Addressing the Challenges of Financial Audits with Digital Signatures
Carrie Peter, Managing Director at Impression Signatures

Three of the most familiar challenges in financial audits are fraud, ever-increasing remote/hybrid work structures, and information delays. With these pitfalls come uncertainty, disparate and inaccurate data, and general frustration of the auditing process.

As most South African businesses fast approach audit season, it is essential that these organisations (and their auditors) rely on innovative solutions to smooth the process.

A key question for any auditor to ask is whether the right technology is available to do the job effectively. According to Carrie Peter, Managing Director at Impression Signatures, digital signatures have become a critical component for successful financial audits. “Every single aspect of a digital signature contributes towards a more efficient audit process. This technology relies on an innovative consent engine to ensure identity, consent, and context are verifiable and auditable; effectively driving engagement, agreement, trust, and sound management.”

What this means for the auditor, is that there is a trustworthy chain of custody on all documents, with provable identity of signatories. With all documents securely stored and easy to locate, the challenges of information delays and data uncertainty are eradicated. “Digital signatures offer both improved operational efficiencies and enhanced compliance, bolstered by a reliable chain of custody and total visibility, easing the pressure on auditors to track and trace vital information.”

Peter explains that this is achieved with the right digital signature platform. “With Impression, for example, every document signed contains a full audit trail of the process followed maintaining the chain of custody – regardless of the geographical location of employees, customers, document senders, or signatories. Customers can track documents throughout their journey via dashboards noting when requests are opened, how the document is paged through, signed, and ultimately returned. All digital signatures are contextually aware, enhanced with GPS location, device and network identifiers demonstrating the chain of custody. This offers auditors invaluable access to key information when auditing financial documents.”

This in itself also addresses the challenge of fraud in the auditing process. With an unmatched chain of custody and total traceability, the chances of fraud, abuse, and data security violations are hugely reduced. “Should there be an instance of fraud, this can then easily be pinpointed in the audit, with securely stored, easy to access and evidence at hand – while ensuring non-repudiation,” adds Peter.

The use of digital signatures offers several ancillary benefits in the auditing process. The process of signing itself ensures accountability, with the sender and signatories having no option but to follow the auditable signing process, after being identified, and stamped with a digital identity. “This means every document trail shows how the process was followed, who saw which pages of the document and when, who the customer is, and that the document is valid and signed by the intended parties.”

In addition, secure storage and the chain of custody serve as evidence that the document has not been breached, leaked, or tampered with. “Effective, secure storage is of paramount importance – not just for the auditing process, but for general operational efficiency and compliance too. When a document is signed and returned in a digital format, it is automatically and securely stored. Paper documents sealed with wet signatures carry immense risk for loss, or damage of the document – and frustrate the auditing process with the need for laborious manual intervention to source and review documentation. With digitally signed and stored documents, retrieval and review is faster, easier, and more secure.”

What auditors need to be successful is efficiency. Thankfully, digital signatures offer this in spades – making audits quicker, easier, and more cost effective. This benefits both the auditors and the businesses being audited, driving greater compliance, and significantly lowering the stress associated with this process.