SCACPA sends its congratulations to Student Member Katie Bergey, who was part of a team of six University of South Carolina accounting students who won the annual Deloitte Audit Innovation Campus Challenge in April. Each Moore School student won a $2,000 scholarship, and the school will receive $10,000 from the Deloitte Foundation.
From a national field of 54 schools that began competition in the fall, the team from USC’s Darla Moore School of Business triumphed in the final round against Rutgers University and Howard University at the Deloitte’s Leadership Center in Westlake, Texas, outside of Dallas.
The other Moore School students were Brendon Beach, Katie Field, Karen Gates, Aaron Gulibon and Jack Graham, who had support from advisor Dr. Clark Hampton, an assistant professor in the School of Accounting.
Bergey was the only member of the team who completed an audit class before the challenge began. She took USC’s undergraduate audit class her junior year and was enrolled in the graduate class at the time of the competition.
“That helped me a lot because it gave me a strong foundation to really understand the audit and assurance process,” she said. “As we were creating our own assurance service, it was really helpful for me to think through things like risk assessment and testing procedures based on what I learned about. It was also a great way to reinforce the different techniques and strategies that I had been learning about in class, and it gave me an opportunity to apply them from the ground up.”
Deloitte’s contest asked the teams to respond to a challenge statement about finding a way for assurance services to tackle non-financial data.
“We met the first week of October to get to know each other and brainstorm ideas,” Bergey said. Through early November, they conducted research in preparation of an initial regional round of competition in Atlanta.
Based on a suggestion by team member Aaron Gulibon, the students became intrigued by the notion of “active user validation.” It coincided with coverage of news stories about Facebook and Wells Fargo, who faced scrutiny over whether the accounts that they appeared to be serving were authentic. The team then developed strategies that could be used in audits by any number of companies to assure investors and advertisers and that the number of accounts they report are accurate.
“We all genuinely believed in this idea, and over time we got to be really passionate about it,” Bergey said.
Active user validation would be of interest to companies such as Snapchat and Groupon that depend on advertiser-generated revenue. Those advertisers will care about not only who is seeing those ads but will want to know if those counts are accurate.
“If you look around in financial press and tech press,” Hampton said, “some companies have gotten in hot water over misrepresenting the number of users who had seen certain things, and that could have an impact on advertisers.”
The team’s value proposition would be to evaluate potential active user inflation and inaccurate reporting.
“We realized no one is looking at that in disclosures,” Hampton said, “and if you look at the disclosures, they’re convoluted if they talk about this at all.”
At the regional round in Atlanta at the end of November, teams from eight schools were allowed to make a 15-minute presentation for a panel of judges of four Deloitte partners, who then had 15 minutes to ask follow-up questions. The Moore School team advanced to the national round, as did a team from Clemson University.
“I think it was evident to the judges and everyone watching, what we presented was something that could be implemented and there was a market need for it,” Bergey said. “Through our research, we provided evidence from different companies that we do need this service.”
When they returned to school in January from the holidays, preparation started for the national round. There was an additional prompt to expand on what they had presented, they added more information and polished it.
Throughout the process, the team was limited to two hours per week with their assigned Deloitte subject matter leader and partner to ask questions. By being in communication over the phone and sending presentation slides, the team learned tips about formatting issues and word choice and suggested questions that might come up.
When the team wanted to practice the presentation before a large group, around a dozen Moore School faculty members one Friday sat in as an audience that provided feedback.
Hampton said he can see this type of attestation rolling into the traditional audit as part of disclosures and emerging as system and organization controls standards services.
“It seemed like a natural solution,” Hampton said. “One of the Atlanta judges said, ‘When I heard your presentation, my question was not, Why should we do this? but Why aren’t we doing this?’”
While students are limited to one year of being on an Audit Innovation Campus Challenge team, this was Hampton’s second year as team advisor. A USC team reached the final round last year as well, but this year’s group brought home the prize.
Hampton applauded this team’s willingness to commit to being a team.
“They weren’t just a group of students. They really became a team and really became friends” who made plans to continue their bond, Hampton said. “I’m sure they will continue to remain in contact with each other. It was a pleasure to work with them.”
As a reflection on the camaraderie, Hampton points to a dinner the team shared with their Deloitte representatives before the national final.
“I don’t know how the conversation got to this level, but it was things that I haven’t done and really would care not to do,” Hampton said, and a promise was made. “I told them if we won, I would agree to go skydiving.”
Thus, the team’s final group project was to drive to Chester on a Sunday morning for a round of skydiving.
“It was by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done!” Bergey said. “Skydiving was always on my bucket list, and finally jumping was amazing. It was the perfect way for us to celebrate our win and all the hard work we put in throughout the year.”
This summer, Bergey has one class remaining before earning her Master’s of Accountancy in August. In the fall, she will start full-time with Grant Thornton, where she was an audit intern last summer.
Bergey said what she and the team learned most was what it meant to go above and beyond in a professional environment as opposed to the classroom experience.
“We all agree it was a huge confidence booster,” she said. “We learned how to give a good presentation, and that was something I wasn’t comfortable with before this. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and learn audit vocabulary, it’s another to take that idea and render it into real information and make it and apply it.”