What does the future of an auditor look like?

The future of auditors

More and more industries are being changed by technical advances or socio-political influences and therefore have to be ready for ever new hurdles. Auditing is no exception. Not only companies have to prepare for this, but also students who have to adapt to these advances long before they start their careers. Prof. Dr. Rolf Uwe Fülbier from the University of Bayreuth explains the developments in the WP industry and what students should pay particular attention to.

Auditing, like many other industries, is always changing. What major challenges does it have to face in the years to come?
We live in a time of extremely increasing regulation and auditors in particular have to deal with an increasing number of rules in the areas of auditing, governance and compliance year after year. This not only affects financial reporting, but also the increasingly important area of ​​non-financials, which reflects the social demand for responsible and sustainable corporate governance. The fact that digitization offers immense challenges and opportunities, but some of which can have a disruptive effect, reinforces the impression of today's dynamism. External shocks such as financial crises or the Covid-19 pandemic also have a disruptive effect and change the entire business environment and thus also the professional field of auditors. Since WPs have always been, are and will be extremely well trained, they can help shape these stormy times and, in my opinion, they are more in demand than ever - also as consultants. However, the content of training and activities is changing. New topics are emerging more and more, especially in the areas of IT and data analysis, which complement the specialist knowledge in accounting, taxes and auditing as well as the broad background knowledge in business administration and commercial law - which is extremely important in these hectic times. After all, auditors must ideally be one step ahead of companies in order to be able to audit and advise appropriately - also in the field of digitization and big data analysis.

It is therefore of vital importance for the WP companies to recruit good graduates. In order to prevail against the competition in the "war for talents", they have to create attractive framework conditions, that is, flexible and family-friendly work models for Generation Y and Z, attractive remuneration (even before the professional examination) and more unconventional career paths beyond the "up or out “philosophy. The auditing department is already working on increasing this attractiveness. The good people are highly sought after and are exposed to the high demands of auditing, long training and the increasingly complex structures in their job. An attractive piece of the mosaic for students and auditing companies is certainly the forward shift of parts of the professional examination to particularly committed universities and colleges.

You mentioned digitization. What role does it play and how do students with the professional goal of auditors best prepare themselves for its effects?
A top training is the best insurance against unpleasant surprises on the later job market and career path. Of course, not all of them have to (additionally) study computer science, but a certain basic understanding of information and data processing and IT processes is likely to become more and more important. Above all, the interfaces between auditing or accounting and IT seem to me to be important, for example when assessing and implementing the possibilities of AI-based audits, discussing blockchain in accounting or when analyzing large quantitative and qualitative amounts of data. I can therefore only advise students today to undertake extensive training at the university - incidentally, that is a plea for the § 13b WPO path in a detailed business administration degree - and to have the courage to take part in interface events or courses from other faculties. In Bayreuth, for example, we offer a course on digital financial reporting and have a range of exciting technical or legal lectures for (business) engineers and (business) computer scientists or as part of our so-called "WP option" in the master's degree in business administration.

What is the particular attraction of auditing and which business areas are you particularly interested in?
Auditing has always offered advantages in the extreme versatility of the profession. The young professionals quickly get various insights into different companies and industries and are immediately in contact with a wide variety of people - some at the highest hierarchical levels - from their own team and with clients. As already mentioned, the activity is subject to high dynamics, so that boredom does not belong to this job description. You experience current trends, observe benchmarks on a daily basis, benefit from long and steep learning curves and are not subject to the risk of "corporate blindness". In addition, you can choose whether you want to be more specialized and international in large investment companies or more generalist and regional in smaller ones.

As an accounting researcher, I still find the areas of accounting and auditing to be the most exciting. Here, too, there are currently so many new, interesting questions that also concern us in research and that are not only related to digitization and large amounts of data. How will financial and non-financial reporting evolve? Who or what are the drivers here? How individual and timely will data retrieval be in the future? What options does the audit have to support and improve these processes? Will the strong and bureaucratic (over) regulatory tendency of the last few years continue? I am curious to see what will happen in the next few years and I am convinced that the job description of the auditor will continue to be attractive. The good level of training will always enable a wide range of applications. Auditors were never in danger of being “technical idiots” with a short half-life.

For many, entering the world of work can be difficult. How do you prepare your students for success in practice immediately after graduation?
Apart from the fact that our ideal of the "Bayreuth-style economist" has always been inspired by methodical and technical extensive and international training for students and confronting them with practice-relevant topics, we offer a highly interesting platform for direct practical contact, especially as part of our WP option. On the one hand, we organize workshops, courses and case study seminars in exchange and in the organization with the practice, the content of which is excellent for the students to adapt to practice. As a university, our aim is not to learn norms and standards by heart, but rather to promote fundamental, conceptual and analytical understanding and to train problem-solving skills. On the other hand, we have a practice partnership model with very heterogeneous but exciting practice partners from auditing. These partners accompany the young people in our WP option during their studies, provide them with advice and assistance, offer internships and working student activities and are therefore of course also suitable for starting a career. We bring the breadth of auditor exams and auditor activities into our WP option training and offer courses in business administration, economics and business law. In Bayreuth, this is due to the fortunate (and rare) circumstance of having an excellently positioned, well-networked and harmoniously operating law and economics faculty.

