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Which is better? An out-sourced, co-sourced or in-house Internal Audit function


There are three types of Internal Audit (IA) structures that organisations can choose to adopt: In-house, co-sourced or out-sourced. Having been involved in all the three different Internal Audit (IA) arrangements, I think there are definitely pros and cons for all the three options, however it was glaring that some of the pros did outweigh the cons, especially for a co-source arrangement.

I think the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) hit the nail when they stated that:

Internal auditors deal with issues that are fundamentally important to the survival and prosperity of any organisation. Unlike external auditors, they look beyond financial risks and statements to consider wider issues such as the organisation’s reputation, growth, its impact on the environment and the way it treats its employees.

In sum, internal auditors help organisations to succeed. We do this through a combination of assurance and consulting. The assurance part of our work involves telling managers and governors how well the systems and processes designed to keep the organisation on track are working. Then, we offer consulting help to improve those systems and processes where necessary.

The internal audit activity must have qualified, skilled and experienced people. For most of my career I have been part of an in-house internal audit function, which made me bias to the other options and in the beginning, blinded to the shortfalls an in-house function may have. However it was an eye opening experience being involved in a co-source and out-source internal audit setup. I immediately realised some of the frustrations I had while being in a fully in-house function, which would have been easily solved had we considered or managed to convince the Audit Committee to venture into a co-source option. 

When it comes to recruiting team members for internal audit, I always try to get a good balance in the skill sets of my team members, and I did this successfully. As opposed to the time of my predecessors, accountants were no longer the only ones applying for internal auditor roles. I always get excited when I see an Engineer or an IT specialist apply for the job. However, it is almost impossible to acquire all the required skill sets that an internal audit function would need, and the reason behind this was simple; overheads.

Organisations around the world have embarked on adopting the Lean strategy. Head of Departments in organisations are being challenged to make their operations lean and effective, and this is why getting the right skilled team member is important – it is also what feeds the thriving consulting industry. This is where having a co-sourced approach is beneficial. CAEs would be able to confidently undertake the all necessary internal audit engagements in the audit plan because they would ideally have all the required knowledge within their department (rightfully CAEs should not be undertaking these engagement at all). 

I have always believed that a successful internal audit function is one that has both the audit committee’s confidence and management’s buy-in on the program, while maintaining its independence. There must always be a value add to any internal audit report. Apart from providing assurance to the audit committee, the internal audit function also has the responsibility to provide consulting activities to the organisation in order to provide a true value add. This can only be achieved when the management team understands and supports the internal audit function, which will only happen though relationship and trust building over time.

A fully out-sourced internal audit function would struggle to build the same relationships as an internal audit team. Simpley, they would only provide assurance to the audit committee, work off the approved audit plan and show up at the premises at the start of the audit engagement. Granted, this is a bold claim, however it is the little things that makes a relationship build over time, such as having lunch in the same kitchen, meeting at the coffee machines, sharing the same parking lots – these kind of encounters make the familiarity and builds trust to another level – something only in-house internal auditors can achieve. This rapport is important to enable the internal audit team to put forward recommendations in a way that can influence the organisation to want to take remedial action. 

The balance of being able to achieve management buy-in while also meeting its obligations to the audit committee, and being able to have the capability to undertake all types of internal audits, will only be achieved with a strong in-house function coupled with a co-source arrangement. The co-source partner will only be assigned specific audit engagements which are not within the pool of skills and knowledge of the in-house audit team.

It is advisable that the in-house team plays a key and pivotal role in co-source engagements such as being involved in the opening and closing meetings, as well as meeting with senior management to ensure that the objectives of the audit is being met. This is critical to maintain good rapport and management buy-in, as well as ensuring co-source audit reports have the balance of objective while still providing the value add to the management. This point of view should not be mistaken as an approach that will undermine independence. Maintaining independence is critical to the internal audit team, and should be maintained by not getting involved in operational decisions etc.  

Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and is presented for informative purposes. It is not intended to constitute tax or financial advice, whether general or personal nor is it intended to imply any recommendation or opinion about a financial product. It does not take into consideration your personal situation and may not be relevant to circumstances. Before taking any action, consider your own particular circumstances and seek professional advice. This content is protected by copyright laws and various other intellectual property laws. It is not to be modified, reproduced or republished without prior written consent.

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