Cathy Clarke, CPA

Chief assurance officer for CliftonLarsonAllen LLP in Minneapolis

 Cathy Clarke, CPA
Cathy Clarke, CPA, is chief assurance officer for CliftonLarsonAllen LLP and is based in Minneapolis. (Photo by Andy Clayton-King/AP Images)

'We promise to listen'

Seeing both sides: I have a different perspective in that I did leave public accounting for about four years. I started in public accounting right out of college for one of the Big Four and then left to work for a big public company. I dealt with external auditors, which gave me a unique perspective to then train auditors at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP (CLA). I was able to see things from the standpoint of the other side. You realize it's not that people are being evasive when an audit comes in, it's that they've also got their regular job to do. We are the disrupter when we go out there, and we do need to be mindful of their time.

Empowering today's generation: One of the top areas of concern in audits right now is engaging our professionals to stay excited about being in audit. We're a career-building firm. We've changed our career model to not be up and out. Employees are encouraged to maintain their career model at their own pace, to find the pieces they enjoy, and cultivate those areas.

Building and maintaining trust: The most important piece of any quality-control system is trust between the people in charge of the quality-control system and the practitioners. We build trust by living the culture we have committed to building at CLA. We promise to listen so we can help the person across that table. That is true for the external clients of the firm as well as the internal clients and engagement teams. When the standards are set, it's about knowing the practitioners will adhere to those and helping the clients understand the changes. When we do our quality-control reviews, we know we do have that team mentality, and we know they're comfortable reaching out if they see issues.

Mitigating risk: The work of auditors improves as the profession continues to emphasize quality. Technology plays a role in that. As we have more access to data, we are better able to see the risks and the outliers. We can focus on the risk and get to that higher quality of audit. There is also more likelihood that we can detect and prevent fraud.

Connecting with the client: The highest-quality engagements happen for us when our people are very connected to the client and understand their risks and needs. We understand more than just their compliance needs so that we can engage and potentially help them with more than the audit. It goes back to that promise to know the person across the table. That deep understanding of the client allows us to provide a much higher quality of audit at the end of the day.

As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.

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