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The future of internal auditing and the critical features that define this key organisational function were under the spotlight at Nelson Mandela University’s Business School this week.

With the Month of May being dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of internal auditing globally, the University hosted a panel discussion under theme “Building an Internal Audit of the Future – What is the Role of Management and the Audit Committee” on Monday.

In attendance were the University’s executive management, students, as well as business leaders, converging to celebrate internal auditing as a profession, and the good work done by internal auditors.

“Through its vision, Mandela University has identified itself as a dynamic University recognised for its leadership in generating cutting edge knowledge for sustainable future, hence the decision to have a conversation about the role of management and audit committees in building the internal functions of the future,” said the institution’s Senior Director of Internal Audit, Dr Sizwe Nyenyiso.

“We called this event because ‘isinamuva liyabukwa,’ meaning that those whose journeys have been delayed will experience greater joy than those winning right now, and we trust that this event will leave an important mark, and that tomorrow will be better than yesterday,” he added.

The panel discussion set about to respond to questions around the future of the internal audit’s function and the critical features that define this function.

In discussion: Prof Houdini Fourie, Mr Romeo Gilfillan, Ms Arlene-Lynn Volmink and Prof Sibongile Muthwa in discussion at the Mandela University Business School.

“I think the internal audit of the future is one that should safeguard the notions of its independence, yet it should be aligned to the higher values and intentions of the organisation that it supports. It should be independent, yet collaborative, and it should also be adaptive,” said Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa.

“The independence of the internal function going into the future also needs to look at its role as a stewardship that is meant to help the organisation reduce its risk in all its facets”.

The Chief Executive Officer of International Internal Auditors of South Africa, Ms Arlene-Lynn Volmink, reiterated the VC’s sentiments on the need for the profession to be adaptive.

“The world is changing. We say we offer risk-based assurance, so if we want to offer insight that is focused on foresight, it means that the internal audit function of the future is a risk sensing function,” she said.

“Additionally, we must be multi-disciplinary. We cannot focus on financial controls only anymore, but business objectives right from the strategic business objectives to all aspects of operation”.

Mr Romeo Gilfillan from Astron Energy South Africa stressed the need for aspiring internal auditors to be cross functionally skilled.

“The world is moving, from a technology perspective, and we need to make sure that we adapt to it. Your basic degree will not carry you for life, you need to continuously improve and learn in other areas of the business or the industry to add value” he said.

“A future internal auditor is also not ignorant of global activities that are happening. As an auditor, you need to be conscious of what is happening and ask yourself how it affects us as a business”.

Mandela University lecturer of Applied Accounting, Prof Houdini Fourie, emphasised the need to always remain relevant.

“The key critical features that would define a function that is going to remain relevant would be one that is using technology and data analytics to the fullest extent possible” he said.

“People are the most important in collaboration with various assurance providers, whether it is external auditors, quality assurance, or any other assurance provider. The internal audit function must be engaging with all the possible resources.” said Prof Fourie.

Arlene-Lynn Volmink rounded off the discussion by suggesting ways that senior management and the audit committee of the University could ensure they develop and maintain that the internal audit is fit for purpose.

“Management needs to assist the function to be correctly positioned. Internal audit needs to have a seat at the table; and from internal audit’s side, you need to make sure you have the correct skills and knowledge to be able to give management the advice they need,” she said, adding that management can also assist with resources. 

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