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The 3 keys to a successful remote audit during COVID-19

Apr 23, 2020

Because of the stay-at-home orders in place across the country, we’ve had to perform many remote audits for our clients. The regulatory requirement for audits hasn’t been suspended even though many businesses and organizations have temporarily shut down. And now that we’re watching some states extend their shelter in place orders into mid- or even late-May, we know we’ll be continuing to perform audits remotely.

There are quite a few lessons to take away from the experiences we’ve had so far. If your organization has an upcoming audit, there are both benefits and challenges to taking it remote.

The three keys to a successful remote audit

What has helped make for faster and smoother remote audits so far has been:

  1. Setting expectations at the outset
  2. Holding frequent touchpoints and committing to responsiveness
  3. Organizing supporting documentation

These three keys require strong collaboration between the client and the audit firm.

The first key, setting expectations at the outset, is especially important. It’s a guiding factor that’s deeply weaved into the other two keys. Let’s look at how:

Responsiveness

Because your auditor can’t walk over to your office to ask questions, a successful remote audit must set expectations for communication at the outset.

For example, you could set the requirement that if your auditor sends you a list of questions before noon, your staff will respond before the end of the day. If they send the list during the second half of the day, your staff will respond by noon the next day.

You can also set touchpoints so that you can speak to your auditor directly and help ensure not only that they have what they need to keep moving forward but also that everyone is on the same page.

Lastly, there are always a handful of things that pop up during an audit, and the auditor needs to quickly settle them in order to keep the audit moving. For these more time-sensitive questions, would you prefer the auditor email you for an answer or call or video conference you? Setting this expectation at the outset will help the remote audit go much smoother. 

Documentation

We’ve found that when it comes to supporting documentation, organization is the biggest component to success. It’s more challenging and time-consuming to ask and answer questions remotely than it is when an auditor is onsite. This has made the document-collection stage extremely important. If your staff organizes and labels documents in a way that directly ties each piece back to the auditing request list your audit firm gave you, that greatly reduces the amount of questions your auditor will have in return.

Some of our clients number the documents based on the audit request list numbering. Others use folders labeled by date. You can work with your auditor to determine your preferred manner of organization.

No matter what option you choose, setting the standard for organization at the outset of the audit is very important to ensuring the audit goes smoothly and on schedule.

If you typically provide a significant amount of supporting documentation, we’ve also found that organizations that have adopted technology systems to help them go digital can more easily provide documentation electronically to auditors.

Since providing supporting documents before the auditor begins is also a huge component to a successful audit, technology can provide a big assist in this on-time area, as well.

Are you ready for remote auditing?

Remote audits definitely have benefits in saving you travel costs and providing flexibility to your schedule. While there can be challenges to remote auditing — it’s not easy when most of your staff are working from home — there are also solutions to help make the process more efficient and effective.

Right now, COVID-19 means many organizations must consider taking their audit remote. We’ve seen that the more an organization really buys into the remote audit process, the more successful it will be for them. Setting and communicating expectations for both staff and auditors will make this process smoother and allow you and your staff to focus on major COVID-19 priorities.

If you have questions about how your organization can perform a remote audit, contact us to learn more. And for more information about how your organization can navigate the impacts of COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 resource center.

Author(s)

Kurt A. Peterson, CPA, CFE
Senior Manager
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