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The future of audit

What does the future hold for the audit profession and what can firms do to attract and retain the best young auditors? Mike Hartwell, Aisling Kirby and Orla Duffy examine lessons learned from the pandemic and look at what lies ahead.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we have to ask: will the work of the auditor ever return to the way it was before?

The answer to this question isn’t simple. To get to the bottom of what might lie ahead for the profession, we must consider a wide range of elements, from audit quality to the calibre of experience and on-the-job training available to our Chartered Accountants from the start of their career. Then there is the changing nature of the way we work, the emergence of new technologies and the impact of rising interest in sustainable finance on business practices.

Collaboration is at the core of the audit

How we collaborate has changed immeasurably, not just within our audit teams, but with clients and other stakeholders who have an interest in financial reporting. The experience of working effectively in a hybrid world has allowed component and group auditors to collaborate more easily across jurisdictions, off-shore delivery centres, and with a wider cohort of specialists. Our young audit professionals have led the way in driving this adaption, and finding the silver lining for the profession as we emerge from the pandemic. With hybrid working now the norm, the days of auditors convening in client boardrooms for days on end are behind us. We have the technology to be connected to the businesses we work with from virtual audit room settings in combination with those all-important in-person interactions. Virtual audit room technology has enabled young auditors to gain exposure to senior clients and audit management from the very first day of their training contracts, allowing for more impactful virtual collaboration. By combining virtual and in-person engagement, opportunities arise for a richer professional experience in which young audit professionals can accelerate their development.

Tech-first generation drives adoption

The success of statutory audits in the collaborative post-pandemic world is being made possible by technology. By embracing emerging technologies, auditors can develop more valuable insights about business processes and control environments in the remote or hybrid working world. Businesses reliant on our audits are no longer looking for assurance alone. They want insight that goes beyond the audit opinion. Technology - in particular, analytics - has enabled auditors to enhance the efficiency and quality of our engagements, deliver valuable observations and communicate better with management and those charged with governance.

Sustainability is two-fold

The changes that have come out of the pandemic have allowed audit professionals and audited entities to step back and consider practices that have the potential to reduce our carbon footprint without compromising audit quality. There is now an acceptance that you do not need to fly across the world for every planning meeting, endure long daily commutes, and print each and every draft financial statement on single-sided paper. Due to be published by the end of the year, new International Financial Reporting Standards on the disclosure of sustainability-related financial information will help to ensure that our profession remains to the fore in carrying out our responsibilities in a sustainable manner.

The future of work

Overall, how we work has become more agile, flexible, and collaborative, while also ensuring that ever-evolving regulatory and legal requirements are fulfilled. The rapid pace of change has given the profession fresh scope to help build a more sustainable model for business and finance - one in which the role of the auditor is valued by stakeholders and viewed by young professionals as an attractive career. In-person interaction will always be critical to the work of the auditor. Combined with emerging hybrid working practices, however, the profession is now entering into a new era of greater collaboration and innovation.

This article first appeared in 'News' on Chartered Accountants Ireland.

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