AI Financial Services
Tax & AccountingMarch 12, 2024

Audit’s digital revolution: how technology is reshaping the industry

Auditing is undergoing a seismic shift, largely driven by the relentless march of technology. Driven by many of the same pressures and challenges facing the industry, auditors are moving away from paper-laden spreadsheets and manual testing towards a future shaped by automation, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).  

This article focuses on key factors driving this digital transformation and its impact on the profession, including the evolving landscape of auditor recruitment.

Automation streamlines the mundane 

Automation is transforming how auditors approach their work, as repetitive, time-consuming tasks like data extraction, transaction testing, and reconciliations are being swept away by the automation wave. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools handle these processes with speed and accuracy, freeing up auditors to focus on higher-value activities like risk assessment, data analysis, and strategic planning, each of which is crucial to having a deeper and more nuanced understanding of client businesses, more quickly identifying potential risks, and offering tailored advice that can help clients improve operations and compliance. 

Data analytics unveils hidden patterns

The sheer volume of data generated by businesses today presents both challenges and opportunities for auditors. Advanced analytics tools like data visualization and machine learning algorithms can sift through this data, uncovering hidden patterns, anomalies, and potential fraud risks. These tools also have the benefit of being able to quickly adapt to new data, regulatory and market development, and evolving business practices.  

AI acts as the future auditor's companion

AI is no longer science fiction in the audit world. AI-powered tools are used to analyze vast datasets, identify suspicious transactions, and generate preliminary audit reports.  

While AI isn’t replacing auditors, it can act as a powerful companion, helping guide decision-making, augment existing capabilities, and highlighting valuable data that previously may have been missed. With AI and automation working together, auditors can focus their professional judgment and expertise more directly on complex situations, enhancing their value. 

Blockchain changes the transaction verification game 

The emergence of blockchain technology presents another powerful tool for auditors, offering a revolutionary approach to how transactions are recorded, verified, and secured. At its core, blockchain’s inherent security features and immutable records can revolutionize transaction verification, reducing the need for manual testing and increasing audit confidence. 

Traditionally, auditors relied on highly manual techniques to verify financial transaction accuracy and legitimacy. With blockchain, each transaction is recorded securely – and once recorded, cannot be altered, providing a permanent and transparent record of transactions. This opens the door for continuous auditing, where transactions are verified in real-time, providing stakeholders with greater transparency and assurance.    

Cybersecurity is a critical consideration 

As technology becomes more integrated into audits, cybersecurity becomes an essential concern. Auditors must be equipped to identify and mitigate cyber risks associated with data breaches, malware attacks, and other threats. These threats pose a significant threat not only to data integrity and confidentiality but also to the audit firm's reputation and that of its clients. 

Cybersecurity concerns aren’t going away; auditors must remember the need to protect themselves and their clients. This necessitates enhanced collaboration with IT specialists and ongoing training to ensure the security of sensitive data.

Governments and regulatory authorities 

Governments and regulatory agencies worldwide are taking a sharp interest in the technology-driven audit. As technology becomes more essential to the way auditors work, professional standards are changing, and with changing regulations comes increased auditor and audit oversight. This scrutiny is increasing the findings of audit deficiencies in audit reports, resulting in significant fines and potential further legal liabilities for audit firms and individual auditors.  

In recent months, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars of penalties in the U.S. and globally. These penalties are expected to increase as AI and other technologies provide agencies and regulatory bodies with more powerful tools to uncover errors and other deficiencies.  

Recruiting for the digital age 

The evolving audit landscape demands a new breed of auditors. While technical skills like data analysis and coding are increasingly important, soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication remain crucial. Additionally, auditors must be adaptable and have a continuous learning mindset to keep pace with the ever-changing technological landscape. 

Universities and professional bodies are responding to this shift by incorporating technology-related courses into their curricula and offering training programs to equip auditors with the necessary skills. Additionally, firms are shifting focus to attracting candidates with diverse backgrounds and experience, including data scientists, engineers, and computer science graduates, to bring fresh perspectives and skillsets to the profession. 

The future of audit: a human-technology collaboration

Technology is not replacing auditors; it's empowering them. The future of audit lies in a collaborative approach where technology handles mundane tasks. At the same time, human auditors leverage their judgment, experience, and soft skills to provide valuable insights and ensure the integrity of financial statements. This human-technology collaboration will lead to more efficient, effective, and perceptive audits, ultimately contributing to greater trust and transparency in the financial markets. 

As technology continues to evolve, the future of audit promises to be exciting and dynamic. While new tools and capabilities offer opportunities for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and, ultimately, enhanced trust in the financial system, the profession must continue to be vigilant in addressing concerns about the use of these technologies and potential risks. 

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Mark Friedlich
Vice President of US Affairs for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting
Mark Friedlich, a CPA & tax lawyer, is the Vice President of US Affairs for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. He is a member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s Chief Tax Counsel’s Advisory Board, advisor to 14 state taxing authorities, and has been a member of the American Bar Association’s Tax Section and AICPA’s Tax Section leadership teams. Prior to joining Wolters Kluwer he was a COO and Principal at PwC.


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