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Grant Thornton UK LLP used ICAEW’s AML educational drama All Too Familiar as part of mandatory training for its audit practice. Adrian Pike, Partner in the firm’s Technical Team, and Rumiana Neil, Audit Technical Learning Manager, tell us how the film helped to bring online training to life.

All Too Familiar, which was created in partnership with HMRC, explores how familiarity can affect professional scepticism and asks whether trust is enough in the fight against economic crime.

As part of its routine quarterly training, Grant Thornton UK delivered four online workshops last October with a screening of All Too Familiar forming a core part of each session.

“The film’s naturally engaging; it’s well produced, and it’s well acted,” says Adrian. “So that draws people in and is far better than using dry, technical material where there's a chance that people will disengage at some point, especially when the training’s online.”

Tried and tested

Grant Thornton had already used ICAEW’s previous educational dramas False Assurance and Without Question for audit training, so it had a blueprint for how to make the most of the format.

“When this one came out, we decided we would do two things,” explains Adrian. “First, we pushed it straight out to everyone in the audit practice in the UK. And then we decided we'd come back to it in facilitated training sessions. So, effectively, everyone saw it twice.”

It’s also been rolled out firm-wide to the advisory and tax service lines, as well as the central risk teams. “We could do that because the film stands on its own with all the material around it,” says Adrian. “You don't actually need facilitator training. You can just roll the film and people will take from it.”

For the audit practice, however, the training workshops showing All Too Familiar were mandatory. Each workshop was attended by around 150 to 250 people, most of whom were UK-based. Overseas teams who work on UK engagements also took part. “All training that is rolled out to our UK staff is also rolled out to them,” Rumiana explains.

Before the workshops, Grant Thornton assigned the film and supporting videos as pre-coursework to anyone that had joined the audit practice since the first roll-out, as well as to the overseas teams. “We wanted to make sure that everyone had seen them in advance of the quarterly training,” says Rumiana.

Where people weren’t available for any of the four workshop dates, they were assigned the recording. “Those who can’t attend the workshop live are assigned the recording with a 28-day due date,” she explains.

Varied content

“We applied a varied approach to presenting the content,” says Rumiana. “What we tried to do was to bring in different elements: we watched the film together, we had a discussion, then a speaker from an external team, and then a live Q&A. We wanted to vary it to keep people engaged.”

The sessions did not include a showing of ICAEW’s introductory launch video for All Too Familiar. Instead, this was used to draw out and structure key learning outcomes.

“We had the key learning outcomes based on the introduction video, and then we all watched the main film together as part of the training,” Rumiana explains.

For each session, this was followed by around 15 breakout room discussions. The groups looked at different questions taken from ICAEW’s facilitator guide and then fed back the outcomes of their discussions when they returned to the main room.

Workshop participants also responded to an additional five poll questions extracted from the facilitator guide before watching the ‘what happened next’ video as a recap.

After that, Grant Thornton’s Money Laundering Reporting Officer joined each workshop to introduce his team and summarise the messages. And this was followed by a reflection section using the questions at the bottom of each topic in ICAEW’s facilitator guide.

“We used these reflection questions to link back to our internal resources to show people where they can find the information and policies related to each one of the questions,” says Rumiana.

The final part of each session was a live Q&A session and participants also got the chance to ask their own questions.

Broadening the scope

The feedback from the sessions has been positive. One participant noted how the “training makes us appreciate our roles as auditors in relation to our responsibility to our clients, not just winning the business but upholding our integrity as auditors”. Another described the film as “a great reminder to stop and think” and said it “felt like a realistic situation. You could see the pitfalls all the way through, but also see how they just weren't spotted and acted on”.

Attendees also appreciated the Q&A aspect of the sessions, with one noting how it was “interesting to hear some external views as part of the training”.

Adrian says it’s too early to identify concrete outcomes from the training, but he already feels it has encouraged “richer conversations” in the risk functions. “It has triggered some conversations that might previously have been limited in terms of scope – people have been thinking more widely,” he suggests.

As part of the sessions, Grant Thornton also made sure people were clear about all the available AML support infrastructure within the firm. “We said: you need to make use of it. Don't try and deal with this on your own as a practitioner,” explains Adrian.

Rich and immersive

One of the ways the firm may use the film again is for induction training. Adrian points out that it’s often the people who are early in their careers – those joining the practice in junior positions – who are in the front line in terms of spotting anything unusual with clients. 

“These are the people who are most likely to find something, to see something first hand, to have their suspicions or their scepticism aroused,” he explains.

“And films like this do help us from that perspective – to draw people's attention to the fact that those with whom you engage might not actually be honest and well-meaning people like yourself, but may well be misleading you,” he says. “And that's a scary thought for a 19 or 21-year-old.”

“For most practitioners, we're lucky enough to get through our careers without ever coming across an issue that is as serious as that portrayed in the film,” says Adrian. 

“But that's one of the difficulties,” he adds. “How do you prepare people for things they’re probably never going to see and have never had the experience of seeing in the past? To do that, you need these sorts of live, rich and immersive scenarios.” 

The next step is for Grant Thornton UK’s public sector audit team to use the film as part of its own annual audit training in early 2023.

When the team’s risk managers saw the film, they were keen to watch it. “On the face of it, you might look at it and think: how does it relate to the public sector?” says Adrian. “But it does; there's a lot of crossover. And that shows the film has the versatility to be used in other circumstances.”


Find out more about All Too Familiar and ICAEW’s other educational dramas.

Read other case studies showing how All Too Familiar is supporting training across a range of accountancy practices.