Risk Audit

Here at Audit International, we have seen a significant shift in the way in which environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data has been perceived in recent years. It has gone from being an ‘add-on’ to being a vital opportunity for corporations to boost their competitiveness. As consumers become more discerning about environmental, social, ethical, and responsible business practices, organizations are increasingly starting to realize that reporting ESG data can have significant brand and reputational benefits.

However, this is just the beginning. The value of ESG data extends beyond reporting—when handled properly, it can unlock value for an organization in a variety of ways.

What is ESG and ESG Reporting?
It’s important to note that there is a distinction between ESG and sustainability. The terms are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences. Essentially, sustainability deals with how an organization’s operations impact the environment and society, whereas ESG has more to do with how an organization’s environmental, social, and governance initiatives affect its financial performance.

According to the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ), “ESG reporting encompasses both qualitative discussions of topics as well as quantitative metrics used to measure a company’s performance against ESG risks, opportunities, and related strategies.”

How companies can use ESG data to their advantage
When organizations treat ESG reporting as more than a box-ticking exercise to meet regulatory obligations, they stand to reap a number of benefits, as follows:

● Profitability and sustainability: Including ESG data in an extended planning and analysis (xP&A) strategy allows an enterprise to see how that data affects financial and operational data, which is key to making ESG initiatives sustainable and profitable.

● Risk management: Neglecting ESG issues can result in financial or reputational damage. Thus, all organizations should ensure that they incorporate ESG data into their risk management strategies. By voluntarily disclosing this information, they will demonstrate that they are taking sufficient steps to protect themselves and their stakeholders from ESG-related risks.

● Competitive advantage: Focusing on ESG can help an organization gain a better understanding of what matters to its stakeholders while also identifying opportunities. Furthermore, reporting ESG data will help stakeholders compare the organization with its competitors. This works in the organization’s favour if it is outperforming peers on the ESG front.

● Uncovering critical operational drivers for decision-making: ESG data can help an organization see where sustainable changes could improve efficiency and make its business more ethical and equitable. This can greatly enhance the decision-making process.

What are the main challenges to effective ESG Reporting?
ESG reporting is continuously evolving as governments announce new standards that companies need to comply with, as well as a new mandatory International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) standard that is expected to be announced by the end of the year (2022). It also touches every financial process. For these reasons, companies can find the whole ESG journey intimidating.

The following are some of the main obstacles that need to be overcome:

● Several ESG optional frameworks: The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) are some of the more notable ESG frameworks, but there are plenty of others, many of which are specific to certain regions or industries. It can be challenging for companies, especially those operating in multiple countries, to know which ESG standards and frameworks to adhere to. This will all change when the mandatory ISSB standards are announced at the end of 2022.

● Complexity of data management: Whether meeting regulatory requirements or carrying out voluntary disclosures, companies need to be able to collect, translate, and process ESG data. This is a task that is complicated by the fact that the data is often siloed across different IT systems and is often stored in different formats. In addition, sustainability can be hard to quantify.

● Lack of ESG insight to inform decisions: Many organizations have difficulty seeing the connection between ESG data and financial results, especially when captured in spreadsheets, which means they are unable to use the data to improve their bottom line and sustainability initiatives.

“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”

In this final article of the series, Audit International focus on the third element of ESG- Governance risk. This differs from the first two elements – Environmental and Social – in that several governance risks have long been recognized and included in our audit plans. However, many more have recently gained prominence. Therefore, it is important that internal audit understands these risks and is well positioned to provide assurance.

Governance risks :

Some governance risks are broad in nature. Others, are very narrow. Some have little in terms of universal benchmarks, while others have well-established frameworks or regulations. Here are some of the main risks that should be considered:

– Shareholder rights and engagement – are there any limitations on certain classes of shareholders, and does the business engage effectively on important issues?
– Board structure and diversity – are there independent directors, and does the board have sufficient diversity of experience, style, and background? Increasingly, neurodiversity is a consideration, and in some countries a workers’ representative is a requirement.
– Executive compensation – is this structured to be in line with corporate objectives, and is it consistent with peers in comparison to the wages of other staff?
– Anti-bribery and corruption – many countries have a comprehensive legal framework.
– Tax transparency and policy – what is the organization’s approach to tax, and particularly the jurisdictions it operates and pays taxes in?
– Ethics and culture – a broad topic, ethics encompass all the above and more. Culture has become a hot topic over the past 15 years with the link between a strong organization-wide culture and performance becoming increasingly apparent.
– Data protection – often also included as a social risk, good information governance is relevant here as well.
– Typical impacts for the organization will be reputational, legal and regulatory, people, financial, and ultimately strategic.

