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Accounting Excellence Awards

What excellence in audit looks like


Katherine White, an Accounting Excellence judge for the progressive audit firm of the year and a partner at Buzzacott, outlines what excellence in audit really means.

17th Mar 2023
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The audit sector has faced intense scrutiny in recent years. High-profile audit failures like Carillion and Patisserie Valerie have dominated the headlines and have led to further regulation in the profession. But for every big fine and reprimand, there are progressive auditors of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are constantly looking for ways to increase the quality of their audit work. 

With the launch of the Accounting Excellence progressive audit firm of the year award, sponsored by Circit, AccountingWEB caught up with Katherine White, audit partner at Buzzacott LLP and one of the judges for this category, to find out what excellence in audit really looks like. 

Katherine White defines excellence in audit

Katherine White, partner at Buzzacott

White (left) shared some of the attributes of what she defines as excellence in audit and what the judges of this category are looking for from a progressive audit firm. 

Progressive auditors have to constantly hold themselves to high standards. There are a lot of regulations, and progressive auditors keep up to date with changes and do more detailed and better-focused work. Progressive auditors look at where things might go wrong and proactively manage those risks. 

We’re not sitting on our hands doing everything the same way we used to 15 years ago. We’ve got new ideas, and we can do better work with our time. Innovation can include structuring teams more effectively, like dividing the audit team into different sections that specialise in different areas, rather than having a pool of people doing the same thing. 

Progressive auditors can innovate through using technology. This might include analytics tools or great ways to communicate with clients, such as using client portals.

Don’t let tech replace the fundamentals. The key is to not just buy software and then say, “Oh, we got this tool so we must be doing a really good job.” It’s important to understand how to use that tool efficiently to find the audit risks, and address them. Audit is all about risk and response: focusing work in key areas and not doing lots of work on the non-risk areas leads to better quality and efficiency.

We’re not looking for firms that are big on winning lots of really big audits and doing lots of complex things. For the audit team award, progressive auditors are those who do what they do really well. Their focus will be on things that are well within their expertise and complement and enhance their skill set.

Progressive auditors uphold quality, despite staffing problems. One of the biggest challenges across the profession at the moment is staffing, so there is a challenge to make sure audit quality is good, despite not having as many people as you might normally want to do all the work. 

Don’t overstretch yourself. As a counterpoint to that, there’s a lot of movement of audits between firms as inflation and staff shortages put pressure on prices. There are certainly opportunities for firms to win new audit work, but how do they manage not to overstretch themselves because they don’t have enough staff to do that work to a good standard?

Progressive auditors have a need for independence. It also goes without saying that we are looking for auditors who demonstrate an understanding of the FRC Ethical Standard, for example not doing certain types of non-audit work for audit clients if it’s prohibited by those ethical rules, and having appropriate safeguards in place if there are threats to independence.

We think of progressive auditors as being driven by quality, not profit. We will be looking for what other metrics the entrants are proud of that show a commitment to quality and learning, for example, rather than just growth and profits.

Enter the progressive audit team of the year award and demonstrate how your firm is constantly striving to uphold quality standards.

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