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Deloitte on internal audit and the path forward

May 12, 2017 36 comments

In a new paper, Deloitte takes the results of its latest survey of chief audit executives (CAEs) and makes recommendations for action.

The survey, which has been widely reported, indicated that in the opinion of the responding CAEs only 28% of them “believe their functions have strong impact and influence in their organizations, while 16 percent felt that Internal Audit has little to no impact and influence”.

I think the path to fixing the problem starts with acknowledging it, which Richard Chamber has done in a number of his IIA posts (which you can find here).

Deloitte has suggested 9 areas of focus.

I disagree with them.

Here are my suggestions for CAEs, audit committee members, and executives who want to help improve the quality and value of internal audit services.

  1. Audit what matters. Audit how risks to the achievement of enterprise objectives, what might cause them to fail and what is necessary to succeed, are managed. Richard Chamber and I have both written a book with advice on the path forward. Neither of us do it for the money; it’s our shared desire to see the profession advance. My latest book addresses this topic and more, Auditing that matters.
  2. Focus on helping your stakeholders succeed, rather than on performing audits and writing audit reports. Read Richard’s latest, Trusted advisors: key attributes of outstanding internal auditors. Ask what information your stakeholders need from you which could make them welcome you to their table.
  3. Communicate what matters, when it matters, in a way that is actionable and readily consumed. The advice on this topic from Deloitte is off the mark. I cover the point in far more detail in my book, including pointing out that IIA Standards do not require an audit report; that the best communication is face-to-face where questions can be asked and answered; and that we need to deliver our assurance, recommendations, and insights at speed. The business is being run faster and faster, yet our reporting process remains slow and old-fashioned.
  4. Understand why the CAE is not getting the respect he or she should. Is it a failure of the CAE to explain effectively or of the audit committee and management to understand the potential for internal audit to help them succeed? Is it because the CAE is complacent, delivering what he is told he should and being satisfied with good performance reviews and bonuses instead of pushing the envelope to deliver the services and value he or she could and should?
  5. Deliver. Last but hardly least, the CAE must deliver assurance and insights that the executive team and the audit committee truly value. Again, this is what my book is all about, but if the executives and audit committee see our end product as ‘ho-hum’ and not something that might affect their decisions or strategies, then is it worth the money being spent on internal audit? Why should they give respect and, more importantly, their time to an activity that is peripheral at best to running the business?
  6. Be willing to change. Some CAEs, such as Chris Keller at Apple, have thrown out the traditional internal audit model because they can see a better way to add value to the organization, providing assurance that the right risks are being taken. We don’t accept people in the business doing things the same way for years because that’s the way it is always done, so why should we do that ourselves?

 

I welcome your comments and perspectives.

How do we make decisions? Where does ERM fit?

May 8, 2017 4 comments

How do you make decisions in your personal life?

How do you decide where to live, which car to buy, and where to go for lunch?

For many of us, the last is the most difficult decision to make in a day!

So let’s think about it.

 

It’s lunch time. Even if your watch didn’t tell you, your stomach is loud.

The first decision is whether you are going to eat at all.

Can you afford the time? Can you afford not to eat, given what lies ahead in your day?

What can you get done if you skip lunch? What will suffer if you don’t?

Did you bring your lunch to work? That would provide a compromise solution: eat while you work. Do you really want to do that and risk getting stains on your papers? Is it accepted behavior or will you be forced to leave your workspace for a lunch room or similar – in which case, time might be saved but the idea of eating and working may not be achieved.

If you have to get some lunch, where do you go?

Do you go where you love the food, or where you can get a quick bite of so-so flavor and be back at work promptly, or do you go somewhere where the food is just OK but at least is relatively quick?

Or, do you gather up some colleagues and have a lunch together? This may help with team spirit and other objectives but would take longer. Maybe your colleagues ‘expect’ you to go with them and failing to do so will affect your relationship with them.

