Numbers don’t lie

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Transparency is a key word that is certainly being discussed more than ever, and for any organisation, one of the best measures that can be taken in order to prevent mismanagement, boost efficacy and increase transparency on any level would involve audits. The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) Sri Lanka is the main organisation behind strengthening the internal auditor’s presence in the country and Ceylon Today had the opportunity to converse with some of the leadership to better understand the importance and value of the internal auditor.

This involved speaking with some of the biggest names of the internal auditing profession, including the likes of Thivanka Jayasinghe, Prasenna Balachandran, Numair Cassim and Brian Goudian, who have all played vital roles in the IIA as well.

Transparency and accountability

In the simplest of explanations, an audit involves verifying if all the due processes have been followed to ensure transparency and accountability. Thivanka explained “there are different types of Audits, one being the External Audit, also known as the Financial Statement Audit, it deals with an auditor expressing the opinion if the financial statement is accurate.”

“An internal auditor’s job is fairly different,” he continued. “It deals with whether the risks of the organisation are managed well with controls, and whether those controls are designed properly and operating.”

In simpler terms, it involves ensuring payments made by the organisation are properly accounted for, have been done with proper approval, and that payments made are fair and without any discrepancies among other things. “It’s an important task not only to protect an organisation’s assets, but also an important defence against corruption as well,” he said.

This puts a lot of responsibility on auditors to be independent and unbiased, and special attention needs to be given to setting up a proper organisational structure to ensure that auditors are able to perform their duties without hindrance or concern on repercussions from their reporting. “For example, you could have a separate audit committee with independent directors, to have better oversight on what the internal auditors report on,” Thivanka suggested.

The auditors themselves need to be skilled at their responsibilities, which is why the IIA provides various qualification programmes that are globally recognised such as the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) qualification that equips professionals with the skills required for their duties.

As for what qualities are expected of a good auditor, “There’s nothing that can beat having common sense,” Thivanka shared with a laugh. “But that’s true with any role. You need to have a strong personality to be able to stand up for what you believe in, have industry knowledge and on what’s going on with peer organisations, and the ability to convince whom they deal with on what they’re saying is right.”

A wide scope

Sadly, with the current crises that Sri Lanka is facing, the development of internal auditing as a profession has been severely affected, as explained by Prasenna.

He noted that unlike organisations overseas that are experimenting the potential of internal auditing in the metaverse and new technologies, ‘our brains are occupied with dealing with all these problems. If you look at internal auditors from the North American and European regions, their internal auditors are mostly into data analytics because their businesses have been moved into automated systems. They are experimenting with the role of internal auditors in the metaverse and more.’

Prasenna revealed that there is a lot needed to be done for academia on internal auditing in Sri Lankan Universities. “We don’t have proper internal audit research facilities in the country.

We have only one university that started teaching internal auditing, which happened recently, and with the brain drain that’s currently happening, there will be fewer people available to be trained for this profession.”

With this lack of attention towards the profession of internal auditing, Prasenna shared that very few enter the profession for the long-term, more often than not taking on the role until another vacancy opens up, despite all the interesting avenues that this profession can take you.

“This is a unique profession, and once qualified, one is globally recognised. It is a dynamic profession, and allows you to learn about the whole organisation, from the boardroom to the storeroom. Everything will be visible to the internal auditor regardless of seniority.”

Connecting the future

Having the best skills is invaluable to further the profession of internal auditing in Sri Lanka, and Brian shared that through the IIA, Sri Lankan internal auditors have been able to make an international connection with internal auditors around the world – especially in the Asia-Pacific region – sharing best practices and industry knowledge.

“We have also been able to sign a MoU with the University of Kelaniya, where knowledge sharing is taking place which will help get the academia involved in promoting this profession and creating more awareness in the student community, which I’m sure will be invaluable for us in the future.”

The internal auditor has a major role to play in any organisation and Brian along with Numair, agree that this outlook is changing. “The perception is that we are policemen who have come to find faults, but the truth is we are here to give more value than that,” Numair shared.

The IIA

The IIA has been playing a major role in campaigning for improving recognition of the profession of internal auditing, as explained by Numair.

He shared that the IIA is involved with the development of the internal auditor profession in both the private and public sector, and is heavily involved in promoting professional qualifications for those who are in the profession.

Numair emphasised that a talented auditor doesn’t need to be limited to their traditional role, simply conducting audits. “They can also be directly involved in governance and other higher strategic level processes. But for that to happen, the profile of internal auditors needs to be developed, in order for the management to have confidence in bringing them to the table as well.”

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage