Handelszeitung: Interview with Professor Reto Eberle

Reto Eberle talks in an interview about the challenges being faced in the audit industry.

Artificial intelligence, digitalization and ESG are just a few of the many issues facing the audit industry. Reto Eberle, professor at the University of Zurich and partner at KPMG, studies the audit industry from both an academic and a real-world perspective. In an interview with Handelszeitung, he talks about the challenges being faced in the audit industry and other topics.

Reto Eberle
Dominik Weber

Head of External Communications

KPMG Switzerland

The launch of Chat GPT made it possible for the public at large to use artificial intelligence (AI). Where does AI offer the greatest potential in auditing?

There’s an enormous amount of potential, but the new technologies also have to be put to meaningful use. The audit industry uses AI (audit with AI) but must also audit that use at the same time (audit of AI). Current technological developments have enabled us to embark on a long journey but we haven’t come very far yet.

The IT landscape is still extremely heterogeneous at present, especially among small companies, making it tough for auditors to use these newly developed tools. In large companies, on the other hand, IT is already highly standardized, which is what makes the use of data analytics and AI possible in the first place. Audit firms are currently using these auditing tools to help them obtain audit evidence. In the foreseeable future, however, it should also be possible to use those tools to autonomously provide evidence.

Will audits become better and more reliable through the use of AI?

AI has the potential to make audits more effective by shifting the focus to examining “outliers” in particular, rather than doing spot checks on the overall set of data. That makes the efforts more targeted. At the moment, though, using AI probably isn’t necessarily any more efficient because we’re still at the start of the learning curve, and that entails large investments.

What impact does digitalization have on your work at the Chair of Auditing and Internal Control at the University of Zurich?

Many research papers address digitalization and its impact on auditing. We also gained experience with online teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s here to stay, though I have mixed feelings about that. In my experience, it’s important that students attend courses in person so they can exchange ideas with other students and with the lecturers.

Will that also bring changes to university curricula for accounting and auditing?

Yes, auditing today isn’t the same as it was twenty years ago. But of course, digitalization isn’t just affecting accounting and auditing. The University of Zurich took that into account by creating an interdisciplinary competence center: the “Digital Society Initiative”. It offers courses like Digital Skills at the master’s level. Technical expertise like that will be indispensable for audit work going forward.

How are requirements profiles for students changing: Will there be a need for more knowledge in the areas of IT and AI in the future instead of traditional accounting skills?

It’s certainly advantageous for students to acquire knowledge in the other areas in addition to accounting subjects. Against that backdrop, changes were made to the curriculum for certified accountant training in Switzerland this year. To use new learning methods with digital tools and to address topics like IT, data analysis and sustainability in greater depth.

What does that mean with respect to recruiting at KPMG, where you’re a partner?

For our Audit division, our recruitment activities still focus heavily on graduates with degrees in business administration from universities and universities of applied science. IT skills are unquestionably becoming increasingly important.

But we also need other professional profiles, like computer scientists and engineers, in connection with sustainability reporting. Not only that, but demand for project management expertise is growing, because a wide range of different specialists are involved in audits and have to be coordinated.

Read the full interview

Interview mit Professor Reto Eberle

Interview mit Professor Reto Eberle

Handelszeitung (in German)

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