Chief Audit Executives

Audit International recommend five ‘Under the Radar’ Areas to Audit that May Not Be on the Audit Plan.

As internal auditors, we all have a “spidey sense” of what we should be auditing.

Sure, we should, of course, conduct comprehensive risk assessments that drive our audit plan, and many of the usual suspects will end up on that plan: cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, financial reporting, third-party relationships, and you know the rest.

But there are things, we would strongly profess, that should be audited, even if we aren’t formally auditing them and they never make it to the actual audit plan. Just by being aware—casting that web, if you will—you should constantly informally “audit” a few critical areas.

What might be some of those things we should (lower case) audit, even if we aren’t (upper case) Auditing them? Here’s Audit Internationals take on five:

1
Culture: Are Disconnects, Even if Subtle, Surfacing?

So much has been written and said about doing culture audits and internal audit’s potential role in doing such a review. Perhaps, however, your organization doesn’t support internal audit doing a full-blown culture audit. Does that mean you throw your hands up and do nothing with the topic? Heck, no!

Look, we are among the very few in the organization who have the benefit of both grasping the desired culture and viewing the entire company because of our day-to-day work. So, why not leverage that and tune into what is going on around us and notice the organizational behaviors, actions, and attitudes that are consistent with, as well as (importantly) counter to, the desired culture.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Some caveats, though. First, be sure you completely understand the desired culture, both what is formally stated through things like the organization’s listed core values as well as what is implied in the “how things are done around here” subtleties. The formal and the informal culture are equally important. Then, as you go about your work in various departments and interact with people at all levels of the organization, be cognizant of behaviors, language, demeanor, protocols, and other elements that seem inconsistent with what you expected.

Now, if you witness such imbalances, and you’ll know because it will make you a bit uncomfortable, talk with close colleagues or discuss it amongst your team. If something seems amiss, continue to keep your eyes and ears open and provide your internal audit function leadership with examples of what you are witnessing. If there are culture issues in a particular area of your organization, it is likely manifesting itself in a number of other issues as well. Your internal audit function leadership will guide you on what to do and may provide guidance on the next course of action. Chief audit executives will need to consider when and how to elevate such delicate issues. Yes, it’s a sensitive topic, but something that might be critical to address. Your spidey sense will guide the way.

2
Employee Engagement: Are People Checking Out?

While it has been a topic in the corporate world for more than 20 years, at least since the Gallup Organization and their Q12 employee survey instrument brought it into the lexicon, “employee engagement” has re-emerged these days. By now, we’ve all heard the new buzz phrase “quiet quitting.” While it’s a catchy label that has been slapped on what is, in essence, just disengagement, it’s not to be taken lightly. Employees who have become disengaged in your company’s mission, vision, and values don’t have passion to do their best. This should be deeply problematic to executive leaders and, in turn, to you. It is a significant and costly drain on everything your organization does.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Just like with the culture topic, we, as internal auditors, interact with more of the organization across all levels (along with HR) than most anyone else in the entire organization. Therefore, we have our finger on the pulse when it comes to engagement and its evil twin, disengagement. Do we have a general sense though the course of our internal audit work that people care or if they are they just going through the motions? Sure, we do.

We don’t need to be scientific about it, and we don’t have to call anyone or any function, department, or location out, per se, but if we see that there is a trend developing toward greater levels of disengagement, let it be known. Make it a part of what we absorb about the organization on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Elevate the concerns, whether to HR, department levels, or even the senior management. In other words, don’t ignore it.

3
The Physical Facilities: Are Things in Disrepair?

As much as we may not all be going into a physical office as much anymore, many employees will still spend at least some time in the office or at company facilities. And, the physical state of the office location, branch, facility, or building space is important. Not only can facility disrepair be unhealthy or unsafe, but it can also just negatively affect employee psyche or customer impressions. Pay attention to what things look like and what is the state of the physical environment around you. It may signal deeper problems or an overall neglectful view of the business.

We all have stories about what we’ve witnessed. I remember walking past a locked closet and smelling a damp odor. I could have just ignored it, thought it was just me, or figured that someone else was probably aware of it. Instead, I decided to mention it to the facilities manager of the location. And, lo and behold, behind the rightfully locked door a roof leak had infiltrated the space and it was a wiring closet. It could have been a big problem if it were ignored for any length of time.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Keep your eyes and ears open as you go about your work. Does something seem amiss regarding the physical location? Mention it to someone who could do something about it. What’s the worst that could happen? They tell you “thanks, we are aware of it.” At best, you help address an issue before it gets out of hand. Sometimes we all become blind to our physical surroundings because we’ve just been there for so long. But a fresh set of eyes and ears might just help the organization out and make employees and customers even more appreciative of the physical space they show up to and that the organization spends so much money on. Internal audit can have a unique perspective of noticing what gets unnoticed.

4
The Parking Lot Check: Is Fraud Hiding in Plain Sight?

Closely related to the physical state of the facilities is the state of the employees. Ever see a change in someone’s habits that don’t sync-up with what has gone on in the past, and you wondering “what’s up with that?” Perhaps someone is showing up to the office in a new luxury car, expensive clothes, or talking about some lavish vacation they went on?

Most often, there is a great explanation, and it is none of our business. But, also, any of us who have been around the block a few times will also know that, occasionally, these changed behaviors are clues that something is amiss and that someone may be on the take. You could call this “doing a parking lot audit.” So many frauds and embezzlements have left a trail of these clues as the perpetrator wanted to channel their ill-gotten gains into the fruits of luxury and apparent success. It’s not an outright indicator or fraud, of course, but it might be a red flag to dig deeper, especially if things weren’t adding up already.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Just keep your eyes and ears open, being observant to uncharacteristic behaviors, purchases, and chatter could provide clues to someone who is taking advantage of their position and situation to pilfer from your company. No, don’t go around accusing people of things where you have no proof, of course. But eyes open and be vigilant. And, if you see something, say something to a trusted colleague within your internal audit department. If necessary, elevate it within your department and, if warranted and approved, do some follow-up in a clandestine manner. You may just catch something in its preliminary stages and head it off at the pass, so to speak. Most people steal from the company in small increments, and it escalates from there if they feel they are getting away with it undetected. But, in hindsight, there were usually always clues … perhaps no further away than in the parking lot.

