Building the Environment to Create Trust and Solve Problems

FEI Daily speaks with Wes Bricker on building trust in capital markets, the top issues facing capital markets today, and the impact of changing expectations and technology on audits moving forward.

©ConceptCafe/iStock/Getty Images Plus

FEI Daily: You're now a Vice Chair and PwC's assurance leader for the United States and Mexico. What are your main responsibilities in this new role?

Wes Bricker: My role focuses on answering the questions of how we provide assurance in the marketplace and with whom we work. Our business is global, our clients multinational, so audits aren’t confined to any particular region and are conducted around the world. I not only focus on leading the Assurance business in the United States and Mexico, I also serve on our Global Assurance leadership team – where we work to drive consistency in the quality and excellence of our work around the globe.

I'm also connecting across our network so that our work is delivered consistently. My first responsibility and priority is, and will remain, the quality and excellence of the work we do.

Another area of responsibility includes focusing on our people; this means leading a team of terrific colleagues, whether they’re partners, managers, or more junior staff.

And I’m constantly thinking about our tools. Many of these are technology enabled tools, but I’m also focused on the methodology and the techniques employed – both for today's audit as well as tomorrow's. 

FEI Daily: What are you most excited about that you get to do now?

Bricker: I get to continue to play a role in advancing the quality of information that helps people in the marketplace make decisions about their investments. For them, this entails making decisions about financial relationships with companies that need capital in order to operate, grow their businesses, and innovate.

I consider it a privilege to be part of this process with all of our colleagues, partners, and others in the profession who are working on this same element of contributing to the wellbeing of the capital markets.

FEI Daily: Given your experience as the chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission and now as a Vice Chair, what do you view as the top issues facing capital markets today? 

Bricker: Speaking from my current position but with the benefit of my past experiences – I believe that some of the big issues facing the accounting profession relate to understanding the sensible expectations of capital market participants regarding the kind of information that they need, the trust in that information, and who provides that trust.

I believe the accounting profession is strongest when we understand the sensible expectations of the marketplace and how we can play a role in helping to meet those expectations. Speaking in more concrete terms, we all have expectations of one another and- the system is at its best when we identify how expectations are changing. The profession’s challenge is not only to understand these expectations but also to understand how they change so that we have standards and services in place that make sense within that context.

PwC is a leader in the profession and has been a real contributor to the advancement of financial reporting that helps to meets sensible expectations. There will always be more work for us to do in order to keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving business environment, and. I’m excited to continue to advance this work. The PwC purpose statement captures this well, which is building trust in society and solving important problems.

FEI Daily: We’re seeing advancements with RPA, Blockchain, machine learning, and AI among other emerging technologies. How do you foresee these innovations impacting audits moving forward?

Bricker: We are laser-focused on advancing the role of technology in the audit. When we combine our people with technology, we’re at the top of our game. Our people are curious, professionally skeptical, and courageous. These characteristics are enduring and are the kinds of characteristics that we look for and champion in our people.

And we have an opportunity to amplify our people with great technology. We can make sure that our people are well-trained on these technologies. This enables our professionals to have a greater level of awareness of risk, and then to deliver high quality audits. We’re focused on the right things in the right areas, and ultimately delivering insights to the marketplace - whether it’s through expanded audit reports (with critical audit matters coming this year) or communication with the audit committee.

Our approach combines the best of our people and the characteristics of a professional with technology - it’s the two together that creates a better experience with increased value for our people and our clients.

FEI Daily: The Business Roundtable which convened on August 18, called for corporations to pivot from shareholder value maximization to stakeholder value maximization. While shareholder value is comparatively more easily quantified and audited by extension, stakeholder value is more holistic – requiring deeper concepts related to value that the accounting profession hasn’t typically considered. How is this poised to impact both preparers and auditors? 

Bricker: Our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. This is a comprehensive statement of purpose and it underpins my thoughts on our assurance business and also how our leaders think about other businesses and competencies.

For our assurance business, I always seek to advance the role and relevance of assurance within society. We will always seek to deliver our services into the marketplace in a way that narrows expectations gaps and doesn’t widen them. This means that we will seek to provide assurance where events and transactions can be measured in a way that the preparer understands the measurement, the user understands the measurement, and we can add trust.

We will be very focused on understanding expectations and narrowing the expectations gap, not stepping into areas where we widen that gap. This will require further investment in communication with users and prepares, and that’s what I’ll seek to accomplish.

We’ll always be attentive to the risk that a user group may not be well-informed about what a measurement represents. Because of this, we’re always working toward communicating the nature of the work that we do in assurance, our understanding of the framework by which information is prepared and communicated, and its limitations – so the users are well-informed and take the appropriate level of reliance on our work.   

FEI Daily: Short-termism has emerged as one of the biggest issues facing capital markets. During your tenure at the SEC, that was emerged as an area of focus. How can the auditor help address this issue?

Bricker: The value of capital markets stems from the fact that there is greater social value when the whole system enables investors who have both short and long-term goals to put their money into businesses that can deploy that capital against ideas – some of which take a long time to develop and others that take considerably less time.  

As the auditor we seek to obtain reasonable assurance about whether a company’s financial statements are fairly presented, thereby contributing to the trust in that information, which helps enable users of the information to make decisions.

FEI Daily: Any concluding thoughts? 

Bricker: In service, we always seek to deliver it in a high-quality manner that earns trust; quality will always remain at the top of my priority list.

We also have to build for the future and that’s why technology and digital are my second priority. We can’t leave anyone behind as we embark on our digital workforce transformation, so we have trained and will continue to train every one of our people at PwC US on the latest technology skills. Digital upskilling is real and is a substantial investment, but it provides enduring value to every one of our people, and we’re not going to leave them behind. We will upskill our partners and staff so they can participate not only in our firm but in the larger marketplace.

The third priority is thinking about assurance not only today but in the future. I believe there is a demand for greater trust in our marketplace, and it’s our responsibility to find ways to deliver that in a way that sensibly meets expectations.