Can you afford the time, given how much work you have and the deadlines given you by your boss?

 

There’s more to the lunch issue (such as how will you get to the restaurant and when you should leave), but let’s leave it there.

 

What we did was consider our current situation and determine whether it was acceptable or not. We decided that it was not, because we needed (and wanted) to eat. The value of eating outweighed the loss of time (sorry, boss).

We then considered all the options, the benefits and downsides of each.

We made a decision.

 

Where was the risk manager with his list of potential harms?

Did we have a separate analysis of the risks from any analysis of the benefits (getting more work done, satisfying the boss, enjoying our food, and being ready for the rest of the day)?

What would you say if one of your colleagues responded to every suggestion about a restaurant by pointing out what could go wrong (bad food, food poisoning, delays getting back, unpleasant service, and so on)?

Would you say he or she was doing their job well and look for a separate colleague to identify and assess all the good things that might happen by going to this or that restaurant?

 

Can risk practitioners continue to be the voice of gloom and expect to be asked to join the CEO for lunch at his or her club?

 

I welcome your thoughts.

Risk appetite in practice

April 29, 2017 32 comments

From time to time, I am asked about the best risk management activity I have seen. Perhaps the best overall ERM was at SAP. I wouldn’t say it was perfect but it did include not only periodic reviews but the careful consideration of risk in every revenue transaction (including contracting) and development activity.

The best risk management activity was when I was with Maxtor, a $4b hard drive manufacturing company. It was based in the US but had major operations in Singapore, which is where I saw this.

The head of procurement for the region, a vice president, and his director were evaluating bids to supply the two Singapore plants with critical materials.

Margins in that business were not high, so the effective management of cost was very important indeed.

[David Griffiths has pointed out that my post, as originally written, did not specify the objectives to which we have risks. I am adding them here:

  • Procure critical materials at the lowest possible cost to optimize margins
  • Ensure timely delivery of critical materials to support manufacturing and timely delivery of finished products to customers with a positive effect on customer satisfaction
  • Minimize supply chain disruption risk
  • Ensure quality materials so that scrap and rework are minimized, manufacturing is not delayed, costs are contained, and customers are satisfied]

But, there were additional issues or ‘risks’ to consider:

  • The choice of a single vendor would increase the likelihood and extent of supply chain disruption if that vendor was hit by floods or other situations that could disrupt its ability to manufacture and deliver.
  • If we were dependent on a single vendor, that vendor could demand price increases.
  • If we were dependent on a single vendor, we could not switch with agility to another should the single vendor have quality manufacturing problems.
  • If the decision was made to select two vendors, the total cost would be likely to increase.
  • If two vendors were selected and the supply split between them, there would be less desire for them to make us a priority customer.
  • If only two vendors were selected, there would still be significant supply-chain disruption risk.
  • If more than two vendors were selected, additional agility would be obtained, but at a cost.
  • If more than two vendors were selected, they might be less reliable because they would be less dependent on us as a major customer.

Cost was not the only consideration. Quality, timely delivery, and our agility to respond to any form of disruption were also very important.

The procurement VP gathered together all the potentially affected parties to participate in the decision, including the vice presidents for finance, sales, manufacturing, and quality.

They considered all the options, the consequences of each decision (both positive and negative), and decided to select three vendors and split the allocation between them. They also decided to negotiate backup supply contracts with a couple of other companies.

The decision involved taking a higher level of some risks and lower levels of others.

Basing the decision on whether one risk was too high would not have led to the optimal overall result.

Now, how would a risk appetite statement have helped the VP of procurement?

I believe the answer is “not at all”.

What do you think?

I welcome your comments.

The state of the internal audit profession

April 6, 2017 18 comments

My friend Richard Chambers has written a couple of posts that merit our careful attention.

Frankly, all of his posts merit our attention, but these are important.

I ask that you review:

I have not spoken to Richard about either of his posts nor about his motivation for writing them. (See Note at conclusion.)

