board if needed. It’s all about ensuring that conclusions are thoughtful and considered, and ultimately can be trusted.

The process of auditing is about building the foundations of trust. The blocks, so to speak, are independence, rigour, competence and a conviction to find the truth. Unbiased and without a vested interest.

"People need to trust the numbers because they are often investing their own money. They are not exclusively relying on management; they need us to help empower their decision making."

A layer of certainty but not complete certainty

“Often there is a sense that we’re the gatekeepers – that we have total oversight, and in turn are ultimately responsible. An example of this is fraud - if a fraud happens, people ask why didn’t the auditors find it? I think a lot of users think that we are going to find fraud, whereas auditing standards are not specifically designed to find fraud,” says Gen.

This expectation gap possibly reflects the greater reliance on auditors to be the arbiters of what can be trusted and what can’t, and how in recent times this has extended well beyond financial reporting.

Today, auditors are seen as responsible for upholding a standard of reporting and corporate ethics across business, government and ultimately broader society. Remits seem to stretch further each year. A trusted position in society, Gen admits, but one that seems to constantly evolve with new reporting standards, or new areas to report on.

A good example is ESG.

The ESG reporting environment is fluid and is relatively new for many organisations. As a result there can be a disconnect between ambition and action – with metrics that are inconsistent or overly complex. Reporting also varies according to what organisations consider a priority based on their stakeholder expectations. The question will be how we make sure the narrative is backed up by evidence and we still have a way to go to see how trust plays out in this space.

The ever-evolving nature of auditing brings new challenges but this is what excites Gen. Constantly learning and interacting with others. Her favourite aspect of her job may be the toughest: the judgments.

“I’m so interested in how people think and why and how they came up with a conclusion. I really find a respectful and professional debate is such a meaningful way to solve a problem or really know a decision is the right decision to make.”

To protect and serve

Gen’s children describe their mother’s job as the ‘numbers police’. A wise summation from young minds and one that aligns well with her own thoughts on the broader societal role to protect and serve, to look out for people by providing that layer of questioning, judgment, integrity and above all trust.

Auditors do hold one of the most trusted positions in business and society. Meeting Gen really helps understand why.

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