Internal Audit ‘Hot spots’ for 2023
Audit International are stating the main Risks and Actions companies are putting on their 2023 internal audit plans. The past year concentrated attention and shone a spotlight on the increasing fragility of organizations. With a complex set of risks manifesting simultaneously, audit committees are prioritizing some of the most serious implications resulting from the ongoing war in Europe and a triple squeeze of supply chain, workforce and inflation pressures.
According to data from Gartner’s 2023 Audit Plan Hot Spots report, which identifies the key risks and recommended actions for Audit to benchmark their efforts against in the coming year, 81 percent of Chief Audit Executives polled have cyberthreats on their agenda to cover in audit activities over the next 12-18 months, with an additional 13 percent tentatively planning to do so. Even in a year with a high number of varied and seemingly imminent risks facing organizations, cyberthreats remained an agenda topping item for Audit Committees and senior executives as the drivers of the risk shifted from a generalized focus on inadequate security controls to specific need to prepare for highly sophisticated state-sponsored cyberthreats and new cyber breach disclosure requirements. Even as some risks remain perennial threats, shifting drivers can change the nature of the risk and need for updated mitigation and coverage plans.
Cyberthreats, however, are not the only vulnerability an organization faces in an increasingly fragile world. In developing this year’s report, the need for Audit to support their organizations through rethinking their approach to resilience in the face of growing fragility became evident as a key theme underlying several top organizational risks. These risks are generally under-covered in audit plans for 2023, in some cases less tangible and immediate than the category of risks that have been urgently prioritized as a result of the headline events of this year.
Resilience-related risks are manifesting with real world and high-velocity consequences all the same, and Audit needs to understand the risk indicators, urgency drivers and the right questions to ask the business to ensure that rethinking resiliency is on the agenda in 2023.
Below I review three such risks and strategies for Audit on how to approach them.
Nearly six in ten CAEs have no specific plans to provide assurance over climate degradation next year. This in and of itself is a key risk indicator for most organizations, as a failure to refresh business continuity plans related to climate risks puts an organization at higher risk for a key infrastructure failure and related loss of productivity among other risks.
While CAEs generally express limited confidence in their climate coverage plans, rethinking resilience means going beyond sustainability reports and identifying vulnerable assets. Audit departments need to incorporate in their plans the inevitability of increasingly severe weather events and mitigation strategies for the loss of key infrastructure, both their own and that of key third parties, such as suppliers.
Even more challenging for Audit is culture, traditionally a key source of resilience for many organizations that now is fraying under the weight of new working models (hybrid/remote), social and political polarization and a general lack of connection felt by employees who are reporting witnessed misconduct at rates 30 percent lower than pre-pandemic.
Despite such challenges, only 16 percent of CAEs are revisiting culture in light of shifting sociopolitical expectations of their workforce, investors and the media for next year, and just 10 percent report they are highly confident in providing assurance in this area. Internal Audit needs to push the business on reassessing how employee expectations and engagement are monitored in a hybrid and remote world, while policies related to political and social issues need to be formulated now and not in real time during a crisis.
Ultimately, rethinking resilience means covering organizational resilience as a dedicated risk that is part of the audit coverage plan. Organizational resilience, broadly defined, is an organization’s ability to withstand shocks. This is likely to become ever more important in the face of new and ongoing geopolitical tensions, which can abruptly trigger a set of interconnected but differentiated risks to manifest simultaneously. While refreshing scenario planning and mitigating against change fatigue are necessary steps in this process, building true organizational resilience requires a view into the interconnected risks facing an organization and developing resilience-related initiatives across the enterprise.
With less than half of CAEs definitely planning to cover organizational resilience next year and just 32 percent highly confident in providing assurance specifically on matters of resilience, it’s clear there is more work to do in establishing this as a top audit priority. Chief Audit Executives can regain momentum by launching activities that encourage collaborative discussions between business units on interrelated risks and reviewing plans to address change fatigue within their organizations at a time when events over the past two years have likely dramatically diminished capacity in this area.
While these resilience-related risks feel less tangible and urgent than mitigating against “clear and imminent” dangers like supply chain vulnerabilities and state-sponsored cyberthreats, they are important and increasingly acute risks in their own right. Viewing them through the lens of rethinking what it means to be a truly resilient organization can be a useful framework for starting the right conversations within the Audit Committee and formulating effective coverage in next year’s audit plans.
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