5
Hotline Activity: Is Volume Up, or Has Volume Decreased?

Most internal audit functions have some role in monitoring their organization’s whistleblower hotline for employees, and sometimes also third parties, to file complaints. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often small complaints (that point to bigger problems) go unnoticed. Your internal audit function may have complete ownership of managing what comes though, you may partner with someone else in the organization, such as compliance, human resources, or legal, or you just get things passed to you for review or investigation as needed from one of these organizational partners. Regardless, you need to have some role in monitoring the volume of activity. What types of activity are coming through? Are there recurring issues? What are the trends? It doesn’t take an audit, but it does take awareness. Changes in volume can be very telling, and that could be changes in either direction (increased or decreased volume).

Increases in activity might spell some brewing issues of a more macro sense and, alternatively, decreases in volume may spell a level of distrust in the confidentiality of the hotline or a perceived lack of seriousness with which reported items might be getting addressed.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

It doesn’t have to be you, so long as someone in your internal audit function is attuned to the trends, both in terms of volume and types of activity. And, if there are notable changes in the trends, up or down, it might be time for a deeper understanding of what might be going on. This could be a signal of troubles brewing that are inconsistent with the desired culture.
—-
To be clear, internal auditors don’t need a formal audit plan initiative to keep abreast of important developments in the organization. It’s not easy, I know, as the formal audit plan has us busy enough, but a little observation may go a long way. Head up, eyes and ears open, use all your senses and leverage your well-honed intellectual curiosity and professional skepticism. Do some ad-hoc auditing of things you might not be able to (upper case) Audit and don’t necessarily make it to the formal audit plan. The organization will be better for it, and you will enhance your engagement and contributions innumerably.

As popularized in the Spiderman comics of yesteryear and said in more recent movies, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Wield it judiciously!

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
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Amidst issues like supply chain complexity, economic uncertainty, and increased digitalization, Audit International are finding many organizations are adding vendors or changing their existing relationships with those they currently conduct business with.

Working remotely has prompted many companies to add cloud vendors. Supply chain backlogs might have prompted your business to switch to local vendors. Or maybe you’ve added marketing agencies or other types of consultants that have flexible capacity, rather than increasing headcount.

These decisions can help businesses adapt to changing conditions and build resilience, but working with vendors may also introduce new risks. While you might feel like you have a handle on issues like in-house data security processes, you need to be sure that vendors also align with your needs in these areas.

Internal audit teams can play an important oversight role when it comes to vendor risk management. While they might not be making specific vendor management decisions, they can still be involved in making sure proper due diligence is followed when selecting vendors. And once vendor relationships are in place, internal audit teams can monitor these arrangements to ensure organizations aren’t opening themselves up to new risks.

What are the top vendor risk management issues?
Working with third parties like software vendors, managed service providers, cleaning companies, etc. can help businesses fill gaps in current capabilities, increase efficiency, and more. Yet, internal audit teams also need to make sure that their organizations are accounting for any and all potential risks:

Cybersecurity: Internal audit teams should review vendors’ cybersecurity practices to assess whether these meet your organization’s expectations, for example, data security controls and remediation capabilities.

Compliance: Third-party vendors can also create compliance risks, such as improperly storing customer data or engaging in illegal business practices. Even if these vendor issues do not lead to legal action against your organization, internal auditors should aim to get ahead of these issues to avoid reputational damage.

ESG: Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scrutiny is increasingly extending into supply chains and can also create reputational risk. Internal auditors will want to assess how vendors align with their own ESG goals. This may in turn lead to implementing additional controls, for example, around data sharing practices so that your organization will be able to verify issues like vendor emissions.

Quality: Don’t automatically assume that vendors will provide the quality you’re expecting, even if they come recommended or are widely known. Internal auditors need to ensure that their organizations still conduct proper due diligence to see whether working with that vendor will provide the quality of work you’re expecting. Managing risk can also include looking at vendor performance controls to see if existing third-party vendors maintain appropriate quality standards.
These are just some of the many critical risks that can come from working with third parties. Keep in mind that vendors may also have their own networks of third parties, which could ultimately affect your organization.

While it might not be possible to know every connection point that your vendors have with other third parties, you would likely want to assess what their own third-party risk management practices look like.

How can internal auditors improve third-party risk management?
Internal auditors shouldn’t be the only ones responsible for vendor risk assessments, but they should be mindful of the aforementioned vendor risk management issues and collaborate with other departments to stay on top of these risks.

For example, internal auditors can collaborate with IT leaders to create a vendor security due diligence checklist. From there, internal audit controls can make sure that this checklist is used across all vendor reviews.

Internal audit leaders can also integrate analytics into audit processes, such as collecting performance metrics on third-party vendors, to assess whether they meet your organization’s quality expectations on an ongoing basis.

Too often, however, adding analytics to audit reports is a manual, labor-intensive process that can create its own risks, like data errors. TeamMate Audit Benchmark found 79% of internal audit teams manually leverage data from other applications.

Audit tools like TeamMate+ can help internal auditors get the third-party data they need through automated API exchanges with other platforms, which makes continuous monitoring of risk more feasible. They can then create automated reports to share insights with other departments to stay on top of third-party risk.