Which questions are currently being discussed particularly intensively at your chair?
This question is always dangerous for scientists because you like to talk long and in detail about your research interests and - of course - are very enthusiastic about it. Interested parties are welcome to visit us on the homepage or contact us to find out more.
The focus of research at my chair is international accounting according to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in terms of conception, application and effect. This influences a wide range of questions, for example how IFRS standards are created, who drives them, or how the standards affect the creators and their stakeholders, for example on the capital markets. Incidentally, the German standard work on international accounting is being developed and constantly updated in Bayreuth together with colleagues from Munich, Berlin and Bochum. Of course, we are now also focusing more on non-financial reporting and are using, for example, tools for automated text analysis to evaluate information outside of the arithmetic operations, including in the management reports. Another research focus is corporate publicity away from the capital markets, for example the federal gazette publicity of a medium-sized company. Digitization topics always play a role, be it on the methodological level or even as an object of investigation itself, for example when it comes to new digital report formats or megatopics such as blockchain.

Let us now take a closer look at starting your career. How do the various auditing firms differ and how do you find the right employer within the accounting sector?
We tried specifically to map the complex range of auditing and to combine large, so-called Big 4 companies with somewhat smaller and medium-sized, but still very successful companies. The cooperative area is also present with us - another exciting playground for the profession. Our students are then spoiled for choice and can choose the ideal partner depending on their individual preference (in terms of size, area of ​​application, preferred region in Germany, degree of specialization, industry and capital market orientation and the like). I cannot put any ranking here myself. Everything has its advantages. Every society is different. The more generalistic approach of a medium-sized company appeals to students who want to deepen their knowledge in the areas of accounting, auditing, business law and taxes and who want a more regional focus. A Big 4 company, on the other hand, can boast higher specialization and larger, international mandates. The cooperative sector in turn marks its own facet, which is also very exciting thematically and, incidentally, strongly oriented towards the financial sector. It is also questionable whether one will commit to the final exam or the advice. Ultimately, even during their studies, students have the opportunity to get to know companies in an uncomplicated way and to deepen their impressions, for example in an internship.

In your experience, what do employers in the WP industry look for most when assessing candidates?
Broad, well-founded knowledge of business administration and commercial law is important, an affinity for data would be desirable and additional training such as the Bayreuth WP option would be ideal. Our graduates have been absorbed into the job market long before they graduate over the past ten years - and it will continue to do so! Previous experience in exam practice, for example through internships or working student activities, also helps. IT skills are becoming more and more important, but they shouldn't be a deterrent. Not everyone has to be able to program later. Otherwise the personal component is indispensable. Auditing is often teamwork. Communicative, open and curious personalities have it easier. Naturally appearing, team-oriented people with “social skills” are in demand - ultimately the harmony and the personal level have to be right for both sides. The previous experience in the internship is also instructive for this.

Rolf Uwe Fülbier has been a professor for international accounting at the University of Bayreuth since 2008. Before that he was professor at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management from 2005 to 2008. He studied business administration at the University of Cologne and received his doctorate or habilitation under Bernhard Pellens at the Universities of Münster and Bochum. He has been a tax advisor since 2005. He is also a trained banker at Deutsche Bank AG. It was funded by the German National Academic Foundation, among others, has rejected various appointments (including Kiel University in 2007, Innsbruck University in 2011), has received awards in research and teaching (most recently in 2019 the Best Paper Award from the European Accounting Association EAA for "Accounting in Europe" with a study on the IASB standards setting process) and worked as a visiting professor or visiting scholar in Oxford UK (2005), Wellington NZ (2011) Shanghai CHN (from 2016) and Sydney AUS (2019).

For years, Professor Fülbier has been researching and teaching intensively in the field of international accounting (IFRS) and corporate disclosure. He is the author of numerous national and international publications as well as editor and reviewer of various scientific journals in Germany and abroad. Together with his colleagues Pellens, Gassen and Sellhorn, he also presented the standard work on international accounting (10th edition since spring 2017).

Rolf Uwe Fülbier coordinates the auditor option in Bayreuth according to § 13b WPO (shortening of the WP examination according to § 13b WPO) in the master’s degree in business administration, is a long-standing member of the examination committee for auditors and sworn accountants of the Chamber of Public Accountants and since 2020 also chairman of the scientific committee Accounting Commission WK RECH, i.e. all German-speaking researchers in the field of accounting and auditing in the VHB - Association of University Teachers for Business Administration

The Bayreuth Chair for International Accounting provides students with the essential basic and specialist knowledge in the field of accounting, corporate disclosure and auditing during their university education. A claim to excellence applies here, according to which practical and research-related knowledge should be conveyed in an exciting way so that the students can also get enthusiastic about this highly interesting material. The WP option supervised by the chair is a beacon project in teaching, has been successfully accredited for years by the Chamber of Auditors and ultimately the only program according to § 13b WPO in the master’s program of a German university for both applied business administration and business law.

The research of the chair is about constructively accompanying the further development of the highly dynamic international accounting from a scientific point of view. Essentially, this research aims at the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in conception, development, design and application as well as effect. Further fields of research include the reporting of medium-sized companies, aspects of auditing and especially newer problem areas of digitization, non-financial reporting and text analysis.

More information at www.irl.uni-bayreuth.de

You can find out more about the topic in our career network