How Harbinson Mulholland Leverages Circit to Deliver Quality of Audit Assurance
Harbinson Mulholland is one of Belfast’s leading independent accountancy firms serving Northern Ireland’s homegrown businesses through audit and tax services. In addition, they have a specialist Forensics department who are highly sought-after advisors to the legal community, bringing precision and clarity to disputed financial losses.
James trained with Harbinson Mulholland’s audit team and introduced the Circit platform as part of an improved audit process.
Junior members of staff empowered to do their most productive work
Overhauled the process of chasing bank letters
Freed up time for more important things that require in-depth analysis
The process before Circit had remained unchanged for nearly 20 years. Like most auditors, Harbinson Mulholland wrote letters to the banks seeking confirmation of accounts and balances. The letters were prepared by a Junior member of staff, provided to a Partner for signature and sent to the bank by post. After that, it was unclear if it had reached the right person until the letter was returned. This created an element of uncertainty and lack of transparency in an essential stage of evidence collection for each engagement.
James: “If we had got a reply to the letter, there was a hunt around: “Is that letter on your desk? Is it on my desk? Is it on the partner’s desk?” At that stage, more senior staff would often have to be involved as well, which wasn’t a good use of their time.”
“We would have Trainees make phone calls and navigate seemingly endless switchboards at the banks to find out where our requests are. The best-case scenario at that point would be: ‘I just sent you that and it will be with you tomorrow.’ But far more often banks advised ‘I thought we sent you that, shall we send it again?’ Or ‘We never got it’. Back to the start of the process! Hopefully it gets to the right person this time.”
James’ team started looking for a solution to these challenges. They were supported by the partners at Harbinson Mulholland, who empowered their team to come up with a better solution.
James: “The partners are focussed on technology solutions, but they have to be solutions that work for our clients and our client care philosophy. We’re not the type of firm to say, ‘You must move to these technology solutions, you must use XYZ’, unless there is a very compelling case to our clients that this solution will make their life easier.”
When it came time to find a solution to these challenges, Harbinson Mulholland’s attention turned to Circit and they liked what they saw. It was reasonably priced – better than competitors. The team at Harbinson Mulholland also liked the interface, which provides a clear overview of different requests and the stages of the process they are at.
Implementing Ciricit went smoothly: getting the team to see the value of changing the process and getting people to take ownership was made easy by Circit’s interface.
James: “In terms of the interface and the oversight - getting the statuses to turn green and move it across to completed, it’s all done, rather than a never-ending list - the feedback that gives was useful in getting the behaviour we wanted.”
“Once we figured out the process, it was about reinforcement. The amount of time that can be saved by not producing and chasing letters and uploading documents to the different portals that banks use, those were all huge benefits of the implementation for us.
Soon, it was becoming clear how the team at Harbinson Mulholland was benefitting from using Circit.
James: “The easiest way to judge that is to look at what it’s like now when I have a new Trainee coming in. I tell them how we use Circit and tell them the horror stories of how we, and every audit firm, used to get bank confirmations until the recent past. You can see the new graduate thinking: ‘That’s completely mad!’.”
Accessing bank statements is usually a challenge for audit firms. In the absence of independent access, firms must resort to post or email, which can be time consuming. The resulting bank statements tend to arrive in different formats, so additional time needs to be invested into standardising the data. At Harbinson Mulholland, the experience with Verified Transactions was a bit different.
James: “A lot of our clients are prepared to share quite extensively themselves, like reports, excel files… We use Verified Transactions and real time confirmations as backup and support to the audit confirmation process. We also use it to deal with and get active reassurance for clients with a Revolut, Starling or Monzo account. In other words, we use it as a backup and support of the confirmations process.”
“The space that we work in, SMEs and charity audits, we’re normally dealing with a relatively small team that has access to the banking. That makes it a lot simpler than a scenario wherein you have a larger institution. In that case I can see very much how you would use Verified Transactions to get that process.”
James recently moved to the Forensics team and can see some use cases for Verified Transactions for that use case specifically.
“We understand quite keenly from our forensics work that a bank statement can be altered! In Forensics, we are attracted to the level of assurance of being able to look at bank transactions; whenever you are relying on documents provided by parties in dispute, there can be question marks over whether you are getting the full picture.
We spend a lot of time on the Fraud team raising awareness of the work that we do: working with local solicitors, providing training and showing them processes and tools. Having a source of truth for bank statements could be very useful both on a legal basis and on a forensic accounting basis.”
The Circit Support team is also a big asset for Harbinson Mulholland. They found themselves using the Circit videos and guides to get clients on board.
James: “We’d say: ‘You just got an email from Circit. We use their platform for confirmations and it’s an important part of the process. Here’s a video showing what to expect next’. We really appreciate that Circit has made that part of it so easy.”
“The other factor that has helped us - if you email someone from the support team at Circit, someone actually emails back! And they come back with something tangible and useful. We find the support team really responsive. They have helped us overcome roadblocks and challenges with institutions. Getting quick and useful support is really appreciated.”
So, what is next for Harbinson Mulholland and their continued use of Circit?
“We are excited about the AR/AP coming online. We realise there will be challenges in getting every supplier to approve, but there is a massive challenge in sending out hard letters or emails and tracking who has come back and who hasn’t. Circit’s automatic reminders are great, I can click one button to send a reminder. That would be transformative in how we get confirmations done from our client’s debtors and the balances that are out.”
At Circit, we are pleased to work with forward-thinking accounting firms to improve processes, elevate the client experience and streamline direct from source collection.