Up to February 2020, we would have an occasional “in-office” audit. These were more difficult and a lot less enjoyable than an onsite audit. Then, with little to no prior warning, along came Covid and in March 2020 every audit we did suddenly had to be done remotely. In fact, it went further than the “in-office” audit of the past, with teams now working disparately from their “home offices” rather than together within our Critchleys office. This threw up some real challenges but some opportunities too.
Feedback from clients has been mixed – we’ve literally had it all, from “this works great and we never want to see you again” to “we hate this process, when can you come back?”. Most clients are somewhere in between, loving some aspects and loathing others.
Those clients who keep all their records electronically are the clear winners in a remote audit. It also works very well when you are dealing with a client in lots of different locations. There is also a positive impact on the environment from less travel. But for those clients who still maintain everything on paper, it has been a nightmare, with many painful hours in front of a scanner. There has been a noted shift recently with many paper-based clients making the move to electronic record-keeping which has been forced due to the remote working.
Zoom and Teams are great ways to communicate but they can still be challenging. It can be difficult for the auditor to ask queries as they arise, instead of leaving them to a pre-arranged time when the client can sometimes feel bombarded. It can also be difficult to keep the momentum going – there can be a lack of urgency and deadlines can easily be missed.
In many ways, Teams has actually made the audit team more communicative even while being remote. I remember back in the busy season as an Audit assistant if I was in the office there was rarely anyone in the office to ask questions when needed as everyone was on site. Or the first few Senior jobs on site where it was just me and an assistant trying to figure it out together. Now the whole team is connected at all times through Teams and is much easier to aid or receive support when needed.
To be honest, many of us find remote audits are a lot less fun all around. Nothing replaces building a relationship face to face with a client and the camaraderie within the audit room is just not there when everyone is working remotely. We are also missing the casual conversation in which you discover other issues facing the client’s business and opportunities to help.
This is also an area where the loss of quality during remote audits was often talked about. Frequently our management letter points would result from conversations overheard while at the client. Or asking them to run through a sample there and then on their system. With remote audits, the client often has much more time to pull your sample together and guarantee it’s correct first try. The smaller points that we would note are potentially being missed.
Looking ahead, our experiences since March 2020 have made us reassess how we deliver an audit and what the real priorities should be. It has also made us really tailor our audit delivery to each specific client, to capture more of what they love and less of what they loath. The challenge for us, as auditors, is that different aspects are loved and loathed by different clients. It has therefore been crucial to discuss this with the client and agree on audit logistics from the outset.
For some clients, now that “work from home” restrictions are removed, being face to face again is the best solution. For most, we are striking a good balance between being face to face and working remotely. For both new and existing clients, it is now a service we can offer the choice between a remote audit or an on-site audit, tailored to the client’s needs.
If you’d like any further information about remote audits, please get in touch.
Find out more about Alexander Tomkinson