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Technological Transformation – Update on AI and Data Analytics

Are Audit Firms Ready for the AI Revolution?

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics is revolutionising various industries, and external auditing is no exception. These technologies are transforming traditional audit processes, enabling auditors to enhance their workflows, add significant value to clients, and address financial issues more effectively. Audit firms must stay ahead of the curve if they are to remain competitive and continue to add value to their clients.

This article explores the impact of AI and data analytics on external audits, addressing key questions and trends. Incorporating real-life case studies from leading firms, including the National Audits Group, provides tangible examples of how these technologies are being applied in practice.

 

1. Streamlining Workflow with AI and Data Analytics

AI and data analytics streamline audit workflows in several ways:

  1. Automated Data Processing: AI algorithms can process large volumes of financial data rapidly, reducing the time auditors spend on manual data entry and analysis.
  2. Enhanced Risk Assessment: Predictive analytics can identify potential risk areas by analysing historical data, enabling auditors to focus on high-risk areas more efficiently.
  3. Continuous Auditing: Real-time data analytics allows for continuous monitoring of financial transactions, providing auditors with up-to-date information and reducing the need for periodic audits.

Case Study: KPMG has introduced the Clara platform, leveraging AI and data analytics to enhance the audit process. Clara automates data extraction and analysis, allowing auditors to focus on interpreting results and identifying risks. The platform’s real-time data processing capabilities enable continuous auditing, significantly reducing the time required for traditional audits and enhancing the accuracy of findings.

 

2. Adding Value to Clients

Auditors can leverage AI and data analytics to offer additional value to clients:

  1. Deep Insights: Advanced analytics provide deeper insights into financial performance and trends, helping clients make more informed decisions.
  2. Fraud Detection: Machine learning models can detect anomalies and patterns indicative of fraudulent activities, offering clients an extra layer of security.
  3. Cost Efficiency: Automation reduces the cost and time of auditing processes, leading to more affordable audit services for clients.

Case Study: Deloitte’s AI-based tool, Argus, helps in fraud detection by analysing vast datasets for unusual patterns and anomalies. In one instance, Argus identified a series of unusual transactions in a client’s financial records indicative of fraudulent activity. This early detection allowed the client to take corrective actions promptly, showcasing how AI can add significant value through enhanced security.

 

3. Clients’ Use of Technology

Clients can utilise technology to better identify financial issues and solutions:

  1. Proactive Problem Solving: Data analytics tools can help clients identify financial issues before they escalate, allowing for timely intervention and solutions.
  2. Performance Metrics: Clients can use analytics to track key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmark their performance against industry standards.
  3. Strategic Planning: By leveraging predictive analytics, clients can forecast future financial trends and plan their strategies accordingly.

Case Study: General Electric (US) uses data analytics to monitor and manage its vast array of financial operations. By implementing predictive analytics tools, GE can forecast potential financial issues and optimise its strategic planning. This proactive approach has enabled GE to maintain financial stability and improve its operational efficiency.

 

4. Emerging Trends and Issues

Recent trends and issues in AI, data analytics, and external audits include:

  1. AI Governance: The need for robust AI governance frameworks to ensure transparency, accountability, and ethical use of AI in audits.
  2. Cybersecurity: With the increased use of digital tools, cybersecurity becomes a critical concern to protect sensitive financial data from breaches.
  3. Skills Gap: The rapid adoption of technology in auditing requires auditors to continuously update their skills and knowledge to stay relevant.
  4. Regulatory Changes: As technology evolves, regulatory bodies are updating their guidelines and standards to address the new challenges and opportunities presented by AI and data analytics.

Case Study: PwC has developed an AI governance framework to ensure responsible and ethical use of AI in its auditing processes. This framework addresses transparency, accountability, and data privacy concerns. PwC’s approach exemplifies the industry’s efforts to establish robust governance mechanisms to manage the ethical implications of AI in auditing.

What’s Happening at the National Audits Group?

The AI space is both fascinating and highly topical. However, it’s important to note that we are currently at the bleeding edge of these technologies. Our team is actively engaged in testing and daily discussions with clients to stay ahead of the curve.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lack the internal resources to develop their own AI or data analytics software. Even if they could, the technology would likely be outdated by the time it was market-ready. Thus, we are heavily dependent on software vendors to provide cutting-edge solutions.

Caseware is on the cusp of releasing a groundbreaking AI tool.  AiDA (Artificial Intelligence Digital Assistant) is designed to enhance efficiency, ensure compliance and provide precise, context-aware responses to profession-specific enquiries enabling accounting, audit and finance experts to work more efficiently, collaborate with greater effectiveness and gain deeper insights. We will be integrating AIDA into our operations in coming months. This represents a significant leap in our technological capabilities.

We have been trialling Copilot within Microsoft 365. While our gains so far have been modest, the potential of this tool is evident. We anticipate that Microsoft’s future enhancements will significantly augment its value.

 

We utilise Chat-GPT daily to support our team in various ways:

  • Gaining insights into entities and industries.
  • Conducting risk assessments for financial statements and client businesses.
  • Preparing management letters.
  • Designing specific audit procedures for complex matters.
  • Advising clients on drafting accounting policies.

 

The advent of Digital IDs for individuals and businesses is set to revolutionise data utilisation within accounting and audit firms. Real-time data access will enhance all aspects of our work, particularly in sustainability reporting, by continuously linking transactions between individuals and businesses.

Our intuition suggests that the most exciting developments in the accounting space will emerge over the next 12 months. This is because many vendors are still in the process of building out their AI offerings, which will soon start to deliver substantial value.

The intersection of AI and data analytics will transform the accounting and auditing landscape. By staying at the forefront of these technological advancements, we are committed to delivering superior value and insights to our clients.

Steven Watson, Managing Director, National Audits Group

 

References: 

  1. https://www.digitalidentity.gov.au/
  2. https://www.caseware.com/us/news/caseware-introduces-ai-powered-digital-assistant-aida/
  3. AI set to transform financial reporting and audit (May 2024). 

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