I am lucky and privileged to attend a particular annual conference of internal auditors in the UK. I have attended this conference for a number of years now. When I first attended as a fairly young and new kid on the CAE block, I confess I found it a little depressing.
I found it depressing because I realised that the profession I had joined was still deeply divided and insecure about its role in the corporate world. I found that those stories of CAEs and audit services I had always been told about during my big four audit training were, to some extent and characterisation, true. I found a profession and colleagues that were at odds with my then nascent thoughts and working through of the true transformative power of internal audit.
For in my first singleton CAE role I was forced to intellectualise and work out what it was that I, as a CAE and an internal auditor, was meant to, and could, do. My protective cocoon of ‘guidance’ and ‘corporate rules’ which so comforted me as an external auditor and big-four trained accountant were gone. No-one but me was telling me what I could and should do.
Now of course I had the global Institute of Internal Auditors and in the UK the (to become) Chartered Institute to support me. Their guidance, however, was a bit like the pirates’ code in the Disney Pirates of the Carribbean franchise, more like ‘guidance’ than ‘rules’. When I read this stuff it looked as if it came from the 1980s and 1990s (the Institutes’ marketing and branding needed some development at the time) but it also felt ambivalent when you read it too. You got a strong sense that the profession was like a confused teenager trying to find its way through all the bewildering changes of adolescence.
Suddenly there I was, forced to study again and think about what I thought I knew about audit. I was forced to work though an intellectualisation of my person and personality as personified in me as a CAE and internal auditor. Once I did this, it seemed to me that so many colleagues, perhaps steeped in practice and the past, had not done this and were no longer occupying an intellectually consistent professional position in their organisations. This jarred with my then newly found complete and almost zeal-like confidence for the potential of internal audit. For me, this was and is, a professional service that all organisations both needed and could gain hugely from. Internal audit, done properly and to its logical extent, was and is, the silver bullet that could, and can, be a silver bullet for the ethical and financial crises facing modern capitalism at the beginning of the 21st century.
At the conference last week, however, I got a much greater sense of confidence, assurance and renewal, from the CAE and audit team member colleagues about the role of internal audit than I have ever got. What heartened me the most was that the old characterisation of old, out of touch, CAEs and their dusty, process-based, audit services was just not correct. What I saw was a group of CAEs and auditors who were young again. Young in the sense that they all seemed to be almost childly enthusiastic for new knowledge, to challenge the status quo, to want to think their way through the challenges facing their audit services and their clients.
These are signs which, for me, indicate that internal audit is in rude health and is really beginning to self actualise for the challenges of the 21st century. It seems to me that it is those naysayers from the accounting parents of the internal audit profession that have not recognised that their problem child has grown up and that it is no longer the confused teenager it once was and that appear out of touch and behind the times.