Cutting the Big Four Down to Size in Auditing

Image credit: iStockphoto/bowie15

If there’s one area where the as-a-service model has leveled the competitive playing field, it is financial auditing.

While other areas of the finance function have moved ahead with digitalization, implementing RPA, machine learning, and AI across several vital functions, auditing has remained relatively stuck in the past with spreadsheets and paper.

That was the case for most of the profession. But the Big Four meanwhile had the global resources to invest in developing their digital auditing systems, which they’ve guarded closely in-house.

They’ve spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade, money that smaller firms could never afford.

The great escape

More recently, however, some digital escapees from the Big Four have gone out on their own and created cloud-based auditing tools which can be delivered in the as-a-service model, giving smaller firms affordable access to the same kind of firepower.

One firm that has accessed this is Crowe Australasia, a mid-tier accounting and audit firm that is increasingly yapping at the heels of the Big Four.

At Crowe, audit partner Barbara Richmond says the firm has implemented the cloud-based solution of U.K.-based company Inflo, which is increasingly the solution of choice for many firms outside the Big Four.

“Instead of spending tens of millions in capital expenditure, as the Big Four have, smaller firms can access these cloud-based tools as a service and start using them immediately, without any in-house development,” says Richmond.

“What is required is a leadership commitment in the firm, a culture which embraces change and a focus on adequately trained staff to use the tools,” he added.

To drive the change management, Crowe has appointed several Inflo champions across the business who are first adopters.

They have led several pilot engagements and helped other staff get up to speed with the technology so it can be rolled out on a more systematic basis.

Assisting the adoption are drop-in training sessions over lunchtimes where staff can learn more and develop their skills.

Side benefits

All this is creating a culture of innovation and change that staff at all levels are buying into. Besides upskilling the people, it also makes the firm a more attractive option for new talent.

“Accounting firms are in an ongoing battle to attract the best talent, and the best talent understandably gravitates to firms that are forward-looking, innovative, and have a work culture where they can learn and progress rapidly,” says Richmond.

“This technology has transformed audit through automating the menial tick-and-bash grunt work, which has traditionally been the job of younger staff and given them the opportunity to use their creative skills to deliver insights to clients at a much earlier point in their careers.”

Auditors, says Richmond, don’t need to be data scientists. But the generation of digital natives joining the accounting profession has an intuitive understanding of these data tools and readily embrace and adapt to this change.

It’s much easier for them to move from their smartphones to the digital audit than from their smartphones back to paper and spreadsheets.

So, in addition to attracting and retaining talent, the digital tools give Crowe access to best-in-class digital technology at the scale they need and the pricing they can afford.

Making auditing enjoyable

All this has shifted auditing up a gear and made it an easier and more enjoyable experience for accountants. But, at the same time, it is delivering better quality audits to clients.

Instead of sampling only a small percentage of all transactions, the digital solutions can look at every transaction and more easily find anomalies that the auditors can investigate.

This makes for a more comprehensive process which gives clients more confidence while also taking away much of the grunt work for auditors.

The change it brings to culture and capability translates into a better service that clients value and is becoming an important factor in their decisions on which auditing firms they engage.

Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and DigitalWorkforceTrends, and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/bowie15