Why every audit is like a first date

Carolyn Ralph, Partner, Department of Professional Practice, Board Member of Australian Auditing and Assurance Standards Board

Your adrenalin is pumping, heart fluttering, and your desert-mouth nervousness is causing occasional stammering.  The first date experience is unique.

As a proud auditor, Valentine’s Day has me pondering the similarities between dating and auditing. Simply, the thrill doesn’t wear off.  Every audit is like a first date.

Questions are asked. Information is shared. You overshare your most embarrassing moments. Rocks are overturned and what is hidden underneath crawls into the open. All in the pursuit of gaining knowledge that is useful for the ultimate investment decision.

In an audit, this is whether the financials are true and fair.

For dates this is whether the guy is a liar, I mean whether he is your Prince Charming.

The surprise of a blind date: Each audit brings a combination of unseen conditions. You may have seen an asset valuation model before but you’ve never seen this industry disruption, and those economic conditions, causing havoc to the business continuation, impacting those cash flow forecasts. Same for dating. While you may have dated a cop before, this one is older and less sassy, and maybe has an ex-wife in his closet that you should uncover before making your decisions.

Fire up your date-a-bot (databot…get it?!): Demystify the challenge and use data to your advantage. A simple search of social media can reveal critical character-defining data, a la chocolate versus banana paddle-pop, for evaluation. In audit, we use data and analytics, assessing a wide range of information from different angles to understand patterns and question outliers, neurons crushing on each other to analyse the evidence.

Flirt with chemistry: Every audit approach fuses different elements. No audit is the same. We possess deep skills from the many audits we do, enabling us to adapt audit strategies to the unique parameters of the client: their type and volume of business, the way they contract, their unique systems and controls, their pressures, and geographies they operate in. For first dates, adapt your ‘interrogation’ style, I mean conversation, to your date. Are they shy or shady or spirited?  Experience tells me fight or flight reactions kick in quickly when he starts singing along to Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose” during your first date.

Illustrator:Phil Marsden @philmarsden

Role of the wingman: Highly complicated situations necessitate specialist support. Trusted girlfriends keep the wolf-pack chatting, giving you time to share your dad’s love of coin collecting. Valuation and taxation matters are the most common areas where an audit benefits from specialist knowledge. Their experiences and knowledge add to the quality outcome.

Be sceptical: A fundamental attitude for auditing and first dates. No explanation needed.

The end game: Be present and absorb maximum intel relevant to the end game. For audits this is contradictory as well as confirming evidence.  Each piece of evidence is viewed in context, against benchmarks and standards (accounting, legal and auditing), for their role in forming a view over the truth and fairness of the financials. A good first date tests end-game-deal-breakers – kale versus cookie? Cheque please.

It’s not very often you can describe an office-based profession as having the adrenaline rush, variety and excitement of a first date, but audits deliver…every time. Start swiping and feel like an auditor.

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