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What Is an Auditor?

What is an auditor? What does an auditor do?

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Auditors are finance professionals who perform audits — they review financial statements, internal processes, and transaction records to assess accuracy and completeness. Internal auditors typically work for the company they audit and guide management on improving recording and reporting processes. On the other hand, external auditors work for accounting firms performing audits on other companies. Since all public companies in the U.S. are required to go through periodic audits, auditors are always in need. 

In this guide, we’ll go over:

What Does an Auditor Do?

An auditor is a person who investigates business processes and determines the accuracy of business transaction records. 

“Generally speaking, an auditor is an expert providing an independent assessment of a company’s financial statements, systems, and internal controls,” says Pascal Ambrosino, CPA at Burlington Street Partners.

Many auditors have a certified public accountant (CPA) license, which helps them ensure companies adhere to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This is especially important for public companies in the U.S. because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires all U.S. public companies to follow GAAP and undergo periodic audits.

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Some of the key responsibilities of an auditor include:

  • Analyzing financial records
  • Reviewing accounting systems and bookkeeping practices 
  • Identifying potentially fraudulent information and areas at risk for fraud
  • Inspecting tax documentation
  • Making recommendations for improvements to processes 

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Types of Auditors

While an auditor’s job is generally the same regardless of where they work, there are a few distinct types of auditors. 

Internal 

Internal auditors work for a company and perform audits on their own employer. An internal audit often focuses on efficiency: are the company’s systems all working properly and efficiently, and are there areas for improvement? 

However, another essential part of internal auditing is checking for compliance, accuracy, and risk. Internal auditors need to ensure the company conforms to any regulatory requirements and that information is reported accurately. 

In examining the company’s processes, an internal auditor also looks for areas of risk — is there a practice in place that could result in inaccurate reporting down the road or a gap in the reporting process that leaves the company’s financial statements incomplete? 

The primary benefit of having an internal auditing team is that communication is easier. After all, it can be easier to discuss significant issues with company processes with someone who is your coworker. Additionally, internal auditors make an external audit run smoother — they can point out any big problems and recommend solutions to them before an external audit happens.  

>>MORE: Learn more about the process of internal audits with JPMorgan’s Internal Audit Analyst Virtual Experience Program

External

External auditors work for accounting firms like Deloitte and EY. These firms are independent of the companies that auditors audit. For example, if a company is due for an audit because of SEC regulations or shareholder or board requests, the company will hire an independent accounting firm to handle the audit. 

These external auditors review the client company’s financial statements, internal processes, and reporting systems to ensure accuracy and identify risk areas. Ultimately, internal and external auditors have the same goal: verify that records are accurate and recommend ways to fix them if the documents are inaccurate. 

One key difference between internal and external auditors is that external auditors are public accountants, meaning they have a certified public accountant (CPA) license. Internal auditors are sometimes CPAs, but they aren’t required to have this certification. 

External auditors are beneficial because they are fully independent and don’t have any inherent biases toward the company they are auditing. 

>>MORE: See what working in external auditing at a Big Four firm is like with PwC’s Financial Audit Virtual Experience Program. 

Other Types

Ultimately, this job involves investigating, so auditors exist in a variety of other industries and capacities. For example, governmental auditors specialize in reviewing records from government agencies and in ensuring public and private companies comply with government regulations. Another type of auditing, forensic auditing (or forensic accounting), involves reviewing financial records to identify illegal activity, and these auditors are often called to testify in court proceedings. 

A slightly different type of auditor is an information technology (IT) auditor, responsible for reviewing a company’s computer and technology systems to find risks. IT auditors also review internal control systems to source any weaknesses in security and inefficient practices. 

Typical Day as an Auditor

A typical day in an auditing career may vary depending on the type of auditor, the client, and the part of the auditing process the auditor is handling. 

“An audit has many phases, and each phase can take weeks to complete,” says Ambrosino.

The auditing phase typically begins with research and planning. Then the auditor goes through fieldwork, examining all the documents and details noted in the research and planning phase. Afterward, they summarize their findings and give a report to the client. There are follow-up meetings after the final report to ensure the client is implementing changes. 

So, a day as an auditor will look different in the fieldwork phase compared to the follow-up phase.  

“A typical day during the planning phase will involve getting an understanding of the business, talking to different individuals within the company, and reviewing a lot of process documentation so that you can develop risk matrices,” says Ambrosino, “while a typical day during the execution phase will involve reviewing a lot of financial transaction documentation.” 

The day-to-day can also vary depending on seniority since experienced auditors usually have more responsibility. 

“Younger auditors will likely spend several days working on a single client — examining audit evidence, making inquiries of the client, and documenting what they’ve done, whereas more experienced auditors will usually manage multiple client engagements,” says Troy Janes, professor of accounting at Daniels School of Business, Purdue University.

>>MORE: Explore the audit process with KPMG’s Audit and Assurance Virtual Experience Program

Auditor Salaries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for accountants and auditors across all experience levels, locations, and industries is $83,980. However, not every auditor is an accountant, and not all accountants are auditors, so this conflation can be misleading. 

Additionally, experience level has a significant impact on an auditor’s salary. For example, Glassdoor reports that the average auditor’s salary, regardless of experience, industry, or location, is about $57,600. However, Glassdoor also reports that those with over 15 years of experience have an average total compensation of around $98,000, and those with less than one year of experience are paid around $54,200 per year. 