Getting started – Determining the key risks :
Compared with environmental and social risk, it is much more difficult to take a holistic approach to governance risk, given the breadth of topics. However, it is likely that many activities and risks are already in your audit universe. A governance code may have been adopted by your organization, although these may only cover some of the issues described above. Understanding the relevant governance code(s) –mandatory or optional – is a good starting point. This will depend on jurisdiction(s), market listings, regulators, and industry practices. Governance codes can be principle-based or more prescriptive, and will typically define some or all of the following, often on a “comply or explain” basis:

– Clarity of purpose
– Leadership
– Integrity
– Board composition and division of responsibilities
– Board effectiveness
– Decision making
– Risk management, internal controls, and audit
– Accountability, transparency, and reporting remuneration

In understanding governance risks, you should also take into account what specific legal or regulatory requirements there are around any of these issues. This may include reporting requirements around diversity or executive pay or matters which must regularly be reported and considered by the board. Also, consider what other stakeholder expectations are relevant. This is likely to focus on investors, as they have been increasingly vocal and prepared to vote against boards that do not adequately address specific issues.

With this background information, along with your consideration of the issues highlighted earlier in this article, you can ensure your risk assessment incorporates relevant governance risks.

How internal audit can make an impact :
As always, we should leverage work done by the first and second lines in considering where we can make the biggest impact. We should consider our risk assessment alongside any new information we have about regulatory changes, emerging issues in our sector, or jurisdictions, and investor interest.

Some Examples :
– Governance framework
– Governance codes were mentioned earlier in this article. Whether your organization has adopted a code in full or developed its own framework, it will need to produce a regular (typically, annual) report of compliance with the code. Assessing the processes supporting this reporting is often a good way to execute broad audit coverage of governance risks. Such reports are expected by regulators, provide assurance to the board, and are sometimes published (at least in part in the annual report). – Therefore, it is important that they give an accurate picture.

Reports may take many forms and will often include qualitative assertions and specific data or examples. It is important that any data reported is accurate, but equally as important that narrative assertions or examples are supported by evidence. Internal audit can provide assurance over the processes to collate this evidence, ensuring it is complete and accurate and that the right oversight controls are in place. We can also review the report and verify that the conclusions reached fairly reflect the evidence available. Generally, we take a combined approach to provide comprehensive and broad assurance.

Board composition :
Board composition has been under the spotlight, and while practices have improved there is often still a lack of transparency in recruitment, objective evaluation, and diversity. This is a sensitive audit which needs to be conducted by experienced auditors. When done well, it provides real insight and impact.

It is important not to make this about the individuals currently serving on a board, but about the effectiveness of processes around recruitment, structure, skills-determination, and performance evaluation. Consider some or all of the following:

Is there an evaluation of the skills required on the board and an up-to-date skills matrix? Is this specific enough to ensure the board members possess the right range of skills and experience but sufficiently flexible to attract a diverse pool of candidates?
Do recruitment processes include defining an ideal candidate profile, pre-determined selection criteria, and stakeholder involvement in the exercise? Are candidates sourced in a way that ensures a wide pool of candidates, recognizing that there may be a need for confidentiality?
How are conflicts of interest identified and managed?
What are the rotation policies/term limits for non-executive board members?
How is board performance evaluated? Is there a self-assessment process and a periodic independent assessment?
Is there a training plan for the board and individual board members? Is there an individual appraisal process?
Does the committee structure support effective delegation but ensure the board maintains its responsibility for strategy and oversight?
How effective is the relationship between executives and non-executives? Does the structure facilitate both support and challenge?
Is there an effective process for succession planning?
Do boards allow time for open discussions and strategic thinking, as well as formal meetings?
Some of this can be done by document review — including board papers and minutes, skill matrix, recruitment process documents, etc. But much of this will also require interviews with board members and those who support the board, such as the corporate/company secretarial or corporate governance team.

