Why audit articles are so much more than tick and bash

Table of Contents


Online Course: New Trainees

“Why should I do audit articles if I don’t want to be an audit partner?”

This is a question I field every year from students at various levels in their studies. It is a reasonable question. Given that your training contract should prepare you for your career ahead, why should you spend it learning to do something that you’re not planning on taking any further?
A lot of students view articles as a rather long and painful item they need to tick off their ‘To Do’ checklist before qualifying. The seemingly irrelevant and tedious nature of audit articles further embeds this perception, not to mention the salary! This is unfortunate, since the value of the learning experience will be lost while ticking and bashing the days away.

So, you want to be a CFO, CEO, run your own business…? Will audit articles help you?

Very few other jobs give you access to the type of information that a trainee audit clerk has access to. In a lot of cases, not even the clients’ employees have as much access to the financial information that a first year clerk does!

My philosophy?
Auditing gives you a backstage pass into any business, any industry, at any level.

Let’s look at some of the on-the-job experience and exposure you’ll get when you do articles… and whether they’re at all valuable for anything other than auditing!

  • Exposure to different systems, controls, processes
    • You get to look at, work with, and evaluate a whole bunch of ways different companies do stuff… some work, some don’t! Your risk assessment process means you get to practice pulling a system apart, finding the strengths and weaknesses
      • Whatever business you’re involved in later, having experience with a whole bunch of different ways of doing things, means you have a MUCH larger ‘database’ of options than anyone around you… so it will be way easier to decide what systems, processes, documents, controls etc… to put into your business… instead of having to try stuff without knowing whether they’ll work
    • You’re TRAINED to look for the weaknesses in businesses and systems!
      • This doesn’t sound terribly valuable… but once you’re ‘outside’ the audit world… you’ll realise how few people are able to assess the consequences and ‘holes’ in the way stuff is done. It’s almost second-nature to you to look at a control or process and think… “If you do that, it will be way too easy for someone to change the information without anyone knowing about it…” or “If you don’t put an extra control in here, you’ll never get the information you need at the end of the month…”. Whether it’s your business, or you’re the CEO, CFO, FD of another business… being able to pre-empt errors and fraud BEFORE any control or change is made… is SERIOUSLY valuable 😉
  • The relationship between financial and non-financial information
    • Your risk assessment processes and your ‘outsider’ perspective on businesses when you’re auditing, teaches you how non-accounting ‘stuff’ can affect the financials, accuracy of information etc
      • As an audit team… it’s amazing how easy it is to watch from the outside and wonder whether the CEO ‘knows what’s really going on’ in his accounting team, or whether they’re aware of how much the staff dislike the system, controls, management etc… and you KNOW the impact this type of thing has on the conscientiousness of the staff, how much they care about controls… their complaints, irritations, and issues with stuff… you KNOW that it affects what they do every day… and therefore whether the information is reliable!
      • When you’re running your own, or someone else’s, business… you will have a much better ‘feel’ for how to manage teams, look for trouble before it happens, and address it
    • You’re TRAINED to think about the financial information OUTSIDE the accounting department. 
      • When you’re working in a finance department, it’s really easy to ‘get lost’ in the stuff that goes on IN the department. The reality is that the finance stuff is the ‘hub’ of the business… it needs to bring all the stuff happening in the REST OF THE BUSINESS together. That means that it needs to interact with marketing, production, HR, sales, logistics… to ensure they have the financial info they need, to make decisions about their departments, and you get the info you need to put the financial information together.
      • From the ‘outside’, as an auditor… you’re examining ALL the line-items, interrogating each of them, how they work, what’s going on with them… it means you can get a far more holistic perspective of businesses. It’s easy to lose that perspective if you join a finance department, work your way up, and never really ‘see’ beyond your daily functions 🙂
  •  You have access to management levels that most of their staff won’t have!
    • You get to sit with the Financial Directors, CFO’s, CEO’s of companies and basically ask them “So… what’s up!?”
      • You hear about stuff going on in the business and how it affects them, to an extent that most members of their staff will never get! Very few of their finance staff will be able to walk in to their office and have access to the type of information, (good and bad!) that you hear as an auditor
