Every Accountant professional at some point must take a sample. Sampling is defined as “the application of an audit procedure to less than 100 percent of the items within an account balance or class of transactions for the purpose of evaluating some characteristic of the balance or class” according to Audit Sampling guideline AU Section 350. Essentially sampling is the process of examining a small portion of a client’s records to make a judgment on the credibility of the whole. One of the risks associated with this process is selecting a sample which is not an accurate representative of the whole. Samples which are done manually may seem random but fail to meet this rigorous standard. Think about it, random means lack of pattern. As humans we tend to stick to patterns and routines. An auditor may pick all even number selections or every third in an effort at randomness. In this situation the likelihood that gross errors in a client’s books will be missed are exponentially increased. Sadly, many audits rely on manual selections from an Excel spreadsheet. For example, let’s say an audit is needed on accounts payable transactions. The typical audit would involve selecting a sample number of vouchers and back track to the supporting documentation such as invoices and purchase orders. Using the automated Excel technique highlighted below can minimize sampling risk and increase productivity.
Using Excel a tool can be developed to automatically apply red highlights random general entries. In order to have Excel automatically select random journal entries, we first need to organize our spreadsheet into two tables like the one below. The first table will contain our journal entries and the second will help us select random entries.
Add Conditional Formatting
1. Highlight the list of journal entry id numbers
- Under the Home menu click conditional formatting > Highlight Cells Rules > More Rules
- Select the formatting Rule type titled “Format only cells that contain”
- Change logical condition to “equal to”
- Enter J3 cell address in the last box
- Click Ok
Note: This will check to see if any of the journal ids in column B match journal ids in Column J
- Click on Conditional Formatting the Manage Rules
- Click on New Rule
- Follow steps 3 and 4 entering cells J4, J5, J6, J7 in the subsequent conditional format rules
10. An inventory of all conditional format rules should look like the picture above
11. Click Ok
Add Random Calculation Formula
Note: The RandBetween formula is called a volatile function. This means the result constantly changes. This particular formula will give a random result between 1 and 10. Press F9 to see the result change.
13. Copy the RandBetween function into the cells A4 through A12
Add Vlookup Formula
14. In cell J2 type in =Vlookup(I3,$A:$B,2,false)
15. Copy this formula from J4 through J7
16. Red highlights will be applied to the journal entries which appear with a selection number between 1 – 5
17. Press F9 to select another random sample
Note: In some instances a cell in the Selected Journal Entry column may appear with #N/A. This means the selected sample number has not been found. Press F9 again to get another sample.
Bigger and Better
What if you’re working with more journal entries and need a larger sample. How can this approach be adjusted to accommodate? In order to apply this technique to a sample size of 25 we would need to make three adjustments to our spreadsheet:
1. Add more journal entries to the Journal Entry Master List
2. Revisit steps 2 – 8 for conditional formatting and enter cells J8 to J28. This will give the ability to select 20 more samples.
3. Change the RandBetween formula that appears in each cell in column A from RandBetween(1,10) to RandBetween(1,25).
4. Extend the helper table which contains the columns titled Selected Samples and Selected Journal Entry 20 more rows. The column titled Selected Samples should go from 1 to 25. Copy the vlookup formula down 20 rows.
This combination of tools is one of many techniques which can be used to simplify and reduce risks in the auditing process. To view a demonstration of this tool in action visit