This article concludes the series on what internal audit should know about ESG risks. If you missed the first two articles, be sure to go back and read our previous blogs, to get you up to speed on our suggestions on how internal audit can approach environmental and social 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”

A recent study revealed that 82% of finance and business leaders must comply with sustainability requirements or ESG regulations. Even without mandatory regulatory standards in place, Audit International would bet their bottom dollar that more companies would voluntarily take on sustainability initiatives and thus, produce ESG reports.

Why? Because more stakeholders are looking.

The number of parties with vested interests in ESG performance has dramatically increased. The tendency is to think of investors as the sole consumer, judge, and jury of ESG reports, but that’s changing, especially as other stakeholders find themselves subject to ESG expectations.

So, who’s really looking at your ESG reports? And why do they care?

Investors
Let’s start with the obvious: investors! Today’s investors want to ensure their money supports organizations that align with their values. Increasingly, those values are moving further and further away from brown stocks. Investors are leaning away from companies that might risk damaging the environment, operate with inequities, or are vulnerable to corruption.

While sustainable investing is value-based for many investors, it’s also the safer, more lucrative investment in many cases.

A study by Nordea Equity Research reported that, over three years, companies with high ESG ratings outperformed the lowest-rated companies by as much as 40%.

A Bank of America Merrill Lynch study found that firms with a healthier ESG record yielded higher three-year returns. They were also more likely to become high-quality stocks, less likely to experience significant price drops, and less likely to go bankrupt.

All this to say, an ESG score isn’t just a number. It indicates to investors that your company is a proactive, forward-thinking entity that will satisfy the investor’s need for ROI and their conscience.

Internal stakeholders
Many stakeholders within a business can benefit from ESG performance data.

For example:

Sales and marketing can use ESG data to showcase a company’s sustainability performance in their efforts to entice new customers.
IR and PR teams can tout ESG successes to improve the company’s reputation.
HR reps can use social data to attract talent.
Finance teams and chief executives can use ESG insights to improve profitability, contain costs, identify new business opportunities, and recognize areas of investment and divestment when ESG data is connected to financial performance.
Organizations can put ESG performance data to work in many ways. Regarding business value, ESG reports can give every department leverage in furthering the growth and goodwill towards an organization.

ESG scoring bodies
A good ESG score is a golden ticket to a favorable ESG reputation. To receive one, you’ll have to complete surveys or create reports designed by third-party providers, who then calculate ESG scores based on the metrics and ESG performance you reported. Like a credit score or a bond rating, an ESG score demonstrates your company’s ability to meet its ESG commitments, performance, and risk exposure.

Notable ESG scoring organizations are Bloomberg ESG Data Services, Sustainalytics, ESG Risk Ratings, JUST Capital, MSCI, Refinitiv, Dow Jones Sustainability Index Family, and RepRisk.

Banks and financial institutions
Banks, capital markets, and wealth managers are moving towards ESG agendas. This is not just an ethical move but one of demand, risk, and reward.

In terms of demand, millennials lean significantly towards sustainable investments. A survey by EY found that millennials are twice as likely to invest in a fund or stock if social responsibility is a component of the value creation narrative. (Might I remind you millennials are the demographic soon to be society’s primary wealth holders.)

In terms of risk, the liability to banks is two-fold. First, banks are subject to the same sustainability scrutiny as other businesses — customers want to bank with sustainably responsible banks. And second, banks face similar challenges to investors: lending to companies that aren’t sustainable could also pose threats to their business. Will a coal mine be able to repay its debts when sustainable alternatives take over? While banks might not be in this scenario just yet, in the future, it’s possible that businesses could see requests for funding denied if they don’t prove to be sustainable enough.