By aligning with these steps and staying on top of evolving vendor management risks, internal audit teams can help their organizations stay safe while getting the most out of their third-party partnerships.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
Calling
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– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”

Here at Audit International this week, we are are all talking about the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors dropping their ‘Risk in Focus 2023’ report. The report compiles the results of 9 in-depth interviews, 4 round table events with 39 participants, and responses from 834 Chief Audit Executives (CAE)’s from across 15 European countries. In a nutshell, the report has some solid contributors, meaning, the top 10 areas which are concerning other CAE’s, might be worth you thinking about also – especially as you prepare your 2023 annual plan.

The Risk in Focus 2023 report has had a great refresh and shows the movement of each of the risks over the years. This year’s report shows 15 categories worth consideration:

– Mergers and acquisitions

– Health, safety and security

– Communications, reputation and stakeholder relationships

– Fraud, bribery and the criminal exploitation of disruption

– Organisational culture

– Organisational governance and corporate reporting

– Financial, liquidity and insolvency risks

– Supply chain, outsourcing and ‘nth’ party risk

– Business continuity, crisis management and disasters response

– Climate change and environmental sustainability

– Digital disruption, new technology and AI

– Changes in laws and regulations

– Macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainty

– Human capital, diversity and talent management

– Cybersecurity and data security

The report finds that the greatest movers, in terms of focus / attention given to this particular topic by CAE’s, found the following four categories had the most increased attention and focus since 2020:

– Macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainty

– Human capital, diversity and talent management

– Supply chain, outsourcing and ‘nth’ party risk

– Climate change and environmental sustainability

This years report also highlights the impact the war in Ukraine has had on many of the businesses and risks highlighted in the report.

For each of the risks, the report provides suggestions on how Internal Audit can help the organisation.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
Calling
– Switzerland 0041 4350 830 59 or
– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”

At Audit International, we know when people hear buzzwords like ‘data analytics’, ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’, it can be intimidating. Many people don’t fully understand such concepts, but in truth, you don’t need to. You just need to get comfortable with them. And you probably already are: familiar services like Netflix or Spotify use artificial intelligence to understand your preferences and make subsequent suggestions based on that knowledge. The level of consumers’ expectations is continually increasing, and the successful companies are those that are advancing with technology. The same is true for businesses and their expectations. In audit, the revolution is underway and the sections that follow highlight the key drivers for this change.

Improve the audit experience –

The volume of data available to auditors is astounding, but in most cases, this data is simply not being used. If this were happening in any other industry, there would be questions to answer. Data analytics can improve the audit experience in several ways, for both the audit team and for the client.

Improve audit quality-

During the planning phase of the audit, audit teams must shift their focus away from the old mindset of “what could go wrong?” Through analytics, we can turn our attention from what could go wrong to what has gone wrong. Auditors have access to the client’s complete financial data for the period under audit – if they focus on analysing and understanding the data, they could identify an unexpected transaction or trend in the process. During the execution phase, auditors should also build on the knowledge gained in planning to truly understand the business in question and focus their attention on higher risk transactions. Finally, auditors should move away from a ‘random sample’ approach and, instead, focus on the transactions that appear unusual based on their knowledge of the client, business or industry. These are just a few areas where improvements in audit quality can be achieved using data analytics.

Improve efficiency-

In the examples above, the use of data analytics in planning will identify what has gone wrong and any associated unusual transactions. In execution, these transactions will be tested as part of the audit sample. It could also cover some requirements under auditing standards concerning journal entry testing, as the journal entries will likely be the data that highlighted what went wrong in the first place. Again, this is just one example of efficiencies gained without even considering the hours saved by automating processes like creation of lead schedules and population of work papers.

Post-pandemic world-

The world will be a very different place in years to come. Firms with the ability to perform in-depth analysis using data analytics undoubtedly have a significant advantage over those that do not, given the efficiencies they can gain and the potential reduction of physical evidence required from clients, among other things. Due to the changes we have all had to endure, auditors may also have additional procedures to perform (e.g. roll-back procedures where they were unable to attend stock counts at year-end due to the COVID-19 closures of businesses). Such procedures have the potential to be automated, saving even more time and effort for audit teams.

Improve engagement-

Rather than spend time performing mundane tasks such as testing large randomised samples, data analytics allows audit teams to jump into the unusual transactions. This will make the job more interesting to auditors and cultivate a curious and questioning mindset, which will, in turn, lead to improved scepticism and audit quality.

Improve client experience-

This might happen in two ways. First, the time saved by the client’s staff (who, in theory, will have fewer samples for which to provide support) and second, through the value the audit adds to the business. As an example, consider an audit team performing data analysis on the payroll for their client. As payroll is a standardised process, the audit team has an expectation around the number of debits and credits they would see posted to the respective payroll accounts each month. As part of their analysis, however, they find an inconsistent pattern. This can be queried as part of the audit and the client will be better able to understand a payroll problem, which they were previously oblivious to.

Client expectations-

Given the level of data analysis that occurs daily in the life of anyone using a smartphone, a consistent, high quality is understandably expected in people’s professional lives, too. Audit clients, like all consumers, want more. They want a better and faster audit. They want an audit that requires minimal interference with the day-to-day running of their business, without compromising the quality of the auditor’s work. With troves of data now available to auditors, such expectations are not entirely unreasonable. Audit firms have access to vast amounts of financial and related data – in some instances, millions of lines of information – that, if analysed robustly and adequately, would improve their processes, their clients’ experience, and the quality of their audit files.

Aspirations of professionals-

Audit professionals can often struggle with work-life balance, as we here at Audit International know. Though most firms are getting on top of remote working, the hours in busy season are long. In a time of continuous connectivity, the time frame around ‘busy season’ is also becoming blurred. Through the use of technology, we will one day make auditing a ‘nine to five’ job. Many will scoff at that idea and, although we do not expect this to happen in the next five years, or even ten years, it is possible. By automating mundane tasks and continuously upskilling our graduates, we can transform how an audit team completes work. There will be more scope to complete work before clients’ financial year-ends, thus moving much of the audit out of the traditional ‘busy season’. Machines can complete specific tasks overnight so that auditors could arrive at their desk, ready to work on a pre-populated work paper that needs to be analysed by a person with the right knowledge. With appropriate engagement by all parties (i.e. audit teams, senior management, and audit clients), we could significantly reduce the hours spent on audit engagements and give this time back to auditors. Along with attracting high-calibre graduates, we will retain high-quality auditors in the industry while also avoiding mental fatigue and burnout, which will again lead to better quality audits.

