‘Technology cannot replace auditors’

The introduction of new software and systems have already provided a great boon to auditors over the last few years, and the technology currently in development is likely to offer even greater aid to those involved in assurance. There is still much, however, that computers will not be able to provide for a while yet and humans will always be an integral part of the process, said representatives of the largest audit firms.

In last week’s Accountancy Age, former chief executive of Volvo UK James Maxmin claimed that auditors could be rendered obsolete by advances in technology. ‘Accountants have a choice: take a proactive role or sit still,’ said Maxmin. ‘If they don’t assume that role, many of the functions accountants perform will be automated. Auditing will be automated.’

However, while assurance experts don’t doubt the profound impact technology has had on their profession, the possibility of the auditor being removed from the audit process still seems some way off.

‘Technology is about improving the speed and quality of communication between the auditor and the client, but it couldn’t work by itself,’ said Bill Dickinson, partner at KPMG’s department of professional practice.

Dickinson said that the tools in current use helped to provide a good structure for the audit and enabled the auditor to record the specific information required for the audit much more effectively. He added that the systems also ensured that the audit process was much more consistent across the entire firm.

‘Before we had our current systems (rolled out in 2000) we used computers extensively, but it was mainly through Microsoft Office,’ he said. ‘We now operate in workflow processes rather than documents. The new technology means the auditor can spend less time thinking about the processes and more time thinking about the client.’

Dickinson, however, found it hard to foresee a time when the auditor would be entirely removed from the process. ‘What technology has to offer the audit is important, but human intervention is at the heart of every judgement made. There are complicated accounting standards that need to be applied to complicated company matters and humans have to make these decisions.’

KPMG is currently funding research into continuous audit systems at Rutgers University in the US. Dickinson said that it was crucial for audit firms to ensure they are at the leading edge of technology.

Anthony Bingham, audit partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, agreed that auditing was about professional judgement, but the process would change to fit in with technological advances.

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