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. These efforts have helped lower audit costs, enhance flexibility and minimize disruptions to business operations. However, auditors haven’t faced a situation where everything might have to be done remotely — until now.
Rethinking the external audit method
Traditionally, audit fieldwork has involved a team of auditors camping out for weeks (or even months) in a conference room at the headquarters of the company being audited. Thanks to technological advances — including cloud storage, smart devices, teleconferencing, drones with cameras and secure data-sharing platforms — audit firms have been gradually expanding their use of remote audit procedures.
Nevertheless, remote auditing still isn’t ideal for everything. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has identified the following aspects of audit work that may present challenges when done remotely:
- Internal controls testing. Auditing standards require 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 company’s control environment and risks may have changed from prior periods.
- Inventory observations. Auditors usually visit the company’s facilities to observe physical inventory counting procedures and compare independent test counts to the company’s accounting records. Stay-at-home policies during the pandemic (whether government-imposed or company-imposed) may prevent both external auditors and company personnel from conducting physical counts.
- Management inquiries. Auditors are trained to observe body language and judge the dynamics between co-workers as they interview company personnel to assess fraud risks.
Moving to a remote audit format requires flexibility, including a willingness to embrace the technology needed to exchange, review and analyze relevant documents. You can facilitate this transition by:
- Responsiveness: Answer all remote requests from your auditors in a timely manner. 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.
- Using the right tools: Before remote auditors start “fieldwork,” ask for a list of software and platforms that will be used to interact and share documents with in-house personnel. Provide the appropriate employees with access and authorization to share audit-related data from your company’s systems. Work with IT specialists to address any security concerns they may have about sharing data with the remote auditors.
- Gauge performance: 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.
Remote working arrangements have suddenly become the “new normal” in these trying times. Contact your auditors to discuss ways to manage remote auditing challenges and continue to report your company’s financial results in a timely, transparent manner.