Graduate recruitment-

Graduates joining firms in recent years have particular expectations of the working world. They want job satisfaction, flexible hours, remote working, and an engaging role that will challenge them. Professional services firms have to compete for the very best graduates, and no longer just against each other – a host of technology-enabled businesses are attracting talent on an unprecedented scale by meeting the needs listed above. Technology, and data analytics, in particular, can offer the solution to the graduate recruitment challenge – by making the work more efficient and automating mundane and repetitive tasks, graduates can instead focus on analysis. Time and time again, when we talk to candidates, we always hear that if they find their work challenging and interesting, they will feel more engaged.

Challenges-

This move towards technology is not without its risks to the profession. Automating basic tasks removes the opportunity for graduates to form a deep understanding of these sections of the audit file. The onus is therefore on the current cohort of Chartered Accountants to take the reins, both to drive technology advancement forward and also provide practical, on-the-job coaching to ensure that this knowledge is not lost for the generations that follow.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
Calling
– Switzerland 0041 4350 830 59 or
– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”

Transit systems. Healthcare facilities. Financial services firms. What do they all have in common? Organizations within these sectors — and essentially all industries, for that matter — have been hit by ransomware, a type of malware where cybercriminals demand a ransom payment to unlock access to your private and confidential systems and files.

While many cybersecurity risks exist, ransomware is often one of the more pressing challenges. Not only can it bring operations to a screeching halt, but it can also cause issues like data leaks and reputational damage. A global survey by cybersecurity software company Sophos finds that 66% of surveyed organizations suffered ransomware attacks in 2021. “It took on average one month to recover from the damage and disruption,” Sophos adds.

Given the severity of ransomware risk, internal auditors should aim to help their organizations reduce these threats, along with overall cybersecurity risks. How? As Audit International will examine in this article, internal audit departments can take steps such as conducting IT/cybersecurity audits and using technology like internal audit management software to improve internal controls and collaboration.

Review IT practices and controls :
Even though internal auditors generally aren’t responsible for choosing cybersecurity software and establishing employee training to recognize ransomware risks, they can still provide assurance over IT practices and controls, such as with an IT audit.

When IT teams conduct phishing tests to see whether employees are tricked by email scams that can cause ransomware issues, internal auditors are then able to review those results and ensure that the organization is meeting a sufficient standard to prevent social engineering. If the results demonstrate gaps in employee preparedness on ransomware risk or other cybersecurity risks, then internal auditors would likely want to communicate that risk to other stakeholders, like boards and senior management.

Internal audit leaders might also review remote work policies to ensure that IT teams are appropriately managing these with ransomware risk in mind, rather than just focusing on the functionality of work-from-home environments. While internal auditors often rely on guidance from IT leaders, they can still audit areas like access logs to ensure that only approved devices, with the appropriate threat intelligence and data protection technologies, are connecting to their networks.

Align key stakeholders :
Improving ransomware protection also means internal auditors need to align key stakeholders, rather than just collaborating with IT. That means pulling together information from multiple departments to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Internal auditors should check with finance teams to see how they’re accounting for the potential costs of a ransomware attack, and then ensure that other key stakeholders, like boards and senior management, understand and agree with this approach. Otherwise, issues like not having a sufficient budget to recover from a ransomware attack may arise.

“Regardless of their size or revenue, organizations should assume they will be targeted with ransomware, and they should examine their prevention, detection, mitigation, response, and recovery measures,” notes Zachary Ginsburg, research director for the Gartner Audit and Risk practice, in a Gartner press release.

Leverage internal audit management software :
Internal auditors can mitigate ransomware risk by leveraging internal audit management software. Many technologies are designed to assist with cybersecurity risk management, but from an audit perspective, internal audit management software is important for gaining assurance.

Overall, internal audit teams have an opportunity to make a significant impact when it comes to ransomware risk management. Planning ahead and focusing on internal alignment can go a long way toward reducing ransomware attacks and other cybersecurity risks.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
Calling
– Switzerland 0041 4350 830 59 or
– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”

Having considered how internal audit can address environmental risks in the first article in this Audit International series, this article turns to the second element of ESG, social risk. This can be a sensitive area, and many risks are hard to quantify. But over the last decade, expectations of organizations have evolved significantly, and internal audit has a key role in providing assurance over the risks that this presents.

Social risks :
Social risk can be viewed from several perspectives. While we traditionally look at business activities, here it can also be helpful to look through the lens of different stakeholders to ensure all risks are captured and completely understood. For example, consider impacts on the organization itself, staff, customers, suppliers, investors, other third parties, and the wider communities in which you operate. Below are some of the key risks – not an exhaustive list — but those that outline the main risk areas you will want to capture:

– Health and safety – consider both workplace and customer safety.
– Labor standards – your own and those throughout your supply chain. This goes beyond compliance with legislation and international protocols to include issues such as well-being, benefits, and employee engagement.
– Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) – very important to staff, customers, and the community, this is a significant topic in and of itself
– Sales practices – important to your customer base and the wider community, poor practices can quickly damage a reputation.
– Data privacy – sometimes considered a social risk, given its impact on staff, customers, and other partners.
– Community engagement – how effective is your organization in working with local (and broader) stakeholders to maximize the positive and minimize the negative impacts on the community. This started with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) but often goes much deeper.
– Other broad, but important, issues such as human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples.
– Typical impacts for the organization will be the same as for many other ESG risks – reputational, legal and regulatory, financial, operational, and ultimately strategic. Other than potentially using different stakeholder perspectives when considering risks, this fits well into your risk assessment process.

