Using Slack in the internal audit department

I love the idea of Slack. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s collaboration software for teams that replaces a lot of what we’re currently using email to do. It’s main features as far as I can tell are persistent chat rooms (channels), direct messaging, and file sharing with cloud integration.

It would be so great if audit software did something like this, along with the audit specific features we need like work paper approval and sign-off, issue tracking, and report generation. All the audit software I’ve seen and used is just so clunky and poorly designed. I guess it’s too much of a niche market to get really well designed software that is polished and complete.

With Slack, you could set up a specific channel for each audit, or even sections within an audit (e.g. procurement), or phases of the audit (e.g. planning). Invite only those team members that are involved in that area of the audit to the channel, and add people later as needed. They’ll be able to read back and catch up on what’s happened before they joined.

So much of email is sending files back and forth, which would be eliminated with Slack. You wouldn’t even need to let someone know via email that a file’s been updated and is ready for review by the team or manager, since that communication would be within Slack too.

Are there any internal audit teams out there using Slack to reduce email volume and work collaboratively?

Dueling perspectives on internal audit

A guest post by an intern in Internal Audit was recently featured on another accountant’s blog, I Want To Be A CA, and I was first alerted to it by Krupo’s post title bait. The post is not complimentary about internal audit, but the support for its thesis is so flimsy and based on purely anecdotal evidence that it’s impossible to take it seriously. It begins:

I work in internal audit of a large corporation in the Southwestern United States. That’s all I will reveal of my identity for obvious reasons.

The “obvious reasons” are that he’s about to trash every element of this opportunity he’s been given to work at a large corporation in the Southwest US (during a massive recession when people much more experienced than him are losing their jobs, and in one of the hardest hit parts of the country to boot) despite having only two years of university level accounting studies to his credit.

I’m reminded of a recent column by Maureen Dowd on the use of anonymity online:

In this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? … Pseudonyms have a noble history… But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.

One of the best uses for constructive anonymity is that of the whistleblower. Most companies have set up whistleblower channels by now which allow employees at all levels to safely make public or report to an independent body abuses they have observed at work. The post in question is not an example of constructive anonymity.

With that out of the way:

So you ask yourself, why go into internal audit? Well I’ve been asking myself the same question. I’ve been here almost three months and still have yet to see any meaningfulness in this work. … Granted, without this deterrent could be rampant fraud and waste, etc, but that’s beside the point.

I thought the point was that audit is meaningless. So, factors which make audit worthwhile are beside it? I guess if you ignore the potential for rampant fraud and waste, the job would be basically meaningless. I think it’s safe to assume he’s been so busy mindlessly ticking and tying his POs that he wouldn’t see an opportunity to address waste or fraud if it presented itself.

And with that, I’m reminded of a recent post by Penelope Trunk on creativity:

It’s as misguided to divide the world into creative and non-creative jobs as it is to divide the world into creative and non-creative people. All jobs have opportunities for creativity. Some have more and some have less, but you usually get more opportunities to be creative by demonstrating that you are a creative problem solver over and over again.

IA jobs can be rewarding and meaningful, but oftentimes only as much as you make them. The key point is that the onus is on you to push your job into creative territory. Not at the expense of your required duties, but going above and beyond what’s expected of you. You have to want to make the work meaningful and strive to do so. Especially in an entry-level internship, as this is a great opportunity to show your superiors that you’re a top performer. If you ruffle too many feathers (and the problem here may indeed be the work environment he’s found himself in), you’re back in school before you know it anyway for third year.

Continuing on:

The thing you have to keep in mind with internal audit is that you are working with the same documents, same departments, and same procedures year after year with the rare addition or removal of a department.

This really depends on the type of organization you’re working for. There are companies that own various subsidiaries in related industries that will provide variety. I know in my position I see many different types of businesses that fall under the broad building materials category, including heavy industry, manufacturing and pure distribution/wholesale. Newly acquired companies are a source of variety as well, and there is a smorgasbord of accounting systems in use providing challenge and an opportunity to learn and develop.

