Audit and AI – tentative first steps to improve audit quality and efficiency

A survey of ACCA members and affiliates about their understanding of terms such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), data analytics and robotic process automation (RPA), revealed technology’s ability to renew processes that improve audit quality and increase efficiency.

The report reveals how technology is also a catalyst that will help shift the focus of the audit process from a retrospective view to one which is prospective. It also assesses the technologies having most impact on the audit profession as we know it today.

Drawing on existing research and exploring the views of leading practitioners, it provides an understanding of how the changing business environment is shaping technological change in auditing – summarising how different technologies could be expected to impact its future and what this means for auditors as people.

Key findings in the report also revealed:

• Among the available technologies, data analytics is currently the most mature and is currently used by most firms

• The audit profession is still at a very early stage with AI and has not embedded it as deeply as it could

• The human relationship between client and auditor remains important: not everything can be replaced by technology

• Auditors will need to be more adaptable to change in future

ACCA’s report Closing the Expectation Gap in Audit found that 55% of the general public across 11 countries believe that, if auditors followed the requirements of existing auditing standards, they could prevent corporate failure.

Furthermore, 70% believe that audit should evolve to prevent corporate failure. Although some may reasonably argue that such demands are unrealistic, technology may help to satisfy the public demand, at least partly, in future.

Maggie McGhee, executive director – governance at ACCA, said: ‘Technology offers the ability both to improve the quality of audit and to add value to it: audit is moving from being a reactive, backward-looking exercise to a proactive, predictive, forward-looking one, working in real time.

‘As such, it provides an opportunity to help clients by providing timely insights. Even in its traditional context, technology now offers an opportunity to produce higher-quality audits that better serve for their existing purpose.

‘Nonetheless, if AI and related technologies are fully implemented, it could raise questions about the auditor’s independence.

‘We hope Audit and Technology provides insights for both businesses and auditors themselves on how they may adapt most effectively in the face of significant change.’

Simon Grant, Group Executive International Development and Advocacy & Professional Standing at CA ANZ, said: ‘If we can anticipate the possible impacts of technology and harness it so we understand the benefits to the accounting profession, technological change could then be such an empowering opportunity rather than a challenge for our profession.’


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