An efficient audit is one that reduces the audit risk to the targeted level, ensures that there are no errors contained in the financial statements while completed on time and within the budget. To ensure an efficient and cost-effective audit, we must understand the roles and responsibilities of both the client, or more specifically, the board of directors, and the company’s external auditor.
Responsibilities of the external auditor
- Interest of shareholders
The primary role of an external auditor is to protect the interests of shareholders. Audits are conducted by an independent external auditor which makes it possible to take the interests of the shareholders into account. External auditors report the state of a company’s finances and attest to the validity of financial reports that may have been released. They conclude whether the information provided to shareholders and the board of directors are accurate and reliable.
- Risk assessment
By conducting risk assessments, external auditors help the implementation of good corporate governance. Auditors review the security measures that a company has in place against corporate fraud or corruption. In addition to assessing potential risks, auditors also analyse the overall risk tolerance of the company as well as the efforts the company has made towards mitigating risks.
- Internal controls
External auditors help clients implement effective internal controls to ensure efficient internal systems. During an audit, the external auditor will evaluate the current controls in place and recommend adjustments or new controls to be implemented. For example, a recommendation to implement a creditor’s reconciliation at the end of every month which the director will be required to mark and sign off once completed.
An external auditor will help ensure a good relationship with regulators. Regulators tend to be collaborative with companies that appear to have transparent operations. External auditors evaluate the company for compliance with regulations. Regulators are also more likely to trust company disclosures after an auditor attests to them.
External auditors may introduce measures and policies designed to compel accountability in the workplace. For instance, auditors could recommend consequences for managers who manipulate accounting records to show a profit and ensure that they receive a bonus at the end of the financial year. Penalties for such acts could include stripping the manager of his/her position or his/her compensation, such as reducing annual bonuses.
Responsibilities of the board of directors
- Risk management
The directors and senior management are required to be fundamentally concerned with evaluating an organisation’s management of risk. For example, risks to the reputation of the company, unhappy customers, health and safety risks, accounting risks, accountability risks, legislation risks, risks associated with market failure and financial risks. To ensure the organisation’s success and take the interest of stakeholders into account, these risks must be managed effectively.
- Evaluating and improving internal controls
Directors and senior management should continuously evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of current internal controls and consider improvement. For example, a major new project is being undertaken – the assigned directors and senior management can help to ensure that project risks are clearly identified and assessed with action taken to manage them. From this assessment, controls can be implemented to ensure the project flows effectively and complies with the tone and risk management culture of the organisation.
- Analysing operations and confirming information
Achieving objectives and managing valuable organisational resources will require systems, processes and people. Directors work closely with line managers to review operations and report their findings. The directors must be well-versed in the strategic objectives of their organisation and the sector in which it operates, so that they can have a clear understanding of how the operations of any given part of the organisation fit into the bigger picture.
- Evaluating risks
It is senior management’s job to identify the risks facing the organisation and to understand how they will impact the delivery of objectives if they are not managed effectively. Directors and senior management need to understand how much risk the organisation is willing to live with and implement controls and other safeguards to ensure these limits are not exceeded. Some organisations will have a higher appetite for risk arising from changing trends and economic conditions. This risk-based approach enables the directors and senior management to anticipate possible future concerns and opportunities for providing assurance, advice and insight where it is most needed.
With the above roles and responsibilities fulfilled and working efficiently, the year-end audit will be smooth-running. Unnecessary frustration, time and money will be saved by both the client and their external auditor.
‘Efficiency is doing better what is already being done’.