After revolutionizing tax and accounting over the course of decades, technology finally looks poised to reshape the third major service of the traditional accounting practice: the audit. Machine learning, data analytics, ever-more-powerful and mobile computers, and new tools like blockchain will do more than just change the way auditors do their job -- increasingly, they'll change what that job is. To get a glimpse of what the audit (and auditor) of the future will look like, Accounting Today convened a virtual roundtable of experts in the field. Sharing their thoughts on the future of auditing here are: Mark Baer, managing partner of the audit services group at Top 10 Firm Crowe Horwath; Frank Casal, vice chair of audit at Big Four firm KPMG; Cindy Fornelli, the executive director of the Center for Audit Quality; Joel Shamon, the national audit leader at Top Five Firm RSM US; and Jimmy Thompson, an audit partner at Texas-based MaloneBailey. Which trends -- whether technological, regulatory, economic or otherwise -- should auditors be paying the most attention to over the next five years? Casal: Audit professionals' work is fundamentally about "trust."
Technology continues to change society at a rapid pace, and accounting and auditing are by no means immune. New technologies are increasingly able to mimic human activity, taking on repetitive tasks more quickly and accurately than people can. The authors provide an overview of the ways in which robotic process automation may change how the profession operates, with a particular focus on the area of revenue audits. Auditing has historically incorporated many computer-dependent tools and processes, which were often interlinked by many manual steps and keystrokes. A new set of overlay software has emerged, however, that combines these disparate actions into a single smooth automated process.
I have worked for a couple of decades with professional services firms that perform financial audits, but I have never done one--nor have I ever wanted to do one, to be honest. I'm not good with work that involves structured processes, details, and rigorous checking, and audits always seemed heavily infused with those kinds of tasks. Now, however, I am becoming quite interested in audits for two reasons. First, they are beginning to employ substantial amounts of analytics. Secondly, there is increasing talk about employing cognitive technologies to help with audits.
When it comes to figuring out what accounting firms are going to do, the best approach is simple: Ask. That's the theory behind Accounting Today's annual "Year Ahead" report: Each year we survey accountants across the country -- this year almost 600 responded -- to ask them about their plans for the next 12 months in areas ranging from tax season to staffing to marketing to technology. To complement that, we reached out to a selection of top firm leaders to get their take on the major issues they're expecting to face in 2020, and their advice for their fellow practitioners. This year's panel comprises Tom Barry, managing partner of Los Angeles-based Green Hasson Janks; Avani Desai, president of Tampa, Florida-based Schellman & Co.; and Heidi LaMarca, CEO and managing partner of Atlanta-based Windham Brannon. What are the trends that accountants and firms should keep an eye out for in 2020?
Not long ago, audits could be performed only by teams of accountants manually scouring reams of financial information. But given the explosion of data in today's digital world, it's critical that the audit profession evolves its traditional processes and embraces advanced technology tools--including robotics, automation and cognitive technology. By doing so, it can uncover insights that allow the audit to continue to be relevant and effective in helping investors make important financial decisions. Learn how cognitive technology is changing the financial statement audit. Cognitive technology--also known as artificial intelligence--can go through a vast amount of data faster and more precisely than any person.