The impact of auditors: why the profession has much to be proud of
In preparation for sharing my thoughts on Auditor Proud Day, I got in touch with other auditors to gather some initial ideas. Auditors from different continents, from small firms and from very large ones, partners who have been working in the profession for years and staff who have only just started, men and women.
The result of this short survey pretty much confirmed what I had feared. Some said they had no idea, some smiled nervously. Some asked me if I was joking given our reputation in the media and our constant scrutiny by regulators.
My fellow auditors displayed a variety of different reactions and feelings. One thing was clear, however: Pride was not one of them.
Many did not even know that Auditor Proud Day existed or why it could possibly be useful. For someone in my role, simply saying that we’ve got it all wrong and nobody is proud of our profession did not seem a very adequate response. So I thought back to when I started my career. I still very clearly remember the beginning of my training contract with a mid-tier accounting firm at the end of 1999: The great sense of satisfaction when I received the offer letter (we had been 2000 applicants for roughly 20 places), the pride of working in the City of London in a career which was very well regarded.
And yet at the time, everything was simple compared to nowadays. Every audit team only had one laptop, we did not have any Internet access or emails and still wrote up trial balances by hand. Going to clients involved crossing London by tube or even going to different cities carrying large heavy bags containing the many paper files. But we were proud to carry those bags with our firm’s logo. So proud that they were even used on holiday just to show where we belonged.
From today’s perspective much of this seems unbelievable. Paper files are pretty much a thing of the past, technology is everywhere, we are instantly connected to our colleagues and clients all over the world. Work life balance and how we can create a more comfortable and healthy work environment are daily topics in most firms.
At first glance it seems that we have many reasons to feel lucky to work in our profession. And yet we are not proud of it.
Maybe public scrutiny and coverage in the media have eroded our confidence. For many years now we have been reading about company failures and the role auditors may have played in them, the expectation gap between the service we provide and what our clients and the public at large believe we actually do, the constant struggle to demonstrate our engagements add value.
It seems indeed that auditors are often not very well regarded. There is very little positive reporting or maybe there is and we subconsciously ignore it.
However, if, as is my case, you are told at a very prestigious university during a summer course that our profession will pretty much not exist in five years time because we can just be replaced by technology, then there appears to be very little to be confident about and proud of.
And yet I personally feel that we have everything to be proud of. We are part of a profession which is rapidly changing and, which, I believe, has never been more exciting then today ever since I started my career in 1999.
Whenever I have the possibility to interact with standard setters and stakeholders, discussions are very open and constructive and we clearly have one shared goal: Bringing the profession into a new era, one of greater transparency and stakeholder satisfaction.
And as for technology replacing us, I don’t think that this analysis is appropriate at all.
Technology is not the threat many make it out to be. In fact, the endless possibilities technology offers are undoubtedly the most groundbreaking development we have seen in many years. As someone who spent countless hours drawing up trial balances manually, the possibilities of technology do not scare me. On the contrary, they are a source of great excitement and hope. At last, and with the help of technology, we will be able to fulfil our long-term goal of adding more value. Technology will help us free up time which we can use to truly make a positive contribution to our clients’ businesses. It is not a question of not being relevant any more but of providing a more relevant service in a smarter way.
Philip H. Knight, former CPA and the founder of Nike once said the following: "There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It's that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can't tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun."
In my view, the audit profession is exactly at this crossroads today. We have everything to be proud of and if we move in the right direction and fully embrace change, we will not even ask ourselves if we are proud of our profession a few years from now. Instead, we will wonder why it has ever been any different.
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