In my last article, I wrote about why we should not dread audits or auditors. In the article, I mentioned that anxiety during audits was caused by either misconceptions about what an audit should be or a previous experience with ill-advised auditors.
For purposes of this article, I would like to explore this further, but will specifically refer to internal auditors.
There are many incorrect perceptions of internal auditors - myths that have developed over time about the profession and some, unfortunately, perpetuated by auditors themselves. I would like to explore four of these myths and counter them with facts.
Myth one: Internal auditors are all accountants
This myth suggests that all internal auditors are accountants by training and are only interested in companies’ financial records. While training in accounting is useful in the career of an auditor, various other professions have also been hired to deal with specialist areas that do not relate to accounting.
Internal auditors commonly deal with fraud risks, compliance issues and a variety of operational issues that are not related to accounting. Also, internal auditors’ backgrounds are as diverse as the operations they audit. Leading internal audit functions are now hiring applicants with analytical thinking ability, knowledge of the business (so as to provide operations expertise) and IT expertise to assist with assessment of IT risks, all of which may not be addressed by accountants.
Myth two: Auditors are out to find fault and will amplify any small issue they find
A persistent view about internal auditors is that they are an ‘unnecessary pain’ and that they are set on tearing processes apart and raising petty issues. Internal audits are also viewed as distracting from the ‘the real work’ being done by management and keeping them from more important responsibilities.
In reality, however, an internal audit is meant to focus on major risks and to bring out issues that add value to the organisation. Given that audit resources are limited, when auditors focus too much on minor issues, they detract from focusing on the major risks that should be at the heart of the audit.
Auditors should keep the goal of the audit in mind, that is, the betterment of the organisation.
Myth three: Do not give auditors information unless they ask for it
This myth can be counter-productive because if auditors believe information is being withheld, they increase the scope of their work to find out if there is important information that has not been covered. This leads to less efficient audits.
The purpose of internal audit is to add value and improve an organisation’s operations. Hiding information is against everyone’s best interests.
Auditors and auditees should work in partnership to achieve the betterment of their organisations such as by fostering honest and open dialogue between both parties.
Myth four: Internal audit is the corporate ’police function’
When an auditor’s behaviour is accusing or aggressive, they are far more likely to be met with resistance than when they treat findings as an opportunity to help accomplish objectives and facilitate improvement. Simply put, check your attitude. Present yourself as a collaborative partner through your actions and you will become one. As someone once said; “the auditor is a watchdog and not a bloodhound.” The best auditors are always those who create a rapport with audit customers.
It takes time to change perceptions, and it often requires the combined effort of many individuals.
The image of our profession has been improving over the years. However, more work is required from each of us to help stakeholders better understand our role and, hopefully, then re-shape these myths and misperceptions.
The writer is a risk assurance services manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers Rwanda