Estimates from Payscale are slightly more optimistic, with auditors early in their careers having an average salary of around $57,000 and those with more than 20 years of experience seeing pay rates nearing $80,000. 

>>MORE: Check out the highest-paying finance careers

How to Become an Auditor

Education

The first step toward becoming an auditor is getting a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, business, or a related field. Some schools may offer majors, minors, or certificates in auditing specifically, though most don’t, which is why many auditors start with accounting degrees. 

A bachelor’s degree is just the beginning, though. Auditors can choose to go for higher degrees in accounting or finance-related areas. 

“Although a master’s degree in accounting is not required, it is the best path to meet the education requirements,” notes Janes. “Master’s degree holders pass the CPA exam at higher rates and are promoted to higher levels within firms, so there are definite advantages to getting a masters degree.”

Besides your major, the courses you take also matter.

For example, Ambrosino recommends “taking some additional online courses on data analytics and data visualization.” Ambrosino says that “being able to list these as skills on your resume and talk about them will position you well during the interview process compared to your peers.”

Prospective auditors should also seek out internship opportunities while in college. 

Janes says that taking multiple internships “will give you exposure to the profession and help you decide whether it’s what you really want to do.” 

Certifications and Licensing 

Licensing and certification requirements depend heavily on what area of auditing you go into. 

For example, “all CPA firms will require you to get a CPA license to work as an auditor,” adds Janes. 

The general requirements for gaining a CPA license are: 

  • Obtain a relevant college degree with at least 120 credit hours
  • Have two years of work experience as an accountant 
  • Pass four CPA exams
  • Maintain the license through annual continuing education

While a CPA is required for external auditing careers, internal auditors can still benefit from becoming a CPA. Additionally, internal auditors can gain a certified internal auditor (CIA) certification. This certification involves:

  • A relevant college degree
  • Two years of relevant work experience for those with a bachelor’s degree; only one year of experience for those with a master’s degree
  • Pass a three-part exam
  • Maintain the certification through continuing education

>>MORE: Kickstart your auditing career with KPMG’s Career Catalyst: Audit Virtual Experience Program.

Opportunities for Advancement

In general, advancing in an auditing career is a straightforward process. “You start as a junior and progress up to Manager after ~5 years,” says Ambrosino. “You will be promoted along with your peers in a fairly linear progression over the years as long as you are performing in line with expectations.” 

External auditors who choose to stick to the profession and perform well eventually become partners of the firm. This can take over ten years, though. 

It isn’t very common for other careers to transition into auditing since many auditors start directly out of college. However, they do have some options for areas to transition to later in their careers. 

“You can transition to internal audit within a company, transition into a finance role at a company (controller to CFO), and even transition into an [business] operational role,” adds Ambrosino.

Pros and Cons of an Auditing Career

ProsCons
Ample opportunitiesRepetitive
Transferable skillsBusy season

One of the best parts of a career in auditing is all the opportunities it can create — practically every company uses either internal or external auditors, and governments, police forces, and court systems use auditors. So, they can work in nearly any industry. 

Additionally, auditors have the opportunity “to specialize in a specific industry, such as financial services, as banks employ a lot of auditors,” adds Ambrosino. 

Auditors also gain insights into various industries, companies, and points of view since they “interact with different people and businesses and locations on a regular basis,” notes Janes.

The skills auditors use daily are highly transferable, too, and by interacting with so many different companies and people, these finance professionals build robust networks, leading to easier career transitions later on. 

“This might be a hot take for some, and I might have a bias, but I strongly believe that it is the best place for someone to start their career as it opens a lot of doors,” says Ambrosino.

However, auditing careers, like accounting, have one major downside: busy season. 

“At the beginning of the year, when audits are performed for calendar year-end clients, you work a lot of hours,” says Janes.

The busy season can feel especially frustrating after a while since the auditing process can become monotonous. Ultimately, the process is the same regardless of company, so it may be easy to get tired of the routine. 

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Required Skills for Auditors

Soft Skills

One of the most important soft skills for auditors is being adaptable. While the auditing process generally stays the same, each client is different. Adapting to changes quickly and effectively can help keep the auditing process on track. 

Another crucial skill in auditing is thinking critically. 

“You need to be able to evaluate information and understand what it is telling you, or not telling you, to make sure you don’t miss important things,” says Janes.

Other skills auditors need to possess are:

Hard and Technical Skills

Some of the most important technical and hard skills for auditors include:

  • In-depth understanding of accounting principles 
  • Knowledge of financial statements, like balance sheets
  • Familiarity with Excel and accounting software, like QuickBooks

However, as companies shift to using more sophisticated accounting methods and software, the most sought-after skills are changing. 

For example, Ambrosino notes that “with technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) making strides in the audit world, auditors need to have advanced data analytic skills.” 

Knowing how to effectively assess a company’s data, financial or otherwise, in the process of an audit has always been an important skill, but new tech brings new methods, approaches, and systems to learn. 

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McKayla Girardin is a NYC-based writer with Forage. She is experienced at transforming complex concepts into easily digestible articles to help anyone better understand the world we live in.