We hosted a daylong workshop in collaboration with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) to explore the future of audit and assurance in Canada. Our 35 participants represented a wide range of practitioners, preparers, and users of audit information.
We had built the session on one of the major outcomes of AuditFutures – the identification of four areas of debate with respect to the future of auditing and assurance. After establishing a base for the day discussing the nature of a profession in today’s world, in the audit and assurance profession in particular, the group explored:
- the role of audit in society;
- the evolving scope of assurance, especially with respect to the breadth and depth of information it covers;
- the nature of the people involved in the profession
- the impact on the institutions performing the audit work as well as those using the audit results.
Future profile of audit and assurance
The collective group drew some notable conclusions in the dimensions of role, scope, people, and institutions.
The role of the auditor in today’s society is changing in terms of the nature of the data needing to be “audited,” and the audiences for this information.
Two main drivers of this shift appear to be the growing business complexity and the demand by the public for greater transparency.
Along with the increase in business complexity and in the data used by management for decision- making comes the demand both for verifiability of the data being used, and for an extension of what data needs to be verified, e.g., multiple dimensions of risk, environmental sustainability factors.
In addition, the validation needs to be done in a more timely manner, if not continuous, and address multiple audiences, including the public at large.
Considering the expanding role mentioned above, there is an opportunity for the scope of the auditor’s focus to increase significantly. This expansion is multi-dimensional, going  more deeply into, for example, the risk associated with the financial dimensions,  more broadly into non- financial areas like sustainability, health and safety, and corporate governance, and  more forward-looking contrasted with the current predominant focus on historical information.
The extension would also be into identifying auditable mechanisms for those areas of decision- making data beyond the financial aspects.
The major increasing challenge is attracting individuals to the profession. Given the potential shift in the role and scope of the auditor, there is an opportunity to render the profession a more appealing
With the broader expectations of the audit professional, it will also mean drawing in individuals with broader backgrounds and more business acumen, and offering them more career path options
under different business models, i.e., beyond the “partner” model.
Clearly, with the expanded role and scope, the firms will need to redefine the services being offered, engaging other disciplines like engineering and economics and partnering with other providers to
deliver a robust service offering.
Four themes emerged in the discussions on the next steps that would move the initiative forward.
Building momentum towards understanding the future role of the auditor
The core of this initiative is identifying and consulting with key user groups to better understand their emerging – and different – assurance needs, and developing some profession-wide responses
to those needs.
Attracting talent to the profession
Recognizing the impact of unification of the accounting profession in Canada, and the continuing need to attract highly qualified individuals to the profession with changing skills sets and competencies, explore with others what changes would help attract the “right” people to the profession.
Developing thought leadership in areas of concern
Using a research-based approach, CPA Canada can sponsor the development of some thought leadership publications on issues of importance to the members and the public in general. Starting points could include, for example, social conscience topics (acting with ill intent) and managing reputational risk.
Enhancing the profile of the audit profession
In this initiative, the focus is on how to invest in technology and share business best practices as a profession to enhance the relevance and meaningfulness of the audit.
In closing, the group confirmed the importance of collaboration with AuditFugtures, ICAEW and the profession in other jurisdictions in order to leverage resources and achieve synergies regarding enhancing the role of the auditing profession.
This summary has been prepared by our workshop facilitator Bob McCulloh from the notes recorded by members of the small workshop groups and reflect the opinions and perspectives of the participants.