      • When you run your own business… you’ve experienced this, you understand the levels and thought processes needed to operate at higher levels… the stuff that’s gone right and wrong with other businesses you’ve audited. Would you have that type of exposure if you’ve only ever worked for one or two companies, inside their departments?!
      • Without really realising it, you learn how to interact with and be comfortable with high levels of management. Being around the table of a bunch of directors, the CEO, CFO, FD, your Audit Partner… these are people who work at levels that intimidate a lot of people who are used to working ‘in’ the finance department, as they work their way up the ladder. Sitting in front of a bunch of directors for the first time can be pretty intimidating… but by the time you’ve left articles… it’s second-nature to you!
  • You learn how to communicate on EVERY level… and you most DEFINITELY have to be a “people’s person”!
    • Auditors HAVE to be good communicators to get what they need from clients and their clerks
      • The world still thinks that as an accountants and auditors, you’re ‘not people person’… anyone who’s done ANY form of articles will laugh at that!
        • You have to sit in someone else’s office, sometimes for weeks on end, asking them for stuff they don’t have time to give you, asking questions they may or may not know the answer to, dealing with their fears about ‘getting into trouble’ if the stuff isn’t right, (and some still worry that you’re there to ‘catch them out’ for something!)
        • You have to talk to all levels of staff, from the junior bookkeeper, to the CEO… to get the information you need. This requires different forms and styles of communication, formality etc. You learn how to deal with difficult situations and people who don’t understand why you’re there, what you’re doing, and why you’re asking some weird questions they don’t understand!
        • You have to learn to deal with the frustration of having to wait for information from the client, or going back for the third time to try get the right information, or filter through the LONG explanations from them to get to what you really want. Re-doing work after your senior has given you review queries… you quickly learn how NOT to throw people out the window when you’re tired, frustrated and aren’t getting what you need 🙂 (apparently you shouldn’t leave bodies on the floor at your clients….!)
        • You have to learn to explain what you need from people who don’t understand the same terminology, so you get used to finding other ways to ask for documents, processes, system processes and controls, to get the answers you need. Telling a junior bookkeeper to give you information for your ‘analytical review’ on the Trial Balance isn’t likely to get you anywhere… you need to frame questions for the right audience. You HAVE to be a people’s person.
        • You have to document EVERYTHING you do! Part of the audit process is to document what your objective is before you start the section, why you’re doing it, what you’re planning on doing, how you’re going to do it, and then what you actually did, and what you found when you did it. Sure, it’s painful at the time… but it teaches you how to connect objectives to outcomes, and you quickly learn how to properly document what you did for someone who wasn’t there with you… the loads of review queries you get from your seniors to go back and fill in the findings or clarify what you did quickly teaches you the value of doing it properly the first time! So… your written communication improves.
This is not a comprehensive list… but whichever way you look at it… the more exposure you have to different businesses, information, processes, management styles, thinking and decisions… the better off you are for WHATEVER you do after articles.
Also note this… everything I’ve mentioned above is valuable REGARDLESS of whether you actually qualify! Whether you pass CTA or the Board exams… you still get this exposure… so your articles are still hugely valuable!

However… no one can FORCE learning on you. If you don’t think there’s value in what you do… you’re going to do it like an robot, do what you’re told, complain about how you don’t want to be an auditor for the rest of your life anyway, and not take any value out of it.
Auditing is SO much more than ‘tick and bash’… make sure you get the awesome experience from it!

Online Course: New Trainees

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3 Comments

  1. This was an awesome article!

    I am super excited for articles! I can’t wait to get all this unmeasurable exposure…

  2. This was an awesome article!

    I can’t wait to start articles to gain this unmeasurable and/or “can’t put a price on” kind of experience when doing my articles…

    • Awesome! 🙂 Keep an eye on the site, in the next few days I’ll be posting a video chat I had with Tonia from SAICA relating to articles etc.
      It’s going to be challenging, it will push you out of your comfort zones, they’re long hours, sometimes feel never-ending, and you will hate a lot of it! (Sounds like quite the sales pitch, right?!) But so worth it for your career. Especially if you keep the current attitude you have 😉

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