We spoke with accountants that used Internal Audit to springboard their careers; here's what they said
Internal Audit can often be overlooked by newly qualified accountants as a next step post-practice. The use of the word “Audit” can associate itself to certain memories – audit files, IFRS checklists, client site, busy season, confirmations! External Audit and Internal Audit can differ greatly and shouldn’t always be put in the same category. Not quite Apples and Oranges, but more like Apples and Pears.
Different organisations Internal Audit teams can differ greatly from one another, and few are identical in how they operate, who they report to and how the team is structured. So, if an internal audit (IA) opportunity arises for you, it is worth taking a little time out to properly examine what the role involves. What could you learn? How is the internal audit function viewed in the company? What type of travel might it involve? Are there opportunities for an internal auditor to progress his/her career within the company? Have any members of the company’s leadership team spent time in internal audit?
The role can be varied, dynamic and autonomous, as well as collaborative with the wider team and organisation. As organisations adapt and change to their environment and emerging trends, the role of the internal auditor has become increasingly important, not just for providing oversight and assurance but also at a strategic level helping companies mitigate risk and acting as an agent for change. With more companies investing in an internal audit function, those specialising in this field will enjoy an increasing variety of opportunities over the coming years.
Something we hear is people wanting to see the impact of the work they do, which can at times, be lacking from External Audit. Working as an internal auditor can deliver a sense of belonging to an organisation. You are seen as a trusted advisor, partnering with teams to help them. You learn to identify real business risks – financial and operational – and to effect change. Better still, you get to see the results of your hard work and how it has helped the organisation.
If you really want to understand an organisation from the inside out, a spell in internal audit provides a great opportunity. Indeed, the CVs of many finance and business leaders include time in internal audit somewhere along their career journey.
Some highlights of opportunities in the function include:
➤ Professional development: internal audit is often seen as a stepping stone into finance, operations and the business within larger multinational companies. In some companies, experience of internal audit is a ‘must’ for career development. Some companies offer and encourage secondment from internal audit into other business teams and locations. A move into a Group Function, or out into a Business Unit are just some examples.
➤ Personal development: career development is not just a matter of acquiring technical competence. Interpersonal skills are also important and internal audit is a great way to develop and showcase these interpersonal skills as they are key for the role. Engaging with senior stakeholders, both finance and non-finance, is part of daily life. It’s also not uncommon for a member of the team to be chairing meetings with C-Level attendees and presenting findings or recommendations, either over conference calls or in person. Self-awareness, business acumen, effective communication, social awareness and conflict resolution skills are all utilised and honed working in internal audit.
➤ Technical development: as mentioned above, internal audit teams can differ regarding their role and duties within the Risk framework. This might mean an opportunity to upskill and apply that new knowledge on a regular basis. Whether it’s Sarbanes-Oxley, a newly implemented IFRS or even risk areas specifically related to the industry, regular training is often encouraged. As well as this, applying the latest CAAT’s and utilising Data Analytics and visuals such as Tableau are often used as part of projects and engagements. You get the chance to apply these skills to a variety of scenarios, as opposed to one repetitive process.
➤ Opportunity to travel: Not many roles at this stage of your career allow you to visit various locations across the globe and really understand the structure of the organisation to this level of detail. Travel also allows you to understand different cultures and work practices first hand, again understanding the nuances of doing business at this scale. Internal audit can also provide the opportunity to develop and use language skills in a practical way. Regaining fluency or moving to an advanced stage of fluency in a second language is a significant asset.
Finance directors and chief financial officers look favourably on internal audit experience when making senior appointments, as many have come through that route themselves and value the people as well as governance, and operations experience gained. So, if you are thinking about how best to progress your career, internal audit might be an option worth considering.
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