However, I suspect that they were sparked by articles such as this, Internal Audit Losing Prestige, Survey Finds. To quote that piece:

In the eyes of CFOs and many other senior executives and board members, the internal audit function is fast losing prestige, a new study suggests.

The reason? Most internal auditors are slow to help their employers prepare for and respond to major corporate “disruptions” like big regulatory changes and cyber attacks, according to PwC’s 2017 State of the Internal Audit Profession Study.

The portion of “stakeholders” — internal auditors, senior executives, and board members — reporting that “internal audit adds significant value” plummeted from 54% in 2016 to 44% in 2017, reaching the study’s lowest level in the five years PwC has been tracking the metric.

Tim Leech of Risk Oversight was more gloomy about the current state of internal audit when he wrote a piece with the highly provocative title of Is Internal Audit the next Blackberry.

Full disclosure requires that I tell you that I have known both Richard and Tim for a very long time.

  • Richard and I come from different backgrounds but tend to see things in similar ways (while he served as CAE in the US public sector, I served as CAE for global public companies; he worked with PwC in the consulting and audit services area before becoming CEO and President of the IIA, while I started my career with PwC in public accounting). His position requires him to be diplomatic while I tend to be more provocative. I served many years on IIA committees and task forces and Richard and I have collaborated on a number of AuditChannel broadcasts.
  • Tim and I also have different backgrounds. While he also started with PwC (in Canada) before moving into internal audit, he has been a consultant for the last 30 years. Tim and I often disagree but have a mutual respect. Recently he has shared drafts of his work with me for comment before they are published.

Richard is far more provocative than usual in his March 27 post when he says:

It is a truism that negative news tends to generate more attention, and of late there has been too much of it directed at internal audit. I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize it all as “fake news,” but much of it is “hyped news” at best. Whether it’s a media headline trumpeting a purported decline in stakeholder confidence in internal audit or pundits characterizing the profession in such stark terms as the next Blackberry, a few sensational “sound bites” can easily become fodder for those who are quick to relegate the profession to irrelevancy.

Naturally, Tim sees this as labeling his writing as “fake news”.

Richard is 100% correct when he states:

No one has been more open and transparent about challenges and opportunities facing our profession than I have been. Along with other leaders of The IIA, we have continuously challenged internal auditors to acknowledge and address any shortcomings that surface. Internal audit should never shy away from fair critique of its work. However, superficial interpretation of data about the profession can quickly morph from valid encouragement for continuous improvement to destructive criticism.

Equating survey results indicating that less than half the respondents believe “internal audit adds significant value” with a loss of prestige is fallacious. The fact that internal audit functions are able to add staff may indicate that they are being given more resources so they can do more and add greater value.

I don’t believe internal audit is “losing prestige”. My belief is that internal audit can and should do more to deliver the value that our stakeholders need.

Unfortunately, internal audit at many if not most organizations does not have a lot of prestige and the argument should be about increasing rather than losing it.

Let’s look at some more information.

My friend Joe McCafferty of MISTI recently wrote about comments by a panel that included other friends, Larry Harrington and Angela Wizany, along with Brian Christensen of Protiviti. Joe’s piece is titled Stakeholders are sending a clear message to internal audit to step up its game.

I strongly recommend reading the piece and noting the eight action items.

One quote by Brian caught my eye:

Stakeholders are challenging us to get out of our swim lanes. We as auditors are so accustomed to doing our behaviors. We have our audit plans, we have our pencils. But [stakeholders] talked to us about the fact that things change. Be adaptable, be flexible, and be receptive to embracing new challenges and taking them on.

I have worked with IIA Malaysia in the past, including talking on their behalf to the Malaysia Securities Commission and presenting to board members. The profession appears to be strong there, but a recent survey indicates that more is needed.

