Survey finds chief audit executives are concerned about talent gap, meeting stakeholder expectations

What keeps internal audit executives up at night? Plenty, according to a recent survey of chief audit executives conducted by Deloitte.

A survey by the Big Four audit firm finds that a startling number of audit leaders are concerned about the skills and expertise their teams have to deliver on stakeholder expectations for efficient audits, insightful reports, and effective decision-support in the years ahead. CAEs recognize that internal audit groups need to change, but many struggle with how to achieve that change, according to Deloitte Global's new report, "Evolution or irrelevance? Internal Audit at a crossroads."

The study of more than 1,200 CAEs in 29 countries and eight industry sectors about the functions' status, capabilities, activities, roles, and resources over the next three to five years found plenty of hand wringing. Only a small fraction (13 percent) say they are satisfied with the skills their staffs have to tackle the issues that internal audit shops face. The biggest talent gaps are in technology skills, including cybersecurity, cloud computing, and data analytics.

Moreover, only 28 percent of survey respondents believe that their Internal Audit groups have strong impact and influence in their organizations. "These findings are concerning and indicate a real need for internal audit groups to substantially increase their relevance within their organizations," said Terry Hatherell, Internal Audit Leader for Deloitte Global. "Internal Audit plays a critical role in effective corporate governance within an organization. The apparent lack of impact and influence is very surprising and represents a very clear call to action for change."

Among the problem spots are the use of technology to fill the gaps in internal audit responsibilities, including the use of data analytics. The majority of respondents currently use analytics in fieldwork, but fewer do so in annual planning and audit scoping. Over the next three to five years, 58 percent of respondents expect to be using analytics in at least half of their audits. Another 37 percent expect to move to high usage—employing analytics in at least 75 percent of their audits.

The survey revealed not only gaps in the use of analytics but also stakeholders' expectations for more forward-looking, predictive activities, such as risk anticipation, from internal audit―the kind of activities enabled by analytics. "The need to enhance analytics tools and techniques stands out among the most urgent priorities for internal audit," added Neil White, internal audit analytics leader for Deloitte Global. "While using analytics to deliver audits more efficiently is an important goal, the survey results lead us to believe Internal Audit should capitalize on the wealth of available data to deliver more insightful views of business issues and risks."

Doing More With Less

Additional report highlights:

Current use of analytics is largely at basic levels: While 86 percent of respondents use analytics, only 24 percent use them at an intermediate level and 7 percent at an advanced level. Most (66 percent) use basic, ad hoc analytics (e.g. spreadsheets) or no analytics.

Dynamic reporting is poised to increase: Use of static text documents and presentations to communicate with stakeholders will decrease as usage of dynamic visualization tools are anticipated to increase from 7 percent to 35 percent among respondents. (Visualization tools generate heat maps, bubble charts, interactive graphs, and other easy-to-grasp representations of data.)

Advisory services will likely expand: More than half of respondents (55 percent) expect the proportion of advisory services they provide to expand over the next three to five years.

Reviews of strategic planning and risk management will likely increase: While about one-third of internal audit groups have evaluated their organization's strategic planning process in the past three years, over half expect to do so in the next three years. In the next three years, 70 percent expect to evaluate their organization's risk management process, up from 54 percent over the past three years.

Alternative resourcing will likely expand: Over the next three to five years, the percentage of respondents with formal rotation programs is expected to double. The percentage with guest auditor programs will likely increase by 50 percent, and according to respondents, cosourcing will increase as well.

Budgets will likely remain stable, which may present challenges: In a time when internal audit may need to make significant investments to strengthen its impact and influence, half of CAEs expect their budgets to remain stable, and another third expect them to increase somewhat. Only 10 percent expect budget decreases.

Clearly, a lot of work remains to be done for internal audit leaders to be more comfortable about what the future holds. But the news wasn't all bad. Respondents agreed that innovation will drive important developments: CAEs cited risk anticipation (39 percent) and data analytics (34 percent) as the two innovations most likely to impact internal audit over the next three to five years.