Posts Tagged “Global Internal audit”

There is a common joke among physicists that fusion energy is 30 years away … and always will be. You could say something similar about artificial intelligence (AI) and robots taking all our jobs. The risks of AI and robotics have been expressed vividly in science fiction by the likes of Isaac Asimov as far back as 1942 and in news articles and industry reports pretty much every year since. “The machines are coming to take your jobs!” they proclaim. And yet, all of us here at Audit International still head to the office or log in from home each weekday morning.

The reality is less striking but potentially just as worrying. Most people expect that one day some sort of machine will be built that will instantly know how to do a certain job—including internal auditing—and then those jobs will be gone forever. More likely, is that AI and smart systems start to permeate into everyday tasks that we perform at work and become critical parts of the business processes our units and companies conduct. (Indeed, many professions and industries have already been greatly disrupted by AI and robotics.)

Technology companies have been so successful over the last 30 years because of the common mantra of “move fast and break things.” And that was maybe just about acceptable when it meant you could connect online to your friend from high school and find out what they had for breakfast or search through the World Wide Web for exactly the right cat meme with a well-crafted string of words.

When the consequences now might mean entrenching biases in Human Resources processes, or mass automated biometric surveillance, not to mention simply not even understanding what a system is doing (so called ‘black boxes’), the levels of oversight and risk management need to be much higher.

The Regulatory Environment :
There is some existing regulation which covers aspects of this brave new world. For example, in the European Union, article 22 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on automated individual decision-making, provides protection against an algorithm being solely responsible for something like deciding whether a customer is eligible for a loan or mortgage. However, the next big thing coming to a company near EU is the AI Act.

The proposal aims to make the rules governing the use of AI consistent across the EU. The current wording is written in the style of the GDPR with prescriptive requirements, extraterritorial reach, a risk-based approach, and heavy penalties for infringements. With the objective of bringing about a “Brussels effect,” where regulation in the EU influences the rest of the world.

Other western jurisdictions are taking a lighter touch than the EU, with the United Kingdom working on a “pro-innovation approach to regulating AI,” and the United States’ recent “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights” moving towards a non-binding framework. Both have principles which closely match the proposed legal obligations within the AI Act, hinting at the impact the regulation is already having.

Much of the draft regulation is still being discussed, with a final wording soon to be agreed. There are disagreements across industries and countries on whether some of the text goes far enough or goes too far. For example, whether the definition of “AI” should be narrowed, as the current wording could encompass simple rules-based decision-making tools (or even potentially Excel macros) or even expanded to greater capture so-called “general purpose AI.” These are large models which can be used for various different tasks and therefore, applying the prescriptive requirements and risk-based approach of the AI Act can become complex and laborious.

The uncertainty over the final wording has given companies an excuse to not make first moves to prepare for the changes. Anyone who remembers the mad rush to become compliant with the GDPR will remember the pain of leaving these things to the last minute. The potential fines, which may be as high as 6 percent of annual revenue depending on the final wording, could be crippling and have a cascade effect on a company’s going-concern.

What Can Internal Auditors Do?
As internal audit professionals we can start the conversation with the business and other risk and compliance departments to shine the light on the risks and upcoming regulations which they may be unaware of. It is our objective to provide assurance but also add value to the company and this can be done through our unique ability to understand risks, the business, and provide horizon scanning activities.

Performing internal audit advisory or assurance work, depending on the AI risk maturity level at the organization, can highlight the good practice risk management steps that can be taken early to help when the regulation is finalized. These steps could include:

1) Identify AI in Use: To be able to appropriately manage AI risks throughout their lifecycle stakeholders need to be able to identify systems and processes which make use of them. Agreeing on a definition of AI and developing a process to identify where it is in use is the first step. This would include whether it is being developed in-house, is already in use through existing tools or services, or acquired through the procurement process.

2) Inventory: Developing an inventory which includes information such as the intended purpose, data sources used, design specifications, and assumptions on how and what monitoring will be performed is a good starting point and can be added to, based on your company’s unique characteristics and any specific legal requirements that are implemented in the future.
3) Risk Assessments: Since a key aspect of the AI Act is it being “risk-based,” it is important to have a risk assessment process to ensure you take the necessary steps as required in the regulation, based on the type of AI used. For example, what level of robustness, explainability, and user documentation is necessary based on the risk tier provided. It is also important to consider the business and technology risks of using the AI. For example, machine learning using neural networks requires large training datasets, which can raise issues of data protection and security, but may also perpetuate biases that are contained in the datasets. Suitable experts and stakeholders should be involved in the development and assessment of the risk assessment process.

4) Communications: One area that is often forgotten is communication. It is all well and good having a policy or a framework written down but if it isn’t known and understood by the relevant stakeholders it’s worth less than the paper it’s printed on. Involving key stakeholders during the development of your AI risk management processes can help develop a diverse platform of champions throughout the business who can act as enablers as the requirements are communicated and regulation finalized.

5) On-going monitoring: Risk management is not a one-off exercise and this is no exception. Use cases, technology, and the threat landscape change over time and it is important to include a process for on-going monitoring of AI and the associated risks.

The machines may not be coming to take our jobs just yet, but the risks are already here and so are the opportunities to get ahead. There may be a long and winding road in front, as we all prepare for a world where AI is commonplace and new regulations and standards try to shape its use, but each journey starts with a step and it’s never too early to get going.

“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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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”

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
– 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.

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:
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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
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– 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”