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Being at the forefront of Audit

As Deloitte, we aspire to make an impact that matters. We do so through a wide range of services, not least the Audit & Assurance services that stand at the heart of our firm and of our 175+ year legacy. Many of today’s service offerings are grounded in audit competencies and specialist knowledge. Liesbeth Mol (Chief Quality Officer) and Rob Bergmans (Audit Business Leader) reflect on the past year and look to the future of audit.

2020/2021 – a remarkable year in many ways?

Mol: Absolutely. The past 12 months have no precedent. COVID-19 had, and still has, a far-reaching impact across all of society, including our clients and Deloitte itself. Many organisations are still faced with supply chain disruption, significant revenue decline and the challenges presented by COVID-19 measures. And we all had to find a way to respond, recover and – hopefully – thrive as we began moving towards a ‘new normal’.

Bergmans: Thinking about our colleagues, I look back on the past year with an incredible sense of pride. To see, time and again, everyone’s flexibility, the effort our colleagues made in switching to a new way of working and the commitment shown to each other and to our clients – it is truly remarkable. It is what enabled us not only to continue our service delivery at the highest levels of quality but also to stick together as a team.

Does the COVID-19 crisis highlight the relevance of audit in wider society?

Mol: Our Audit & Assurance practice has always been committed to the role we play in protecting public trust and confidence in the capital markets. Nevertheless, this is especially important in times like these, as we see the impact of COVID-19 on many organisations and as our government makes substantial public funds available for those organisations.

Bergmans: Certain dilemmas serve to emphasise auditors’ focus on the public interest; dilemmas in which it becomes clear that the entire financial ecosystem needs to work together: government, businesses, auditors and The Royal Netherlands Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (NBA). Our role as auditors in COVID-19 state-aid programmes is a tangible example. We were faced with organisations that were technically allowed to request state aid, but whose continuity was not at stake. On such occasions, we held valuable – and sometimes difficult – conversations with those charged with governance at those organisations. In various cases this led to their returning government funding.

Mol: As Rob said, our line of work does present challenges. Society’s expectations are high. We need to deliver high quality, and to do so consistently. In recent years, we have made and still are making considerable investments in the way we work, our technology, our culture. Furthermore, we have been and continue to be very much part of the wider debate on the future of audit. In the end, it is up to all of our professionals to step up and do what they do best: provide exceptional services. That is something we should not take lightly, even as work pressure remains high. It is a constant challenge, first for our professionals and then for us as policymakers, to manage the resulting workload the best way we can for our people.

What is the relevance of audit at Deloitte?

Mol: Last year marked our 175th birthday, the celebration of a Deloitte that is today a leading global provider of professional services. But audit has been at the core of Deloitte since day one, and it remains one of the many ways in which we create a positive impact on society. Today, audit makes for a substantial part of our overall business in terms of partners, employees and revenue. From a competency perspective, many of our current service offerings are directly linked to the audit profession. Moreover, audit emphasizes the work we do in the interest of public interest’

Bergmans: Tangible xamples of services driven by audit competencies can be found all over our business: our forensic auditors and valuation specialists, both of which are part of our Financial Advisory practice; our tax accounting specialists from our Tax practice; and our IT auditors and internal controls, sustainability and cyber experts, who reside in our Risk Advisory practice. Combined, all these services make up around one-third of our overall Deloitte NL practice, representing some €300 million in service revenues.

How do you see the future ahead?

Bergmans: Optimistic! As Deloitte our expertise is both broad and deep, and that allows us to make a tangible, positive impact on our clients and wider society. Our multidisciplinary model allows us to leverage the work of specialists in a number of areas in response to the increasing complexity of financial statements. The active involvement of our forensic specialists, IT, cyber and controls expertise, tax accounting specialists and more all adds to our audit quality and relevance. Our deep expertise in a wide range of industries is crucial for carrying out effective risk assessments. And last but certainly not least our role in data and data assurance . Furthermore, we are passionate about current developments as we look to the future: we are closely engaged in topics like sustainability reporting and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Mol: To take a slightly different perspective, another interesting factor in our future is the public debate on the ‘future of audit’ and the work of the Ministry of Finance. As Deloitte, we are spearheading efforts around an increased focus on fraud detection and prevention. Furthermore, we contribute directly to efforts to improve continuity risk and audit-quality indicators . Both in the Netherlands and internationally, themes such as control frameworks and non-financial information are beginning to receive the attention they deserve. The public interest is shifting, and people are starting to ask for more information – including assurance – on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters. In all of these topics, Deloitte, and specifically our audit practice, has a valuable impact.

Bergmans: But there are also challenges. As Liesbeth mentioned, we aspire to continuously raise the bar on quality and to enhance the relevance of our services in order to meet evolving stakeholder needs. This is a constant challenge, for our practices and for our professionals. Simply put, there is a lot of work to do and a finite pool of talent to turn to, both within Deloitte and in the labour market.

Mol: That is why we are focused on managing people’s workloads and investing in, for example, our culture programme. We strongly believe in establishing an open culture, where everyone feels free to speak up and where others, especially those in managerial or leadership roles, listen carefully. Our future is bright, but we know we still have our work cut out for us.