For anyone who is familiar with internal auditing, external auditing, or consulting, you will understand how tedious audit testing can become when you are required to test large swaths of data. When we cannot establish an automated means of testing an entire population, we generate samples to represent the population of data. This helps ensure we can have a small enough data pool to test and that our results still represent the population.
However, sampling data within the world of audit still seems to confuse quite a lot of people. While some audit-focused tools have introduced sampling functionality (e.g. Wdesk), many audit departments and firms cannot use software like this due to certain constraints, such as the team's budget or knowledge. Here is where this article comes in - we're going to use Python, a free and open-source programming language, to generate random samples from a dataset in order to suffice numerous audit situations.
Before we get into the details of how to sample with Python, I want to make sure I discuss the different requirements that auditors may have of samples used within their projects.
First, let's discuss randomness. When testing out new technology to help assist with audit sampling, you need to understand exactly how your samples are being generated. For example, if the underlying function is just picking every 57th element from a list, that's not truly random - it's a systematic form of sampling. Luckily, since Python is open-source, we have access to its codebase. Through this blog post, I will be using the pandas module in order to generate the random samples. More specifically, I will be using the pandas.DataFrame.sample function provided by Pandas.
Now that you know what you're using, you can always check out the code behind
pandas.DataFrame.sample. This function
does a lot of work, but we really only care about the two following pieces of code:
# Process random_state argument = ... = = = return
The block of code above shows you that if you assign a
random_state argument when you run the function, that will be
used as a seed number in the random generation and will allow you to reproduce a sample, given that nothing else
changes. This is critical to posterity of audit work. After all, how can you say your audit process is adequately
documented if the next person can't run the code and get the same sample? The final piece here on randomness is to look
at the choice function used above. This is the crux of
the generation and can also be examined for more detailed analysis on its reliability. As far as auditing goes,
we will trust that these functions are mathematically random.
As mentioned in the intro, sampling is only an effective method of auditing when it truly represents the entire populations. While some audit departments or firms may consider certain judgmental sample sizes to be adequate, you may need to rely on statistically-significant confidence levels of sample testing at certain points. I will demonstrate both here. For statistically-significant confidence levels, most people will assume a 90% - 99% confidence level. In order to actually calculate the correct sample size, it is best to use statistical tools due to the tedious math work required. For example, for a population of 1000, and a 90% confidence level that no more than 5% of the items are nonconforming, you would sample 45 items. However, in my personal experience, many audit departments and firms do not use statistical sampling. Most people use a predetermined, often proprietary, table that will instruct auditors which sample sizes to choose. This allows for uniform testing and reduces overall workload. See the table below for a common implementation of sample sizes:
|Control Frequency||Sample Size - High Risk||Sample Size - Low Risk 3|
|More Than Daily||40||25|
In this section, I am going to cover a few basic audit situations that require sampling. While some situations may
require more effort, the syntax, organization, and intellect used remains largely the same. If you've never used Python
before, note that lines starting with a '
#' symbol are called comments, and they will be skipped by Python. I highly
recommend taking a quick tutorial online to understand the basics of Python if any of the code below is confusing to
First, let's look at a simple, random sample. The code block below will import the
pandas module, load a data file,
sample the data, and export the sample to a file.
# Import the Pandas module # Specify where to find the input file & where to save the final sample = r = r # Load the data with pandas # Remember to use the sheet_name parameter if your Excel file has multiple sheets = # Sample the data for 25 selections # Remember to always use the random_state parameter so the sample can be re-performed = # Save the sample to Excel
Now that we've created a simple sample, let's create a sample from multiple files.
# Import the Pandas module # Specify where to find the input file & where to save the final sample = r = r = r = r # Load the data with pandas # Remember to use the sheet_name parameter if your Excel file has multiple sheets = = = # Sample the data for 5 selections from each quarter # Remember to always use the random_state parameter so the sample can be re-performed = = = # If required, combine the samples back together = # Save the sample to Excel
Well, what if you need to sample distinct parts of a single file? For example, let's write some code to separate our data by "Region" and sample those regions independently.
# Import the Pandas module # Specify where to find the input file & where to save the final sample = r = r # Load the data with pandas # Remember to use the sheet_name parameter if your Excel file has multiple sheets = # Stratify the data by "Region" = = # Sample the data for 5 selections from each quarter # Remember to always use the random_state parameter so the sample can be re-performed = = # If required, combine the samples back together = # Save the sample to Excel
This next example is quite useful if you need audit coverage over a certain time period. This code will generate samples for each month in the data and combine them all together at the end. Obviously, this code can be modified to stratify by something other than months, if needed.
# Import the Pandas module # Specify where to find the input file & where to save the final sample = r = r # Load the data with pandas # Remember to use the sheet_name parameter if your Excel file has multiple sheets = # Convert the date column to datetime so the function below will work = # Define a function to create a sample for each month = = = = = . = continue = = = = return # Sample for 3 selections per month = 3 =
Once you've generated a proper sample, there are a few things left to do in order to properly ensure your process is reproducible.