Bradley Alexander sat down with Mike Taylor, who is the Immediate Past President of the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors. He was Head of Global Internal Audit for Experian and before that worked in internal audit leadership roles in insurance and financial services for 20 years. His career has spanned internal audit, risk management, governance and finance. He holds the CMIIA, CIA and QIAL qualifications, starting his career as a Chartered Accountant with what is now PwC.
Could you tell me about your journey into Internal Audit (IA)?
When I moved across, out of the Big 4 to Allied Dunbar, I actually moved into a finance role. IA wasn’t part of my career plan to start off with. After eight years in finance, I was asked if I would turn the internal audit function around, as it wasn’t adding value and wasn’t seen as critical to the business. Despite it not being part of my career plan, the leadership team there thought I might be good at it and even if it wasn’t for me, I could always do it for a couple of years and come back into a finance role, with a broader and deeper knowledge of the business and a better network internally.
In short, I started the IA role and really enjoyed it – and in a sense, the rest is history. Firstly, the challenge of turning it around was tremendous. It brought home to me the privilege of the position of internal audit, the breadth to look at every aspect of the organisation, the ability to be liaising with the board one minute and the folk on the office floor the next and the opportunity to be involved in the sheer range of challenges facing the business.
After three months doing the role, I found a third party that was leaking information and got involved in solving the case and gaining damages, as well as finding and getting all the money back from a major fraud – internal audit suddenly had an incredibly high profile and I thought ‘hang on, this is actually a great role… you know I can really do something here’. After 6 months or so, I thought ‘actually I’m not sure I want to rush back from this role’ and I got responsibility for internal audit at other group companies as well. I set up a risk function too to help the group and internal audit focus on the things that matter and therefore add more value. It was a real whirlwind start. Very quickly I was introducing audit and risk to many parts of the organisation and I thought ‘I think I’ll stay here’. A little after that, risk-based audit was being seen by the business as really successful and so whilst delivering that, I was asked to look after compliance as well, so very quickly my whole role had grown hugely for the better.
British American Tobacco (BAT), Allied Dunbar’s parent, built something called British American Financial Services and I was privileged enough to have responsibility for all of internal audit and risk, except for the US business. It was an exciting position to be in and as you might have gathered, I was thoroughly enjoying my time in IA and continued my career in that direction.
BA – What would you say to people that are considering a career in IA, but aren’t yet convinced?
IA certainly wasn’t part of my plan at first, but I quickly realised that it’s a great place to develop a career. The things that have continued to excite me throughout my career are the same. I can’t think of a better place to make such an impact on a business day to day, from such an early point in your career.
One of the main attractions to IA, is that it is a high exposure role. You’re putting yourself out there and if you are talented and able, you’ll gain an immense amount of personal profile at potentially quite a young age. For those that are focused, ambitious and want to get on, you are able to, through an internal audit role, if you make it your own. You have the opportunity to explain your findings to management, to explain why they are important, why they matter to the business and what changes need to occur. You get a chance to showcase your abilities to the most senior people in the organisation. If you have the confidence to do that, it is a real career accelerator, which is why for the right person, I think the opportunities are tremendous.
BA - Internal auditors can come from all sorts of backgrounds in terms of education and experience. Why should someone choose IA, as part of their career?
The career path for a financial accountant is well mapped out, so it’s a relatively easy option for people to take. You can see how your career is going to progress and, as you gain more knowledge and experience, eventually progress to perhaps Financial Controller or CFO. In IA however, it is a little more self-made, which for me is one of the great attractions. The exposure you’re going to get to all aspects of the organisation, the learning you’re going to get and the understanding of your company’s key functions along the way will allow you to build and shape your career the way you want it.
The other good thing about IA, which I knew from the moment I started doing it, was that it can be a great experience, even if you don’t dedicate your whole career to it. IA is a great place for finance and audit professionals to consider, as well as people completely away from the traditional ‘practice’ background.
If you are dead set on being a senior finance professional, then IA is probably not going to contribute a massive amount to your finance technical skills, but it will give you some significant exposure to senior stakeholders and insight into the way the organisation works. Also, there is no problem with someone considering time in IA if they want to advance their career, whatever their background. For a long time now, I’ve been a big advocate of the ‘guest auditor’ and ‘rotation’ in my teams – getting someone from the business who has a completely different perspective and outlook to the other auditors has always proved incredibly valuable for both sides, both during audits and going forward.
