Deloitte says it has seen real resilience from businesses determined to emerge fitter and sharper despite the undoubted uncertainty.
Ian Kelsall, who recently joined Deloitte in Belfast as audit partner, notes that the issues which are now a priority for business leaders serve as a reminder that a meaningful audit can be of immense value to any organisation.
“A quality audit should provide a high level of independent challenge that helps you improve your business. Many of the companies featured in this issue of Business Eye will have been taking stock of decisions they have taken or not taken in recent years. If they haven’t had much in the way of commercial insight or challenge from their auditors, the question is, why not?” says Ian.
“It has been a difficult time for clients, so we have ensured that we have been responsive and flexible while continuing to provide the robust audits they expect. This has allowed us to bring value and insight as they put in place measures to respond to challenges and opportunities.”
Deloitte’s audit practice in Belfast serves some of Northern Ireland’s best-known companies across all industry sectors, from family owned businesses to NI’s largest listed companies. For many finance functions, the pandemic has introduced a virtual work pattern where traditionally everyone was physically in the same place, creating both leadership and regulatory challenges.
Jason Starbuck, director, says: “Deloitte has been driving the use of technology where it benefits clients, applying solutions such as Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Analytics on engagements to bring added impact for Boards and management teams. Completing audits remotely has been a new challenge for some clients but one we have found solutions to, even for large clients with stringent reporting timelines, such as listed companies.
“But technology is not the be all and end all. Our audit team puts a lot of stock in building trusted, sustained client relationships over the long term. We have a very well established senior team, which has been augmented by Ian’s experience, and we are committed to providing long term support to our clients.”
Covid-19 is far from the only issue clients are dealing with. Gareth Martin, director, says new developments in financial reporting continue to provide a test.
“The knowledge and experience that Deloitte has developed as a team in areas such as climate change reporting, corporate governance, section 172(1) reports and new accounting standards means that we have been able to engage early with our clients and work with them to ensure that all their reporting requirements are met,” he says.
“The experience we have as a team through audit, advisory and secondment engagements across a range of sectors such as technology, food and agri, financial services, energy and manufacturing means we have already seen many of the issues that our clients have, allowing us to work with them to quickly identify pragmatic solutions in relation to financial reporting, systems and processes and technical accounting,” he adds.
“From a quality perspective the bar set by our regulators continues to rise and as a firm we are continuing to respond to that challenge through the transformation of our audits using data analytics, centres of excellence and innovative tools to continue to provide the quality service and insight our clients expect.”
Maintaining that quality service means investing in talent and skills. Grace Cartin, senior manager leads the graduate and intern recruitment process for the Belfast audit department.
With nine years of experience auditing industries such as financial services, technology, local government entities, distribution and property management, Grace also has a key employer liaison role with the local universities and spends a lot of time understanding the needs of client companies in order to ensure the brightest and best talent is recruited.
“Ultimately audit quality is driven by innovation, so we look for the capability to adapt and learn in those we recruit,” she says.
“I spent 18 months on a USA secondment to the Global Audit & Assurance Deployment & Adoption team, where I was responsible for deploying a range of innovative and analytical tools designed to enhance audit quality and add value to our clients. Since returning I have taken a lead role in promoting these tools across the firm.”
Dawn Johnston, director, notes that the celebration of the centenary of the appointment of the first female chartered accountant in the world coincides with Deloitte’s celebration of 175 years in business. Diversity is much more of a consideration in the way the team recruits and works with clients, while collaboration with other parts of the firm is also a major focus for the future.
“Collaboration across and within our teams is critical to Deloitte’s success. I’m convinced that a diverse team yields better results, more creative solutions, and a clearer understanding of each other’s points of view,” she says.
“We have come a long way and during my career with Deloitte I have had the privilege of working with plenty of courageous female leaders who have challenged traditional ways of thinking and working,” adds Dawn.
“We can’t afford to be complacent, but I am proud of the blend of diversity and harmony in our audit leadership team in Northern Ireland and the positive impact we make on our colleagues, clients and society. Diversity and Inclusion is an increasingly critical business issue and one of the macro trends that will shape the future world of work and allow us to harness powerful thinking.”
Pictured from (L-R) Grace Cartin, Senior Manager, Gareth Martin, Director, Dawn Johnston, Director and Jason Starbuck, Director, Deloitte NI.