Many people are currently working from home to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Your external auditors are no exception. Fortunately, in recent years, most audit firms have been investing in technology and training to facilitate remote audit procedures and were already working in a paperless environment. These efforts have helped enhance flexibility and minimize disruptions to business operations. But auditors haven’t faced a situation where everything might have to be done remotely — until now.
Re-engineering the audit process
Traditionally, audit fieldwork has involved a team of auditors camping out for weeks (or even months) in a conference room at the organization being audited. Thanks to technological advances — including cloud storage, smart devices, teleconferencing, and secure data-sharing platforms — audit firms have been gradually expanding their use of remote audit procedures.
But remote auditing still isn’t ideal for everything. Auditing Standards must still be complied with before issuing the auditors’ report. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) identified the following aspects of audit work that may present challenges when done remotely:
- Internal controls testing. Auditing standards require auditors to gain an understanding of internal controls. This is an understanding of how employees process transactions, plus testing to determine whether controls are adequately designed and effective. If employees now work from home, your organization’s control environment and risks may have changed from prior periods.
- Inventory observations. Auditors usually visit the actual facilities to observe physical inventory counting procedures and compare independent test counts to the organization’s accounting records. Stay-at-home policies during the pandemic (whether government-imposed or organization-imposed) may prevent both external auditors and personnel from conducting physical counts. A possible solution to this may be using a GoPro camera or warehouse security camera to focus in on a specific area or item.
- Management inquiries. Auditors are trained to observe body language and judge the dynamics between coworkers as they interview personnel to assess fraud risks. When possible, it’s best to perform fraud discussions in person. We have found that making these inquiries through a virtual meeting platform has worked well, given the current situation.
Moving to a remote audit format requires flexibility, including a willingness to embrace the technology needed to exchange, review and analyze relevant documents. We have become pretty tech-savvy in using a variety of virtual meeting platforms during the last few months. You can facilitate this transition by:
Being responsive to electronic requests. Answer all remote requests from your auditors promptly. This will help the auditors move along in their process, almost as if they were right around the corner from you in a conference room. If a key employee will be out of the office for an extended period, give the audit team the contact information for the key person’s backup.
Privacy controls. With remote auditing, there will be a significant increase in the amount of information being transported back and forth. Auditors will need to work with their clients to verify they have a secure method to do this. With our secure portal, each organization can provide the appropriate employees with access and authorization to share audit-related data from your organization’s systems. Work with IT specialists to address any security concerns they may have about sharing data with the remote auditors. We have also found it helpful if our clients have a “view only” login that we can utilize to access their system. This decreases the number of requests for general ledger detail, supporting invoices, pay rates, etc.
Tracking audit progress. Ask the engagement partner to explain how the firm will track the performance of its remote auditors and communicate the team’s progress to in-house accounting personnel. We have found that having a pre-audit planning meeting that includes the audit engagement team and the key contacts at the organization has helped set expectations for this new process as well as ease some of the fears our clients may have. We have had success with doing this and have also scheduled quick, daily check-in calls with the in-charge auditor and key employees at the organization to discuss open items and follow-up questions.
Ready or not
Communication is key in this new remote auditing world we are facing. Contact us to discuss ways to manage remote auditing challenges and continue to report your company’s financial results in a timely, transparent manner.