My name is Alexander Rühle and I have been a passionate auditor since 2006 and have been the CEO at zapliance for 5 years by now.
Just yesterday I had a very long conversation with a fellow auditor about the current situation the whole world is in right now and the influence of Corona on his work.
It turned out:
apart from the usual hygiene rules, his daily work routine itself has returned to normal.
For weeks now, he has been meeting individual department heads in-person and can also visit the foreign subsidiaries to carry out on-site inspections, at least with taking precautious measurements.
All in all, he says, work can now be resumed as it was before the start of the Corona pandemic.
It was only when I approached him about the possibility of a second corona wave and its consequences that he started to think about it – he had not thought about that until now!
He simply hopes that things will not go as far as they did at the start of the year.
And considering the current progress, he might be right.
But what if not?
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)
In this article I would like to discuss how auditors can plan for the potential re-tightening of corona measures, including the risks of travel bans.
Because with the right planning, we can ensure that auditors are indispensable even in difficult times and will not be sent into short-time employment.
In my opinion, the most important points that should be included in planning for those circumstances are the use of digital possibilities and networking.
But proactive and early project planning, which is currently a hot topic and debated as part of agile auditing, is also a third, important point.
After all, it helps auditors prepare for the most likely scenarios and tackle them according to a defined roadmap.
With or without Corona – Audit will continue to change.
But let’s assume that – and this is of course what we all are hoping for – it won’t come to another corona crisis again, the following tips I will discuss in this article are nevertheless relevant for auditors nowadays.
Of course, even without corona crises, auditors should try to digitalize their work as early as possible and therefore be prepared for the unknown future.
Especially interesting in this context is the current debates about “new ways to work” or “Work 4.0” – meaning the debates, if employees should also be able to perform their work mainly from the home office.
Thanks to the digitalization this would even be possible for us auditors.
However, regardless of the corona crisis, networking and proactive development of projects will also become immensely more important in the upcoming years.
The first point that will enable auditors to continue working with only minor restrictions even if corona measures are tightened up again is digitalization.
After all, digitalization not only enables collaboration with other people without having to meet in person, but it also makes it possible to work regardless of your location – an essential advantage for auditors, who often work at different company locations anyway.
Therefore, my tip to you:
Have a look now to see what is available in the market in your area of expertise.
Everybody knows Office 365 & Co - but what about programs that are tailored to auditors?
Some of the most popular options include programs for video communications such as Microsoft Teams.
Furthermore, platforms that allow users to work together simultaneously on the document – such as Google Docs – are also very handy in times of Corona.
But especially in our industry, several programs have emerged in recent years that allow us to digitalize our work more and more.
For example, a customer recently told me that by introducing our zap Cash software, he was able to save auditors in his company from having to introduce short-time employment.
Lets briefly dive into this.
zap Cash is a software that we at zapliance developed to help companies find duplicate payments in their SAP data.
The software checks for potential current duplicate payments, as well as duplicate payments that have already occurred in the past.
Because it is.
This is a good opportunity for auditors in home office to not only demonstrate savings for their employer, something which is especially liked during a crisis – but also to achieve financial success particularly quickly compared to other, common auditing measures.
Relationship work not only takes place at home - but also at the office.
Another important point auditors should now be addressing is networking.
One reason for this is that good relationships with the specialist departments will become more important in the future anyway, as the increasing amount of available data can only be adequately evaluated or used with the help of the specialist department (more information about this in my blog series the future of audit).
But in the current situation, networking has another advantage:
good contact with the specialist departments is the key to understanding their needs and identifying issues, risks, and opportunities for further projects.
Make yourself irreplaceable as an auditor.
Because only if there is a good, trusting relationship with the specialist departments will they communicate with us auditors if they have any issues or shortfalls in their department.
Let’s imagine following scenario:
the head of the Marketing department notices that he is losing track of the various catalog production sites in Germany and abroad.
At the same time, he has the feeling that an above-average amount of money is being spent on these items.
What do you think – would this Marketing manager express his concern to an auditor whom he only met twice in the corridor and could maybe even accuse him of incompetence?
I don’t think so.
What’s the next item on our to-do list? Small talk!
The way to convince the specialist department heads that we auditors can be of help to them is through building relationships and trust.
But how do you really build good relationships with the specialist department heads?
Certainly not in a Skype meeting with ten other participants all sitting in the home office!
Because good relationships are built through personal contact.
This means, use the time before a potential second corona wave and get to know your stakeholders a little better.
Why not have lunch together?
Why not have a little chat in the elevator?
Perhaps congratulate him or her on their birthday.
Look, it’s clear that the relationship between us auditors and the heads of the specialist department faces natural limits.
You can read more about how you can build a good relationship without getting too personal in the process in one of my other articles on dealing with colleagues from the specialist department.
Another approach for auditors to prepare properly for any potential constraints is to plan projects for the upcoming months as early as possible!
And that has several advantages:
One of them is that with proper planning, you might be able to avoid short-term employment.
Because once a project has been planned and proven to be relevant, it is much harder for other for other parties to cancel it.
Especially if the project promises to save expenses, very important in times of crisis!
Be proactive and make concrete suggestions to your supervisor.
Do not just talk the talk about what could be done, but also walk the walk and work out concrete plans.
This way, your manager will notice that you think and plan your ideas through and it’s less likely you are pulled off important projects.
If you were also in charge of the first draft of a project, you can design it according to your ideas.
Because once the basic framework is in place, the project is usually only adapted based on others’ feedback, not fundamentally changed.
Suggest a schedule with concreate dates – this increases the commitment and makes it more difficult to cancel the project.
Communication is the key – especially in times of crisis!
Another advantage of early planning is that stakeholders are informed well in advance and any difficulties that might arise can be eliminated immediately.
You and your colleagues have to go back into the home office unexpectedly and without warning – but now important data is not available in digital form.
Doesn’t sound like an ideal situation?
So take action now!
Discuss with your stakeholders how to proceed if the situation should deteriorate again.
Make a list of which documents and which data you are likely to need.
In this way, you give your colleagues from the specialist departments the opportunity to pick out relevant files right now, so that you can take them home with you if the situation should arise.
the specialist departments digitalize the files in advance, so that you have even less work.
A third advantage of early project planning is the ability to continue working seamlessly in times of crisis.
Because when I think of the first lockdown, I remember one thing above all:
None of us had any experience with a crisis situation like we had to experience now, and it took days, sometimes even weeks, for new communication and work structures to be successfully established and implemented.
And this is exactly what can be avoided if the crisis gets worse again - if we plan now.
Despite the crisis, above all the rule is: Stay calm!
Important: Stay as calm as possible when preparing for another possible escalation of the situation.
Because those who approach their colleagues and superiors with panic and pressure will usually find it difficult to achieve anything.
Stay objective and try not to get emotional – this will look professional and help you to achieve your goals.
About the author:
Alexander Rühle, CAI, CISA, is the CEO and CO-founder at zapliance. After 15 years in the finance and auditing world and having met his partner in crime, Prof. Dr. Nick Gehrke, at PWC, they started zapliance together, with the mission to change the way business professionals of the future work with data.