Interview: Catherine Burnet CA

Corporate culture web header
By Andrew Harbison, CA Today

11 March 2019

Catherine Burnet CA, Senior Partner for KPMG in Scotland, and ICAS council member speaks to Andrew Harbison about the importance of good corporate culture, and the influence of technology.

What part does corporate culture play in today’s business landscape?

What's becoming quite clear is that when you're dealing with high levels of uncertainty - whether it's Brexit, the impact of the US election or huge changes in technology - having a strong corporate culture underpinning the business is absolutely key.

It’s also key to deliver long-term sustainable growth. At KPMG our role is to work with all our clients to support them in delivering long-term economic growth.  It is clear to me that a strong corporate culture is a key part of delivering that growth in any organisation.

What can be done to ensure a positive public perception of big business culture?

A lot of that is about ensuring that investors, shareholders and the public understand the corporate culture of the business.

Companies are getting much better at talking about the corporate culture and what that translates to in terms of expectations, values and how they expect people to behave.  What is really important is that a positive approach to culture is driven from the top. You can't set a culture which is not followed from the top.

Catherine Burnet CA

The challenge is then how do you measure it? We've done quite a lot of work on this through our internal audit co-source engagements. Internal audit have often been asked to report on culture and measure it in some way. There's a combination of hard data you can measure: employee survey results, whistle blowing helplines and customer satisfaction and feedback results.

How do you see advances in technology, and the use of big data, affecting the audit profession?

First you have to consider the quality and accessibility of the data that an organisation has. Many organisations are grappling with legacy systems, responding to cyber security concerns – both examples of what can impact on quality and accessibility of data.

The second consideration is looking at how we can use that data to continue to deliver better quality audits or provide more value from the audit.

For example, can we use data mining techniques, which means we can audit 100% of a population as opposed to sampling.

There are many different ways we can use data, but what has to underpin it is the quality and accessibility of the data.

Blockchain is being used more in the audit environment. Do you think this technology could spell the end of the audit profession?

No matter how much you automate a process, there's always a level of judgement that’s required, and that's quite difficult to automate. There also needs to be a fundamental level of engagement between the auditor and the audit committee and the FD.

Seeing the whites of somebody's eyes when they tell you they've audited the numbers and they're comfortable with the levels of judgement is so important.

That’s the experience most of our clients want. They want a level of interaction and informed consideration of the results produced from the automation of the audit.

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