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Internal Audit by Any Other Name​​

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Is “Internal Audit” the right name for what we do?

Actually, before I get started on this one, let me make a confession. I’m not sure where I really stand on this. Part of the reason I am putting this particular blog post together is to help me think it through. So, don’t hold me to anything here. Unless you agree with me. Then feel free give me credit. Unless you really disagree. Then I never really meant it. Unless…well, you see my dilemma.

Why do we continue to call ourselves “Internal Audit”?

Here’s the problem. Internal audit means something important to us. We know the history of the profession, the great strides that have been made, and the evolving nature of our work that is all a part of the title “internal audit.”. As a profession – as “internal auditors” – we have embraced the need to provide value, to be a partner with the business, and do all we can to help organizations achieve their objectives.

The history and related branding that comes with the name “internal audit” is not trivial and should not be shredded and disposed of like ten-year-old workpapers.

However, no matter how much we try to change perceptions, “internal audit” will continue to mean something else to a significant portion of our customers. The reason it fails with so many is that it emphasizes two important points that, in today’s world, our clients don’t understand, don’t think is all that important, and/or don’t want to hear.

Start with the word “internal.” We feel it is an important part of our name because it immediately shows that our department is internal to the organization. We proudly point out, just by the use of the word, that we are partners with the business. But that is a concept that few of our customers understand. They don’t understand the nuance of our department being internal, and they do not understand the importance of that relationship. (Part of this is all a marketing thing – helping customers understand who we are. I’ve talked about that before, and will probably talk about it in the future. But now is not the time.)

And then there is that second word – audit. Face it, we even try to shy away from it. That’s part of the reason we no longer refer to clients and customers as “auditees”. We also speak less and less about doing audit work, instead talking about assurance, advisory, and consulting. Nary an “audit” to be seen. But, as much as we try to skirt around the word, it is right there in our name and even in our job titles. Auditor, junior auditor, auditor-in-charge, audit manager, audit director, Chief Audit Executive – no one, not even the audit department, seems to be able to get over that hurdle.

So, what is the solution?

(Quick story: This reminds of years ago when all the Personnel departments started calling themselves Human Resources. Our little group in Phoenix started thinking about what we might call our department. Someone came up with Human Product Review. We quickly dismissed this when it looked like it meant it was our job to ensure restrooms worked correctly. The discussion died at that point.)

Some departments now call themselves “Audit Services.” That’s a good start. It emphasizes that there is a broader range of services beyond audit work that our department can provide. Of course, you will note that one of the important hallmarks of our profession – being internal to the organization – disappears with this title. And the biggest stumbling block still exists – continued use of the “A” word.

Further, any group I have worked with who uses the Audit Services sobriquet is still focused on basic audit work. In other words, the focus for people using the name Audit Services still tends to be on doing basic audit work. Few (at least few that I have had experience with) are exploring the wide range of services that internal audit can provide. The new name is promising much more than those departments are delivering. (If you are an exception – if you use Audit Services and you truly offer a wide range of service – I apologize and beg you to share your story.)

And I’ve seen other names. But I’ve never really seen one that resonated or revealed an audit department doing much more than it ever had in the past.

So, let me throw out an idea. I’ve gone back to the mission as spelled out in the IPPF. “To enhance and protect organizational value by providing risk-based and objective assurance, advice, and insight.” (Let me quickly note that I do not believe the title “Internal Audit” properly reflects that mission. Again, I keep waffling on what the right answer is.)

And, somewhere in that mission I came up with the title “Internal Assurance Services.”

I don’t know. I don’t know if it is better. I don’t know if it stinks. I can’t tell if I really like it or not. In fact, the more times I read it, the less much I like it. I am firmly convinced the profession needs a rebranding, but is “Internal Assurance Services” the way to go? And does this just represent another conglomeration of words that would mean something to us and nothing to anyone else?

Part of the problem is we can call ourselves anything we want – Internal Audit, Audit Services, Internal Assurance Services, Fred and Ethel’s Grand Audit Emporium – and it won’t make a hint of difference if the department doesn’t embrace change. An Internal Audit department by any other name would smell as sweet, stinky, or ineffective.

But, the act of naming provides power. And it may be time we evoked new powers with a new name.

Again, I apologize because you are literally seeing me think (type) about this one out loud. But I sincerely believe this is important – it is a necessary conversation if we are really going to let internal audit provide the value that is possible.

Let me know your thoughts. Do we need a change? If so, what would that change be? And where do we go from here?​

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