How KPMG Dani is preparing the firm's auditors for the future

17 December 2019 5 min. read

KPMG’s Digital Assurance & Innovation (Dani) practice is a division of the professional services firm which prepares the Audit function for the future. Anastasia Priklonskaya works for the unit in the Netherlands – spoke to the senior manager to understand more about the practice and the impact it makes.

Operating within its Audit division, KPMG Dani was established to accelerate and guide the evolution of the firm’s audit practice for the digital era, bringing together accountants and data scientists in a single department. Since its inception in 2017, the unit has grown to a team of around 60 professionals.

“Every year up to now my job kept changing a lot,” Priklonskaya says of her twelve years at KPMG, in an industry not commonly known for employee longevity. “I felt like I was constantly learning and developing myself, so I never felt the need to leave the firm. All the opportunities were available within KPMG, it was just a matter of grabbing the ones that felt like a right fit for me.” With CPA accreditation and a passion for innovation, Daní would present as a perfect fit.

“The audit profession has been changing a lot in recent years and still has a lot of potential to change dramatically in the future,” Priklonskaya states, noting that the transition to data-driven audit is still in its infancy. “At Daní we are bringing together the traditional knowledge of auditors with the opportunities of new technology by grouping people with very diverse backgrounds. For the best innovation efforts, the strength is really in the combination of audit and technology skillsets.” 

Anastasia Priklonskaya, Senior Manager at KPMG

In line with a shifting industry, the skillset of auditors is also changing. Not just an avenue for collaboration between specialists, KPMG Daní last year launched an increasingly popular Digital Auditor programme, in which the firm’s auditors learn the basics of programming. This in itself has become an important source of innovation. “Once the auditors start ‘thinking in code’ they also see a lot of opportunities to digitise the traditional audit work,” says Priklonskaya.

This is an important transition for professionals in an industry that “no longer needs to rely on manual labour,” which Priklonskaya notes was the norm only ten years ago. “Now, we can audit all the client’s transactions with smart data analytics and can also pinpoint transactions with high risk from large datasets. Having the ability to detect patterns in client’s data brings a lot of value. We can share insights with clients that were hidden in the large piles of data before.”

Priklonskaya, who believes that these new digital tools make the profession more fun, adds that another positive development in the field of auditing is the use of robotics to perform administrative work, “which is routine and dull.” She continues; “New technologies, such as machine learning, AI and robotics will definitely transform many industries, including the audit one. The auditors will be supported by algorithms and automation and can focus on more value-adding activities.”

Some of those activities, she says, include complex analysis, understanding client’s business, and topics that require professional judgement.  At the same time, Priklonskaya adds, “the topics on which we provide assurance also change as the demands of society change. For example, I expect that society will demand more assurance on algorithms, as increasingly more companies and government organisations are using algorithms to make decisions that affect us.”

“New technologies such as artificial intelligence are transforming audit. KPMG’s Digital Assurance & Innovation practice prepares the Audit function for its tech-driven future.”

When pressed on whether these technological developments will lead to a world where robots take over assurance almost entirely, Priklonskaya says that it’s hard to imagine that it will happen within the next 20-30 years. “I believe there will always be a human element involved in assurance, as long as there is a human element involved in the finance/administration of companies. The audit process is far more complex than most people think, which makes it difficult to fully automate.”

That said, Priklonskaya concedes that, technically, “it should not take too long until an algorithm can conclude with 95% certainty that the financial statements of a company fairly present the company’s position, if a company provides all of its data.” But, she adds; “Will the companies trust this algorithm? Will society trust it to the extent that the laws will be changed? Just like with all other industries, the human factor will determine the pace of adopting innovation in assurance.”

On a personal note, Priklonskaya also points to a human factor in her career at KPMG to date. “In auditing, you always work in a team and throughout these years I have been very lucky working with so many smart, ambitious and dedicated people. Working with colleagues I like was also a very important factor in feeling like I am in the right place! In the last two years, I am also very proud of what we have achieved with the Digital Assurance & Innovation department.”