Marie-Pauline Lauret, Global Head of Internal Audit of a large Dutch listed company, tells us about how auditors can help rebuild trust in the profession by speaking up and looking beyond the scope of their role.
Auditors can change culture!
Auditors have the power to change corporate culture from within – I wish this was more widely understood. Audits identify the bottlenecks in an organisation and can help develop new processes, which will ensure that organisations are performing at their best. When I began my career as auditor, I didn’t plan to make big changes, but I asked questions, and I wanted to know how my work could make a difference.
Early on, I discovered that my approach was unique and greatly needed in the audit profession – one that is too often bogged down with people more interested in the how of the job, not the why. I like to look at the whys of an audit. Is there an irregular outcome? Let’s not just report it, let’s examine it, to find the source and solve a problem.
This approach led me to a number of high-profile projects about how accounting and auditing impact society. In the face of the Netherlands’ crisis of trust in the audit profession, the government invited me to help formulate an action plan, the Future of the Audit Profession, to begin to regain public trust in auditors. We worked with multiple stakeholders towards a single objective on that project, this has informed my current role.
Start with the big picture, then focus on where you can make a difference
I started in my current role nearly four years ago, with the mission to overhaul the Internal Audit team. This was a change for me because I came from the world of statutory audits, meanwhile I had the chance to work with management to make changes and improvements from within.
Since I’ve joined, Internal Audit has moved from being an isolated team, to holding a central position in the organisation, with people actively reaching out to us. We are fully integrated in the processes of the organisation.
I try to attract more people from the organisation to the Internal Audit team, so they can learn about risk and control and how we look at processes. They can then return to their role with that new knowledge and experience.
We give people from across the organisation the chance to join an audit on a subject that they may already be familiar with. For example, an HR colleague joining us on an audit in our People Services team. With this “external” expertise, we’ve identified issues quicker and managed to solve them at the source. It’s very exciting and fruitful to see colleagues working together from different departments.
I see the transformational power that audit can have. Being excellent at your job is not enough. More auditors need to be brave, step outside themselves and ask the awkward questions.
I try to encourage this within my team and to learn from the strengths of other departments as well. Education plays a role too, why not have more classes on ethics or problem solving or even speaking up?
We are in a crisis of public trust, performing audits as usual will not improve things. Auditors: live your conscience and speak up!