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​The Question Should Be, "Where Are the Internal Auditors?"

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​There is an old joke that "an expert is someone from out of town with a slideshow." Too often, when management needs expertise or advice, that is precisely who they call.

In my last blog, I wrote about my dread in hearing the question, "Where were the internal auditors?" As I said then, when the whereabouts of internal audit is pondered by media and others, there has typically been a high-profile corporate failure that has impacted a company's share value and investor confidence.

I have received a number of interesting comments about the blog, including one from a senior audit leader during my recent visit to Germany for an International Integrated Reporting Council meeting. She made the case that when the need arises, management has a duty to ask, "Where are the internal auditors?"

When a new risk arises, or management runs into a particularly vexing issue or challenge that requires objective analysis or assurance, they frequently turn to outside experts. The reasons could be lack of confidence in internal audit's abilities, ignorance of its capabilities, or an attempt to avoid internal scrutiny.

Whatever the reason, it is incumbent on internal audit to make management aware that we are capable, objective, and have our sleeves rolled up, ready for work. But that requires internal audit to prove it is up to the task. Rapidly emerging risks and challenges are a given in the current business climate, and management and the board must be confident internal audit is skillful, nimble, and resourceful enough to provide insight and assurance in new areas.

We must be our own best advocate not through self-promotion, but through action. We must be willing to raise our visibility within the organization by seeking out engagements that offer the opportunity to feature our skills, diversity, and strengths. Self-promotion without substance will fail. Management should be convinced through our performance that internal audit can be a highly effective resource providing independent and objective assurance or advisory services.

A function that is content to work within its safe zone will invariably become two dimensional to management. This makes it too easy for management to dismiss internal audit as an option when new challenges arise. Internal auditors must invest in continuing education and training and have the boldness to push the boundaries. This is well worth the effort. When internal audit displays its value to the organization, management is more likely to seek us out to help them address their most difficult challenges.

If management considers bringing in outside experts, there are practical questions to consider beyond internal audit's highest-and-best use, such as the cost, competence, credibility, and objectivity of the outside experts.

A good resource to examine these issues is The IIA's Practice Advisory 1210.A1-1: Obtaining External Service Providers to Support or Complement the Internal Audit Activity. While the practice advisory is designed to help guide CAEs seeking advice and assistance to fill in knowledge, skills, or other competencies needed to perform an engagement, there are important parallels that apply when management turns to outside experts.

A review of the lengthy and carefully considered precautions for retaining outside experts outlined in the practice advisory not only should give management pause but also build its appreciation for the work internal audit does.

As always, I welcome your comments.  

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