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How internal audit's role can evolve in today's COVID-19 environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in how many internal audit functions operate within businesses. These functions must revisit their role within business continuity efforts and how the organization is addressing the threats and uncertainties of today. With some adjustments, internal audit can enhance processes and reduce risks in a new work environment, and provide a new level of value to the organization.


The impact of COVID-19 is different for each organization. Internal audit should consider the following practices as it looks to support the business and its stakeholder needs.


Risk assessment and priorities


Internal audit functions should revisit their audit plans and activities to determine how risk has changed and how best to allocate resources to better support the business. In many instances, organizations are necessitating delays or audit cancellations to focus on immediate business continuity efforts. Internal audit should work with the business leaders to understand the effects of COVID-19 and management plans in order to better align its activities.


We are seeing internal audit advise business on management plans and raise risk considerations for informed decision-making. As management implements new processes, systems and activities to address the evolving needs, internal audit should advise the business of potential vulnerabilities or gaps that may not be considered.

Adopt remote working methods

In the supply chain economy, many businesses have divisions located in different geographical locations, even in different countries. This poses the problem that internal audit cannot work directly when countries are restricting movement between regions.


Collecting evidence and reviewing documents remotely via Microsoft Teams, Webex, or Zoom can solve the problem instead of going on-site to perform an inspection. Where some work needs to be done in person and it is not possible to work remotely, the auditor can plan when travel restrictions are relaxed for some time.


It is important that internal auditors work with the business and the audited organization to understand the schedule, communication methods, and regularly connect with stakeholders to discuss work and progress. Internal audits need additional time provision for delays and unexpected events while working remotely.


This approach provides flexibility, fosters collaboration, and enables rapid audit execution. This is the time to “thinking out of the box” and find an internal audit method so that you can stay most effective and productive with your internal audits, while staying safe in the current global financial crisis.


Data privacy in the remote environment


With the rapid decentralization of so many businesses across the world as stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders continue, organizations that are subject to data privacy requirements should ensure that changes to their internal operations do not result in noncompliance.


An internal audit for large public companies if using poorly secured information exchange platforms during remote work, resulting in leaked confidential documents will affect greatly benefit the Company. In this case, even though the internal auditors have signed independent commitments or strictly adhered to confidentiality principles, the leakage of information is part of the internal audit team's responsibility.


Internal auditors can also collaborate with information technology staff to find suitable information security options, choose highly secure platforms to avoid leakage risks.


Emerging and evolving risk areas


Along with the traditional risks, new risks are emerging from the new working environment in the context of the pandemic. Internal auditors need to be acutely aware of these risks and work with the business to understand the effectiveness of the company's risk management measures. The following risks are some examples that internal auditors should consider about potential threats in a new work environment.

  • Business continuity planning and disaster recovery

  • IT and cyberthreats

  • Health and safety

  • Fraud

  • Data privacy

  • Operations and supply chain

  • Strategy and branding

  • Liquidity and finance


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, internal audit has an important role to play within the organization and has the opportunity to look at a number of creative ways to support the organization and its teams.

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