Getting started – Determining the key risks :
Your risk assessment should always be the starting point. In order to do this, you will first need to go through several steps to get sufficient background context:

Understand your organization’s approach to social risk. Given the variety of risks and the number of stakeholders, it is likely that it will sit across the organization with many different risk owners. For example, staff-related risks and issues will be owned by Human Resources, whereas supply chain risks will be owned by the relevant business unit or a procurement function. Are there anywhere these risks are also considered and assessed together or across the organization, such as part of a risk function?
Consider who the key stakeholders are. Some will be common to all organizations – staff and customers for instance. Others will be specific to your business – such as a community close to a quarry.
As always, consider key sector and industry risks, drawing on industry guidance, frameworks, and other resources, and on standards such as GRI (Global Reporting Initiative).
Pay attention to your supply chain, particularly if sourcing (directly or indirectly) from jurisdictions where labor or safety standards may not reflect those in your home country.
Understand legal and regulatory requirements in all jurisdictions in which you operate.
With this background information, you can start to include social risks into your risk assessment, leveraging work done by the first and second lines, and begin to provide assurance over these key risks.

How internal audit can make an impact :
Clearly, we should be focusing on the biggest risks for the organization. However, we often need to consider the impact on stakeholder groups in aggregate, rather than just for each risk. Staff is a good example. We should certainly consider risks around compliance with labor laws but understanding the impacts on staff also requires the inclusion of wellbeing, health and safety, benefits, employee engagement, and EDI to assess the potential risk around staff as a group. Internal audit can add value by looking at risk in this way and provide more holistic assurance over risks relating to specific stakeholders.

Internal audit can also take a broader look at the organization’s approach to social risk. As I suggested earlier, it is often a distributed responsibility, but the risks do not exist in isolation. Some questions you can ask:

What is the organization’s attitude towards social risks? Are social factors (collectively or specific issues) considered in strategic planning or discussed at the Board level?
Have key stakeholders been identified? Do these make sense given what you know?
Is social impact considered in decision-making, particularly investment decisions and project evaluation? For government and social-purpose organizations, this will often be a core part of the decision-making process. But even in commercial organizations, evaluation of social risks and impacts will often be built in.
Are there targets and performance metrics in place? For key risks there often are metrics, but they may not be evaluated as a whole – which could be acceptable if they have sufficient prominence. As for other ESG risks, the availability and quality of the data may be a challenge as standards, systems, and processes are evolving. This provides an opportunity for internal audit to make an impact by evaluating systems and processes and by validating the data.
Some examples
Labor standards
The subject of labor standards is broad, but if we consider it in two parts, it may help. First there are fundamental rights at a global level which most countries are adhering to as members of the International Labour Organization. These cover issues such as forced labor, child labor, maternity, working hours, discrimination, health and safety, and unionization rights. Second, there are expectations beyond this, which often vary by country and include benefits, well-being, and employee engagement. There are many ways for internal audit to make an impact here. I will address two very different audit examples:

An organization’s own employment activities have always been part of an audit universe. There is an opportunity to take this further, providing insight and assurance into, for example, employee wellbeing and engagement. Most large organizations conduct surveys covering one or both, but how effectively do they select, track, and use metrics? Also, how effective are follow-up plans? These are sensitive areas, but this is largely about how data is collected and used, and how effectively plans are defined and implemented. All are very well aligned to core internal audit skill sets.
The broader issue of labor standards risk incorporates many parts of a business. As well as an organization’s own employees, we need to consider those in the supply chain, service companies, and any other partners. The focus of an audit is likely to be on procurement and contract management processes. Do contracts stipulate appropriate measures (which vary on the size and nature of the organization)? What independent verification is available that standards are complied with? What monitoring is in place within the organization to highlight emerging issues? All questions internal audit is well-positioned to consider and provide assurance over.

Sales practices :
Sales practices have been under the microscope at various points over the last century. Often it relates to providing dishonest or misleading information, or selling products or services are known not to be in the best interest of the buyer. The banking crisis of 2008 highlighted unethical practices which led to a significant shift to providing services based on the customer. Earlier examples are tobacco and baby formula, the health impacts of which were not accurately portrayed. In both cases, poor practices continued in parts of the developing world long after they were prohibited in the West.

Risks are primarily reputational, but often there are legal and regulatory considerations that can be substantial. Let’s look at two ways in which internal audit can make an impact in this area:

The first is not about the sales process itself, but about whether organizations are considering the customer in the products and services they sell. All jurisdictions have regulations about product quality or the types of services that can be sold to different groups of consumers. Examples range from food standards to complex financial products. In addition, there are overarching responsibilities to ensure customer health and safety (whether on-site or through the products or services they are using) that should be considered. This could be as obvious as ensuring products don’t cause a choking hazard or more complex such as the danger posed when providing social media platforms to young people. Internal auditors should understand the relevant regulations, and any voluntary codes, to provide assurance that there are appropriate controls over these risks, often as part of an existing audit. But you can also go further by considering the more complex aspects of risk and raising concerns if these have not been appropriately considered as customer needs and welfare are an integral part of product/service design and production.
Internal audit can provide assurance over the sales process itself. In any setting and for any customer group, there should be defined processes for marketing, customer communications, and best practices and guidelines a salesperson should consider when making the sale. For complex products such as insurance, this may be very structured, whereas a very light touch would be expected for simple products. Controls may include guidelines, review, and approval for marketing materials, standard templates for communications, and certifications and training for sales. When auditing, we need to be mindful of having realistic expectations for the type of products and services being sold but also be prepared to challenge when processes are insufficient or not well-evidenced. Additional considerations include data privacy, avoidance of discrimination, and the need to look at practices in all relevant jurisdictions.
To summarize, we have shown the variety of social risks within ESG and how internal audit can use their skill set to make an impact by providing assurance over some of these key risks. There are good sources of information freely available to understand different issues in more detail to help assess how social risks may impact your organization and your audit response.

