Internal Audit Evolution: More Women Leaders, More Technology

By Robert Half on July 26, 2016 at 3:28pm

The 12th edition of Internal Auditing Around the World from Protiviti brings to light two significant trends in the internal audit profession. First, more women are leading internal audit functions. Second, internal audit teams are expanding their use of technology so they can perform their work more efficiently and add value to the business.

The 22 internal audit leaders Protiviti profiled in Internal Auditing Around the World XII are women. They shared their perspectives on how technology — from audit management software and cloud computing to mobile apps and big data — is driving change within the function, helping internal auditors to be more productive and predictive and able to track business activity on a more granular level.

For instance, Sally Clark, chief internal auditor at Barclays, a London-based multinational banking and financial services company, told Protiviti that she uses a data virtualization app on her Apple iPad to scan the status of every current internal auditing issue at the company. She said, “I can sort each issue according to who is affected by it, who owns it and how long it has existed.”

Internal audit moving up to the ‘front lines’

Some of the women audit leaders interviewed by Protiviti also shared their insights on how technology is creating new risks and opportunities for their organization, and transforming the way that internal audit works with the business.

As an example, Beili Wong, chief audit executive and executive director for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a provincial government enterprise, explained that modern businesses’ dependency on technology for everyday operations makes it imperative for internal audit to be on the front lines as new tools, solutions and business models are considered, evaluated and adopted.

She said, “While internal audit is often viewed as the third line of defense, if we want to be seen as a trusted adviser and help the organization adapt to emerging technologies, we need to be in a first-line business partner role.”

Demand for soft skills and IT auditing expertise

A third trend that emerged from the interviews conducted for Protiviti’s Internal Auditing Around the World XII relates to staffing. Many internal audit leaders are taking a strategic approach to hiring for the function, and looking specifically for candidates who have a solid mix of technical and soft skills.

Katherine Findlay, vice president of internal audit for Southwest Airlines, said the internal auditors she recruits for her team “need to be naturally curious and have the ability to form relationships with customers.” But technology skills are also paramount, she said: “Everybody coming into my group now needs to have some base-level IT general controls knowledge and understanding.”

For many of the internal audit functions Protiviti profiled, IT auditing skills are in high demand. Some leaders said they engage external resources for IT audits and other initiatives that require specialized skills, and several use co-sourcing arrangements.

Some internal audit departments are working to grow IT auditing skills in-house through professional development opportunities. For example, Monica Frazer, vice president of internal audit at Baylor Scott White & Health, the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in Texas, instituted a rotational program where operations-focused internal auditors participate in IT audits with the function’s four IT auditors.

At The Fresenius Group, a diversified healthcare group headquartered in Germany, senior vice president of internal audit Sabine Scholz is establishing an exchange program for both internal auditors and business-line professionals to gain IT auditing knowledge and technology skills. She is also piloting a training program to help all internal auditors in the organization understand new developments around technology in the business and to learn more about IT, in general.

“This two- to three-year training program is changing the skill set of my auditors,” she said. “This will move some careers within internal audit by making some auditors specialists instead of generalists.”

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