The Auditor Dossiers - Profile 1: Big Four Audit Director
Profile 1: The Big Four Audit Director
Employer: Single organisation, from graduate trainee, twenty years and counting…
AG is your complete audit specialist. External audit is what she does, has always done and even after twenty years of honing her expertise, audit, remains, to this day, her professional passion. As a big four audit director, her technical abilities in audit and financial reporting compliance and regulation are sharp. As she says, that’s simply a given! But being an audit specialist is so much more than technical prowess; right from the start of our interview, AG wanted to emphasise the sheer breadth of professional and business transferable skills that she employs on a day to day basis.
As an Audit Director she leads teams, not only on specific audits, but also as a senior line manager within her department. She would not have risen to the lofty heights of director without strong people management, highly developed communication and relationship building skills as well as disciplined project management expertise.
I asked AG about how a career in big four external audit had changed over the twenty years she had been on the career ladder. Not surprisingly, she cited technology and digital transformation, and the sheer pace of change. Her own repertoire of skills in this area has, and is, continuing to develop at pace. In her present role, and to support her ongoing career progression, she needs to rapidly assimilate new information, to be a quick learner in other words, but also to navigate that delicate balance of doing and reviewing.
She doesn’t need to know, or know how to do, everything, but she does need a risk aware, big picture perspective as a manager and a leader of the business. We laughed about the ubiquitous excel spreadsheet and how in contrast to our fellow team members of the millennial generation, we picked up excel as we went along, relatively late in our education. This though, is where the people development and management side of AG’s job really comes to the fore.
She has to ensure that she is developing her people into consummate audit professionals, who are highly skilled as well as trustworthy, competent and self-reliant. “Then”, she quips, “I don’t need to know how to actually do advanced spreadsheets, just review them!”
The emphasis on wide professional and business skills is cited as one for the reasons that employers have, in recent years, tended to move away from what was once largely graduate-only audit entry. The big four have in the past, operated strict academic screening filters, based on A-level point scores and other educational evaluations. Today’s auditor must be highly pragmatic and AG stresses that practical skills are required at every level. As director and team leader, she needs a commercial outlook and an acute set of problem solving skills. But this ‘can do’ approach and a solution-focused mindset is required throughout the profession from the earliest stage of the audit career. While strong academic performance is important (you still have to pass professional exams!), it is not the only indicator of potential that employers seek. Practical analytical experience, the ability to build successful relationships and manage complex projects, are all vital harbingers of an upward career trajectory for the twenty first century auditor.
We can’t of course talk about a career in external audit without mentioning clients! AG’s client portfolio over the years has given her the broadest imaginable exposure to a diverse selection of business sectors. From constructing networks and developing fledgling relationships with potential new business contacts, to nourishing and nurturing existing clients to deliver exemplary service, these are further core competences for all audit professionals. In this area, AG is truly at the top of her game. When I first met her, it was at a Women in Business award event. Unbeknown to me, she had been nominated – and she won! Catching up subsequently, she remains perplexed, “I’ve still no idea who put me forward and why I was nominated”, she implores. Almost certainly though, it will have been one of her clients who was behind the nomination. What greater accolade could there be for client service professional! And what a superb reinforcement of the crucial competency of relationship building for the budding, or indeed veteran, audit professional!