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Hays interviews Steve Ireland

IIA Chairman, North East

With the growing importance on internal audit and risk following changes in the combined code, Hays Corporate Governance spoke to Steve Ireland, IIA Chairman North East, about life in the profession and the skills needed to succeed.  

Steve_IrelandFirstly, congratulations on the Chartered Status that has recently been announced. What effect do you think it have on the Institute and its members?

Achieving Chartered status is a fantastic achievement and demonstrates that the Institute is the leading authority on internal auditing. The award is public acknowledgement of the importance of internal audit to helping organisations manage their risks better as part of good governance. It comes at a time when risk management and corporate governance have never been a higher priority. It will help raise the profile of the institute both locally and nationally and attract more members and students, which in turn will allow the Institute to expand its range of services offered to benefit all members.

How would you describe a career in internal audit?

There are few careers like one in internal auditing, which gives you a skillset - including the Institute's professional qualifications - that is very marketable and transferable across all public and private organisations, including the NHS, local authorities, energy companies, construction, charitable organisations, oil companies, accountancy firms, housing associations and financial services.

Internal audit allows you to see all areas of an organisation and understand how they operate and influence how risks and controls are managed. Many of the recent collapses of large organisations such as Barings Bank have been due to the absence of basic internal controls and that is how internal auditors can make a difference. They can get involved in all aspects of an organisation’s operations: accounting, human resources, purchasing, IT, marketing, treasury, actuarial, investments, strategy and planning, and projects and more technical issues such as fraud investigations and due diligence. There is also a chance to branch out into other areas such as IT audit. Very few roles give you these opportunities and internal auditing can be a 'stepping stone' into other senior manager roles in an organisation.

What made you choose this career?

I chose internal auditing because it provided lots of variety and challenge, the chance to meet lots of different people and always the possibility of discovering a fraud! It also helped me understand the strategy and direction of a company by being able to see the 'big picture' from auditing all areas of the business.

What is the biggest challenged you've personally faced in your career?

I was working in financial services at the time when my wife gave birth to triplets and as you can imagine, this was a struggle especially when asked to work away from home. Trying to balance home and work life when you are exhausted is not much fun but we got through it!

What do you think is most rewarding part of internal audit?

For me it was two things: firstly, meeting new people and learning about different processes and systems; and secondly, getting buy-in and acceptance of your findings and recommendations at the closedown meeting following completion of the audit fieldwork.

With the recent changes in the legislation has the IIA noticed any impact in the market?

There is definitely more focus on risks and controls and corporate governance - particularly for plc's in the financial services sector - following the latest corporate governance update from the Financial Reporting Council, which includes SOX compliance, regulatory changes and accounting standards changes, along with forthcoming Solvency 2 requirements. These allow internal audit to demonstrate the value it can add by supporting  organisations in the implementation of these requirements and providing independent assurance on the effectiveness of these systems and processes.

With internal audit and risk now being in the spotlight in the commercial sector, do you think that both employers and employees perception of audit and risk will change?

The profile of internal audit has changed significantly over the last ten to twenty years. The Institute has helped this perception through its professional qualifications, global professional guidance, knowledge centre and training courses. Auditors I believe should always be looking to raise the profile of what they to and demonstrate the value they can add to an organisation.

What do you think makes a good internal auditor?

Someone who is commercially focused, can understand the bigger picture whilst not being afraid to drill into the detail where required and challenge appropriately - quite a hard combination to find!

If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a career in internal audit what would it be?

Give it a go. Get professionally qualified and who knows where it may take you!