Look out. We're getting into that time of year when we get inundated with various end-of-year and beginning-of-year lists, ruminations, predictions, and pontifications. What are your resolutions? What should we expect in the future? What should we strive for in the coming year?
Internal audit is not immune. Check back over the last few years of the blogs on this website, and you will see we have all succumbed to the temptation. (Shoot, last year, in spite of swearing I would never do so, I went on at length about the coming year and internal audit's need for creativity.)
What often bothers me about these forays into "what we should become" is how often these visionary looks are rather shortsighted. I was reminded of this because of a LinkedIn post I came across a while ago that led to
this blog post.
Titled "Is This Your Vision of the Future Auditor?", Wa'el Bibi writes about attending a webinar titled "The Future Auditor: The CAE's Endgame." Bibi summarizes the presentation, including a slide titled "12 ways the Future Auditor can provide value." He then ends his blog post with these lines:
"The above points are valid and important, but did not provide any new perspective! Isn't this what many CAEs are doing today? Where is the vision for tomorrow?"
I wasn't there for the presentation; I only know it from Bibi's summary. But based on what he shared, I agree that this seems to be a vision rooted in today — not in the future. I suggest you check out his post to get his full message. But let me share a couple of points from the slide deck. (Again, remember these are 12 ways the
future auditor can create value — emphasis mine.)
- Think more strategically when analyzing risk and framing audit plans.
- Broaden the focus on operations, compliance, and nonfinancial reporting issues.
- Leverage technology-enabled auditing.
These are just three of the 12 bullet points. But trust me, the remaining items are similarly anticlimactic. (The most forward-looking one I could find was "Watch for signs of a deteriorating risk culture.")
The list is full of good points — things that all audit shops should be doing. And, for the audit shop that has not achieved them, they are worthy goals. But I would argue that these aspirations are no longer things we are hoping for in the future; these are table stakes. (As Bibi says, "Isn't this what many CAEs are doing today?")
In the coming month, as you read the various prognostications about the future — as you read what leaders are saying internal audit wants to be in the future — make sure you discern the difference between wanting to reach an expected state and raising those stakes in the future. The first is looking at how we are perceived versus how we feel we should be perceived. The latter is imagining something new.
Neither approach is wrong — neither approach in a blog, essay, or speech is the "right" one. But anyone who thinks a bold new future is delivered by just getting us to where we should be right now will be sorely disappointed.
Yes, we have to get there — we have to close the gap between our expectations and our realities. But we also have to understand and define the new horizons.
So, whenever you read a piece that claims to speak about the future of internal audit, be prepared to challenge those authors who, when they strive to be visionaries, are only looking at what's happening today.
We want to be more. We have to be more. Now we just have to define what