​​​It Was Twenty Years Ago Today - Part Four​

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And so, we come to the end of our voyage. Over the last three days we have been going through an issue of The Internal Auditor from August 1987 to determine how much the profession has changed and how much it has stayed the same over that time. We’ve looked at advertisingcolumns, and articles. Now, there is a final article I want to review — an article by Ronald L. Bell, the 1987 Chairman of the Board of the IIA. 

As Chairs have done throughout the IIA’s history, Mr. Bell uses his article titled “Auditor’s Influence on Management” to lay out his goals for the year:

  • Advancing the stature and prestige of the profession.
  • Strengthening educational programs and products to meet our new challenges.
  • Making quality our benchmark.
  • Enhancing “Progress Through Sharing.”

It would be very easy to imagine seeing these goals at any time in the last 25 years. It has always been important for us to advance the stature and prestige of the profession, see education made even better, make quality a benchmark, and provide progress for the profession through sharing. 

But for a reminder of just how different a time it was, let me fur​ther quote from the article

“But we can be proud of the gains our profession has made. The audit executive has come a long way in terms of stature within our organizations. During the last ten years it has become a rarity for the internal audit function to report to the comptroller or treasurer. Today our audit executives are directors. Some are vice presidents. We find ourselves reporting to the audit committee of the board of directors, the chief executive officer, or the president…” 

These are two concepts we almost take for granted today. The pride in the profession’s progress in reporting relationships isn’t a huge surprise. I remember that battle, and know that there are still people fighting it. But I am actually floored by the implication that the concept of an audit executive being a director or VP is a recent achievement. 

It is evident from this one paragraph alone that we have come a long way. 

And there is much more in this article that shows that, while we still strive for progress in areas that auditors from years ago would recognize, we are building those advancements on a great head start that was established 25 years ago. 

We have​ gone four days now talking about the differences and similarities in internal audit from 25 years ago. And, if it weren’t for that last article, it would be very easy to misinterpret the message I am trying to deliver. By consistently pointing out how much we are still the same, it might look like we are stagnant. But that is not my point. There is no doubt that we have changed – we have new tools and techniques, we are doing much more with the resources we have been given, we take a broader look at risk and the company’s operations, and we have an infinitely better seat at the table. But it is also easy to forget that, just like those professionals from 25 years ago, we are internal auditors who face the same struggles, challenges, and problems as those who came before us. 

At the end of the day, we must continue to come up with new and better solutions – ones that enhance and improve the profession while doing the same for the organizations we audit.

And, all along, it was my intent to end this series of posts with what you see above. Then I got a very interesting response to my first post in this series. Here is the quote from the last paragraph of the response. 

“The major difference I perceive in audit over my career is the desire of management to make themselves look good.  Auditors are no longer appreciated for their contribution to the bottom line. Audit has become contained and neutered.  If an auditor manages to uncover a weakness, management usually already knows about it and has reasons for tolerating it.  Our opinions are no longer respected.”

This is a sobering response.

I stand by the fact that audit has come a very long way in 25 years — for all the reasons I’ve listed above. But the quote above is why we continue to work for improvement. For every one of us who works in an ideal situation where audit is a respected part of the management team, we cannot help but wonder if there is another audit department that is “contained and neutered.” There are still battles to be fought. And our ultimate hope is that, 25 years from now, we can look back and be amazed that any auditor would be in the position described above.​


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