A decade working at the forefront of next-generation audit tools has given Fiona Narielwalla of BDO Australia in Sydney, a deep dive into their prospects for the accounting profession.
She sees artificial intelligence (AI) as the future, and she likes it – a lot. ‘By giving us deeper insights into data, AI and machine learning will dramatically influence the audit of the future,’ she says.
‘While AI doesn’t replace auditor judgment, it will certainly complement it’
Likening a coming ‘AI revolution’ to the impact of the internet in the 1990s, Narielwalla believes adoption of smart and intuitive technologies will be inevitable for accounting practices big and small.
‘AI will be able to examine three, five or 10 years of client data in a matter of seconds, providing deep insights into trends, anomalies and unusual patterns in transactions,’ she explains. ‘This will allow the auditor to better target their audit procedures on key focus areas of the audit.’
With insightful automated predictions and benchmarking by assessing historical client data together with relevant industry and geographic data, AI can provide a wealth of information to assist an audit. ‘While AI doesn’t replace auditor judgment, it will certainly complement it,’ Narielwalla adds.
Audit and assurance partner, BDO Australia, Sydney
Senior director, global audit innovation, KPMG US, New York
Senior manager, KPMG New Zealand
Narielwalla has been keen to embrace opportunities to develop her auditing skills and knowledge of digital innovation. Following a decade of audit experience with Big Four firm KPMG in New Zealand, she seized the chance to join the global team in New York. Her role, as senior director, global audit innovation, included designing standardised audit programmes for multiple industries, as well as developing new audit tools and technologies to be deployed throughout member firms worldwide. The focus on enhancing audit quality and digitisation was ‘too good to refuse’.
‘I really enjoy working on fintech audits as this ties in with my love and passion for innovation’
Having previously been involved in developing audit tools and templates for industries such as banking, insurance and investment funds, she says that ‘adopting next-generation innovative solutions is a passion of mine’.
Then came Covid-19, closing the borders to travel. Unable to visit her friends and family in New Zealand and Australia, Narielwalla knew that, once restrictions were lifted, it was time to return closer to home.
One of her mentors during her time in the US was a senior leader at BDO, the fifth largest accounting network globally. Over ‘a few good conversations’, a partnership role at BDO in Sydney felt too good to turn down.
When borders finally reopened, she began a new chapter in her career. ‘It was an amazing opportunity; I couldn’t say no,’ she says. ‘I packed up my life and moved down under.’
For Narielwalla, BDO was a good cultural fit. While in the US, she had heard ‘very good things’ about the firm’s culture: ‘I identify with BDO’s values,’ she says. ‘The offer was the right opportunity, at the right time.’
‘We are attracting great talent across the firm and this is really resonating with our clients’
As a partner within BDO’s audit and assurance team, Narielwalla serves clients in sectors including banking, non-banking, insurance, funds management, brokerages and fintechs. She points out that as fintech is the integration of financial services with modern technology, such as mobile banking and payments, insuretech, and stock trading apps, the sector is an appealing one. ‘I really enjoy working on fintech audits with businesses that are at the forefront of technology as this ties in with my love and passion for innovation.’
She adds: ‘BDO Australia is involved in a number of exciting initiatives with a focus on innovation, technology and growth, and the business is growing,’ she says, noting that the 15.5% growth recorded in 2022 represents the strongest performance in a decade.
A key part of BDO’s success is, according to Narielwalla, its commitment to nurturing talent through a strong values-based culture, supporting career growth through buddy and mentor programmes, and empowering staff to work directly with clients. ‘We’ve developed and are attracting really great talent across the firm, at all levels, and this is really resonating with our clients,’ she says.
She admits, though, that it is a demanding career. ‘Auditing provides a very strong career foundation, but it can be challenging. Our cultural difference, investment in our people from a career and skills perspective, the calibre of work we undertake, and our quality leadership are all important aspects of our retention and attraction strategy.’
BDO in numbers
Number of countries and territories in which BDO operates
Number of offices in Australia
Number of employees in Australia
Narielwalla’s ability to see the bigger picture perhaps benefits from her hobby: she holds a private pilot licence. Although this pastime might seem poles apart from her choice of profession, there are similarities, she says.
She explains: ‘In audit, we spend a lot of time looking into how we’re going to plan out the audit, evaluating the risks and considering how to approach potential challenges. Likewise, you need to do the same before taking to the skies.
‘Whether flying or auditing, you need a cool mind at all times – both require similar skills, but a different perspective.’