Audit “2020” – Laser Vision with a Data Strategy!

To have full clarity when auditing, it is imperative to have a data driven strategy.  Moreover, data will also enable you to be a stronger ‘trusted advisor’ for your client, helping them better run their business.  Ultimately, the end-result of having this “2020” vision benefits both you AND your client.  But, how do you get started? Well, we recently spoken with Andy Hines,  a Senior Audit Manager at Whitley Penn, to learn how they approached their data strategy. 

Question: Can you share some reasons why you started using data analytics in your audit? And, how did you get started?

Answer: We put data analytics into our ‘audit innovation basket’. It’s something that started here at the firm about two years ago. There was a big push by some of our head partners in the audit department to look at the future and see what do we have coming down five, 10 years from now that we need to be prepared for? Data analytics is a big one. Data analytics is an area, we feel as a firm and as a department, that can really increase the quality of the audit that we’re providing to our clients. Regarding quality, whenever peer review and PCAOB come in and look at our audits, data analytics is something that they’re asking more and more about.  It’s something that we feel can increase the efficiencies of our audit. Especially being a mid-market firm here in Texas, it’s a very competitive market. So, what can we do to make ourselves more efficient throughout the audit process? The price of the audit is not going to go up. Therefore, we must find ways to make sure that we’re getting it done in the most efficient way and providing the most quality. Finally, it’s somewhere that we think we can add some additional value for our clients. Those are the big pillars we concentrate on for innovation:

  • Quality
  • Efficiency
  • Value

Question: Do you find your clients expectations are changing? Are they looking for more insights that data analytics can provide?

Answer: That’s a great question, and the short answer is yes. However, I do think it’s funny that we have clients that ask about data analytics. Such as, “Hey, what are you dealing with data analytics? How are you using data analytics in the audit?” Or, “What can you provide with data analytics?” In my experience, clients aren’t really asking for it with a known answer. They don’t really know what they’re asking for. But they expect us to know what to provide, which I think is a great opportunity for us. I mean, when a client asks, “Hey, what kind of data analytics are you using?” We have a really broad way to answer that. I think clients just want to know that we are paying attention. We aren’t falling behind. We’re not just staying the same way. Because our clients aren’t. Clients are always changing and innovating and looking at ways that they can improve their business. Additionally, I think the important thing is that they want us to have that same mentality that we’re always improving. We’re always trying to do a better job at what we do best. Data analytics is a big area for that.

At the end of the day, the key concept is about being the trusted advisor. Clients are not concerned whether you’re using artificial intelligence, machine learning, or blockchain. They are not really concerned with how it’s being done. Put simply, they want:

  • Industry comparisons
  • Charts and graphs to look at
  • More impactful questions
    • Something better than just, “Can you give me 15 invoices to look at?”

Question: Do you have direct access to the client data to help? What tools have you used to help?

Answer: I wish I could say ‘most times’! To help overcome this challenge, we use CCH® Audit Accelerator. We did a large pilot of it roughly a year ago and are now moving toward using Audit Accelerator for more of our clients. To really have a big data analytic push and incorporate more artificial intelligence, this direct access to client’s data is critical. We’ve got to be getting that data on most of our audits, and that really comes back to trust between you and the client.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with clients about using CCH® Audit Accelerator or doing other kinds of connections to their systems. Bottomline, they just want to make sure that their data isn’t going to be breached or leaked somewhere. So, that’s when being the trusted advisor really comes into play. Simply say, “Hey, this is the way that we do our audits now. We’re going to give you a better product, and we’re going to make sure that your data is safe with us.”

(Note: CCH® Audit Accelerator is a cloud based tool that allows the CPA firm to request access to their client’s data required for the audit.)

Question: When it comes to audit data analytics, what is your advice for firms wanting to get started?

Answer: We started using TeamMate Analytics about two and a half years ago. We rolled it out the first time to all our auditors, including staff through managers. One great feature that helped with the adoption of analytics was the Custom Modules feature. That’s an area we’ve really latched onto in the last year and a half. Moreover, that’s where we see a lot of value-add. We create these Whitley Penn custom modules. For example, every time we do journal entry testing then these are the 10 tests to do. Or, when we do revenue testing, these are the suite of tests to use and the graphs and charts to produce.

With that process, we have something standard throughout all our offices on how we’re doing these tests. On a more individual client basis, here’s another great thing about custom modules. We have some clients that the same senior working on them for three or four years now. They want the same auditor on the job as they historically have because they feel that’s the only one with the knowledge of how to do a specific analysis for them. Well, with TeamMate Analytics, we can now build that into a custom module and save it for that client. By doing that, it doesn’t matter if it’s that particular senior, or a different senior who works that client next. Whoever is doing the job simply loads up that custom module, puts the data through it and you have the same output, no matter who does it. Frankly, there’s a lot of efficiencies gained like that when using TeamMate Analytics. 

Additionally, TeamMate Analytics is a big quality driver too. We ask better questions and we get better views of large data sets.

(Note: TeamMate Analytics works with Excel to enable analytics for every auditor, easily!  It works with datasets more than $1M rows and has hundreds of built in tests and guidance with a test library – all of which is customizable by the firm).


In closing, as you can see from this Q&A with Andy, Whitley Penn was able to bring a lot more clarity to the audit. Now, through their data driven strategy, they can better establish themselves as the trusted advisor.  Following their example, you can too. Hence, we’ve noted some easy-to-use tools, available today, that will help you get started and give you an immediate ROI! Be sure to check out both, TeamMate Analytics and CCH Audit Accelerator. Also, learn more by watching the full webinar recording of our interview with Andy.


Cathy Rowe

All stories by: Cathy Rowe