Insights from Rob Cameron, CPA and Peer Reviewer
Thought leader and peer reviewer Rob Cameron, CPA, Managing Partner of Cameron, Smith & Company, presented a webinar in partnership with Accounting Today and Wolters Kluwer designed to help CPA firms understand the importance of periodically evaluating their engagement workflow. The following highlights Cameron’s insights about:
- Why firms should re-evaluate their engagement workflow and software to discover areas of improvement in efficiency and effectiveness.
- How to maximize the value in your firm’s engagement workflow.
- What best practices help ensure a smoother implementation of any new engagement solution.
- What factors drove Cameron’s decision about what engagement solution to use in his own firm.
The Evolution of Engagement Solutions
CPA firms have seen a lot of changes in the best practices and technology involved in auditing engagements. Auditing used to be a lengthy pen-and-paper process; firms created huge binders and work programs designed specifically for each unique client. As a result, early audit programs did not allow “not applicable” (N/As). All review was done back at the office, and it was often difficult to remember important things in the field. Review couldn’t start until all of the workpapers were finalized and the engagement ended.
Later, standardized practice aids were developed to help make auditing consistent. Checklists improved the efficiency of an audit by giving auditing professionals a single generic approach to every audit, with single names for reports and the same list of questions about every client. But the checklist approach could also be ineffective; it was easier for lower-level or less experienced staff to become confused or miss important questions in the audit by marking them in error as N/A.
Why Your Firm May Benefit from a New Engagement Solution
A well-designed engagement workflow, along with the right match of engagement software, will allow your firm to audit more efficiently and effectively. An instant benefit for your firm’s bottom line that will also increase your clients’ satisfaction. On the other hand, when jobs don’t flow well or your staff doesn’t communicate effectively internally or with clients, audit work will suffer and costly write-offs can occur.
Completing audits in the field is a benefit to clients in several ways. First, they can see your team’s work, and you are readily available if clients have questions. The auditors on your team will remember what the client has told them when they can use the information right away. Therefore, you won’t annoy clients with repeat questions. And let’s be honest — aren’t there always a few questions that you would ask if you were face to face, but back at the office don’t seem worth interrupting the client with a phone call? Finally, the turnaround time for an audit completed in the field is much faster, and that’s a big “wow” factor for your clients.
How to Maximize Value within Your Engagement Workflow
Over the years, Cameron has found that setting up your firm’s audit workflow with these best practices yields the most effective, efficient engagements.
|Reduce paper. An automated engagement solution with digital binders will allow you to complete audits much more quickly than paper checklists and binders.||Review in the morning. With engagement software, you can see each section as it is completed and review workpapers quickly. This enables your staff to get your feedback and ask any follow-up questions of the client quickly.|
|Plan in the afternoon. After reviewing yesterday’s activity in the morning, use the afternoon to make or refine additional audit plans. Then decide what steps to add or delete.||Have the entire staff work from one common open points list. Mark them off as they are closed.|
|Give the reviewer access to the status of all workpapers in one single repository. This enables you to review workpapers in the field, even if they still have some open points, without fear of missing something.||Complete the audit in the field. Choose an audit tool with diagnostics. Then force your staff to run those diagnostics and resolve open points in the field. If the audit passes diagnostics and the reviewer has signed off on all workpapers, the audit is complete.|
|If you’re a firm manager, take along extra work so you can stay at the client site and supervise. When you’re on site, the client perceives higher value from your audit services and is free to ask you questions.||Start tax returns in the field. Often, you can even complete tax returns in the field! Either way, there is no better time than a face-to-face client engagement to start gathering the information you will need at tax time.|
Best Practices for Implementing an Engagement Solution
After many years of using engagement solutions himself and observing other firms through peer review, Cameron has defined best practices to ensure a smoother implementation of engagement software.
- Have an implementation plan before you start. Know what types of changes to your workflow may be needed in order to maximize the effectiveness of your new engagement system.
- Get training. Develop a good training plan for yourself and your staff. Training will help you gain efficiency and effectiveness more quickly. As a result you’ll enjoy a better return on investment from your engagement solution.
- Bill as much of your conversion costs as possible. If you’ve traditionally billed for drafting the financial statements, you can bill for setting up the new combination schedules for use in your new engagement solution.
- Go slowly. Focus on mastering the basics before learning to utilize advanced features in your engagement solution.
- Challenge yourselves every year and look for feedback. Every so often, examine how well you’re using the software and what you could do differently as a firm in order to work more efficiently in the future.
- Keep only your current workpaper versions. Whether your office still relies on paper or is paperless, having unnecessary papers in the binder adds complexity to the whole engagement.
Why a Peer Reviewer Chose Engagement and Knowledge Coach
When Rob Cameron evaluated his own firm’s audit workflow, he decided that it was time to make some changes, and so he switched to CCH® ProSystem fx® Engagement. Because he is a CCH® ProSystem fx® Tax and CCH® ProSystem fx® Document customer, he felt that Engagement’s integration with those two solutions was a key benefit. Additionally, although Engagement can be used with any practice series, Cameron, Smith and Company opted for Engagement’s companion practice series, CCH® ProSystem fx® Knowledge Coach.
“With CCH ProSystem fx Engagement and CCH ProSystem fx Knowledge Coach, I have the ability to know if a workpaper has changed since I reviewed it along with diagnostics to tell me that there are no more open points and all workpapers are finalized. I’m able to do review in bite-sized chunks when I have an hour or two or when I want to know where I am. I feel very comfortable releasing the financial statements and signing off on the audit from the field.” — Rob Cameron, CPA and Peer Reviewer
Focus on the Right Work
The important factors that drove Cameron to select Engagement include:
- Clarity and simplicity so that the trial balance can automatically link to the financial statements for ease of review.
- Enhancing productivity for reviewing audit workpapers in the field. Imagine if you travel 100–110 days each year and need to remain in communication with your team … productivity is the key!
- Robust diagnostics that ensure all points have been addressed and workpapers are in the binder.
- More efficiency with lower implementation cost and a shorter implementation timeframe.
“The second year after we implemented CCH ProSystem fx Engagement, we saw our overall rate per hour improve by approximately 15 percent.”
If your firm does much audit work, it will benefit you to periodically evaluate your audit workflow and engagement software. The right solution matched with the right workflow and the right staff can make a big difference in conducting successful audits, avoiding write-offs and improving your clients’ satisfaction.
Engagements Made Easy and Efficient
See the video below to quickly understand the power of streamlining both your audit and your tax preparation processes.
Take a look at our latest eBook: 5 Ways to Improve Your Audit Reviews and discover why best practices are a necessity, not an option! Or, see for yourself how you can learn to operate at a high rate of efficiency with a complimentary demo.