Digitization, COVID Learnings Mold Future of Assurance Service
Taking on a major new role in the midst of a global pandemic certainly adds spice to what is already a challenging time. The Budapest Business Journal discusses the impact of COVID-19 and its economic implications with László Radványi, head of PwC Hungary’s assurance service.
Radványi, who describes himself as a “home-grown” PwC veteran, joined the firm as a fresh graduate in 2003 and became a partner in 2015 at the age of 35; he took up his new position on July 1. Its remit includes auditing and broader insurance services, comprising consultancy services relating to cybersecurity, SAP advisory, process mining, robotic process automation, internal audit, accounting advisory and the PwC Academy, together with e-learning development.
As the pandemic hit Hungary, PwC chose not to introduce compulsory home office, although it did make homes primary work stations to safeguard employees. Despite the difficulties, the Big4 company was able to successfully complete its audit work for 640 clients up to the extended deadline of the end of September.
“We were able to do all our work remotely; we were very effective in transforming our way of working,” Radványi says.
He acknowledges, though, that COVID-19 has created some unique challenges, not least meeting and negotiating with new clients.
“In this pandemic, what has also been challenging is keeping teams together as leaders. We have a lot of younger employees, who may be locked up alone in their rental homes and hence need special attention and support from our leaders,” he adds.
Radványi stresses that the priority in times such as this is supporting clients, rather than focusing on business development.
“We have started hosting online webinars on topics such as tax consultancy, for example, by placing our colleagues in the online space and offering free advisory sessions to help those who are interested in COVID-related challenges and changes,” he explains.
While PwC Hungary has a primary focus on the country, the firm also has many international clients from across Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. The Hungarian unit is working on expanding its services further in international markets.
Radványi says Hungarian professionals are exceptionally well qualified and can deliver added value internationally, too, which gives the firm a competitive advantage. On top of this, COVID-19 has shown that they can effectively work remotely.
Cybersecurity has come into special focus nowadays. When crises hit, fraud flourishes. With people relying on digital channels during these challenging times, the importance of making the cyber space safe has grown.
“We are working on several complex, global projects in this field. For example, we deliver global IT, IoT & OT network security architecture services to a UAE based international transportation and logistics company. With the expansion of IoT [Internet of Things], more devices are becoming accessible to hackers, and we are working on securing these ecosystems,” Radványi says.
Should their cybersecurity be compromised, companies could face months of work to remedy the situation, and their business operations would be disrupted and they could lose billions of . However, quality assurance and pre-launch testing, as well as continuous monitoring of a system can help significantly in avoiding harmful events.
“We can see that the clients we are supporting have 200-300 cyber-attack attempts hourly on average. Therefore, we continually have to develop and test our systems to ensure that they are up to date,” Radványi adds. The human factor is also an important part. Educating employees to be digitally secure and using different user levels can further enhance security to ensure that one employee does not unintentionally give access to hackers via ill-intentioned emails, for example.
It all forms part of massive digitalization processes that has completely changed the way assurance work is done today.
“When I started working here 17 years ago, we were the first or second generation to receive laptops; we did not receive mobile phones back then. We always visited our clients and had huge briefcases to have all the tools needed for manual, paper-based testing,” Radványi recalls.
“We have been undergoing a massive transformation; we have moved to the digital space, we use the cloud for information storage, and we focus on leaving repetitive testing to computers if they require no human intervention,” he says.
PwC Hungary is developing robotic processing automation (RPA) solutions to help its employees reach a better work-life balance. The firm also focuses on using big data; it has tools for auditing that can monitor, classify and analyze all the data a company generates, which is complemented by analysis of the electronic invoicing data provided by the Hungarian tax authority to our clients. Automation is a very important part of how PwC Hungary operates, the head of assurance service says.
Radványi also thinks that many of the best practices that surfaced in these unprecedented times will stay with us the post-pandemic period. Based on experience, people may work more from home: PwC Hungary employees have said they would be happy to spend 50% of their working time in home office. It offers more flexibility and is more comfortable. This will change office spaces and related behaviors.
Business travel may become more limited as online meetings are in many cases more cost-effective, time-efficient and come with a smaller carbon footprint. Non-financial reporting is also gaining ground, a trend that has been sped up by the pandemic.
Environmental, social and governance reporting is set to become a very important part of our corporate culture in the future, as investors are increasingly intrigued by a company’s long-term value creation plan and are looking to receive credible, standardized information to support long-term risk assessments. This is where ESG reporting may be able to help mitigate long-term risks, Radványi believes.
“The profession went through massive transformation during the last 17 years and the next 17 will not be any less exciting,” he adds.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 27, 2020.
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