What is an internal audit?

Why does internal audit matter?
Internal audit matters because we deal with issues that count to the organisations we serve. Through our work, we help the people who run organisations to do so effectively on behalf of their stakeholders. For government organisations, those stakeholders include the public; that’s you and me.

What do internal auditors actually do?
We help organisations succeed. That’s a big statement, which needs explaining.

To succeed, organisations need to have objects and they need to manage pitfalls that might have an effect on them meeting those objects. All organisations, like all individualities, constantly face pitfalls. A threat is simply an event that should it do, will have an effect on meeting an ideal.
We give assurance, which means that we look at the systems and processes designed to help organisations manage pitfalls and thus meet their objectives. We also tell the people who run the organisations how well those systems and processes are working to manage those risks and how they can improve them.

We provide consultancy, which means we help organisations make improvements to their systems and processes. We might do that by providing advice, facilitation and training, but not by actually doing the work. We don’t do the work because if we were later asked to assure it, our independence would be in doubt.

What does it take to be an auditor?
Apart from a cape, and flashy tights,( to be clear – I’m joking about that), auditors need curiosity. As the popular wartime entertainer George Formby put it, for a nosey parker, it’s an intriguing job ’. We need curiosity because we need to find out what’s really passing before we can reach an opinion on it.

We need terrier-like digging skills to gather the evidence to give us a sound basis for our opinion. We need to look, listen and question. Then we need analysis skills to make sense of the evidence we gather; looking at patterns and trends, and testing different sources of information against each other to see how it all heaps up. Conclusions infrequently fall into our stage fully formed because if effects were that simple, our guests wouldn’t need our help.

Then we need to be resilient because we must be willing to back our own judgement and stand up for what’s right. We need to see the big picture too and understand what really matters. From beforehand in our careers, we talk to people right at the top of organisations about their biggest issues. Those people haven’t got time for trivia, which makes jitters of sword handy too.

Whilst we’re known for being fond of them in our work, there really is no template for being an auditor. We need a mix of skills and knowledge and come from all sorts of backgrounds; diversity really is our strength.