Overcoming the Auditor Stigma

According to the ACFE’s 2016 Report to the Nations, the No. 1 way fraud is detected is through tips. However, the most prevalent anti-fraud control put in place by companies is external audits. About 80 percent of survey respondents cited external audits as an anti-fraud control while only 54 percent cited tips as a control. According to Tiffany Couch, CFE, CPA, CFF, Principal of Acuity Forensics, these statistics tell auditors an important story. “There is a huge disparity between what is catching fraud and what is perceived to be the responsibility for catching fraud,” Couch said during her session, “Overcoming the Scarlet Letter ‘A,’” at the 27th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference today.

Couch challenged the auditors in the room to not just acknowledge the barriers in front of them, but to break them down with self-awareness, approachability, rapport and effective communication. “I want you to be the conduit for people to tell you what’s wrong,” Couch said. “We don’t always realize the barriers we put up and the information we might be missing because people are afraid to tell us.”

Below are some suggestions Couch highlighted:

  • Use your professional skepticism. “We are nice people. We are rule followers. But, that is a detriment to us as auditors. When you have a positive view of the world and you get up every day and follow the rules, you can’t imagine that the person sitting next to you isn’t doing the same thing.”
  • Never let anyone pull documents for you. Say, “Can you point me in the direction of…?” And if they insist? “Well, then that’s a red flag. You should go with them and watch them pull the documents.”
  • Make yourself more approachable. Instead of bringing in your own Starbucks coffee, drink the office coffee. Don't go out to eat, but bring a lunch and eat with auditees in their break rooms. These small things will help you build the rapport you need.
  • During interviews, do not interrupt, be a good listener and thank them for their time. Couch mentioned two mandatory questions to always ask:
    • If you were me (or, you were an auditor), where would you look?
    • If there was anything that I could do or say to make your job better, more efficient, etc. what would that be?

According to Couch, without even knowing it, auditors are fighting the perceptions of their roles every day. But she encouraged them to move beyond a check list and aspire to do more than what was done in previous audits. “I know we can change the statistics,” Couch said. “Understanding and overcoming the auditor stigma is imperative to finding fraud and, most importantly, encouraging those with information to come forward.”