Over the four decades that I have been part of the internal audit profession, I have been struck by how often I have heard the refrain – “Internal audit should change its name.” The idea is typically suggested as a way to avoid what some view as a negative stigma associated with internal audit. During my years at The IIA, I quickly shot down such ideas as unnecessary and counterproductive. After all, I headed “The Institute of Internal Auditors!” However; as I noted in my recent blog on personal goals for myself, I need to be more open to alternative views and be courageous enough to reexamine long held personal preferences or beliefs.
Recently, I was engaged in an exchange with a respected colleague who suggested once again that internal audit change its name. I still wasn’t convinced that would be good for our profession, but I decided to cast a net across the global profession to hear what others think of the idea. So, I posted the question to my 24,000 LinkedIn connections by queuing up this post:
For years, people have proposed changing the name of internal audit. Some departments have changed their name. If you have/were going to call internal audit by a different name, what would it be?
I thought it would stimulate a little conversation, and that I would receive a handful of ideas that would help me better understand contemporary thinking on the topic. I was not prepared for the overwhelming response. The post has been viewed more than 28,000 times and has garnered more than 250 reactions or comments. Even though I was grateful to all of the respondents, I was very careful not to weigh in on the discussion, or tip my own thinking. In the end, the 143 comments and suggestions for new names offered valuable insight on this timeless question.
It should be noted up front that 20 respondents didn’t take the bait. They did not believe there is any reason to change the name, and some felt that it would be a step backwards for the profession. The rest either felt strongly that we should change the name, or offered a name they would choose if they could no longer be called internal audit. In all, 45 unique names were offered for the internal audit function (although many were very similar).
The most common words in the new titles were:
As I was analyzing the scores of suggestions I received to this post, I began to notice a fascinating trend. The words that appeared most often in the suggested new names for internal audit were in fact not new at all. The names being offered for internal audit were often just repackaged terms out of The IIA’s globally recognized definition of internal audit:
Internal auditing is an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes. (emphasis added):
In fact, more than 75 percent of the proposed “new” names for internal audit drew one or more of their terms from the current definition. So what should we make of these results? My take is that any concerns are more about branding than definition. There doesn’t appear to be as much concern about who we are and what we do as there is about how we present ourselves or how we are perceived.
I have always been very comfortable with how internal audit brands itself in an organizational context. Calling a company’s internal audit function “Corporate Audit Services” or “Risk Assurance” makes perfect sense to me. As one respondent noted, the Big Four firms don’t call themselves “the external audit firm,” so why should we be constrained in every instance to calling ourselves “the internal audit department?”
The brand name for the internal audit department doesn’t define what it does. As long as the internal auditors who comprise the branded departments conform to professional standards, we should all applaud their efforts to enhance their brands. I believe it denotes a level of creativity and flexibility within our profession that we don’t see enough.
Finally, some of the respondents were clearly having fun with my question. I will close by sharing some of the more humorous/creative suggestions for internal audit’s name:
Come to think of it, I kind of like “Protectors of the Realm.”
Please share your thoughts on my views or other suggestions for a new name for internal audit.