The multidisciplinary model
The personal characteristics audit firms look for in new team members will evolve as well. Traditionally, firms have emphasized personal integrity and professional skepticism in audit professionals, and these attributes will undoubtedly remain vital. But in the new and fast-developing environment, auditors will also need to develop even deeper knowledge of business, a powerful curiosity about technologies and an agile mindset that embraces disruption.
One of the key strengths of audit firms as they address this changing landscape is their direct access to technical expertise across all areas of business, through the multidisciplinary model. This connection 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 in providing high-quality audit services.
As businesses grow more complex, the ability to leverage that wider specialist expertise will become even more important.
The shift in people’s working lives has been extraordinary. However, the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that, when the situation demands it, audit firms are capable of rapidly making significant changes to the way they operate.
This experience has brought important benefits, especially because it has made flexible working a reality for more auditors. Flexible, remote working has become the norm for audit professionals, who have adapted successfully to using digital technology to work from home and have supported each other virtually so that their teams operate effectively.
Increased flexibility will bring other important benefits, especially if it results in firms placing more emphasis on performance in terms of output and productivity. More broadly, the changes brought about by COVID-19 will help to accelerate cultural change in organizations and make them more open to different ways of working.
However, the rapid switch to flexible working has also produced challenges that audit firms must address. There are practical issues, such as audit teams having to conduct discussions via online “chats” or virtual meetings, but there are also behavioral issues to consider. These include: the difficulty of conducting sensitive conversations remotely; helping new colleagues to understand the organization’s culture; providing coaching for junior staff; and meeting the expectations of audited companies about on-site attendance.
Ultimately, firms will address these and other issues by moving to a hybrid working model based on the needs of the audited company, the audit firm and the individual. This will involve a significant proportion of flexible and remote working, alongside periods when teams come together; for example, to receive training, to increase team cohesion or to meet company management on-site to gather audit evidence and build trusting professional relationships.