So I have the pleasure of spending more time in an airport. I am always reminded on how the globe really is one single competitive market. Nowhere quite like an airport brings this home. Retailers compete with one another to sell goods that are, fundamentally no different to each other. Food outlets each try to tempt customers with their own view of the ideal food, meal or snack. Individuals run and compete with each other for their space on the flight, somewhere to sit, even in terms of status, with Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci etc all in abundance. In such an international environment as an airport, you are even more aware that nations themselves compete with each other.
So, in all of this, where is internal audit’s competitive nature and edge? We internal auditors always apologise for our existence, and see ourselves as an overhead. We rarely argue that we need greater resources, that expectations and demands on us are too much, that we are highly qualified and uniquely positioned individuals that make a long term difference to the organisations we work with. We even argue that adding value is something we do in addition to our core activity.
There is a sense in which some of the problems of our marketing arise from our unique position. We are purchased by the management team and governing board often by people that are not trained in internal audit. We are non executive and this creates a perception that we don’t do anything. We look long term, not short term, and the value of good governance, risk management and control is only recognised by those managers with a keen sense of seeing the long term.
But some of the blame must be at our doors as auditors. We persist in lacking a clear rationale over what is good internal audit. We continue to avoid giving any sense of what is sufficient, and conversely, insufficient, internal audit. We have such a love of being generalists that we forget that that we are specialists. I have been at an internal auditors’ conference this week and despite a really diverse audience; gender, age, background, training etc. we do have a shared understanding, skill set and approach to our discipline and work. Yes our profession is, relatively, young. Yes it lacks objective rights and wrongs of accounting and law. Yet it has something stronger. A belief that a trained mind, with an understanding of governance, risk management and control, can really make a difference to organisations.
So perhaps the leaders of our profession need to worry less about excluding things from internal audit (the ‘wrongs’) and focusing much more developing press, marketing and other ‘lines’ that can get internal audit the recognition for the unique and value adding professional proposition it actually is.