An article in the local business newspaper reported that:

Public listed companies (PLCs) in the country still have much room to strengthen their internal audit functions, according to a year-long survey commissioned by the Institute of Internal Audit Malaysia (IIAM).

In a statement, IIAM said 54% of the PLCs on the Main Market preferred to outsource their internal audit function and almost all (90%) of these PLCs that outsourced paid RM100,000 or less in a year.

“The amounts incurred indicate that very junior staff or very few staff were in the audit team and a limited scope was covered. The low amounts are also a sign that the staff are not professional staff and may not have the experience and skillset to effectively carry out the work, thus less is spent,” the institute said.

“PLCs should consider the professional qualifications, certification and experience of their OSPs (outsourced service providers) in relation to the scope of the work required to ensure adequate coverage of risk areas and reliable reports are issued.”

Tim has every right to challenge the current state of internal auditing and I know Richard respects that.

I don’t agree with Tim’s reference to a “direct report internal audit paradigm”. While he has explained what he means to me in private conversation, I strongly doubt that many know what he is referring to. However, I do agree that internal audit should provide assurance on the effectiveness of risk management and its ability to help the organization make intelligent decisions and achieve objectives.

There is some merit to Tim’s thinking, but I always struggle with the way he says it. (Sorry, Tim).

Nevertheless, we need people like Tim to challenge us.

Now is the time to step back and think about why the surveys are saying what they are saying, and then talk about what needs to be done about it.

Richard and I have both shared our views with new books.

I would like to think that between us we have charted a way forward.

Internal auditors need to be “proactive” and “forward-looking” according to our Principles for Effective Internal Auditing.

Let’s adopt that mindset for our own practices and profession.

Forward ho! The future is bright. Internal auditing in 2020 and beyond may well be quite different than it has been in the past.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

NOTE: I shared a draft of this post with both Richard and Tim. Neither has a concern, although Tim and I remain at odds over his terminology and perhaps more.

Cyber and reputation risk are dominoes

February 18, 2017 12 comments

Anthony Fitzsimmons recently sent me a review copy of his new book, Rethinking Reputation Risk. He says that it “Provides a new perspective on the true nature of reputational risk and damage to organizations and traces its root causes in individual and collective human behavior”.

I am not sure that there is much that is new in the book, but if you want to understand how human behavior can be the root cause (in fact, it is very often the root cause) of problems for any organization, you may find it of interest.

The authors (Fitsimmons and Professor Derek Atkins) describe several case studies where human failures led to serious issues.

Humans as a root cause is also a topic I cover in World-Class Risk Management.

As I was reading the book, I realized that I have a problem with organizations placing separate attention to reputation risk and its management. It’s simply an element, which should not be overlooked, in how any organization manages risk – or, I should say, how it considers what might happen in its decision-making activities.

The same thing applies to cyber risk and even compliance risk.

They are all dominoes.

dominoes

A case study:

  • There is a possibility that the manager in HR that recruits IT specialists leaves.
  • The position is open for three months before an individual is hired.
  • An open position for an IT specialist who is responsible for patching a number of systems is not filled for three months.
  • A system vulnerability remains open because there is nobody to apply a vendor’s patch.
  • A hacker obtains entry. CYBER RISK
  • The hacker steals personal information on thousands of customers.
  • The information is posted on the Internet.
  • Customers are alarmed. REPUTATION RISK
  • Sales drop.
  • The company fails to meet analyst expectations for earnings.
  • The price for the company’s shares drop 20%.
  • The CEO decides to slash budgets and headcounts by 10% across the board.
  • Individuals in Quality are laid off.
  • Materials are not thoroughly inspected.
  • Defective materials are used in production.
  • Scrap rates rise, but not all defective products are detected and some are shipped to customers.
  • Customers complain, return products and demand compensation. REPUTATION RISK
  • Sales drop, earnings targets are missed again, and …….
  • At the same time as the Quality staff is downsized, the capital expenditure budget is cut.
  • The Information Security Officer’s request for analytics to detect hackers who breach the company’s defenses is turned down.
  • Multiple breaches are not detected. CYBER RISK
  • Hackers steal the company’s trade secrets.
  • Competitors acquire the trade secrets and are able to erode any edge the company may have.
  • The company’s REPUTATION for a technology edge disappears. REPUTATION RISK
  • Sales drop. Earnings targets are not achieved, and……..

