Article by Managing Director, Steve Watson, published by ForAccountants.
In an audit environment challenged by recent external reviews, COVID-19 has created another layer of complexity that is having a profound effect on the way auditors engage with their clients. It has also created challenges in the way we work with our teams to ensure that workflow is managed effectively, financial targets are achieved and quality control is upheld
In this article, we have outlined a number of ways in which the National Audits Group is addressing these challenges and creating new opportunities for growth in the 2021 financial year.
- Stronger client relationships
Client challenges resulting from the COVID-19 work environment have created great opportunities for audit firms to really engage with clients, to help them identify and address going concern issues. Client catch-up calls have focused on COVID-19 related issues, the new accounting standards, audit requirements in the new financial year and our use of technology to streamline workflow.
We decided early on that where possible, this would be done within existing terms of engagement with no change in annual fee. This has meant that we’ve had to look for ways to improve the flow of information with clients so that work could be completed more efficiently. It’s also given us the opportunity to highlight with clients changes they needed to make in the way they collect data and report on financial health. The more clients can do up front, the more opportunity we have to add value throughout our engagements.
- Focus on engagement and workflow
We have a policy of reviewing client relationships and establishing terms of engagement for the new financial year as soon as the existing work has been completed. In most cases, our 31 December 2020 clients have already received their engagement letters.
There has been a renewed focus on workflow scheduling with both clients and team members working together to ensure that work is started and finished within specific time frames. This also requires strong up-front work with client preparation of financial statements to trial balance as soon as possible after financial year end.
Over the past month, we have reviewed all work papers and internal proforma documents to meet auditing standards and improve the level of proactive engagement and communication with clients.
- Access to client information
Like other audit firms, we have encountered challenges in getting access to client information required to complete audits, as our clients transition to work from home. With most of our clients, we are still been able to go onsite to oversee stock take and review documents given the lifting of restrictions in June 2020
Many of our clients have experienced a complete change in mindset as they use online platforms to improve financial reporting and controls. This gives us the opportunity to streamline the way we work with our clients in the financial year ahead.
Our recent adoption of CaseWare Xtend has provided opportunity to develop stronger online connections, allowing for better collaboration and communication in real time. We now have a significant proportion of our client base using CaseWare Xtend for the sharing of information in relation to audit requests and workflow.
- Strategic focus on growth
Over the past couple of months, we have spent some time reviewing our business growth strategies. It’s been a great time to sit back and consider what we can do to more effectively to target prospective clients and add value to existing clients. There is renewed focus on areas where we already have strong expertise.
We have also segmented our client base into specific industry sectors and allocated team members to focus on these sectors. This means that we are in a much better position to leverage systems, checklists, skills and capabilities. Risk assessment can be more focused when we have a stronger understanding of the key factors affecting specific industries at this time.
- Emphasis on team development
There have clearly been some challenges in getting work in and completed during COVID-19 isolation periods, which has given us some excess capacity in the short term. Over the past 3 months, we’ve identified internal projects that needed to be commenced or completed. This period has allowed us to involve the whole team in discussing client and firm priorities for the year ahead. It’s important that we all talk the same language.
We have also met with individual team members to discuss their professional development needs in the year ahead. Each employee has a list of client matters and firm projects that they will be focusing on in the new financial year.
Overall, the firm has focused on demonstrating a high level of care with both clients and team members. In times of uncertainty, it’s natural for people to feel stressed and anxious. By addressing concerns proactively, we have strengthened relationships in preparation for any challenging times ahead.
Undoubtedly, it’s also a great time to review internal systems and processes as more firms enhance their online presence. Real time financial reporting and review allows both clients and advisers to be far more proactive in addressing issues and planning for the future. For audit firms, it’s a great opportunity to add value beyond traditional auditing services.
The National Audits Group is always keen to work with accounting firms looking for experts to help their clients in meeting assurance requirements and providing strong corporate governance.
Contact Steven Watson to discuss your needs further.