Oh, and the other thing about internal audit is you don’t get to travel nearly as much as external auditors, because everything you’re auditing is in the same building. The hours are also a lot more manageable. Nobody here goes over 40 hours a week.

Again, depends on the company. I left public accounting because my current position offered the chance to travel extensively. Since starting the job last May, I’ve worked in Switzerland, Ireland, the US, and Canada. The lion’s share of traveling for me is to the US. I just got back from Phoenix (third time this year), and before that spent three weeks in the Seattle-Tacoma area. (Gorgeous country!)

As far as the hours go, when I’m back in town (which I am for the next three weeks!) it’s pretty accurate to say we work a solid 40 hours only. On weeks where I’m on the road, the days are longer (10 hours usually) and Monday mornings are brutal. Think getting up at 3:30am EDT for a flight and working till 6pm Pacific! The bottom line is that the work that needs to get done, gets done on time no matter how long it takes, and this is generally true no matter where you work.

If you don’t have much of an imagination, enjoy working by yourself a lot, don’t mind monotonous work, have attention to detail, enjoys following instructions, don’t mind doing work that seems pointless (in your mind), and wants a steady paycheck, then I’d say auditing is for you.

Yeah this pretty much sums up the whole snarky episode. I see the proposition of IA a bit differently:

If you have a creative mind, enjoy working in small groups and meeting tons of new people every week, love challenging work, can both devise and follow instructions (and occasionally throw them out the window), don’t mind work that is critically important to the continued growth of your organization, and want a healthy and steady paycheck, good benefits and job security, then I’d say auditing is for you.

Auditing 101: Never extrapolate from a sample of one across a large, heterogeneous population.

Mid-tier firms offer better experience

So says this recent story on Accountancy Age, quoting a Cantos interview with the ACCA’s head of development, Tony Osude:

“If you went to one of the mid-tier firms, one of the beauties about being there is you might not be paid as much necessarily, but you have much more hands on experience. You can expect to actually meet your clients in the flesh and have much more dealings with your clients and also, importantly, if you want to stay in practice and recognition is important to you, there’s a greater chance of being recognised and career tracked.”

I have worked only at my current mid-size firm, so I can’t give a first hand comparison of the difference between it and a Big Four firm.

I know that at my firm, I was given greater responsibility on files fairly quickly after starting, and when I started there I was as green as you can get. I thought a discontinued operation was an error message in Windows.

In a non Big Four firm, you’ll generally have more opportunity to effect change within the organization, and there’s a better chance the firm will be on the cutting edge technologically speaking. I have a feeling the first firm to truly go paperless, if that ever does happen, will be a small one.

In a non Big Four, you’ll have more direct client contact because the engagements are smaller – the team is smaller, the risks are lower, and the client is less complex. With fewer staff on the audit, the lower level employees will necessarily have to take on more responsibility, leading to more client face time. Because the work is less complex, lower level employees can work with the client and have the necessary expertise to do so.

There are great opportunities within small firms and students should know all the options when they are considering where to apply. It can mean the difference between a rewarding few years leading up to getting their designation versus doing nothing but low-level rote work.

Go west! Or east, or north, or south!

One of the great things about this accounting profession I’m in is the multitude of opportunities available to travel and work abroad, given that many large firms here in Canada are international.

I was just reading an article in BusinessWeek about KPMG, where the head of campus recruiting was under the impression that their international exchange program was something that sets them apart from about a dozen other international firms.

I’m psyched about heading somewhere else to work for a little while eventually. For the time being I’ll be staying put, after all I don’t have my CA yet.

One of my seminar leaders at the School of Accountancy went to London for a year or so and had a blast. It was funny though, because he was Canadian for some reason they felt he was a perfect fit for their US GAAP clients, even though there are a ton of differences between Canadian GAAP and American standards.

In no particular order, here are where I’m most interested in going, when I get a chance:

  • Shanghai
  • London
  • New York
  • Berlin
  • Tokyo

In what other job you can get right out of university do you get this type of opportunity?