The third and final article in this series will focus on the “G” (Governance) in ESG which covers a broad range of corporate activities. It is important to understand these risks as they provide the foundation for effective ESG program management.

Have you ever had one of those days where you were determined to write that audit report? So you block off the time on your calendar, go into your office, shut the door, remove any and all distractions and breathe. Because now is the time to take all of those thoughts and perfect phrases running wild in your head and put them on paper. You sit down at your desk ready to make it happen. And you come up with nothing.

You decide to invite a colleague in to assist. Because after all, two heads are better than one. The two of you discuss the issues thoroughly, but nothing seems to sound right.

Writing objective observations takes time, skill, and tact. And if you’re like any other auditor, the audit issues sound wonderful in your head. But by the time you formulate the right words, reach for your pencil and place it on paper, that wonderful wording has become a distant memory. It’s worse if you’re in a group setting because you now become frustrated as the group begins asking you to repeat what you said. Unable to remember words uttered only seconds prior, it is only then that you realize how old you truly are.

If you’ve ever faced this situation, do not fear. There are several tools and techniques you can use to speed up and improve your report writing. But first, we must address the five big problems with writing reports:

1. We think faster than we write
2. Our million dollar thoughts come at the wrong time
3. We believe in writer’s block
4. We look for perfection in the first paragraph
5. We don’t understand and/or appreciate the writing process

5 Problems with audit report writing
We think faster than we write
We’ve all been there. Browsing through our cabinets trying to make a mental grocery list. Then you reach the point where there are too many items to remember. You decide to write a list. You reach for your paper and before the pen touches the pad, you’ve already forgotten the five items you wanted to write.

Our brains are fascinating. I can remember where I was in the summer of 1989, but I cannot remember what I ate for breakfast this morning. It is that forgetfulness that can derail your report writing.

Our million dollar thoughts come at the wrong time
Worse yet is when you have this wonderful idea, but then realize that it is 5:00 o’clock and you are stuck in traffic. There is no way you can capture that great thought without causing a pile up. So you try other techniques. You turn off the radio and repeat whatever it is over and over. You hope to continue this until you get home, or at least until you get to a stopping point. Of course something interrupts your thought and you forget what you were trying to remember.

We believe in writer’s block
Some people believe that writer’s block is a thing. I’m here to tell you, it is not. At least in the context of business writing or internal audit reports. Wikipedia define writer’s block as follows:

“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. This loss of ability to write and produce new work is not a result of commitment problems or lack of writing skills. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Writer’s block is not solely measured by time passing without writing. It is measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.”

As you can see, writer’s block is a primary concern for creative writers. Our audit reports are, or should be, factually based non fiction. We are taking a series of facts, placing some logic and order to those facts, and providing management with a conclusion. What we are not doing, is creating new characters or developing plots and story lines. We know the beginning, middle and end of the story. Therefore, we know what to say. The problem is how do we say it so that it has the best impact given within the culture of the organization.

We look for perfection in the first paragraph
Because audit report writing is simpler than creative writing, we believe that we should be able to sit down and create the perfect prose in minutes. After all, we know the beginning, middle and end of the story. When we finally put pen to paper, our initial draft is usually not good. We then become frustrated. But I believe that frustration is because we don’t understand the writing process.

We don’t understand and/or appreciate the writing process
All the magic happens in the editing. Any writer will tell you this. Ernest Hemingway famously once said that “The first draft of anything is ****” (insert a very bad word here). As someone who has had articles published, I can tell you this is true. I can recall the first time I sent something to an editor. I thought it was an okay piece. But what came back was a magnificent manuscript. I fined tuned it a little and the result was something we were all pleased with. The writing process does not require perfection at the start. Your initial goal is to get something on the page. After that, trust the process and let the magic happen in editing.

3 tools you can use
Google voice typing
Because our brains seem to signal our mouths to speak faster than our hands can write, voice typing is the perfect shortcut to getting those wonderful words out of your head and on paper. For those unfamiliar with voice typing, you talk, it types. It’s as simple as that. Well, sort of.

The best free voice typing tool I’ve found is through Google. Log in to your account. Then, access Google Docs and open a document. Go to Tools, then Voice Typing (or you can press Ctlr+Shift+S).

You will see a microphone that may say Click to Speak. Click it, talk to it, and watch the magic happen. You will need to learn certain commands like period, comma and new paragraph. But other than that, if you speak clearly, it will recognize most speaking voices and words.

Your Cell Phone voice recorder
If barking out commands to your computer isn’t your thing, you’re in luck. There’s another option. If you’re like me, your cell phone is probably within arms reach. Grab your phone and go to your favorite app store. Search for a voice recorder. You should see several. Download one that piques your interest.

You can now record yourself talking about the audit issues. Now you will never miss that wonderfully worded paragraph that would sound great in an audit report. Once recorded, you can listen to the recording and pull out the impactful paragraphs.

Transcription
If you truly believe the recording represents your best work ever, you can have it transcribed. Yes, you heard me, transcribed. It’s not as bad or as expensive as you think. Before I get into that, I must say that I am not being paid by nor am I endorsing these specific products. there are several transcription services that I have used. Some use live transcribers while others use automated engines.

Summary

Writing audit reports can be a daunting task. But it has to be done. Nowadays we have a lot of tools that can help streamline the process. Many of the biggest issues start with us. Writer’s block is only as real as we allow it to be. Sit down and put something on paper. Use some electronic tools to get your words on paper. Almost any words will do. Afterall, the magic happens in the editing.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
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Audit International were in awe to hear this revolutionary news from the billionaire founder of the outdoor fashion brand Patagonia. He has announced just yesterday he is giving away his company to a charitable trust.

