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How bots and big data help to sniff out fraud
By Denise Tan
As a PSC Scholar, Ms Audrey Tung was offered many opportunities, including an internship with AGO
and a summer school session with Stanford University during which she studied Programming Methodology in Python as well as Data Mining and Analysis.
PHOTO: AGO

As the sector moves towards digitalisation, PSC scholar Audrey Tung sees auditors of the future relying more on analytical skills and programming languages

Think financial fiascos – and the Enron scandal and recent Wirecard saga come to mind.

These real-life instances of dubious accounting practices inspired Ms Audrey Tung to pursue a career in financial auditing.

“I became intrigued about how corrupted some governments and firms can be. I wondered, how come nobody found out?” says the 21-year-old Public Service Commission (PSC) scholar who is currently in her final year reading accounting and finance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

During a five-week internship at the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) in 2020, Ms Tung participated in the auditing process where she worked with a team to analyse financial data on an audit for a ministry. She relished the work on the ground as she says it gave her “many opportunities to challenge myself”.

One of the biggest challenges was conducting audits amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with strict safe-distancing measures and capacity limits being enforced at workplaces. 

For example, what used to be a simple task of going to an office to access documents had to be done in split teams.

“We had to do an on-site visit to see how the contractor was fulfilling the contract agreements. Being on-site is better because we get to see with our own eyes how these processes are being carried out,” she says.

Ms Tung notes a silver lining that has emerged from the pandemic – it has accelerated the move towards digitalisation and the many benefits that come with greater digitalisation.

“In the future, we will be relying less on hard-copy documents. Going digital also facilitates data analysis. We can use different algorithms to generate data. This cuts down time for auditors and frees them up to do more critical analysis of data,” she says.

NEW SKILL SETS

In line with digitalisation, the auditor of the future will need new skill sets such as proficiency in coding languages.

With that in mind, Ms Tung joined an eight-week summer programme in 2020 conducted by Stanford University where she picked up coding skills in programming languages such as Python.

“Knowing that the industry is moving towards harnessing big data and machine learning, I wanted to upskill myself,” says Ms Tung, who had no prior background in coding.

During her AGO internship, she also had the opportunity to attend a course by AGO’s Data Analytics Unit, which provides training for staff on conducting automation projects. She was involved in the development of a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bot that was used to automate rote processes.

“For example, after you run a code, it sends out e-mails automatically and can be programmed depending on your needs,” she says, explaining how the project involved two processes – the “as is” process, in which the manual processes that need to be done are mapped out, and the “to be” process, where processes are redesigned or improved and the bot runs the programmed processes.

This year, Ms Tung will be rejoining her fellow students in London after over a year of online learning.

She has missed the social interaction which is so much a part and parcel of campus life.

“I found it difficult at first, not being able to see my lecturers and classmates in person,” she says, adding that the use of technology such as screen sharing helped in being able to clarify questions “live” with her lecturers.

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