Five critical skills for audit professionals in the new normal

The world of auditing is changing very fast. Audit customers want more added value; digitalization offers many new ways of working, and the current pandemic forces organizations to reinvent the audit function. There is a need for more auditors, for example, in the food and beverage industry, and the bar is raising for the competencies they need to demonstrate. Amongst the specific skills key to the function, there are some to which audit professionals should pay particular attention. The time is now.

1) Understanding of the business

Audit professionals need to make sure they understand the business they are auditing. How would they get good results and the trust of the auditees if not? Getting there is not easy, especially in a VUCA world. A piece of advice for audit professionals is to be curious, watch, read, and read more. That is not enough, though. So it will be critical to connect with and learn from others and listen to audit customers. Auditing is an incredible source of learning for auditees and auditors—the latter need to practice active listening as an essential component of their communication skills that will help them to better connect with the business. A good understanding of the ever-changing industry is for audit professionals a pre-requisite to value-adding auditing, which is what audit customers rightly require more and more.

2) Communication skills

Communication skills are and will remain critical for audit professionals. More than ever, in the virtual environment in which auditors are operating, the ability to pay attention to and effectively interpret what auditees are saying is essential. Auditors should sharpen their saw in this area and develop their communication skills as conveying messages clearly to audit customers will be more than ever of the highest importance in the future. New technologies, such as data mining visualization techniques, will help audit professionals convey the information effectively.

3)  IT skills

The increasing use of information and communication technologies, enabling audit professionals and auditees to access, retrieve, and transmit information in a digital form is now a daily reality. The pandemic has accelerated the speed at which audit organizations have adopted new ways of working with both benefits and challenges. Capturing opportunities and addressing obstacles will require auditors to develop their abilities and knowledge in this domain, allowing them to use computers and related technologies to their best.

4) Data mining and analytics

The volume of data produced through audits is vast but more data does not always mean more knowledge. Understanding what is relevant and then make good use of that information is critical for audit organizations. Data mining and data analytics will help the audit function to become more effective and intelligent. Defining which data to use to maximize the outcome and value of the audit efforts is critical. World-class audit organizations that perform at maximum effectiveness are data-savvy. Audit professionals will need to develop their competencies in this area and understand how to determine the right data to use and the right analytics to deploy. By doing so, they will help their organization to move from being reactive to proactive and ultimately predictive.  As a result, they will provide more value to their audit customers and their organization.

5)  Analytical and critical thinking

Very much linked to the above, audit professionals will need to develop further their analytical thinking, especially their ability to focus on facts and evidence, analyze data, dissect the information, and analyze trends over time. Boosting their critical thinking skills will help them check for bias, take a clear line of reasoning through a logical conclusion, and check whether the evidence supports the findings and overall judgment.

None of these five skills are new, but the drastic transformation that audit organizations are going through highlights the importance and urgency for audit professionals to further develop these abilities.

By Marc Cwikowski
November 7, 2020

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