To celebrate international youth day, The Accountant and International Accounting Bulletin asks professionals aged under 35 to share their thoughts on the profession: why they qualify as accountants, whether it was challenging and, now that they are in, how they see the profession and where it is going.
When I first heard about the role of a registered auditor, I was sixteen years old. My economics teacher told us that we had to choose the job of registered auditor if we wanted to have a busy and exciting professional life, and in my young ears, that sounded great.
After studying accounting for two years, I found this course much more understandable than geography or science. After some research, I discovered that becoming a registered auditor in Belgium is regulated by the IRE (Institut des Réviseurs d’Entreprises). First, I had to study a Master’s degree in Economics at a university. Secondly, I had to work in an audit firm for 3 years, as well as pass an entry exam and some tests each year. Finally, I had to pass a written and oral test in front of 5 professionals. I felt a little lost having to fulfill such a heavy career path. However, what I knew from my Flemish mother and my Italian father is that there are no problems, there are only solutions. It just depends on how you decide to approach it. So, I progressed, step by step, and year by year.
It was a hard time but what I think is really helpful is the fact that essentially the president of your jury is a university professor. He helped a lot to put me at ease and I explained what I had discovered about the profession and why I wanted to become a registered auditor. Despite my young age, the jury concluded positively on my final exam.
Living in Brussels, I chose Institut Catholique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (ICHEC Brussels Management School), a superior school specialising in economic study. However, I wasn’t comfortable to sit down in a huge room with 1000 students and I needed more humanity. So I then chose a middle-sized school inside Brussels town. It was even more interesting that the teachers in the last two years were registered auditors that were providing practical courses. Finally, I had met some real registered auditors!
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My weekly courses included consolidation, internal controls, ISA’s and IFRS, right up until the last year of my Master’s. The problem was that these courses were theoretical. Therefore, to help me find out more, I took an internship for 2 months. It was difficult in practice as I didn’t really know what contacts, network or Job Day really meant.
During my research, I discovered more about the audit world. The Big Four have a lot of strengths and they can offer qualitative training at the beginning of professional life. They can also offer a large spectre of clients, an international network and a golden reference on your CV. However, I chose to work in a small firm, and we were the only five in the audit department when I found an internship. Later, I was hired by them.
Working in a small firm helped me to understand that nothing is easy. You have to fight for your clients, work effectively and provide a level of high quality in order to retain a good reputation for your firm. In the first year I was working fast but being fast is not always a good thing, more so in audit than in another job. Year after year, I have understood that work quality is much more essential. In case one quickly makes an error, it is better to take the time to read your text twice.
My partner came from one of the Big Four and tried hard to maintain a high quality level, even though there were only 5 of us. This meant that whenever I wrote a report, I had to correct it 10 times before it was good enough for him. It was either a problem with the sentence, an English mistake, a problem with layout, or a missing comma. There was always something he wanted to change. Sometimes, I really thought that I wasn’t good enough to do the job because there was too much to know, too much to do, and too much to study. This was until I understood that it was not a question of time, but of experience.
A few years later, my boss decided to collaborate with a medium-sized accountancy firm that was looking to develop its audit department in Brussels. It was at first a tremendous change for us, from 5 people to a 200 employee structure, with a HR department to individually follow us. There was also a large number of services such as corporate finance, tax, and legal. As the time passed, I now understand why my boss took this decision.
For many years, we have been facing a changing audit world. We have had to follow international standards of auditing, based on risk analysis and have had to modify our audit reports to integrate these standards. We have had to adapt our way of auditing, as well as understand an entity and identify risks. We are much stronger now than we were as a small to grasp these standards and continue to offer qualitative work in accordance with ISA.
I appreciate older professionals who have had to adapt themselves to this new way to work. As I’m a child of the Y Generation, I’m a tech geek: new technologies or methods don’t scare me. For many years, we have been paperless in my office and we have always a portable scanner with our laptop when visiting clients. It is a better way to archive documents and we can work with just a Wi-Fi connection.
Working in the cloud is also positive for flexibility, which is very important to me. The life of an auditor follows the life of the company. Between September and December, we start with the interim audit to understand the entity, identify the important cycles, organise a team planning meeting, visit the clients to review intermediary figures and review the internal controls. At the end of December, we have to control the stock-taking process of all the audited companies with an inventory. From January to April, we review the year-end figures, attend closing meetings, ask for corrections and complete our audit files. Finally, the months May and June are normally for attending work councils, reviewing annual accounts and to give our final opinion. During the holiday months we can take some rest, close the last open audit file, and prepare ourselves for the new season. We never get bored in audit, so my economics teacher was right.
Audit is much more than just figures analysis, it is a human job. Auditing international groups is not only completing audit instruction for the group’s auditor, it is also making the link between the subsidiary and the parent company. I found the most human part of my job, is always while I attend the annual work council. I have to explain, in the more academic way, about the figures of the annual accounts to workers who are often lost facing cold records on the papers. I have to help them grasp the financial graphics the company provides them and there is no better satisfaction than being asked questions as a partner rather than a controller.
I met my life companion during the last year of my Master’s. He had found a job in a medium-sized audit firm and he became registered auditor this year. He was anxious because I had succeeded in 2015 in my first attempt. As we have the same job, the discussions at home are audit and finance oriented. I complain on behalf our future children during the evening dinner.
My next project is to provide training for young auditors. As there are a lot of medium sized and small audit firms with fewer resources than the Big Four, the small and mid-sized firms decided to establish a committee to defend themselves and to coordinate their resources. One of their objectives is to offer qualitative trainings to new auditors and explain the basis audit of the important cycles and this year, I will have the opportunity to lecture in their training program. I want to share my short experience with the next generation and also develop my teaching ability.