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.

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