There’s no room for boredom in the world of internal auding. Just ask Shirley Machaba, one of South Africa’s top internal auditors. To her, it is the one job that exposes you to every single aspect of an organisation, and gives you the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.
What does an internal auditor do?

Internal auditors provide an independent and objective assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of a company’s operations, specifically its internal control structure. The internal audit function helps an organisation accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance processes. Internal auditors understand the organisation, provide value-added solutions and are familiar with the industry’s best practices.

An internal auditor’s key activities include:

  • collating, checking and analysing spreadsheet data
  • examining company accounts and financial control systems
  • gauging levels of financial risk within organisations
  • checking that financial reports and records are accurate and reliable
  • ensuring that assets are safeguarded
  • identifying if and where processes are not working as they should, and advising on changes to be made
  • preparing reports, commentaries and financial statements
  • liaising with managerial staff and presenting findings and recommendations
  • ensuring procedures, policies, legislation and regulations are correctly followed and complied with
  • undertaking reviews of wages.
Why did you choose to be an internal auditor?

Once I was exposed to internal audit, I realised that I had discovered the coolest career. This is the one job that exposes you to every single aspect of an organisation, and gives you the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. The internal auditor plays a major role in the organisation’s well-being, making a significant difference as an assurance provider and trusted advisor to management. This is not just a position for career internal auditors, but is also an excellent training ground for those who want to move into executive positions.

What is the difference between an internal auditor and an external auditor?

External audit is primarily a financial discipline with a statutory obligation. These auditors’ main function is to give assurance that the organisation’s financial position is what management has reported it is by looking at whether the financial statements are a true reflection of the organisation’s financial position, and ensuring that it is a going concern. Internal auditors, on the other hand, have a much broader scope.

Although we also look at the organisation’s finance area, this is just a fraction of our function; internal auditors focus on every area in the organisation, from HR to supply chain management and procurement to IT. We also focus on strategy; risk management; fraud, ethics, compliance, sustainability, environmental and other risks; as well as governance and performance of the organisation’s core business.

What do internal auditors do?

The job starts with understanding the risks the organisation is facing and looking at whether there are adequate controls in place to mitigate those risks. We also look at whether the staff and management are adhering to the established controls. In this context we are assurance providers and our primary client is the Board, to whom we report through the Audit Committee.

Well-known internal auditor Shirley Machaba.

Well-known internal auditor Shirley Machaba.

What do you enjoy most?

Knowing that what I do can make a difference and directly contribute to the well-being of an organisation. I love being in a position to provide advice to management on best practice, as well as on critical changes within the profession, industries and sectors. This, of course, means that I need to keep myself up to date with changes, as well as have the ability to spot trends in the environment and determine the potential impact on my organisation and industry. Unlike many careers that tend to have a single focus, this is a multidimensional discipline. It is an exciting job with a lot of variety and no room for boredom.

What do you like least about your work?

There is hardly anything to dislike, but I must admit that having to work with people who do not understand the role of internal audit can be a challenge.

What ‘makes’ a good internal auditor?

Whilst the financial skills of accountants are useful to do their job effectively, internal auditors need to possess a high level of technical internal auditing skills and superior business acumen. They must be effective communicators, good project managers, analytically strong, and it helps if they are excellent negotiators. They need to be emotionally intelligent, have excellent leadership skills, have the ability to think strategically, network effectively, and deliver quality services and act as a business value enhancer. Internal auditors interact with various stakeholders with differing expectations, therefore good management skills are key. In addition, they must have an excellent grasp of organisational risk management concepts, unflinching integrity, be grounded in ethics and possess reserves of unwavering courage.

What training do you advise for a person wanting to enter the profession?

Follow the Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa (IIA SA) career path. The IIA SA is the professional body that represents the interests of the internal auditing community and is the standard setter of the career path for internal auditors. The basic steps are, firstly, to obtain an academic qualification and become a member of the institute. Once you have begun working, enrol in the IIA SA’s Professional Training Programme (in other words, you have to serve articles) and then write the Certified Internal Auditor exam as the final test of competence. After you have qualified, you can maintain your designations and knowledge through the IIA SA’s continuing professional development programme. Many Internal Auditors also opt to write the IIA’s specialty exams, which have been designed to further enhance their skills in particular areas such as government or financial services auditing and risk management.

Any advice for someone starting out?

Do the groundwork to determine whether this is the right career choice for you. Once that decision is made, follow the career path as mapped out by the Institute of Internal Auditors. Being a member of the institute allows you to make use of their technical guidance resources and networking opportunities, amongst other benefits