If you approach someone in your organisation and say ‘you’re an expert at ‘x’, come into our internal audit team, and help us in your specialist field, work alongside my auditors and contribute your expertise’ that can be very powerful. When I have identified someone for an IA guest audit role, people are typically reluctant, but once they give it a go, the feedback I have been given almost every time is that IA is not what the preconception says. It’s an incredibly engaged function, a very supportive function, with a lot of very bright people there and the opportunities to really impact the organisation for the good is substantial – so why wouldn’t you try it, if not just for your career development? If you want to grow your network and learn about a business, I’d argue that there’s no better place than IA.
BA – Internal audit must have changed quite a bit from the time you first joined the profession?
What I want to do now is help people think about careers in internal audit for what they really are. Nowadays, a career in internal audit is a cool job, but that hasn’t always been the case. When I started (in 1993!) IA was very much seen as being down amongst the weeds, as a function that wasn’t adding value. The transformation I lead in Allied Dunbar and that my peers drove in other organisations helped to change that. Now that couldn’t be further from the truth and professional internal audit has become a key and highly valued function in any organisation.
BA – How do you feel about people using a role in IA for 2-3 years as a stepping stone into a bigger role within the business?
Over the years, I saw a lot of my best people move into key roles in other parts of the business and I always found this to be a positive thing. There are a couple of people I can think of in particular, that were really good internal auditors. They loved the role that audit played and shortly after joining, both of them said to me ‘this is great, I’m seeing a lot of the organisation, I’m building a tremendous network because I’m known by a lot of the company’s leadership team and more than anything, I really enjoy what I do’.
After around 2 years in IA, because they were known and because they were seen as being high talent, the business identified them for senior roles and took them off me. But that’s fine by me because I think talent generation is one of the best things internal audit can contribute. It gives people the opportunity to gain profile and exposure which you might never have been able to build otherwise. It’s a win-win-win. The organisation gains, the individual gains, and internal audit gains, because of course it is seen as not only adding value through its contribution, but it develops some tremendous people for the organisation, who can go on to top-level leadership roles in the company.
BA – IA is normally associated with the biggest and best companies in the world, and with that, travel is often associated with IA.
Yes, for some people, the travel is one of the big perks, although that obviously doesn’t apply to every organisation, but if you take Zurich Insurance or Experian for example, one of the positives is the fact you could be off to the USA or Singapore or Australia or Brazil, and that gives you the cultural exposure and the opportunity to learn how to interact and operate internationally. You also get to understand the challenges of the business in unfamiliar territories which again is a huge benefit, whether you stay in audit or if you go on and do a different role later, and it’s a great aspect for the CV, obviously.
BA – As the immediate Past President of the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors, why should someone join the IIA?
There are many advantages. The Institute is a source of great information for internal auditors, helping them to be successful in their roles, and as we continue to transform the Chartered IIA, the ways people can access that information grow. Our product offerings for internal auditors are also increasing and the launch of Audit Leaders provides an excellent service for those growing their careers, while the Aspire network has received great feedback from those starting out. The upcoming launch of our Women in Internal Audit network, although undoubtedly overdue, is another service that is proving very popular, with the launch event heavily oversubscribed. More WIIA events will follow. The Chartered Institute in the UK and Ireland does a great deal to contribute to the profile of Internal Audit and internal auditors, in the public eye and with regulators, company directors, and opinion formers. That has to be good for all of us working as internal auditors. Although I could go on, the last thing I will highlight is the importance of the qualifications the IIA offers. I am a strong believer in the importance of professional internal audit, and the prime way of showing your professionalism is to gain the relevant qualifications, whether through our new apprenticeship offerings, the Certificate, and CIA exams or the more advanced Chartered status.
BA – How can audit leaders use the IIA to stay ahead of the tide in an ever-changing world?
I have already referenced the Audit Leaders service and for those in the UK’s biggest companies, we have the Leaders Forum. Both offer access to information and knowledgeable speakers, but significantly, the opportunity to network and share ideas with your peers. Our website, guidance papers and conferences provide regular access to the latest thinking in the profession, both in the UK and Ireland as well as globally. Publications, such as Risk in Focus, which we produce together with our fellow institutes across Europe, have also been well recognised as a great resource for internal audit leaders. Finally, come and get involved – our regional networks provide a local opportunity to talk to your peers and share thoughts and ideas and we are always looking for internal auditors to help us develop and grow the Institute to keep it relevant for the future.