Yvon Chouinard said any profit not reinvested in running the business would go to fighting climate change.

The label has amassed a cult following due to sustainability moves like guaranteeing its clothes for life and offering reasonably priced repairs.

The brand’s website now states: “Earth is now our only shareholder.”

Mr Chouinard has always said he “never wanted to be a businessman”.

A rock climbing fanatic, he started out as making metal climbing spikes for himself and his friends to wedge into rocks, before moving into clothing and eventually creating a hugely successful sportswear brand with a cult following.
Founded in 1973, Patagonia’s sales were worth around $1.5bn this year, while Mr Chouinard’s net worth is thought to be $1.2bn.

He claimed that profits to be donated to climate causes will amount to around $100m (£87m) a year, depending on the health of the company.

“Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits,” the entrepreneur said of his decision to give up ownership.
The Californian firm was already donating 1% of its annual sales to grassroots activists and committed to sustainable practices. But in an open letter to customers, the apparently reluctant businessman said he wanted to do more.

Mr Chouinard said he had initially considered selling Patagonia and donating the money to charity, or taking the company public. But he said both options would have meant giving up control of the business and putting its values at risk.

Instead, the Chouinard family has transferred all ownership to two new entities. The Patagonia Purpose Trust, led by the family, remains the company’s controlling shareholder but will only own 2% of its total stock, Mr Chouinard said.

It will guide the philanthropy of the Holdfast Collective, a US charity “dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis” which now owns all of the non-voting stock – some 98% of the company.

“Each year the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis,” Mr Chouinard said.
Patagonia combines high-end outdoor fashion with its own brand of environmental and social activism. It’s a heady combination that certainly appeals to a loyal, if predominantly well-heeled following.

Part of the attraction comes from the fact that its environmentally conscious stance isn’t new. It was preaching eco-awareness years before sustainable fashion became fashionable.

But it’s still pretty hard to save the planet, if your business depends on selling stuff, however many recycled or renewable products you use.

By ringfencing future profits for environmental causes, Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard has done his best to square that circle.

But he is also clearly trying to ensure that Patagonia brand is future-proofed and can never fall into the hands of the kind of companies he has accused of greenwashing in the past.

It’s nice to bring a good news story to you readers, and it will be interesting to see if any other climate conscious companies will follow suit. The bar has well and truly been set.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
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Audit International are aware that public sector organizations face a variety of risks, ranging from cyber threats to budget constraints to compliance concerns. While internal audit teams in the government sector might not be responsible for solving all those risks, they need to make sure that they are following through with relevant risk management protocols.

Therefore, it is essential that internal audit teams are conducting internal audit risk assessments to figure out what these risks look like.

“Risk-based auditing ensures that the internal audit activity is focusing its efforts on providing assurance and advisory services related to the organization’s top risks… This requires internal auditors to have a working knowledge of basic concepts, frameworks, tools, and techniques related to risk and risk management,” explains the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

In this article, we’ll examine five tips to help public sector internal auditors build better risk-based audit plans. These include:

1) Define your goals
Before you get too bogged down in the specifics of running an internal audit risk assessment, take a step back and consider what you’re trying to accomplish. Doing so includes finding internal alignment within your audit team and with other stakeholders.

As Baker Tilly advises, internal audit teams “should meet with the various stakeholder groups – management, the audit committee, and the governing body – to explain the process, set expectations for the results and listen to any desired outcomes, as a means of adapting the approach or identifying other activities where internal audit can add value.”

2) Organize your data
Conducting an internal audit risk assessment also requires strong data practices. But before you can get to a place where you are using data analytics to identify key risks, public sector organizations often need to organize their data first.

Information might be held in a variety of systems that makes analysis inefficient, if not ineffective. Tools like TeamMate+ use a data exchange API framework to pull together data from different sources, such as governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, giving you a complete picture of what’s happening within your organization.

3) Get agile
If you go through an entire risk-based audit without getting any feedback along the way, then it’s easy to get off track. For one, risks might have changed from the time the audit started to when it eventually wraps up. And when you present to stakeholder leaders at the end of the risk assessment, it can be tough to then incorporate their feedback into your internal controls and assurance processes.

Engaging in agile auditing can help. By breaking an internal audit risk assessment down into more manageable chunks — where different risk areas go from the planning to presentation stages in short sprints — public sector internal auditors may have an easier time adapting to change and incorporating feedback.

4) Go dynamic
Agile auditing creates a dynamic internal audit risk assessment. Instead of approaching these assessments as an annual occurrence, you can review public sector risks on more of an ongoing basis.

That means collaborating with other departments throughout the year to keep up with emerging risks, which is where good data-sharing practices also come in handy. Dynamic or continuous risk assessments can also result in more frequent reporting so that you can keep everyone in the loop and get their timely feedback. Having a strong internal audit risk assessment tool like TeamMate that can help you simplify risk scoring and create efficient audit reports makes a big difference.

5) Keep up with public sector requirements
Lastly, working in internal audit in the government sector means staying on top of general risks like cybersecurity and financial concerns, along with meeting specific public policy guidelines and regulations. Public sector internal auditors often turn to sources like Wolters Kluwer, which provides resources like webinars and other Expert Insights so you can learn what you need to do to strengthen internal audit as a government organization.

Following these five tips can go a long way toward creating a strong internal audit risk assessment and a better audit process overall. Even if it seems like your organization doesn’t face many risks, conducting a risk-based audit can help you stay on top of any changes to your risk level. Rather than being caught off guard, building a reliable internal audit risk assessment plan can help your organization control risk, however that takes shape.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
Calling
– Switzerland 0041 4350 830 59 or
– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”

If the last few years have shown us here at Audit International anything, it’s that we must be ready for the unexpected. From the disruptions of the global pandemic to soaring inflation, from political scandals to a war of aggression in Ukraine—life as we know it is changing.

