From financial statement auditing to risk consulting, auditors can provide the full breadth of audit and assurance services to manage risks, and improve business processes and financial reporting. Although a highly valuable profession, it is also often a very misunderstood role. Brad Bohun sets the record straight, and outlines the skills and attributes it really takes to become a respected auditor and deliver the best possible outcomes for clients.
“Mum, when I grow up, I want to be an auditor,” said no one ever!
Traditionally, becoming an auditor is not a childhood dream… many auditors are “accidental auditors,” finding themselves in the profession based on other skills and attributes. Whilst a proficiency in maths is helpful as an auditor, it is not essential, as most auditors rely on Excel to complete daily maths tasks.
Of greater importance is the ability to be analytical with data presented for consideration. Further to an analytical ability, well defined and practiced interpersonal skills are the most important attribute necessary for a successful career in auditing. After leaving university, the accidental auditor will discover that graduating was in fact not the finishing line of their learning journey, but just the beginning.
After securing their first role, the accidental auditor will spend the next few years getting exposure to systems and processes for a range of different clients and industries. The foundation years of auditing are filled with a focus on being the best technician. This involves a lot of left brain activities such as reconciling, justifying, technical accounting and reporting details.
Using these technical analysis skills, auditors can assist a business to identify weaknesses in their accounting systems, and suggest improvements. They can reduce the scope for fraud and poor accounting, and assure directors that business operations are running in accordance with the information they are receiving. Overall, an auditor adds credibility to any information being published internally to employees or investors, or externally to customers and suppliers.
All competent auditors can successfully execute these tasks, however a large proportion of auditors experience a capping point; a sense of being professionally unfulfilled and frustrated that their technical smarts can no longer guarantee career progression. To add to this annoyance, is the discovery that they are not really respected by clients for their assurance prowess. What is the blocker to becoming the respected auditor?
No one cares what you know until they know you care.
With experience comes the wisdom that technical smarts is assumed and respect results from executing the right brain tasks of empathy and communication, with a focus on team building and leadership. It’s important to appreciate the message that empathy is not about giving in to the client’s demands; as auditors we must hold the line on certain items. This maintains the trust that has been bestowed upon obtaining the auditor’s signature, which signifies that a financial report is true and fair.
Empathy is demonstrated by acknowledging the client’s circumstances and being responsive to the changing project management elements of the audit engagement, ensuring that no surprises are felt by the auditor’s stance on any balance or disclosure. The client might not like the answer but timeliness of communication is paramount to providing a consistent client delivery platform.
Balancing pragmatism with integrity.
The respected auditor walks a tightrope. The integrity of their accounting and auditing standards needs to be preserved and also balanced with the need to agree upon reporting outcomes that are practical given the prevailing circumstances. Giving a purely technical response is good but essentially not good enough if it’s not understood by the broader audience and cannot be actioned in a practical or timely manner.
Respected auditors can adapt their approach to ensure that the harmony between pragmatism and integrity is maintained throughout the delivery of an audit engagement.