Vasarhelyi is changing the direction of accounting, multiple transactions at a time. The director of the Rutgers University Accounting Research Center is credited with developing the concept and application of “continuous auditing,” or a real-time review of business processes that can highlight exceptions to their compliance, performance and effectiveness. Applications include utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence to flag bogus invoices, unusual or fraudulent insurance claims, and other questionable activity before a check gets cut.
It’s not just a theory. Vasarhelyi and his team of faculty and Ph.D. students are already working with CPA firms and other organizations in the U.S. and overseas on real-world applications. One is an app to help root out government contract corruption in a Latin American nation, and another helped a large U.S. retailer to determine the surprise major influencer on consumer buying activity: it turned out to be the weather.
Advances like these won’t replace traditional accountants, but will instead free them up to focus on higher-level services. For example, a recently developed Rutgers program called MADS (Multidimensional Audit Data Selection) will allow auditors to do “full population testing” to search for exceptions and other activity, jettisoning the time-consuming and tedious process of traditional data sampling.
Besides letting auditors and accountants do their jobs even more accurately and efficiently, observers say advances like these tie in nicely with emerging technology like blockchain, which offers speed and security, and will enable auditors and cybersecurity experts to keep up with fraudsters and other bad actors.
But creating a “state-of-the-art” audit could mean shaking up existing accounting rules and practices. “You can’t apply traditional taxi regulations to an Uber model,” said Vasarhelyi. “Forms of evidence will change, which will necessitate new guidance, and the very fabric of the CPA examination may have to change. Why bother testing would-be CPAs on rules, if the rules will change every few years?”