With the advent of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the Department of Education waiving the on-site requirements, auditors had to change the way that they look at auditing – the once automatic on-site audit quickly became a thing of the past. But, what does that mean for the auditee? Those in need of audits must also rethink their approach to the audit process. Here are some helpful suggestions on how to transform your approach to a remote audit.
Several weeks prior to an audit, communication should be established between the auditor and auditee. At that point, a clear expectation of what is needed from each party should be recognized. Items of particular importance include:
- Timing of the remote fieldwork
- Prepared by client listing
- Timing of when prepared by client listing needs to be submitted
- Deadlines for when final reports are needed
Your next step is to look at your policies and procedures to determine how they fit into the auditor’s and your expectations. A major change that comes with remote audits is that many items that were once looked at on paper will now need to be scanned and available in an electronic format. The more items that you can maintain electronically or prepare ahead of time, the quicker and easier it will be for you when fieldwork begins.
Entities sometimes wait until fieldwork begins to communicate issues that arose during planning. This will likely only delay a remote audit, since most, if not all, communication will occur digitally.
The primary changes during fieldwork as a result of auditors not being physically present with you are:
- How you communicate with your auditor
- How information is quickly and efficiently delivered to the auditor
- Time management
At the onset of the fieldwork, the way and the frequency that you communicate with your auditor is crucial to the success of the audit. Text messaging, emailing, phone or Zoom calls can all be used in conjunction to ensure that the proper communication is there. Remember that, as different people work in different ways, poor communication can lead to difficulties during the audit.
Documentation, once communication is established, is expected to be delivered by some means of electronic transmission. It is important that all documentation containing Personal Identifiable Information (PII) be electronically submitted via a secure site. Remember, email is not a secure form of transmission unless you have special safeguards that have been added to your server. Most auditing firms set up a secured site that institutions can access to submit this type of documentation. Use these sites as much as possible. This is going to be extremely important when it comes to the student files that will need to be uploaded as opposed to reviewed on-site. Get a clear understanding from your auditor of what is needed and how it should be safely uploaded so the audit can run just like the auditors are on-site.
Overcommunication is also preferred in these unique times – and the worse thing that can happen in a remote audit is both parties waiting on each other for lack of clear communication.
When auditors are not on-site, it is easy to forget that they are working on the audit. For a seamless process, dates that are set aside for off-site fieldwork require the same level of attention to the auditor’s requests as you would during an on-site audit.
With proper planning and communication during the pre and fieldwork stages of the audit, the audit can run smoothly. The final step includes the auditor performing the post-fieldwork procedures. With an audit conducted virtually, the need for an “exit” interview remains important. This, when audits are performed on-site, is when items that are not finished should be discussed to determine a timeline for completion. Timelines that cannot be met should be communicated to an auditor as soon as possible. In a remote audit, not much changes in the exit interview since this step has historically been handled remotely.
Key Takeaways for a Successful Remote Audit
A successful remote audit can be easily achieved. The key aspects to making that happen are:
- Communication or even overcommunication
- Flexibility – this is a learning process, and certain aspects will be different than they have been in the past
For help with your next Title IV audit, contact our team.