In terms of reward, again, we see companies with strong ESG performing better than those with weak ESG. An analysis completed by global investment manager BlackRock found that up to 88% of sustainable funds outperformed their non-sustainable counterparts between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2020. Why would a wealth manager allocate funds to an unsustainable stock when a more sustainable and equally (if not more) profitable alternative exists? Why choose to lose/win when you could choose to win/win?

Regulators
Incoming! A stampede of regulations is making its way into the ESG reporting arena. Two regulations of note are:

The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDD)

In February 2022, the European Commission published a draft of the CSDD. If passed, the CSDD would require companies to disclose the impacts of their operations on human rights and the environment.

The US’s new climate-related disclosures

In March 2022, the SEC proposed expansive new climate-related disclosures related to greenhouse gas emissions, climate risks, transition plans, and governance.

Sullivan and Cromwell LLP has a great round-up of the latest (up to May 2022) ESG regulatory advancements here. The bottom line: ESG is being written into everything from litigation to financial institutions, disclosure and governance, and law. While your particular flavor of ESG regulation will be subject to your jurisdiction and industry, you can bet on increased regulatory scrutiny coming your way soon.

Consumers
B2C companies find themselves with a consumer who cares about their product, how it’s made, and who’s making it. Recent PWC research found that:

Consumers aged 17 – 38 years are almost twice as likely to consider ESG issues when making purchasing decisions than others.
Over half of consumers surveyed said that a company’s purpose and values played a role in their purchasing decisions.
49% of consumers and 66% of millennials use the internet to learn more about a company’s ESG practices before buying a product or service.
From this, we can conclude a few things. The future of the sales will be dependent on ESG performance. And consumers aren’t satisfied with marketing promises — they want the ESG evidence, and your reports will be front in center of their investigations.

Everyone’s looking at ESG
Don’t make stakeholders struggle to seek out your ESG performance. By using a corporate performance management approach to ESG reporting, you can tell your sustainability story, disclose according to multiple new and evolving frameworks, and connect financial outcomes, operational activities, and ESG performance to ensure sustainability is always tied to doing good for the earth, people, and your bottom line.

“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”

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:
Calling
– Switzerland 0041 4350 830 59 or
– US 001 917 508 5615
E-mail:
– info@audit-international.com”

This week Audit International are taking a look at the 4 ways how Internal Audit can get a seat at the table.

When it comes to risk management and compliance, most organizations operate on a 3 Lines of Defense (3LOD) model, in which operational management, compliance, and internal audit work together in tandem to assess and mitigate risk and manage controls and compliance.

This model may be successful in theory, but as the risk management and compliance functions have grown more complex, it doesn’t always work as well as you might hope. Given the rising sophistication of cybersecurity threats and incidents of fraud, and the increasing compliance requirements posed upon organizations of all sizes, it can be difficult to keep an organization-wide pulse on threats and breaches in compliance as they arise.

The problem is, the three branches don’t always collaborate effectively, which may leave internal audit out of the loop and unable to provide much value to the organization. They may not have access to the data they need to generate effective recommendations. The internal audit team’s focus may be simply on checking boxes and ensuring compliance, rather than providing strategic insights that will help your organization understand and take steps to mitigate new threats.

If you want your internal audit team to move the needle at your organization, you need to get the ear of executives who can advocate for your work. By partnering with leadership, you’ll be able to spearhead new initiatives and gain critical access to data that will help your organization save money and reduce risk, proving your team’s value.

Here are four strategies for doing that effectively:

Identify the key people who can support you, and make a plan to build relationships with them
Your audit team will naturally be in touch with the managers who can provide key information needed to conduct your audits—but by focusing only on these contacts, you’re missing out on building relationships with the leaders who will be able to help you gain a more visible role in the organization. Build a plan for conducting periodic outreach to higher-level executives within your organization, such as your chief risk officer or your CTO. You can solicit feedback from them on any open questions they may want your team to review in your audits, or provide high-level executive briefs showcasing work that you’ve done and issues they may want to explore in further detail. Make sure that they know you and your team are available to support them and open for feedback.

