Misperceptions about internal auditors – Canadian Government Executive

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May 12, 2014

Misperceptions about internal auditors

Most professionals don’t need more than a sentence at a cocktail party to answer the common small talk question, “So, what is it that you do?” They need only to say doctor, lawyer, engineer or accountant to get the instant nod of acknowledgement of the profession’s purpose, value and code of ethics. Internal auditors, on the other hand, usually get a raised eyebrow or a sympathetic smile. Let us introduce you to three members of the government of Canada’s vibrant internal audit community.

Matthew Oleniuk
Audit Principal, Citizenship and Immigration Canada

How long have you been an auditor? I have been performing audits and independent assessments for about seven years.

First auditing job? Audit Manager, Government-Wide Horizontal Audits, Office of the Comptroller General of Canada

What is your education/experience background? I worked in the finance sector in London and Toronto, and in various government and entertainment companies in New Zealand, Australia, and South Korea. Since then I’ve obtained my CIA, CGAP, and PMP.

Most unusual audit/interview location? I’ve performed interviews in Kenya, Nigeria, London and Iqaluit in December. Normally the season wouldn’t matter for an interview, but I have to say that the temperature really stuck out for that last one.

Most fascinating aspect of your work? There are few jobs dedicated to always challenging the status quo, and trying to make things better. An auditor reverse-engineers every process he reviews and examines it not only as it is but as it could be.

Most common misconception about IA? That auditors do nothing but tally receipts. I think some people even imagine us still wearing those green eyeshade caps. Internal audit is really about assessing a process or function and figuring out how to improve it.

What attracted you to the profession and keeps you there? I was first exposed to the profession while working on a communications and learning and development project for the internal audit community at the Office of the Comptroller General. I initially had a lot of the same misconceptions I mentioned earlier, but the more I learned about the work and the community, the more I started to consider it as a career. My first foray into audit was as a manager, which left me with a steep learning curve but a great challenge – and learning opportunity.

Internal audit work has a strong project aspect to it which I really like: you’re always working toward a goal, and when it’s achieved, you move toward another goal. You constantly work with different subject matter and stakeholders – and when I was with the Office of the Comptroller General, I even worked with different organizations. And since most audit teams are set up as a matrix environment, you get a chance to work with all of your colleagues at some point in time. At Citizenship and Immigration Canada, where I am currently, we have a great mandate in that we not only support Canadian values, we promote them around the globe.
Dena Palamedes
Chief Audit and Evaluation Executive, Canadian Border Services Agency

How long have you been an auditor? About 22 years in total. I stepped in and out of the profession throughout my career

First auditing job? Auditing payroll records of businesses in rural Manitoba in 1985.

What is your education/experience background? BA (Economics), CMA, CIA, CCSA, CFE, CRMA. A variety of external and internal audit, finance, performance management, human resources and change management.

What attracted you to the profession? Initially it was a pragmatic decision – as a military spouse, I needed a “mobile” profession – but I soon discovered I loved the variety in the work, problem solving and sharing best practices from one client to the other.

Most unusual audit/interview location? I am torn between the audit of the decommissioning of CFS Holberg, a Cadin-Pinetree Line Radar station in the remote north-west corner of Vancouver Island, the horrid basement of a commercial printer in downtown Calgary where I had to work for a week, or more recently when we were crawling in the belly of an aircraft to understand the detection of contraband.

Describe internal auditors in three words: Innovating. Passionate. Professionals.

Internal auditors face the challenge of being active members of the senior management team while maintaining their independence and objectivity. Describe how you balance these sometimes conflicting responsibilities. First of all, I never take my internal audit hat off. My formal role of providing independent and objective assurance to my deputy head on how well things are managed across the organization will always drive my advice and my actions. Maintaining our professional standards means that the deputy head and the departmental audit committee can trust the work of internal audit.

That being said, I also take my corporate role as a member of the management team very seriously, so I do offer general advice based on my experience and expertise. Mostly, I try to offer thoughtful suggestions regarding risk, control and governance, usually framing my advice as questions for further consideration. I also share with my team what I understand to be senior management’s challenges and vision, so that employees may consider those strategic perspectives in their work. If they observe something particularly troubling during an audit, I advise my colleagues early in the process so they can take action. I encourage the auditors to identify burning issues and I challenge their assumptions and recommendations. In the end, while I am careful with how and when I express my opinions, I see and I feel that they are respected and valued by my colleagues.
Martin Rubenstein
Chief Audit and Evaluation Executive and Integrity Officer, Transport Canada

How long have you been an auditor? Too long (joking)…18 years.

What is your education/experience background? Bachelor of Commerce (Honours), CPA, CIA and CFE. I spent half of my career in the public sector and the other half in the private sector, including a stint with KPMG in the Cayman Islands.

Most unusual audit/interview location? Auditing the dismantlement of Russian nuclear submarines in Arkhangel’sk, Russia (under the Global Partnership Program).

Most fascinating aspect of your work? The diversity of the issues that I get to deal with: transportation, health, natural resources, international affairs and development. There is really never a dull moment. Plus, who ever thought an auditor would be able to visit northern Russia to audit The Hunt for Red October!

Describe internal auditors in three words: Advisor. Contributor. Rock Star.

What skills/competencies are essential for internal auditors? Communication, negotiation and analytical skills. But just as important, you need to be patient, realistic, committed to continuous learning and have a good sense of humor.

Proudest work accomplishment? Developing governance, risk management and control frameworks for communities throughout Sri Lanka that were deploying micro-funding initiatives. As a professional and a father, I very much welcomed the opportunity to help empower these rural communities to develop measures to improve their quality of life.

As there are very few post-secondary internal audit programs, recruitment can be an issue at times and it is fairly common for individuals to join the profession mid-career. Why should public servants consider a jump into internal audit? Come on! Who wouldn’t want to be a rock star? Not in the urban dictionary sense (look it up) but in the Oxford dictionary one – a person treated as a celebrity, especially in inspiring fanatical adoration. Because when management comes to fully appreciate the value of internal audit, they will definitely ask for an encore. Seriously, the field of internal audit is full of opportunities right now. There is strong support for professional development and certification which leads to greater potential for advancement. Internal audit is a small, professional, close-knit community. As many of us came from the private sector or from other functional areas, we are very welcoming. We support one another by sharing tools and lessons learned, by exchanging best practices and by constantly challenging each other.

The work itself is diverse and challenging. It is fast-paced and allows you to think outside the box. Much like projects, audits have a start and an end so you never have time to get bored. One month you may conduct a compliance audit and then switch to more strategic or investigative work. They see all areas of a department and have direct access to senior management. They make a difference by adding value, improving organizational effectiveness and positively influencing the quality of services to Canadians. And since the perception of internal audit has changed for the better over the last decade, chief audit executives are now considered trusted partners at the management table, which in turn has resulted in high job satisfaction.

 

 

SIDEBAR
Select internal auditors’ credentials at-a-glance:

CIA – Certified Internal Auditor
CGAP – Certified Government Auditing Professional
CCSA – Certification in Control Self-Assessment
CRMA – Certification in Risk Management Assurance
CFE – Certified Fraud Examiner
CFSA – Certified Financial Services Auditor
CPA – Chartered Professional Accountant
CMA – Certified Management Accountant
PMP – Project Management Professional

For more information about internal audit:
www.theiia.org
http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/ia-vi/index-eng.asp

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