Auditors show resilience during pandemic, CAQ’s Lindsay says

By Ken Tysiac

Public company auditors have responded quickly and effectively to the coronavirus pandemic to help preserve the public’s critically important confidence in capital markets.

That’s the conclusion drawn by Center for Audit Quality (CAQ) Executive Director Julie Bell Lindsay, who said in a telephone interview that auditors have used technology and their creativity while exercising their professional skepticism to maintain high quality in engagements. Auditors also have shared knowledge and experiences with audit committees facing new and complex accounting issues, all while investing time and resources in communities hit hard by the pandemic, she said.

“In these uncertain times, we believe these efforts and quick actions have really helped to maintain the continued orderly operation of the U.S. capital markets,” Lindsay said.

The CAQ, which is affiliated with the AICPA, launched Monday a campaign called “Audit in Action” to put a face on the work auditors do through videos, blog posts, and other presentations of dynamic stories. The campaign will highlight auditors’ resilience during the pandemic; show how auditors provide value and leadership in areas such as assurance of ESG information and fraud deterrence; and demonstrate the multidisciplinary model of public company audit firms.

Maintaining audit quality has been auditors’ most important objective during the pandemic, Lindsay said, highlighting three components that have contributed to continued quality:

  • Technology. One of the stories in the Audit in Action campaign describes how Deloitte auditors used technology they have developed in recent years to facilitate a smooth transition to a remote auditing environment. “During the pandemic, auditors have really leveraged the technology that they’ve already been implementing,” she said. Cloud-based audit platforms and videoconferencing technology have been particularly valuable during the pandemic.
  • Creativity. Auditors have applied their creativity to the challenges they have encountered in the remote environment. For example, practitioners have used GPS technology during video observation of inventory to verify that the cameras were located where clients indicated. “The standards have not changed at all during the pandemic, but the facts on the ground have changed,” Lindsay said. “Auditors have either reinforced or instituted new policies and procedures to deal with the facts on the ground.”
  • Professional skepticism. The GPS example shows that auditors are continuing to apply their skepticism in innovative ways, Lindsay said. “That’s one of the core competencies of auditors,” she said. “They know they have to exercise extreme skepticism when remote auditing, perhaps even more so than when they were auditing in person.”

Auditors also have provided value to audit committees and public companies by sharing their insight on technical accounting issues such as going concern and goodwill impairment that have been encountered in unprecedented ways during the pandemic, Lindsay said.

As companies have begun phased reopenings after the initial lockdown, practitioners also have made a transition to a hybrid approach to audits, continuing remote work but also engaging in some face-to-face auditing when it’s deemed to be safe.

“When it’s not safe to do it in person, they’re going to do it remotely,” Lindsay said. “When it can be done in person, they’re going to do it in person. But either way, whether it’s in person or remotely, across the board the same high standard for audit quality is maintained.”

Auditing after the pandemic

Lindsay expects future auditing developments to include:

Both remote and in-person work. The profession has learned a lot about remote auditing during the pandemic, she said. She predicted that in-person auditing will continue to gain momentum as the pandemic abates but said in-person work may never return to pre-pandemic levels. “During the pandemic, the public company auditing profession has proven they can make really well-reasoned judgments about when and how they can conduct audits remotely while maintaining audit quality,” she said.

Technology-enabled audit improvements. Technology will enable auditors to concentrate less on basic tasks and more on subjective, high-risk areas of the audit. For example, manual sampling of lease contracts may be replaced with technology-aided inspection of the entire lease contract inventory. “I think it’s going to be a combination of leveraging what the firms are already doing with the technology from before the pandemic, seeing how it worked during the pandemic, and continuing to use it in practice,” Lindsay said.

New opportunities for practitioners. The way auditors have proved they can adapt to pandemic-related challenges will open up new opportunities for them to use their skill sets, Lindsay said. “Investors and other financial reporting stakeholders have really seen that the auditor skill set can be transferable to other areas, and that can be things like assurance of nontraditional financial information like ESG and cybersecurity information,” she said. “It’s not just historical financial information. They can take their skill set and apply it to new environments of financial auditing but also other areas of nontraditional financial information.”

For more information on the CAQ’s Audit in Action campaign, visit AuditinAction.org.

Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s editorial director.

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