Proactively address organization-wide trends
Rather than focusing solely on issues identified in individual audits, start looking at your audit results in aggregate to identify trends. Is a single department or office location having trouble resolving a specific compliance issue, or is it an across-the-board trend that should be shared with your executive team? Review your data frequently to understand risks that should be mitigated, and come up with step-by-step action plans for how they should be addressed, including who’s responsible and what the benchmarks for success are.

Pay close attention to third-party risks
Many audit teams take an insular view of risk management, failing to uncover the external risks brought on by vendors and technology partners. Make sure that you have policies in place to carefully vet and automate compliance on your third-party vendors, pulling in external data that will alert you to any financial or legal issues they may face. Regularly track all of your solutions and technology partners for red flags, and ensure that you have a strategy for mitigating them. You can showcase your findings in sessions with executives and other partners throughout the business, and collaborate to come up with a plan for any of your scenarios. Keep in mind that risks from big providers such as Amazon or Facebook may impact a lot of your customers or partners as well, so ensure that you map out all of the variables that may impact your company’s business model across the board.

Use best-in-class GRC technology to automate compliance and analyze data
In order to provide the most useful insights to your leadership team, it’s important to integrate your entire risk management function across an easy-to-use GRC platform. Your GRC platform should come with pre-built content that will help you automate your controls framework, regardless of your industry. It should make it easy to monitor compliance status and risk levels across the organization at any given time, with triggers prompting action when control levels are not being met. You should be able to easily drill down into your data and generate executive dashboards, so that you can share insights to justify recommendations and help your leadership team make better informed business decisions.

By building a cohesive strategy for integrating with the 3LOD, backed by in-depth data analytics, real-time data feeds, and workflow automation, your audit team will be able to generate insights that can help to identify new risks, and develop new strategies for mitigating risks across the entire organization. This will help you to become a highly visible, influential, and trusted partner to the business.

“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”

Audit International have been thinking recently about what internal audit should know about ESG risks, and where best to start but with the E, which is for Environmental.

In this, the first in a series of three articles, we will drill down on Environmental risk and explore how internal audit can have an impact by focusing on key risks.

Environmental risks :
There’s no single taxonomy of environmental risks. Consider what categories your organization uses and what is used elsewhere in the sector. The following should all be covered, at a minimum, but may be described in different ways using different terminology:

Climate change :
This should include the effect of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – we usually talk about carbon dioxide but there are seven gases covered by the GHG protocol
Pollution from emissions and discharge (i.e., water, soil, air)
Biodiversity loss and deforestation
Waste management
Resource use – impacts of raw materials, production, transportation, and distribution (consider water, energy, and other natural resources)
Hazardous materials
There is clearly an interplay between these risks, but as they represent the major environmental impacts, this offers a good starting point.

This should fit neatly into your existing risk assessment process. Typical impacts for the organization will be reputational, legal and regulatory, financial, operational, and ultimately strategic. All things we are very familiar with.

Getting started – Determining the key risks
Every organization is different. You will need to start with a risk assessment to determine the key risks, potentially using the list above. To do this, you will need to understand the main environmental issues in your business, considering a number of factors:

What sector(s) you are in, and what are the main impacts of that sector. Search out industry guidance from standard setters such as GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), international business groups, such as the World Economic Forum, and thought leaders, such as McKinsey. It is important to consider all the main parts of your business, from the environmental impact of the raw materials you source, through transportation, production, and sales. Although focus on your immediate impacts may be easier, the impacts outside your organization’s immediate control are often more significant. For example, a significant environmental impact of electronics is the extraction of rare earth metals essential for their production.
Where your business is based, the places in which you operate, where you source materials from, and where you sell to. This is important for a number of reasons. It drives the nature and extent of legal and regulatory risk that the organization faces. It also influences the attitudes of stakeholders, such as customers and consumers, as these may vary significantly. But bear in mind, that these factors can change quickly and this needs to be built into any risk assessment.
Requirements of your customers. This may be contractual for government or corporate procurement, or the preferences and attitudes of consumers. This is also partly based on location (as mentioned above), but in global markets, it is never that simple.

All of this (and more) should have been considered by the business (first or second line) and internal audit should leverage their work, effectively challenging and validating. If this has not been done, internal audit needs to be taking a step back and conducting a more basic evaluation of the maturity of the organization’s risk assessment process.

