A Career in Internal Audit: Dispelling the Myths
Why a career in internal audit ?
A training background in audit is an excellent platform for developing technical accounting skills and softer client management abilities. It also offers you the opportunity to study towards a professional accounting qualification.
On completion, there are several options available to you.
But the key question is: should I stay or should I go?
When it comes to external opportunities there are ample routes which are on offer to a fully qualified accountant with audit skills. Candidates typically come from the graduate scheme route at one of the “big four” or other small to medium sized accounting and audit firms.
Post qualification they may continue to progress internally and move on to senior positions such as Assistant Manager or Manager.
Alternatively, once qualified, they may wish to see what else is on offer.
Internal Audit is an area where we have witnessed significant demand at all levels in the last six months.
However, when I speak to candidates in External Audit about new opportunities in the financial sector, the mention of the words ‘Internal Audit’ tends to frighten them off.
Objections to internal audit careers ?
The objections I tend to face when speaking to candidates about Internal Audit include:
- I won’t be able to add value
- I’ll only see one part of the picture
- I won’t get exposure to other parts of the business or senior stakeholders
- The work is very similar
- The hours are long
Myths about internal audit careers
1. I won’t be able to add value
Yes, you will.
An internal audit role offers the opportunity to become a subject matter expert. As regulations are changing and becoming an important element of business as usual, you can add ample value to your team and the whole business through being an expert in your field.
Strategically you will add value, as an internal auditor’s knowledge puts you right at the heart of the decision-making process at a management level. You will also add value by reducing business
costs, increasing efficiencies and sharing your knowledge across the company.
2. I’ll only see one part of the picture
This is definitely not the case.
An internal auditor will follow projects through from start to finish and will see a rounded overview of the entire picture. Working in-house for one client means you will live and breathe the various parts which make up the bigger picture.
As the project moves through its cycle an internal auditor will help to shape the various outcomes, dealing with problems and issues as they arise and implementing the best course of action. You’ll meet with teams and managers at all levels who make up different parts of the projects and will learn from them.
3. I won’t get exposure to other parts of the business
Internal Auditors get access to all parts of the business and at all levels. As internal stakeholders, your clients won’t see you as a hindrance but rather someone who will make their life easier, and will play a key part in the decision-making process.
Relationship-building and communication skills are key requirements in this role, as you may at times have to challenge and push back in order to deliver the best outcome. As well as getting exposure to wider stakeholders, your input will be recognised and opportunities for career progression will increase.
4. The work is very similar
Working in Internal Audit for a single, in-house client will allow you to develop deeper knowledge, as you will have to build a greater understanding of the workings of that business. You won’t just be following a ‘ticking and bashing’ process and moving onto the next client.
You will also become an advocate for the different business areas you are partnering, as you work with them to deliver the best course of action. You will become an extension of their department.
You’ll be the go-to person for questions around new regulations and implementations. You’ll see change and get to follow the projects through from start to finish. You may get to travel to countries across the world. You’ll face off to a number of areas and work with directors and managing directors.
5. The hours are long
It is common knowledge that the hours in an external audit role can be long. The balance of meeting client deadlines, managing a team of juniors, travelling to different sites and studying for exams can be challenging.
However, every role is likely to have an element of time pressure and stepping in-house will see a reduction of hours for most. You are still working to tight deadlines. However, the timescales are usually set in advance and you can be more in control of your time.
At any one time you may be working on four projects – with varying deadlines – but this can be more easily managed as you will be in control. Your clients will be internal, not external. You won’t have to travel to client sites; you can set up meetings internally to discuss the projects and you will therefore be able to plan your time more efficiently.
While some travel may be expected, this tends to be on an occasional and ad-hoc basis. When travel does occur, particularly within the asset management sector, it tends to be to global locations. Many see this as an excellent opportunity to visit new places.
A move into internal audit will build on industry knowledge, get you closer to a business and help you develop a deep understanding of a particular company and sector.
Within a large scale organisation where maintaining talent internally is a real focus, a role in internal audit will make the transition into other business areas much easier. You will have a better understanding of the firm and an already-established network of contacts.
The candidates I have placed from external into internal audit roles were initially hesitant – and for most of the reasons highlighted above. However, I’m confident they wouldn’t mind me speaking on their behalf and saying they are thoroughly delighted they gave it a chance.