Jonathan Leiva Escobar
Public Accountant & Auditor
Master in Accounting and Management Auditing
The professionals who work in the Auditing field must orient their skills and competencies towards various fundamental characteristics of a technical-professional methodological order known as “hard skills,” related to the technical skills acquired or required for the development of an activity, which is attained or achieved through continuous improvement, education, training, coaching, added to the experience acquired in the reiteration of said activity and in the performance of the function in various fields and industries.
In addition to the aforementioned factors, auditing professionals must also bear in mind other areas or fundamental characteristics that are related to “soft skills,” known as those that are associated with the particularities of the sociological behavior of people in human groups. Some records relate these skills to the emotional intelligence quotient, grouped as a set of personality traits, social behavior skills, communication methods and/or techniques, the fluency of the language used, habits and personal developments, among others.
In a third order of ideas, it is highly recommended, and I would dare to say, highly required, that professionals who work as auditors, in any area, should take into consideration at all times, their professional and personal actions, the application of deontological principles, known as the part of ethics that deals with the duties and principles that affect the development of a profession. These principles and rules of conduct are clearly detailed and can be consulted in the “Code of ethics,” defined by the Global Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA Global), ratified by the associated Internal Institutes of Audit worldwide, whose purpose is to promote an ethical culture in the internal audit profession, applied to both individuals and entities that provide services in this area. Among the principles and rules of conduct are: integrity, objectivity, confidentiality and the competence of professionals.
However, institutions, entities, and for-profit or non-profit companies of different sectors and industry are requiring additional competencies from professionals who work in Auditing, both in internal audit teams and external or outsourced ones. I remember having heard, during the XIX Latin American Congress on Internal Auditing, held in October 2014 in El Salvador, the then president of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Internal Auditors – IIA Global, Mr. Anton van Wyk, where he proposed some key principles for the practice of the internal audit profession in his presentation. Among them, he expressed that the new generations of auditors, and current professionals, must develop additional characteristics for the performance of their functions, aspects that companies are requiring. Some of these proposals he considers as action to be developed, being insightful, proactive and focused on the future, in addition to promoting positive changes in the organization. On that occasion, he added that it is essential for professionals to demonstrate a commitment to skills and abilities, in addition to seeking professional certification, particularly those promoted by said Global Institute.
Those of us who work in this field of action should add, and take into consideration in our development and professional performance, at least five factors or “requirements” to deploy and/or strengthen to add value to organizations, society and the environment that surrounds us and that we are part of. These requirements I have called the “5Cs of a sustainable auditor’s profile,” which I will go on to share.
- Commitment: The audit professionals must be able to demonstrate a commitment in accordance with the functions that the position entails, both at a personal, organizational and social level; that is why the level of moral integrity, in rectitude, probity, dignity and sincerity, must be marked in their conduct in any circumstances. At this point, it is relevant to take into consideration the integration and connection of the activities of the different audits and/or inspections with the “Sustainable Development Goals” promoted by the United Nations (UN). These 17 integrated SDGs recognize that interventions in one area will affect the results in others and that development must balance environmental, economic and social sustainability. In this context, I will dare to propose the analysis of the definition of internal audit provided by the Global Institute of Internal Auditing, and collect the contribution that we can make from the profession considering these sustainable goals. The IIA Global definition is as follows: “Internal Audit is an independent and objective assurance and consultation activity designed to add value and improve an operations of an organization.” My proposal is as follows: “Internal Audit is an independent and objective assurance and consultation activity, designed to add value and improve the operations of an organization, society and the environment”
- Competition: Those who work in auditing must bear in mind that they are in constant evolution, and that the processes, techniques and ways of doing operations change and vary very quickly, faster than the change itself. It must adapt quickly and skillfully to the different rhythms of the markets, technology, systematization and automation of business. For this reason, the audit professional must be able to align the competencies and skills as quickly as changes occur and progress, installing new knowledge, experiences and techniques in their practice, allowing them to perform efficiently, effectively and economically, with a contribution and added value to organizations, society and its community, underlying the common good.
- Communication: One of the greatest difficulties in human relationships is communication; it is not easy to transmit a coded message, and for the receiver to be able to fully understand what the sender wants and wishes to transmit. Well, this problem is not alien to our function; therefore, the communication of each of the instances of the audit process, and even more, the delivery of its results, establish an important challenge to mediate. We must be able to establish effective communication with a high impact on the results reported to senior management and those in charge of processes, to make others do what we recommend, and be better for the organization and institutions.
- Creativity: When I have spoken with process owners, risk managers, partners or managers of organizations, they have raised the lack of creativity in the application of programs and audit tests as an important weakness of the auditors; they point out that: “auditors are not very creative and innovative at the time of evaluating, even more so when it comes to an analysis of possible fraud and what the modus operandi is.” They point out that it is predictable and that most of the time they apply the same techniques and evaluations. Well, this is a critique of which we must become part and try to innovate in auditing techniques, a challenge that we cannot pass up.
- Connectivity: The cyber age, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, which sees emerging technological advancements in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the internet of things, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles, among others, is here to stay and carry over to the future. Transactions in cyberspace are more and more recurrent, increasing exponentially every second, technological business channels have been strengthened and the customer increasingly interacts from a device as a communication tool. Operations evolve and become more complex for those who do not keep pace with technological changes. The connectivity of operations does not rest; therefore, the audit professional must be attentive and connected at all times to know and understand how the data that originate the main business of organizations are made, managed, protected and stored; connectivity is our goal, we seek ways to meet the expectations of this digital age.
Industries, organizations, institutions of different sizes and scope, whether private or public, are, more and more, requiring additional characteristics in professionals who work on high-performance teams in the field of auditing. Not only are they evaluating with greater vigor, maintaining a high prevalence of hard and soft skills, but also, they are seeking greater technical and professional capacity through international certifications in the field of the profession. Likewise, they require these professionals to maintain an attitude towards ethical behavior in their work and personal development, projecting integrity, objectivity and confidentiality in the tasks they address. Also, to consider the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals in the work and development of the audits as a contribution, not only to the organization, but also to all humanity and the environment.
Now, it’s not enough to just demonstrate these skills, but other characteristics that are desirable to perform in audit teams of the fourth revolution must also be added and promoted. For this we must consider the 5Cs of a sustainable auditor’s profile which invites us to reflect on the commitment in accordance with the functions, the constant improvement in professional skills, promoting effective communication with the technical teams we interact with, generating innovation in the work and, finally, bringing the use of technological and systemic means closer and closer to the development of the tasks assigned to us.
About the author:
Jonathan Leiva has a degree in Public Accounting and Auditing from Universidad Santo Tomás, a Master’s degree in Accounting and Management Auditing from Universidad de Santiago de Chile and has prepared for various postgraduate courses in his professional field. He has 21 years of experience in the government sector, especially in the area of Auditing, Internal Control and Governance. He teaches at several universities. He was an internal auditor at the Superintendence of Electricity and Fuels, at the Psychiatric Institute of Santiago, and assumed the role of Ministerial Auditor of the Ministry of Health. He is currently the Head of Internal Audit at the Ministry of Public Works.