Some types of environmental impact will be universal and significant no matter what your business activity. These include climate change and waste, which Audit International will dig a little deeper into later in the article. Others may apply to a much greater extent in certain industries, such as those in extractive industries (oil and mining for example) and heavy manufacturing (where there may be high levels of resource use – both raw materials as inputs and energy and water in the production process).

How internal audit can make an impact :
As with any aspect of audit planning, the greatest value internal audit can bring will depend on the major risks identified. But we can’t just consider the inherent risks, we need to understand what other sources of assurance are in place and, most importantly, what activities are contributing to both the risk and the assurance. Think about the following:

What do we know about environmental management processes that are in place? What is the scope of these systems and processes?
What reporting is in place? Are external reports assured? Which stakeholders use and rely on these reports?
Are environmental factors (risks and costs) incorporated into project evaluation and capital decisions?
A common factor across many environmental risks is availability and the quality of the data. Process and controls for environmental data are generally less mature and systems are not always equipped or configured to meet the complexities and nuances of this data. This is often a great opportunity for internal audit to add value, both by providing assurance over processes and systems, and by validating the data itself. Both leverage core internal audit skills.

We can also go further, confirming that reports meet whichever standards are being applied, that management reports or projects evaluations fairly, and that these completely reflect risks as well as opportunities. However, this may require more specialized knowledge.

Some examples :

Climate change
All organizations need a response to climate change, and so while the specific needs will differ, this is an issue increasingly relevant for everyone. How can internal audit add value? Let’s look at two potential opportunities:

Has the business considered the potential physical and transitional impacts of climate change? Best practice suggests this should be done using scenario analysis that includes a range of realistic scenarios. Physical vulnerabilities may result from gradual, long-term changes in climate (chronic risks), or short-term (acute) risks, such as storms and fires during heatwaves. These potentially impact the cost-of-capital, the availability and cost of insurance rates, and cause operational disruption. Transitional impacts include changes in legislation, markets, technology, and stakeholder expectations. Internal audit can review the process used to establish scenarios and determine the impacts and, more importantly, assess actions to improve resilience, mitigate risk, and maximize opportunities.

Many corporations are now publishing disclosures under TCFD (Task Force on Climate Related Disclosures). These are becoming mandatory in some countries and are an increasing expectation from investors. External assurance, if any, is usually very limited in scope. Internal audit can provide assurance over the processes to collate data and support assertions made in the disclosures. It can also audit the data and assess the evidence supporting those assertions. Other organizations may provide (voluntarily or by regulation) data on, for example, energy use or emissions. Again, internal audit can provide similar assurance over these processes or this data, as any external assurance will generally be limited.

Waste :
Waste is an issue for all organizations, although the specific impacts will be very different across businesses. As well as the environmental impact, businesses have a cost-incentive to reduce waste, as it is increasingly expensive to treat and dispose of. Internal audit can add value in a number of ways.

Here are some examples:

– Assess whether policies support the organization’s waste strategy. Are they specific to the business and relevant for the types and locations of waste produced? Do they take into account legislation and regulation in each jurisdiction? Are they effectively implemented, understood, and followed?
– Companies often report waste information, either in annual reports or to different public authorities. How is this validated? For example, how do we know that waste is recycled or reused? Are there controls to independently verify how the waste has been treated? In many countries, responsibility for safe disposal rests with the waste producer, not the waste contractor.

To summarize, we have described the importance of environmental risk to all organizations and have shown how internal audit can respond to some of those risks. Internal audit can use existing tools and skills to get started, and leverage widely available sources of knowledge to find out more.

Keep an eye out for our next blog, discussing the S in ESG, which of course stands for ‘Social’.
We will explore how internal audit can address important social 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”

Audit International have compiled a list of do’s and don’ts for auditors when potential wrongdoing surfaces.

Fraud can occur within any organization regardless of size or sophistication, even when internal controls seem effective. Despite this harsh reality, many audit clients and auditors are caught off guard when they become aware of alleged fraud. This article addresses how auditors should respond if suspicions or allegations of fraud surface during a financial statement audit.

