The focus on audit quality over the last decade has been, understandably, on what auditors could and should be doing, and it can seem that efficiency and quality sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. With most housing associations having a March year end and a lack of audit resource, this is felt heavily in the social housing sector. Our experience shows that audit quality is most effective when the auditor, the audit committee and management work together. So what can management and auditors do to drive an efficient, high-quality audit and demonstrate that often the factors that drive efficiency and quality are largely the same?
Early planning of the audit is key to setting up for success. The kick off meeting is important – to make it effective, share board minutes and management accounts in advance, so that the auditors can come armed with information and questions, and make sure that the right people attend. Key team members from IT, payroll and development should attend all or part of the meeting to ensure they understand their role in the audit, the overarching objectives and timeline.
The planning phase of the audit is arguably even more important than the final audit phase. Making sure that it is prioritised, that information is provided on a timely basis, and that the auditors have access to everyone they need to speak to, to understand your processes and controls, including those over the IT control environment, is key to ensuring an effective process.
The better the processes established and executed for planning, managing and supporting the audit, the smoother the audit is likely to run. The auditor will have a project manager to coordinate the audit team, experts and specialists and reviewers within the audit firm. It is highly recommended that the audited entity also assigns a project manager for the audit, who will then clearly define and communicate team roles, coordinate and review responses to auditor requests to make sure they are right first time and escalate delays when needed. The auditor can only audit the information they have been provided with – this project management and review role will greatly enhance the efficacy of the audit.
A recent poll of auditors in the sector identified only one audit where reliance was placed on the IT control environment and automated controls were then tested. Adopting a controls-based audit impacts the composition of the audit team and the timing of the work, enabling audit effort to be invested earlier in the cycle. It reduces the level of substantive testing required, thereby reducing the volume of items of audit evidence that the audited entity must provide, as well as providing better assurance to stakeholders.
Work with your auditors and their IT audit team members to identify how changes to the IT control environment could be implemented to enable them to take IT control reliance.
Effective interim audit
A pre year end interim audit to test transactions for the first 9 or 10 months of the year can be effective in shifting audit effort earlier in the cycle. For an interim audit to be effective it must be given the same priority as the year end audit, with full hard close procedures applied. It should be noted that all schedules provided will need to be reconciled to the year-end position to provide a clear audit trail.
Many housing groups comprise of multiple entities, many of which will not be significant components for the group accounts. Consider running different timetables for the group accounts and regulated entities, compared with the non-significant subsidiaries to alleviate the pressure in the May - July period.
Establishing a transparent relationship with two-way, ongoing communication throughout the audit builds greater engagement on the part of management and will support an effective, efficient and higher quality audit, benefiting both management and the auditor. Agree how progress and issues will be communicated and the frequency/format of meetings up front and diarise these for the whole audit cycle.
The audit process involves a relationship between management, the audit committee and the auditor. As in any relationship, it is most effective when all parties are fully engaged. Planning, collaboration and transparent communication from all parties will result in a more streamlined, efficient, and higher-quality audit, and make the process smoother for all parties.