Audit firms emphasize personal integrity and professional skepticism, and these attributes remain vital. But in the new environment, auditors will also need to develop even deeper knowledge of business, a powerful curiosity about technologies and an agile mindset that embraces disruption.
An increase in remote working only increases the importance of building strong audit teams. Not only do audit teams need people with a wider range of technical and personal skills, but they also need to include a more diverse set of experiences and viewpoints.
This means recruiting people from a wider range of social and cultural backgrounds and, once they are hired, giving them opportunities to broaden their personal horizons. For example, working on large international accounts provides exposure to different cultures. International mobility is important here too, although this has been restricted more recently because of the pandemic. At the EY organization, it is certainly something that we intend to return to as soon as possible.
But firms will succeed in fostering diversity only if they also create an environment where all their people feel they belong and are welcomed. Everyone must be able to thrive, contribute and add value.
Greater diversity in audit teams will naturally demand a matching response from their organizations, particularly in terms of career progression. They will need to create a more varied, flexible, agile set of career paths for audit professionals to accommodate the differing interests and aspirations of their people. The linear, hierarchical career progression that was traditionally favored does not suit everyone, and those who do not want to take this path must be offered other routes to success.
Staff promotions must focus on people’s skills, not the number of years they have spent with the firm. For example, the EY organization is introducing more ‘agile promotions’, where career progression takes place when an individual is ready rather than at set times in the year.
Supporting a more diverse workforce that must operate in a fast-changing business environment will require continuous training. But, in common with new ways of working, that training will also have to adopt a hybrid model. During COVID-19, the EY organization has shifted to an entirely virtual training set-up, but as part of the move to a new, long-term operating model, training will combine virtual and classroom-based delivery.
Access to the knowledge resources of a broader firm, from highly technical hedge accounting to valuation, cybersecurity, fraud, sustainability, tax and corporate finance expertise, is an enormous asset. As businesses grow more complex, the ability to leverage that wider specialist expertise will become even more important.
A sense of purpose
The way auditors work is in transition. Some of their work will be carried out remotely, and digital tools and data will play an increasing role in the audit of the future.
This process will inevitably be challenging for some people, while others will welcome it unreservedly. But if audit firms can navigate this transition effectively, there is every chance that audit professionals will flourish in the new environment and find that digital transformation makes their work more meaningful and brings them an increased sense of professional purpose.
There is a great opportunity in the current working environment to create a more effective, more purposeful profession that better serves the public interest.
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.
The shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already in place in the auditing profession. Audit firms are now expected to move to more flexible ways of working based on the requirements of the audited company, the firm and the individual. The new environment has also highlighted the need for auditors to leverage available technology, have an agile mindset that embraces change and disruption, and to operate effectively in teams.