Covid-19 has had a significant impact on all aspects of life throughout 2020 which have continued into 2021. We have had to find new ways to perform audit work in the absence of fieldwork visits by our staff, which have largely been impractical due to government guidance on social distancing.
Working from home we have entered the world of remote auditing, relying on electronic access to client systems and records to facilitate the audit, which has provided challenges for both us and our clients.
The continued restrictions and third national lockdown make it clear that despite the vaccine rollout remote auditing is here to stay for a while longer yet, but what lessons have we learned and what can businesses do to make the annual audit as pain free as possible in what has become the new normal?
Early discussions are essential in identifying potential issues for provision of audit information, whether that be making arrangements for access to your company’s bespoke accounting software, stocktake attendance or provision of physical records. Early identification of issues gives additional time to find solutions, which improves the efficiency of the audit reducing the burden on both audit and client staff.
IT Systems access
For an efficient audit it is essential that the auditor has direct access to your accounting software to minimise disruption to your finance team. For companies using cloud accounting software such as Xero or QuickBooks online this is very straightforward, but where bespoke software is used, engaging with your internal IT team or IT service provider may be necessary so remote access to your data (via VPN for example) can be provided to the audit team, in the same manner as you may already provide this to staff to facilitate their working from home.
Historically the audit team would review hardcopy invoices and take copies of those needed for the audit file themselves while on site. Several of our clients have gone paperless in recent times, meaning all invoices can be reviewed remotely by the audit team and many have found this to improve their own internal efficiencies as well as improving visibility for the finance team. Where hardcopy records are still relied upon, we have required the client’s staff to scan copies of invoices to us which has increased their workload in already testing times.
Due to restrictions on access to client warehouses and production facilities, we have not always been able to physically attend year stocktakes during 2020, which for a number of our clients is a key part of the year end audit. Where attendance has not been possible, we have had success observing stocktakes performed by client staff using video calls on mobile phones, (including at a facility in the USA!) but please check your mobile or Wi-Fi signal is strong enough to facilitate this because a constant feed is needed to provide sufficient audit evidence.
Testing of controls over payroll and detailed review of employee records is often a key part of an audit, which can raise GDPR concerns related to provision of confidential information over the internet. Throughout lockdown we have been utilising our secure cloud portal to transfer sensitive data to mitigate these risks. Where HR records can’t easily be provided electronically, we have arranged remote reviews using video calls with client staff to obtain the information needed for the audit.
While not associated with remote auditing, the requirement for far more detailed going concern assessments to be made by directors is another significant impact of Covid-19 on the audit process.
Even where a business is cash rich and trading profitability, the audit work required to demonstrate that a business will continue in operation for at least the next twelve months has increased significantly. Directors need to prepare more detailed profit and loss and cashflow forecasts than ever before, covering a period of at least twelve months from the date of approval of the financial statements. Further details on going concern assessments can be found on our website here.
Despite the UK vaccine rollout gathering pace, Covid-19 will continue to impact the audit cycle in 2021 and remote auditing is likely to continue to be needed for a significant number of audit engagements. Many companies will have experienced remote auditing during 2020 and already implemented changes to make the process easier in future periods, but those who haven’t should consider the likely impact on their audit process and what changes to systems could be implemented now to reduce the burden of the annual audit on their finance departments.
If you would like to discuss any aspects of remote auditing, concerns over systems access or implementation of paperless accounting systems, then please get in touch with your usual RG contact.