A Conversation with… Sue Almond, Global Head of Assurance at Grant Thornton International

In June 2018, our CEO Mark Edmondson had the chance to sit down with Sue Almond of Grant Thornton International and pick her brain about the future of accounting.

Sue joined Grant Thornton as the Head of Audit and Assurance in the UK in 2015 to work closely with the firm’s leadership with a focus on quality and excellence. Shortly after his conversation, in July 2018, Sue took on the role of Global Head of Assurance at Grant Thornton International, where she’ll be working on growing assurance services across the international network.

You can watch the complete conversation above, and here’s a few highlights:

Reimagining the audit for the 21st century

Sue believes we need to bring the audit into the 21st century.

“If what the market needs now from an audit product is not a bunch of transaction testing, which may have been the case 50 or 100 years ago, but something that is more future-looking, then why don’t we have the conversation about what that looks like for everybody and try to reimagine what the audit might be in the 21st century environment?”.

For Sue, the world has moved on and the audit needs to move with it. “Frankly if you look at what an audit is, it was designed back in the days when everything was manual”, she explains. “You probably sold something you could touch to a person you could see”.

But today, with so much business being done online and more and more instances “where a service provided is completely different to where the people are”, the audit needs updating.

And to meet that demand, firms needs to become more adaptable…

Becoming more adaptable

Sue welcomes the influence other sectors and new technology are having on the accounting industry. In fact, she thinks they’re integral to the future success of the sector.

“Accountants probably come with a mindset sometimes of a more structured way of doing things. But actually, the market is moving so fast that what’s working for us now might be completely different in a year or two years’ time”, Sue explains.

In her eyes, the firms that are going to have the most success going forward will be the ones that are the most adaptable and the least resistant to change.

“We’ve got to have the mindset of ‘I’m going to do this work in this way this year and then next year I’m going to think what might be the best way to do it then’”, she says. “And you know what? There might be something that’s completely different and might give us a better quality output”.

Sue thinks accountants need to get into the habit of asking “what are the key risks and how are we going to address them?”. The answer “might be different next year to what it is this year”, and accountants needs to get used to the fact that’s going to be “the new norm”.

Is a robot going to be doing my job in three years’ time?

The most common question Sue gets at conferences? “Is a robot going to be doing my job in three years’ time?”.

The fear that advances in technology are going to put an end to the accountant are widespread, and Mark faces this question regularly as well.

However, the way Sue sees it, the latest technologies are going to “release accountant’s talent so they’re focussing on what we really want them to focus on”. This means adding real value to a client’s business and becoming their valued business advisor, not just the person who rubber stamps last year’s finances.

The way Sue sees it: “So will accountants be doing something completely different in the future? Well quite possibly. But is that a bad thing? Not necessarily… People are doing different things, but they’re getting and giving more in the process”.

Rather than making accountants obsolete, Sue shares our belief that technologies will take the low complexity work out of the equation that currently defines the first few years of every accountant’s career. This will make accountancy a much more appealing prospect for the next generation of talent.

Watch the video above to take a deep dive into the conversation and get an insight into the thoughts of one of the biggest names in accounting.