Navigating Disruption Requires The Intersection Of Talent And Technology

by Jeanne Boillet and Karen Hochrein

New technologies are greatly enhancing audit quality and the value that firms can deliver to clients, in the form of deeper insights and strategic advice.


It’s no surprise that sustained digital disruption has led many business leaders to question how they keep their businesses relevant in the face of so much rapid change. The auditing profession is no different. Yet this changing landscape provides the perfect backdrop to raise the questions: how can we maximize the opportunity presented by innovation to thrive in the digital age? What do we need to do to support how our people stay relevant in the midst of significant technological change so that we can take advantage of the technology? 

For us at EY, digital transformation isn’t just about technology; it’s about how we can continue to provide the highest quality audit and exceptional service to clients. Yes, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and data analytics are playing increasingly important roles in how we work today. But that doesn’t mean the role of assurance professionals has, or will, in any way, be diminished. This is because, far from being mutually exclusive, technology and people empower one another. Innovation helps us to think differently. It helps us adapt more easily to changing business and operational models and think about how we enhance existing solutions and offerings to clients.

Yet, however innovative the technology, it can only add value to the audit if skilled professionals are able to pinpoint where it will deliver the most impact, in terms of supporting improvements in processes and audit quality. This is exactly what has happened with numerous digital innovations at EY, where teams working on the frontline of the business have identified how technology could improve existing processes. At the same time, new technologies are greatly enhancing audit quality and the value that our people can deliver to clients, in the form of deeper insights and strategic advice. 

Unlocking the value from the beginning

New technologies haven’t just increased the value that our people are able to deliver for clients, they have also made the profession a more attractive option for those starting out in their careers – those studying accounting as well as those from other academic backgrounds such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates. The use of RPA and analytics has removed many of the more repetitive areas of a career in audit, such as intercompany reconciliations, giving professionals more time to focus on higher value work, using their judgement and professional skepticism much earlier in their career. And with AI being increasingly used in more processes, it is helping auditors go one step further in responding to client needs and issues. 

In fact, digitally native millennial and Gen Z employees, or “technoholics” as they are often described, aren’t scared of working alongside emerging technologies; they’re excited by the prospect. Indeed, with 84 percent of our current workforce made up of Gen Y/ millennials, we know they are inspired by tech-savvy, interesting work. They want to know they have a role in an innovation culture. They want to be part of an open-minded culture, where developing new approaches and ideas is encouraged because everyone, from the top-down to the bottom-up, recognizes that innovation is not always disruptive, it can add just as much value when applied in ways that consistently improve the processes we have today while preparing for the future. 

Firms must therefore embrace and harness this confidence and enthusiasm to drive positive change. That means exploring new ways of recruiting and developing talent to empower and engage these younger generations, while at the same time attracting the diverse skills that are needed to build the workforce of the future. Many EY regions, for example, already use open-sourced technology to capture innovation, and we have a focus on innovation in our performance goal-setting to demonstrate its importance. 

We’ve also introduced greater flexibility into our recruitment, both in the skills we target and how we attract them. For example, we recently launched an Instagram campaign, #StayCurious, to tap into a broader network of potential recruits, reaching 10 million STEM students and graduates in 83 countries. We have also launched our global talent marketplace, GigNow, where we provide opportunities to workers in the “gig economy,” who are seeking more flexibility or short-term assignments. By matching qualified contractors with projects, the platform brings us critical skills in areas such as digital, cyber security, robotics and blockchain. Since it launched it has registered more than 6,000 contractors and matched close to 500 professionals with EY projects.

But recruitment is just one part of the picture. We must also build the right leadership and culture within the business, where innovation and creativity can flourish. That means becoming comfortable with trying new things, and learning from mistakes, while nurturing those skills that can’t be automated, such as relationship and trust building, problem-solving and critical thinking. 

Our new global approach to performance management, known as LEAD, is designed to help drive this shift by introducing greater transparency, real-time feedback and removing one-dimensional, numeric performance ratings. We’ve also introduced EY Badges, which recognize the acquisition of future-focused skills, particularly in digital areas such as AI, data transformation, data analytics and digital strategy. Together, these initiatives help our people to experiment, learn and grow on an ongoing basis, supporting them to develop the skills they need to become dynamic, agile leaders. 

Of course, in audit, we are cognizant of the policies, controls and regulations that govern us, ensuring we work within and alongside these boundaries. We’ve come to know this challenge as “freedom and the frame,” where “freedom” is creativity, innovation and self-expression, and “frame” is the framework that our industry allows. We know that regulators are having many of the same discussions that we are about the trends and advancements that are taking place, and it is a challenge that we will continue to navigate together.

What we don’t want to do is shy away from digital transformation, out of fear of the unknown, or risk of failure, when the only real risk is to stand still. As an industry, Assurance has always taken on the best and the brightest, and our people will continue to be our greatest asset. Now, with the incredible technology within easy access that will free up time from routine tasks, our people have the opportunity to gain more valuable experiences earlier, learn faster and accelerate their career.

Jeanne Boillet is EY's Global Assurance Innovation Leader and Karen Hochrein is EY's Global Assurance Talent Leader.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.