Tuesday, September 5, 2017

AI and the Audit: Why hire a Robot as your Auditor?

On this blog, we've covered the topic of exponential change and how audit/accounting is prone to such forces.

Despite this, I am tempted to say financial auditing is different. It's not like factory work or more controversially like the pharmacist profession where AI claims to offer a safer alternative to dispensing medication.

But does that make me just one of the people who think that their profession is unique because they are in the midst of seismic change but refuse to see the writing on the wall?

At the same time, I don't want to come across as an alarmist claiming that the world is going to end when it really isn't.

It's the challenge of nuance.

While trying to figure out how to tackle this challenge, I came across AppZen; an app that uses artificial intelligence to audit expense report. It was identified in this post as being one of the game-changers in the fintech scene and was also featured in Accounting Today.

According to the company's website, the application "combines computer vision, deep learning, and natural language processing to understand the full context of expenses, not just amounts, dates, and merchant names. ReceiptIQ detects unauthorized charges in real-time from receipt images, boarding passes, travel documents, cell phone bills and any other expense documentation. Cross-checks expenses in real-time against thousands of external and social sources to determine if they are legitimate and accurate... Real-time identification of unauthorized upgrades in airlines, hotels and car rentals as well as out of policy claims for hotel laundry, alcohol purchases, cell phone charges and more."

Reviewing the company's video, I was able to extract the following value propositions:
  • "100% Testing":  I put it in quotes on purpose because the idea is that the whole population is analyzed but only the high-risk ones are further analyzed. That is, this is still "examining on a test basis" but uses a risk based approach to identify what reports should be further examined. This is in contrast to the manual approach of sampling.  
  • Automated exception analysis: Closely connected to the previous point, but to emphasize that there is an automated review of the population.
  • Real-time analysis: Reports can be analyzed instantaneously. Although not explicitly identified in the video, this could have real world savings. Faster reviews - leading to faster reimbursement to employees - could reduce the overall amount owing on corporate credit cards thereby offering more favourable position with the credit card companies. 
  • Seamless integration into existing processes: Add-on to an existing process is a much easier sell than an app that requires replacing the existing app you may have just bought.  
  • Use of external data: The app uses 100s of external data sources to develop. It seems that this assists in building an expectation of whether the expense needs further analysis. 
  • Limited false positives: Not explicitly stated, but it is strongly implied that the number of reports that need to be reviewed is few - meaning it's not flagging reports that are valid.   
  • Reduction of audit costs and fraud: Finally, the app promises greater efficiency in the use of audit resources deployed and greater effectiveness in catching fraud. 
When looking at these benefits of AI-enabled automation, they are based on certain assumptions that may exist in the expense report realm but not in the external audit realm. For example, accounting records at a company are not normally accompanied by a digitized copy of the source document (e.g. invoice, receipt, etc.) that provides evidence of its validity, accuracy, etc. of that accounting entry. 

So which of these assumptions applies in the world of external financial audits? 

This will be the topic of the next post where I will develop a list of factors that enabled expense report to by automated by AI and see if they apply to our world. 

Author: Malik Datardina, CPA, CA, CISA. Malik works at Auvenir as a GRC Strategist that is working to transform the way we do financial audits. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent UWCISA, UW, Auvenir, Deloitte's or anyone else. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Finally, the app promises greater efficiency in the use of audit resources deployed and greater effectiveness in catching fraud." And there's the rub.Looking forward to a follow on article that discusses by way of actual business case on the promise whether or not its true - specially on resource efficiency gains.