Last week in “Building the Audit of the Future: The Roles of Robots and Humans”, we talked about the technology pieces of the audit of the future and the need to understand several components in order for auditors to be anticipatory in the coming years. We discussed process automation, efficiency (and data analytics), accuracy expectations and cyber risk mitigation.
We left off just as we began touching on my favorite part of the audit process – discussing threats, concerns, mitigating factors and the future with clients.
This part is my favorite for many reasons. Partially because I feel people are the best part of my job. Partially because I enjoy finding solutions that help clients succeed. Partially because this is one part of the audit of the future that “robots” can’t take away from humans. A robot cannot sit in front of a board of directors and listen intently to their concerns, make them feel heard, and collaborate with them to come up with a solution that not only eases their fears, but helps their customers and colleagues. This is where auditors come in and this is where I want us to spend our time today.
You may be thinking, “I already know how to talk to my client. I’ve been doing this for years.” Or maybe even, “We have already discussed my client’s concerns. I’ve got this.” And you might be right. But on the off-chance that a client has something new going on or that the future holds changes beyond what a client knows how to handle, you may want to hang with me for a few minutes.
When all the new data analytics technology really comes into play and process automation is fully implemented, conversations with clients will shift. Auditors won’t be talking about sample sizes and audit detail anymore. Those tasks will be handled by the “robots”. Auditors will need to bring new insights to the table. This will require anticipatory thinking from teams, as well as a growth mindset that isn’t brought up once a quarter but is consistently at the forefront of our minds as we interact with clients. As auditors, we will need to be prepared to discuss industry trends, how clients will be affected by future changes and how they can begin preparing now.
Further, if auditors want to have meaningful conversations with clients and continue to provide value, a focus needs to be placed on honing emotional intelligence and soft skills. Building auditor/client relationships is more than just a quick phone call about an audit plan to meet immediate needs. Clients will quickly realize if auditors are trying to bring personal ideas to the table without hearing them out and meeting them where they are.
A process that I have found helpful for making sure I am engaging with clients well and truly serving them, without just bringing personal agendas to the table, follows these steps:
1) Know the client's story.
Auditors need to make sure they really understand who the client is and where they are coming from. Don’t just assume that because you’ve read their financial statements or annual report that you know the company. Listen for significant points in the client’s story and how those made them who they are today. This is where emotional intelligence skills will really help as auditors ask good questions and help clients identify areas for growth.
2) Listen to the client’s fears.
Auditors will be required to listen a lot in the audit of the future. We all know change can be frightening and there will continue to be significant changes in the future. So, as auditors, we need to make it a point to listen to clients’ concerns and fears related to the business and strategically work to help alleviate those fears.
3) Catch the client’s vision.
Where does the client want to go? Auditors will need to ask probing, open-ended questions to figure out what the client’s strategy, goals, and potential barriers are to prioritize tasks and understand what really matters to decision makers. As auditors, we want to spend our time on things that closely align with the client’s vision.
4) Find your place on the team.
This is step four intentionally - Auditors don’t come into the picture until we are fully immersed in who the client is. Then we figure out how we best fit in the picture. Think of it this way, the client is building a house and once auditors know what the blue prints are (and why they are the way they are), they get to step in and help the client move forward in the building process. This may look like a supporting role, consulting on strategy, but auditors will always need to provide anticipatory insights to stay relevant in future projects.
5) Show commitment.
I really enjoy this part because this is where auditors consistently provide anticipatory insights, growth mindset ideas, and thought-provoking questions. Auditors apply leadership skills, emotional intelligence, collaboration, insights, and technical knowledge to help clients succeed. We serve them in the now and in the long run, developing relationships that last and create deep, beneficial partnerships.
Overall, we have learned that the audit of the future will require a lot of new technology learning. This will be an adjustment for both auditors and clients. It will require a new, honest relationship with IT audit professionals as we become more involved in all audits and begin to change some processes. It also means auditors get to do more of the fun part (in my opinion); spending more time collaborating with clients, and discussing industry trends and strategic opportunities. In the audit of the future, auditors will have even more opportunities to come alongside clients to collaborate and build strong relationships as we listen intently and seek to alleviate fears and help propel clients into the future.