Internal auditors in Africa discuss the needed attributes of internal audit now and into the future

One of the big themes of the Audit, Risk and Governance Africa conference held by MIS Training Institute in Accra, Ghana last week was how to position internal audit for the future and how to ensure that the function continues to add value in the organization and remain relevant.

In many ways, these challenges are similar to those that internal audit faces in developing nations, and many of the solutions are similar to those that internal auditors are emphasizing worldwide: better communication, a larger advisory role, and a more nimble approach to internal audit. Yet, the unique challenges that internal auditors face in Africa, including increased corruption and greater political uncertainly, only heighten the need to position internal audit as leaders in the organization.

"The big question is: What are the expectations for internal audit in this turbulent, uncertain environment?" said Kenneth Kamurasi, head of audit for Africa subsidiaries at Barclays Bank of Kenya, who led the session. "Stakeholders expect more value from internal audit."

Kamurasi provided three things that all auditors should be doing to add more value: 1) Provide a better education to the board about what is really happening on the ground at the business units; 2) provide meaningful insights into the risks they are seeing; and 3) communicate more clearly to all stakeholders.

Some of the trends Kamurasi cited as creating turbulence not just for African organizations, but for those around the world are: increased isolationist tendencies and anti-immigration sentiments in Europe and the United States that are evident in the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's presidential campaign; commodity price fluctuations, especially in oil; and fiscal challenges including stagnation in China.

He says it's important for internal audit to understand some of these broad trends so auditors can provide better insights on the risks associated with them. "As internal auditors, we need to think about how we adapt to the environment we live in or we run the risk of becoming irrelevant in the future," said Kamurasi.

Skills of the Future Auditor

Kamurasi's view of the skills that are needed for the future internal auditor are similar to those that auditors in the developing world have been citing for the last few years, and that the Institute of Internal Auditors has been advocating for in recent papers and reports. Those include soft skills, particularly communication abilities. Kamurasi also cited IT knowledge and better use of data analytics, as well as "agile approaches to the way we do internal audit."

He also advocates a forward-looking approach: "It's well and good to review what has been done in the past, but what are we saying about the future?" Certainly, that's a good message for auditors around the world to consider. "Are we able to change or are we stuck in our old ways?"

Greater Sensitivity

It's clear that internal auditors in Africa have the added challenge of dealing with a greater level of corruption and fraud that is prevalent and more of a "shoot the messenger" mentality when internal auditors and others attempt to raise concerns. According to one participant in the discussion, internal auditors have to do a better job of navigating those concerns. "One of the greatest attributes you have to have as an internal auditor is to be a diplomat," said Emmanuel Omofuriota, head of quality assurance and testing at Sterling Bank in Nigeria. "If you don't have that attribute, things are not going to be easy for you as an internal auditor."

Omofuriota paused for a moment before adding another essential element. "You also have to be patient," he said. "If you are not patient, you will not get the desired result you are looking for.