A Move Towards Remote Auditing

Kimberly A. Reed

Principal, CPA

17 September 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on the global economy and financial markets in recent months and caused many changes. Two things that have not changed are your requirements to your employee benefit plan and our commitment
to providing you with a quality audit. With uncertainty regarding the timing of stay-at-home orders and other safety protocols that will be in place over the next several months, we cannot be sure when we will be able to visit client locations to complete our audits and as a result, we have turned to remote auditing.

Now more than ever is a time to refine our audit processes, make the best use of technology, and develop best practices for completing these audits and staying connected with you, our clients, that will last beyond the current crisis. To do so, we will need to combine the use of technology with effective audit planning and communication. This will ensure we are completing your employee benefit plan audit as efficiently and effectively as possible over the next several months and beyond.

Remote Audit Technology
Accounting firms have been doing remote audits for some time now and many already have the technology necessary for remote auditing, although maybe not to the extent that it will be used now.  While some technology supporting remote audits is quite basic and well known (email and software such as Word, Excel and Acrobat), below are a few of the unique challenges that might arise when completing an employee benefit plan audit remotely, and the technology we are using to help overcome those challenges that may be new to engagements.

Email can be viewed as an unsafe way to share sensitive information, such as payroll data and employee information that we often require
during employee benefit plan audits. As a result of these security concerns, we have been utilizing a secure web portal to ensure our clients have access to a centralized client folder to easily upload and transfer their audit requests and support. This also allows for a more efficient audit, as the support is accumulated in a central location that can be accessed by specific client personnel and members of the engagement team throughout the audit.

Also, due to the limitations created from not being onsite to have face-to-face conversations and ask questions that are required during the audit, we are utilizing various video and teleconferencing software to help stay connected with our clients and colleagues throughout the process. Beyond a simple phone conversation, these tools can allow for face-to-face conversations, the ability to share screens and information, and even observe specific audit support.

Audit Planning and Communication
Performing a successful remote employee benefit plan audit also involves a strong focus on planning and communication. Effective planning and communication have always been key aspects of an audit engagement, but when an auditor is unable to visit a client location to perform testing it becomes even more important.

To ensure proper planning and communication for remote employee
benefit plan audits, we are making our request for data and testing samples as detailed and complete as possible, tailoring these to each specific engagement, and communicating our requests as early as possible. These requests will also be discussed with you upfront so there is a clear understanding of what we are asking for and how we would like to receive the information throughout the process.

In addition, since we are unable to just walk into your office to ask questions during a remote audit as we typically would during standard fieldwork, it is helpful to have additional check-in calls throughout the engagement to resolve issues, discuss questions and open items that we may have accumulated while performing our testing remotely, as well as to keep you up to date on our progress.

Creating a Better Process
While we understand that completing these employee benefit plan audits remotely might be challenging, especially in the near term, many of the processes and best practices that we are putting into place now will likely remain even after the pandemic has subsided. With the proper use of remote auditing technology and effective planning and communication throughout our engagements, we will be able to help you meet your employee benefit plan audit requirements as efficiently, effectively, and safely as possible. 

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