To begin with, it is important for an auditor to remember the definition of fraud in the context of an audit – “An intentional act by one or more individuals … involving the use of deception that results in a misstatement in financial statements that are the subject of an audit”

With allegations of fraud, the key consideration for an auditor is whether the fraud might result in material misstatement of the financial statements. While allegations of fraud should always be appropriately considered by the auditor, not all fraudulent acts will necessarily have a material impact on the financial statements. Auditors are mainly concerned with misstatements that result from either fraudulent financial reporting or misappropriation of assets.

Before discussing what to do as an auditor if you become aware of potential fraud, let’s highlight first what you should not do: Never draw conclusions of guilt or innocence
The legal determination of whether fraud has occurred is made by a judge or jury, not by management and not by the auditor. So, when suspicions or allegations surface during an audit, it is important not to make conclusive statements of guilt or innocence either orally or in writing.

Instead, advise your audit client to seek legal counsel regarding what steps to take in response to the allegations. Even though the client’s action or inaction in addressing suspected fraud may affect the trajectory of the audit engagement and raise issues such as whether an audit firm can issue an opinion or should withdraw from the engagement, it is not the auditor’s role to be legal adviser to the audit client. The auditor instead needs to focus on an appropriate audit response to the situation within the context of generally accepted auditing standards.

WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS SUSPECTED FRAUD

Our discussion to this point has focused mainly on what not to do, so what should you do if you become aware of suspicions or allegations of fraud during an audit?

Notify the right people :
Depending upon who is suspected of the fraud, identify the appropriate members of management or those charged with governance to contact. Notify only those client parties who need to know.

Ask questions :
Gather essential facts about the suspicions or allegations relevant to the audit.

Document your actions and determine the situation’s effect on the audit :
Consider the possible outcomes of a client’s fraud investigation and its impact on the audit, which could include termination of the employee accused of wrongdoing, a fidelity bond claim, legal action, or a combination of these. How a client responds to such allegations or suspicions of fraud will directly affect how an auditor should respond. If a client does not take such allegations seriously, withdrawal from the engagement may be necessary.
In summary, when suspicions or allegations of fraud surface during an audit, it is extremely important to demonstrate a sufficient response to the situation to support the auditor’s conclusions on the engagement.

And finally, make sure you are asking yourself these KEY QUESTIONS.

As you gather information relating to allegations or suspicions of fraud during an audit, consider the following key questions:

– Who will investigate the suspicious activity and follow up on the allegations?
– What are the client’s policies, and what outcomes may come from its investigation, such as termination of the employee, a fidelity bond claim, legal action, or a combination of these?
– What financial statement misstatements are suspicious? What transactions are suspicious? What assets are suspected of being missing?
– Who is the suspect? Is there more than one?
– How long has the suspect been employed at the organization? Note: The worst-case scenario is when allegations are toward a very long-tenured employee with limitless access and authorization to the organization’s assets and systems throughout his or her tenure.
– What is the period under suspicion?
– What roles/positions did the suspect have throughout his or her employment tenure?
– What access does, or did, the suspect have to assets and systems throughout his or her tenure?
– What are the possible ways the suspect could have committed fraud, considering his or her access and authorization to assets and systems? Has the suspect confessed to committing fraud? If so, what did the suspect confess?
– Are there any controls in place that would mitigate fraud risk and limit the amount of possible fraud committed?
– Can you estimate a “worst-case scenario” amount of how much cash or how many assets were stolen?
– What misstatements to the financials could result from the suspected fraud? Consider the possible impact on beginning net assets if prior years are involved.
– What disciplinary measures have already been taken toward the suspect? Did the client place the suspected employee on leave and limit his or her access to assets and systems?

“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”

Audit International recently came across a very interesting article, on improving Internal control systems, in the Wall Street Journal, and thought we’d share it with you.

Increasing business complexity and regulatory requirements are driving continual change to the risk environments for many organizations, and historical approaches to risk and controls may not be suited for the current atmosphere of digital transformation, persistent change, and uncertainty. As the business landscape continues to evolve, the risk of accounting and reporting misstatements rises, often due to the inability to respond to internal and external circumstances and adapt quickly to business changes.

