You want to talk about agility?
I had about 300 words roughed out for a blog post that was
easily going to crack 1,000. I was on a roll. Then, BAM, new information came
in and, basically, destroyed everything I thought I knew.
You see, I had quite the diatribe all worked up about how
internal audit was reacting to this new world that none of us saw coming. The internal
audit literature regarding the impact and reactions to the pandemic seemed to
focus on three areas.
First, there was a lot about how to manage remote workers
and how to do audit work remotely. An extremely important subject, to be sure. I
couldn’t fault anyone for that.
Second was a lot of information on the same hoary risks that
were being bandied about before the crisis. (“Cybersecurity!” he coughed loudly.) As
Loggins and Messina once sang, it was the same old wine in a brand-new bottle.
Finally, there were discussions around subjects, such as business
continuity, which, while important, seemed to smack of horses and barn doors
and the closing of same well after the incident had occurred. They represented information
that was either too late or better suited for discussions surrounding lessons
learned — discussions that needed to wait until things calmed down a little.
What I did not see was internal audit reacting to what I
perceived to be the biggest issue. The world had changed; the risks had changed.
And internal audit needed to be involved in associated re-evaluations of risk,
audit plans, and how best to support the organization. It appeared to me that Internal
audit was not making the necessary zigs and zags. And that was the topic on
which I was going to spend 1,000+ words.
Thank goodness that, before I made a fool of myself, I saw The IIA's Audit Executive Center Knowledge Brief, COVID-19 Impact on Internal Audit (PDF). This contains the results
of a survey related to how internal audit departments changed their risk assessments,
audit plans, staffing, and budget. The report revealed that my restricted
perceptions of what was occurring were incorrect.
You should read the report yourself; never trust the
interpretations of others when the relevant facts are handy and easily
digested. But let me share some of the things that made my cold, dark, internal
auditor heart soar.
As noted, my biggest concern was that internal audit was not
adjusting its perceptions in light of new risks and issues. Got that one wrong.
When asked how internal audit was addressing risks related to COVID-19, 75% of respondents
said that audit plans had been updated, 67% said emerging risks were being
identified, and 57% said they were reviewing risk assessments.
More than half of internal audit shops surveyed see the
world is changing, and recognize that the risks identified as recently as two
months ago may no longer be relevant. They are adjusting their work in response
to that change.
More stats: When asked how internal audit was adjusting
audit plans, 56% responded that they were discontinuing or reducing scope for
some audit engagements, and 48% were canceling some audit engagements. Further,
39% were adding new audit engagements, and 15% were increasing the scope for
some audit engagements. (I like those last two; it says to me that new risks
were being recognized and additional work was being done because of them.)
Some of the percentages may seem a little low, but all
provide evidence that some audit departments are acting like audit
professionals and partners in the success or failure of their organizations.
One example of that partnership shows up in an unexpected
place. Nearly 40% of audit departments redirected audit staff to do nonaudit work. We
can’t be sure exactly what that means, but here’s one story. A couple of weeks
ago, I was talking with a friend whose audit department was effectively doing
quality assurance work. I started to go off on a lecture about being the
control when I suddenly realized it didn’t matter. We are in a time of crisis.
And if the best support internal audit can provide means a temporary bending of
the guidance related to internal audit, then that is the right thing to do. Internal
audit must help the organization through tough times and focus on what is
important, not on a slavish adherence to promulgations, principles, and standards.
All these results are a positive indicator that, not only
are internal audit shops responding to the evolution of risks, but they are
seeing the bigger picture and actually acting like the professionals we all
want to be.
I’ll only throw one caveat into all this. There are still a
lot of questions behind the answers in this survey. For example:
- What was
included in those risk assessments?
- Did they take into account the impact to the
organization of an increase in remote workers?
- Has responsibility been assigned
for ensuring new customer channels are properly monitored?
- Have guidelines been
established for those who still meet the public?
- Have guidelines been
established for those working remotely?
- What preparations are being made for
when things calm down?
- Has anyone looked at the opportunities inherent
within these new situations?
Obviously, such questions are beyond the reach of this
simple survey. But they are questions you may want to be asking to ensure your
organization is appropriately approaching the new risks.
Ultimately, the results of this survey are good. And they are
evidence that when our profession professes business acumen, agility, and the
desire to provide value, we are not just blowing smoke. And, in this somewhat
dark time, this survey also shows that we can be pretty darned good at what we do.