A trainee’s time at the NAO will be split between being in the office and being at a client. Within the office, work will typically be planning and finalising the audit, possibly tying up any loose threads that remain from your time on site. Planning will typically be done by audit leads and more senior trainees, but there is often scope to get involved at this early stage (you just need to ask). This work helps develop a solid understanding of the client, their systems and controls as well as key staff, and provides the required context to consider audit findings appropriately. Planning may involve a short client visit to document and test controls to assist in planning.
Client visits will take place during interim (roughly January to March, i.e. the bit between periods nine and 12). For clients outside of London, you may be required to stay over; so pack your bag, jump on a train (or plane) and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the hotels and night-life in your client’s location. The places will vary: I have been to Cumbernauld, Southend, Buxton and Swindon for a week. Others have been to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham etc. The lucky few get to go to Vienna, Geneva and even further afield.
Interim work tends to focus on testing control effectiveness and testing the first nine periods of the financial year. It looks at the Income Statement (or ‘Statement of Comprehensive Net Expenditure’ to use the lingo) as this is transactional data. Mostly this will involve talking to the client and looking through invoices.
Year-end rolls around between April and July. Testing here will look at the final quarter of the year (January to end of March) and the year-end balances for Balance Sheet (or ‘Statement of Financial Position’) items. These are the assets, liabilities, and equity reserves. Testing again involves talking with the client (it’s an important part of what we do!) and reviewing evidence (including checking client assets that may even be in Number 10!). You may also be required to do further ‘top-up’ testing of work done at interim to ensure your work covers the full 12 months of the year. As you progress through your career you will then start to get involved in audit completion work, overall financial statement testing, drafting formal audit documentation (such as the Management Letter) and holding audit findings meetings.
The writing above may make the work look fairly straightforward and relatively narrow in scope; as if there is little variety. However, we work in the service sector, and spend a lot of time talking, meeting and being around client staff. It is these people that make the work varied. It is the different goals and aims of our client organisations that affect the environment we work in and the type of information we get. The work is never the same from one client to the next, and as a trainee your audit work is broken up by trips to college.
Which means that at the end of the audit year, when you are either trying to understand what a derivative is, or you are reading through reports try to gain knowledge that will help you in next year’s audit, you may start longing to go back out on audit.