Developing an internal controls framework with upgraded operating models, advanced technology integration, and new processes to monitor, implement, maintain, and optimize a risk and reporting structure can position an internal control program to stay ahead of risk and increase value. First, we will explore some of the internal and external factors driving challenges beyond traditional remediation and restatements in accounting and reporting, including considerations receiving attention from the SEC and AICPA. These critical change drivers, along with internal controls and automation opportunities, inform a new risk and controls framework empowered by more proactive and data-driven solutions.

External Factors Driving Remediation and Restatements

Remediation and restatement drivers include external challenges such as new accounting rules; the SEC and regulatory guidance; and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting. Some of these external drivers were highlighted at the recent AICPA conference and featured prominently in recent SEC comments—including SEC reporting and rulemaking, ESG matters, auditor independence, and digital assets.1 2

Data quality and the importance of modernized reporting supported by new technology were prominent features at the AICPA conference, with an emphasis that organizations evaluate their standards, processes, and technologies to create accurate and easily accessible reports. In addition, responding to market demand for ESG information was a key theme throughout the conference and SEC comments. ESG is the universe of topics that reflect areas of performance management around the impacts and dependencies of the business on society and the environment. It is a dynamic and interactive process that will likely have far-reaching implications for an organization, and the overlap between sustainability and financial reporting is inherent. Still, given the scope and possible market share of ESG activities and resulting data volume, multiple possibilities of future regulatory requirements may cause uncertainty around developing a new reporting framework that can mitigate remediation and restatements and optimize the controls environment.

Internal Controls and Automation Opportunities

Understanding both the external and internal drivers to risk and reporting structures helps inform the structure of a new internal control program to be more resilient, efficient, and agile through a changing risk profile. In addition, developing the new program using a change framework that identifies what to monitor, implement, maintain, and optimize in the controls program implementation may further enable a more resilient and efficient framework.

In addition to the external challenges to remediation, addressing internal challenges and opportunities is also necessary when developing the new control program. Disruptions from new technology and digital transformation are potential examples of prevailing internal challenges that may lead to restatements and remediation. However, the digital transformation also enables opportunities with automation, enhanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and data-driven solutions for the evolving risk and controls landscape and reporting lifecycle.

Automation Opportunities Across the Reporting Lifecycle

Process automation—includes manual, repetitive, rules-based processes and enables transaction automation, dynamic data manipulation, and streamlined communication. Examples include report generation, data reconciliation, and trend tracking.
Shared services process automation—includes processes with multiple interactions across different systems that enable process synergies. Examples include payroll, onboarding, education and training, and IT functions such as infrastructure, directories, and file management.
Outsourcing process automation—can be built for outsourcing contracts using robotic process automation (RPA) solutions. Examples include reconciliations, claims processing, inventory processing, production support, and network monitoring.
Developing a New Internal Controls Program

This five-step guide to developing a new internal controls framework can be considered to help address the external and internal challenges and utilize automation and data-driven solutions to move a control program forward and reduce the chances of accounting and reporting remediation throughout the transformation.

Conduct dynamic risk assessment and scoping updates that are periodically refreshed to remain agile, identify fraud risk considerations, and create a communication plan.
Develop internal control program methodologies, update operating models, and ascertain control owners and operators, including areas to automate.
Introduce technology to help automate and monitor the control environment and obtain electronic evidence with data and analytics.
Establish automated control methodology, develop a digital testing approach to control automation, and evaluate and update protocols for data security and cybersecurity.
Lead with the process, data, and user experience, all enabled by advanced analytics, data visuals, automation, and intelligent technology integrated within the framework.
Potential Benefits of an Updated Control Framework

Using remediation and restatement drivers to create a modernized controls framework may offer benefits beyond mitigation of risks in controls reporting. Developing a framework for a changing risk profile built on a foundation of new technology elevates the quality of reporting by increasing transparency and visibility into business processes with meaningful insights into managing risks. These deeper insights allow the function to refocus efforts and move away from point-in-time solutions to address issues continuously with more transparent monitoring and visualization capabilities.

“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”