What's it like to work in audit at PwC?

Shuyan Liu describes working as a graduate in PwC’s London Audit team and explains why tact, tenacity and critical thinking are key attributes in her role.

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Alongside her work in Audit, Shuyan Liu is studying for her professional CA (ICAS) exams. After graduating in business studies, accounting and finance from the University of Bristol she studied for a masters in banking and international finance at Bayes (formerly Cass) Business School. We asked her to tell us about her role.

How would you describe your job as an auditor?

We make sure that businesses tell a ‘true and fair’ story of their year’s activities. For example, my colleagues and I examine whether they actually have the amount of assets that they claim, so we are able to add assurance to their annual financial report. I work with a wide variety of clients: multi-national, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and some charities.

What sparked your interest in financial services as a career?

Before uni, all I knew about finance was gained from the kind of advertisements you might see on the underground. I studied for a finance degree, and so I started to learn more through the modules I studied. I remember a conversation with a lecturer which inspired me to take a module on accounting, which really ignited my interest in the industry.

Did anything you studied at uni prepare you for working life?

Time management is a skill that most people work on during university – managing your revision time before an exam, for example – and time management is very important when you’re starting your career as you’re always learning so much in such a short space of time. Other skills include communication and teamwork, and learning how to work alongside other people when you are working towards a common goal such as a presentation or a meeting. Such skills were useful to get the best grades and degree I could, but I didn’t think about taking them into the future otherwise I would have honed them more while I was at uni! As transferable skills, they are relevant for any industry or business, not limited to the financial services industry or audit.

How did you approach your path to your job?

My journey was quite ordinary. PwC came to a careers fair at Bristol University, where I studied for my undergraduate degree. I applied for an internship but didn’t get it, so I applied for the graduate scheme. Going through the recruitment process I wrote lots of notes for myself and realised I knew more than I’d appreciated. It gave me heart that I could do this. Typically after internships, either you get an offer or you have to apply for jobs, which means going through assessments and interviews . The job hunting process can be long, tiring and frustrating, but I want to emphasise that as long as you trust yourself, and try your best, you can make bigger progress than you would ever imagine. If you get a rejection, encourage yourself and don’t see it as a failure, or a loss – it’s a precious lesson learned.

What made you opt to work and study at PwC and to focus on Audit in particular?

The working environment, culture and the leadership team at PwC inspired me a lot. PwC UK employs over 22,000 people from such diverse backgrounds; I have friends at PwC with degrees in biology, physics and electronic engineering!

We are provided with excellent training for our professional qualifications, which are the gold dust that add value to your CV and your career development. There’s a very clear career pathway in the first few years which gives you the scope to focus purely on your own studies and development. After you’ve qualified, so many doors at PwC open up and you can begin to use your knowledge and experience with managing audits and teams.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

As a new joiner you can suffer from imposter syndrome, but I’ve learned that you wouldn’t be given a task that you cannot undertake. I try to figure out challenges at work by looking for resources and examples from prior years, or by using my past experience, divided into steps. Then I report to my ‘in-charge’ – these are more experienced colleagues such as your manager and career coach who really are the best people to work alongside for on-the-job learning.

PwC’s five values include ‘care’ and ‘work together’. You have an ethical obligation to help people who know less than you, and if you know less than other people you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

Which skills and attributes help you work in audit?

A particularly relevant skill to being an auditor, is critical thinking: balancing professional scepticism, being independent and tenacious but not being too picky. It’s a fine line and comes down to diplomatic skills.

Because I’m Chinese and English is not my mother tongue, I have to think a bit more to put myself in other people’s shoes. It’s especially important for me to read a room and read between the lines, so I have learnt to be attentively aware of people’s attitude and opinions, even if they don’t say anything explicitly. As I come from a different background, my bilingual skills can benefit the business I’m in. When I’m reading reports in Chinese, or tax matters in China, for example, I feel I can add value to the assurance quality by knowing more about the report or the documentation contract in those circumstances.

The PwC website details climate change and gender pay gap reports – is that audit too?

After COP 26 in Glasgow many investors are focusing on issues such as greenhouse gas emissions. If an organisation states it is carbon neutral or zero, then we have to show evidence of that.

In terms of gender pay gap reports, I look at a company’s figures to understand whether it is narrowing the gap compared to last year. Would a talented future female employee who sees a large pay difference want to work for that company? Possibly not. These examples relate more to stakeholder interest rather than shareholder interest but they are important topics.

Have any projects been memorable or made you proud to work at Pwc?

I cannot disclose the name, but we audited a foundation, a fund subsidised by a large organisation that donates to people in need. We measured the fund by expenditure, for example, what was going to people via grocery shops, food and personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic to help prevent people from getting infected. I also worked for a university understanding the costs for laboratories to develop medicine, conduct experiments and determine whether a vaccination was effective or not. It was heartwarming to learn how scientific development, scientists and physicians have been supporting us, in the lab, out of the lab, day and night, around the clock.

What has surprised you about joining PwC and what do you hope to achieve in your role ?

Principally how people react to and regard auditors! It is company directors’ responsibility to make sure that accounts are accurate; our job is to ensure that they give a ‘true and fair’ view of their company, not whether the story that they tell is good, bad or excellent.

I’d like to help narrow the gap between what people expect us to be and what we are. One client seemed surprised that I eat cookies – we are normal people trying our best to do a job in a patient and polite way!

Who or what inspires you within the business?

I have worked with three or four female partners, who inspire me, and our UK Head of Audit is Hemione Hudson. PwC’s workforce is 47% female, with 23% female partners [and a 2030 target of 30% ]. Seeing powerful female leaders makes me hope that one day I am going to be in the same position.

Who inspires you in a wider context?

After reading her biography when I was a kid, Helen Keller became my icon. Illness made her blind, deaf and unable to speak. It was before hearing aids, and she faced lots of adversity, but she was educated by her tutor and she never stopped learning and became a lecturer herself. She helped poor people as well. I admired her stamina and perseverance as a female role model and that spirit has inspired me ever since.

How do you relax?

I dance, and I do in-line skating. I skate poorly but my dancing is even worse!

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