The public sector doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Global events have a direct effect on national public services, and uncertainty causes disruption. The public sector must adapt to these changes if it is to continue delivering essential services for the taxpayer. Long-term funding challenges, climate change, and changing demographics also add to the pressures the global public sector is facing, and with technology changing the way we work, how does the role of internal audit fit into this complex web of demands and transformations?

As organizations react to these external changes, their assurance needs will inevitably change too. If internal audit is to stay relevant, it needs to keep pace with the changing demands of the organization.
To get a better understanding of how to improve the impact of internal audit and unlock its full potential, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) asked over 800 internal audit professionals and clients from across the United Kingdom for their experiences and views.

Their research revealed that 93 percent of the internal audit leaders who responded strongly agreed that internal audit supports the management of the organization, while 88 percent of managers who responded felt the same. Although there is some disparity between the two figures, they show that managers and heads of internal audit broadly agree that internal audit contributes to effective organizational management. Despite these promising statistics, when asked questions about the specific areas where internal audit is making an impact, there was significant disagreement.

Divergent Views
The CIPFA found that heads of internal audit and their clients, the management of organizations, often had substantially different views on what internal audit currently delivers to the organization. For example, 73 percent of heads of internal audit believe that they act as an independent critical friend on committees or steering groups, with just 43 percent of management agreeing with this. More worrisome, only 35 percent of audit committee members thought that internal audit provided this role. Ninety-one per cent of internal audit leaders said they provide advice on new systems and developments, but only 62 percent of managers agreed. This disparity is common across a range of different services and roles provided by internal audit, with clients consistently believing internal audit’s input is significantly less than what the heads of internal audit believe.

This shows that heads of internal audit need to be more vocal about the work their teams are actually doing for the organization. They need to become advocates for internal audit and promote the work of their teams, while clearly explaining to management how vital internal audit is and how it can help the organization reach its goals. Only then will the input of audit teams be fully understood and appreciated by clients, managers, and audit committees.
The more management understands the role of internal audit, the more expectations they will have of it. Higher expectations mean that internal audit becomes more intrinsically valuable and more relevant to an organization, ensuring its important role in the future.

Three Areas of Focus
-More strategic coverage can also help internal audit transform and adapt for an uncertain future. We asked respondents to identify three key areas that internal audit should focus on in the future to have the greatest impact on an organization.
-Cybersecurity was the top priority, with just under 60 percent of respondents wanting internal audit to focus on this key strategic area in the next three years. Just over 50 percent identified digitization and data use within organizations as the next most important area, while 47 percent thought that climate change and sustainability would be important areas of focus for internal audit professionals in the next three years.
-The area of internal financial risk, which internal audit has traditionally provided assurance in, such as payroll and income, are generally already well managed with little exposure to risk. So, does internal audit still have a role to play in mitigating financial risk? About one-third (35 percent) of respondents said they thought financial viability was a key area for the future. This includes more strategic areas such as financial resilience and medium- and long-term financial strategies—both of which carry considerable risk to the organization. Without seeking to influence the financial policies themselves, internal audit can provide vital independent assurance to decision makers to allow them to take on more risk and be more ambitious.

If internal audit takes a more strategic role in emerging issues and provides assurance not just around internal financial risk, then it can position itself as a trusted partner to the organization. In the coming years, it will be vital for audit professionals to keep up with the changing demands of clients, and the world around us, if internal audit is to stay relevant.

– The Skills Gap
Continual life-long learning is also essential if internal audit is to stay on the front foot. It is this up-skilling that will help auditors keep pace with emerging organizational demands, like cloud computing and cyber security. Out of the heads of internal auditors who responded to our survey, 55 percent agreed that they had sufficient skills and experience to meet the needs of the organization. This is broadly similar to the number of senior managers who agreed that their internal audit teams had the skills needed. There is still room for improvement in this area.
In its 2020 report on the future of jobs, the World Economic Forum identified some key technologies that companies thought would most likely be adopted by 2025. Cloud computing, big data analysis, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity all came out on top. These represent growth areas for internal audit and where internal audit professionals will have to upskill to provide maximum value to the organization.

Internal auditors cannot be subject matter experts in all these areas, of course, and some aspects will have to be outsourced to specialized firms. Internal auditors can, however, oversee the organization’s direction and approach to these key strategic areas, provide independent assurance and act as a critical friend where necessary. Having good communication, critical and analytical reasoning skills, financial literacy, as well as risk-based auditing skills will help internal auditors tackle these complex subject areas.
Internal audit can have a bright future. Although the world is in a particularly uncertain phase, and organizations’ assurance requirements are rapidly changing to reflect this, internal audit can still make a significant impact and provide a valuable service. But to do this, it must also adapt.
Embracing New Challenges

To stay still is to move backwards when the pace of change is so considerable. Internal audit’s future lies in embracing new challenges such as cybersecurity, financial viability, climate change, artificial intelligence and big data. It can provide organizations with the assurance they so badly need around these issues – allowing them to embrace new technologies and ambitious strategies. To do this, internal auditors need access to learning and development to equip them with appropriate skills to find solutions to these complex issues.

All of this, however, will not lead to the wanted outcomes if heads of internal audit do not advocate and promote the work of their teams within organizations. They must make sure management and clients understand their assurance needs and how internal audit teams support organizations to reach their goals.
Good public financial management is at the core of delivering value for money and improving public services. A much broader, more diverse, and louder internal audit function can reinforce and support good financial management, both now and well into the future.

“Audit International are specialists in the recruitment of Auditors and various Corporate Governance Professionals including Internal Audit, Cyber Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Data Analytics etc across Europe and the US.

If you would like to reach out to discuss your current requirements, please feel free to reach us via any of the following:
Calling
– Switzerland 0041 4350 830 59 or
– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”