5 benefits of moving from external audit to internal audit

“More auditing? Thanks, but no thanks.”

If you’ve worked as an external auditor for one of the top 10 global accountancy firms, the thought of moving into an internal audit role may elicit a response similar to the above. I’ve certainly seen some reluctance among professionals to make the shift, particularly when they’re looking to pivot away from conducting audits entirely.

But with nearly two-thirds of employees in the UK wanting to find a new job in 2020, I’d like to take the opportunity to dispel a few myths about working in internal audit and highlight some of the key benefits of crossing over.

1. Internal audit is a different kettle of fish

For professionals who are ready to move on from statutory reports and financial reviews, an internal audit role may seem like more of the same. However, despite the two being complementary functions within the assurance framework, the duties and responsibilities between them are markedly different.

Detailing all of these differences would require an article all of its own (and ICAS’s website already has an excellent summary). Suffice to say, the coverage and nature of an internal auditor’s work goes beyond the traditional financial statements and related disclosures of external auditing. They cover all areas of risk and their management, as well as any other governance processes.

Internal audit work is permanent and ongoing, with professionals expected to react to emerging issues as and when they occur. Some of these differences may seem subtle at first, but – as I’ll explain in more detail in later points – they open up an entirely new career trajectory.

2. Early exposure to senior management

While external auditors provide assurance largely to shareholders and/or members, internal auditors deliver their reports to board members and other senior managers. In practice, this means junior or newly qualified external auditors have far less exposure to upper management within their organisations than internal auditors.

It’s common for internal auditors to be working closely with heads of department and even board members either from the outset or within just a couple of years of joining a company. First, this is a great opportunity to build interpersonal capabilities; our 2019 Market Report revealed 32% of audit departments believe soft skills such are their biggest recruitment challenge.

Second, frequent interaction with senior management offers better opportunities to fast-track your career. You’ll often be in the right place, at the right time to impress the right people.

3. Employers value external audit experience 

External auditors with three years’ experience typically hold a practising certificate and have audit qualifications from a professional accounting body. Many leading FTSE firms therefore have great confidence in the technical abilities of external auditors and are especially keen to hire from one of the Big Four accounting firms.

In my experience, hiring managers who are interviewing external auditors for their first internal audit position will often be already considering them for their next big audit role within the company.

Meanwhile, due to the nature of the internal audit function, which covers the entire depth and breadth of an organisation, professionals have great opportunities to move sideways into other areas of the business. Few roles have this flexibility or day-to-day interaction with multiple business units.

4. Internal audit is constantly evolving 

It’s fair to say that as recently as 10 years ago the internal audit function had a bit of a box-ticking reputation within some companies. But the last decade has seen a significant revival in the function’s role and importance, both within governance departments specifically and the wider business.

Employers recognise that internal auditors have a unique perspective into the organisation’s inner workings, so expectations have risen for professionals to be trusted advisors to key stakeholders. Many auditors now have an important role to play in guiding change management programmes and strategic growth initiatives.

Ultimately, the internal audit role is moving from being primarily reactive to much more proactive. The department must also keep pace with rapid digital developments, meaning they get valuable hands-on experience with the opportunities and challenges that arise from emerging technologies.

5. Good remuneration and work-life balance potential 

Every role and company are different, but internal auditors can expect generous salaries and bonus packages, particularly within commerce & industry and financial services. Our 2019 Market Report provides a salary guide overview for internal audit positions across various industry segments, so click here to learn more.

Internal auditors also have opportunities for a better work-life balance. For example, Big Four external auditors regularly have to travel and be on-site for days or weeks at a time. With the internal audit roles that we fill, travelling is much reduced compared with most external audit positions.

Furthermore, because travelling is a smaller part of the role, many organisations reward auditors with better perks in this area, such as business class flights and luxury accommodation. Auditors at international firms will also have the opportunity to travel and work abroad – an appealing prospect for many candidates.

Are you considering switching from external to internal audit?

These are just some of the benefits of a career in internal audit. Another advantage for external auditors currently weighing up a switch is that organisations are far less concerned about sector experience than they perhaps were in years past.

Employers are looking for interpersonal skills and the technical ability that external auditors can bring to their business. They recognise that candidates can learn the quirks of individual market segments on the job, whereas soft skills are much harder to teach.

That’s not to say industry experience is ignored. Professionals with a background in financial services audits are usually highly prized and will enjoy an easy transition into an internal audit role. Those with IT audit experience and a CISA qualification are also particularly sought after. External auditors who can gain some exposure to technology audits now can open a lot of doors for themselves should they choose to make the jump to internal audit at a later date.

But whatever your background, why not get in touch with us to discuss your options? We’ll give you an honest appraisal of the market and your opportunities, so please give me a call on 0207 936 8921 or drop me a line at sd@barclaysimpson.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Image credit: João Silas via Unsplash