Anyone who knows me or follows this blog and my social media presence knows that I am not “thin-skinned” when it comes to constructive criticism of the internal audit profession. I am confident in the remarkable progress that our profession has made and the stature that it now enjoys. I even discuss opportunities for our profession to improve when speaking at internal audit conferences and other events because I believe bringing issues to light can make our profession stronger. But when I read what I believe is misleading research, or when I see inaccurate headlines/articles directed at the profession, I will always make a vigorous effort to set the record straight. Such is the case with a recent research report from a group of Brigham Young University professors and an ensuing CFO.com article.
The CFO.com article generated some strong reactions from internal auditors, and I was among those who took exception to the headline in my own posted comment. While I believe the researchers were well intentioned, their lack of understanding of modern internal auditing was evident. The primary focus of their research was accounting students nearing graduation. According to the professors, these students were less likely to apply for an internal audit position than an accounting position. Unfortunately, there are two problems with that “news flash.” First, while accounting students are still an important source of talent for many internal audit departments, The IIA’s latest survey of chief audit executives (CAEs) indicates that “accounting skills” now rank 7th among the most highly recruited skills for internal auditors. So, if there is diminished interest on the part of some accounting students in internal audit positions, it may well align with the diminished interest of CAEs in actually hiring the accounting students themselves. The second point that should be considered when weighing how serious these results are for the profession is the fact that only about one-third of internal audit departments even recruit college students at all. The two points combined genuinely diminish the impact of a small percentage of accounting students preferring to work in an accounting role rather than in internal auditing.
More important than the points outlined above, I believe the researchers may have failed to appreciate how much the landscape has changed for internal auditing. Modern internal audit departments are focused on so much more than assessing the adequacy of financial controls. In a recent survey, CAEs told The IIA that only about 25 percent of their 2013 audit plans would focus on financial-related risks or controls at all. Meanwhile, almost half of internal audit plans will be focused on operating, compliance, and IT risks. Addressing these risks requires far more than an academic background in accounting. It requires deep expertise of the business/industry in which the enterprise operates. It also requires specialized expertise that may or may not be part of an academic course of study in accounting.
There are several outstanding academic programs that prepare students for careers in internal auditing. Schools such as Louisiana State University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and The University of Houston have excellent programs that not only prepare students for careers in accounting, but prepare them to leverage that knowledge in far more challenging and rewarding ways in internal auditing. They are joined by more than 40 colleges and universities around the world that are part of The IIA’s Internal Auditing Education Partnership.