The audit profession is at a crossroads, with new technology transforming the day-to-day tasks of those in the profession, and the variety of work under the audit umbrella increasing. In a new series of videos, John Selwood spoke to four auditors about why they’d recommend their career choice.
As someone who has spent his entire career in audit, John Selwood is well placed to sing the praises of the profession. Following qualification, he worked at Kingston Smith as an audit manager; headed Charter Group, the accountants’ network; and went on to be audit partner and technical partner at what is now Kreston Reeves. He has been working as a freelance audit lecturer for the last 20 years and has written many articles and presented webinars and audit and financial reporting courses for ICAEW.
“Personally, it’s the variety of the work that kept me in auditing,” he says. “Training as an auditor has always been seen as a good career route for accountants who can then go on to do any number of other things. An auditor’s skill set needs to be very broad, whereas many other areas in accountancy have a narrower focus without the same transferable skills.”
What I like about the audit profession is that it requires certain noble qualities, such as integrity, objectivity and independence of thought
Selwood is keen to emphasise the changing nature of a career in audit, with the use of technology providing more and better organised information for the auditors of the future to exercise their skills. He adds: “What I like about the audit profession is that it requires certain noble qualities, such as integrity, objectivity and independence of thought.”
For this new series of videos, Selwood spoke to a range of people who have chosen to make audit their career, finding out why they went into it in the first place and, more importantly, what they have gained from it and how they see the future of audit.
Julia Penny, ICAEW President 2022-2023, trained as an auditor, and has spent much of her working life training and supporting auditors, “so I have to admit, I’m not actually an auditor, but I spent my entire career supporting them”. Hers hasn’t been a linear career path, moving from audit to a brief stint in insolvency (“not for me”) and back to the technical and training side of audit. As she says: “You’ve got to wriggle around a little bit on your career path and be flexible.”
Like Selwood, Penny is enthusiastic about the use of new technology and its implications for day-to-day audit work: “I think in five years, and certainly 10 years, it may leave us not unrecognisable, but significantly different. Lots more focus, I hope, on the judgments, on the complicated areas.”
The importance of tech is a common thread for all our interviewees. Tim Rush, Audit Partner, KPMG, says: “We’re already using transaction scoring, using AI for lower-risk transactions. That journey in the next five years will be amazing and I think we’ll get to 24/7 auditing eventually.”
Despite spending most of his career with KPMG, Rush has gained a wide variety of experience, with secondments in New Zealand and in the finance function of a FTSE250 media company. “It wasn't that I wanted to be a partner at KPMG from day one,” says Rush, who was much more focused on what he could learn, what his next steps might be and which skill sets might be most useful. “Throughout my career, I’ve always sought out opportunities to develop myself, asking: ‘What can I do to improve me, to be better at the job?’” And during his time at KPMG he’s had 10 to 12 jobs.
Variety and being ready to adapt to the opportunities that are presented are also important to Louise Hallsworth, Audit Partner, Baxter & Co: “I think it’s really interesting that when we start out in life we all have this square box and we think ‘this is what it’s going to be’, and we just gradually rub the lines out and suddenly the square box becomes a round box.”
Don’t jump ship as soon as you qualify. Bide your time. See what you really do and don’t want to do
Hallsworth is also keen to emphasise that there is no one-size-fits-all career path, and newly qualified auditors shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry when it comes to progressing their careers. “I think people have to be very careful not to jump ship as soon as they qualify. My advice to anyone would be just bide your time for a little while. Just get your feet under the table and see what you really do and don’t want to do. There’s a lot of good audit work in mid-tier firms and small firms. So I’d say don’t be scared to move from a big firm to a smaller firm. It’s not a downward move. It’s just a change.”
Aiming for partner is one career path, but Rachel Davis, Managing Director, Just Audit, chose a different direction. She spotted a gap in the market and started her own firm, concentrating purely on audit and working alongside general accountancy practices and the client businesses being audited. “What I am doing now is really exciting," she says. “Developing the practice, developing the team, winning new work – and I will always remember the first few times I won a piece of new work.”
Selwood is optimistic about the future of the audit profession. “I think for a while audit was the poor relation of the accountancy world,” he says. “It was treated as a commodity with contracts going to the lowest bidder. I think that’s changing now. Audit quality is being put first and foremost.”