It is true that every domino and the source of risk to its stability (what might happen) needs to be addressed.

But, focusing on one or two dominoes in the chain is unlikely to prevent serious issues.

One decision at a low level in the company can have a domino effect.

Consider this slide deck by ERM Strategies, Inc. about the Deep Water Horizon disaster.

I welcome your comments.

The real risks: the ones not in the typical list of top risks

December 31, 2016 22 comments

This is the time of year when people are rushing to share the top risks to organizations across the world.

Those lists include such items as cyber, political change, economic instability, and so on.

Here’s a different type of list.

It’s comprised of risks that are perhaps the most critical but, for whatever reason, rarely figure on any risk register (those awful devices) or other ERM report.

They are not in any particular order.

  • Bad decisions, for any number of reasons such as involving the wrong people; relying on gut experience instead of information; failing to act; and so on
  • Poor information flowing to decision-makers and the board (it may be out-of-date, slow, incomplete, indigestible, wrong, or simply off the mark)
  • Hiring the wrong people
  • Not having sufficient people
  • Lack of teamwork
  • Lack of shared goals
  • Politics
  • Legacy systems that make the organization lack agility
  • Bureaucracy that slows decisions and stifles ingenuity and innovation
  • A bully of a CEO
  • Executives who don’t listen
  • Poor morale
  • High turnover of staff
  • Failing to fire poor customers
  • Ignorance of new technology that could disrupt the business
  • Being excessively risk averse
  • An ineffective internal audit function
  • An ineffective risk management function
  • A legal function that does not provide quality advice when it is needed
  • A CFO who does not get involved in the business and its operations
  • And so many more

I welcome your thoughts – and additions of risks that are too often overlooked, usually for political reasons.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Why do so many practitioners misunderstand risk?

November 26, 2016 19 comments

My apologies in advance to all those who talk about third-party risk, IT risk, cyber risk, and so on.

We don’t, or shouldn’t, address risk for its own sake. That’s what we are doing when we talk about these risk silos.

We should address risk because of its potential effect on the achievement of enterprise objectives.

Think about a tree.

fruit-tree

In root cause analysis, we are taught that in order to understand the true cause of a problem, we need to do more than look at the symptoms (such as discoloration of the leaves or flaking of the bark on the trunk of the tree). We need to ask the question “why” multiple times to get to the true root cause.

Unless the root cause is addressed, the malaise will continue.

In a similar fashion, most risk practitioners and auditors (both internal and external) talk about risk at the individual root level.

Talking about cyber, or third party risk, is talking about a problem at an individual root level.

What we need to do is sit back and think about the potential effect of a root level issue on the overall health of the tree.

If we find issues at the root level, such as the potential for a breach that results in a prolonged systems outage or a failure by a third party service provider, what does that mean for the health of the tree?

Now let’s extend the metaphor one more step.

This is a fruit tree in an orchard owned and operated by a fruit farmer.

If a problem is found with one tree, is there a problem with multiple trees?

How will this problem, even if limited to a single tree or branch of a single tree, affect the overall health of the business?

Will the owner of the orchard be able to achieve his or her business objectives?

Multiple issues at the root level (i.e., sources of risk) need to be considered when the orchard owner is making strategic decisions such as when to feed the trees and when to harvest the fruit.

Considering, reporting, and “managing” risk at the root level is disconnected from running the business and achieving enterprise objectives.

I remind you of the concepts in A revolution in risk management.

Use the information about root level risk to help management understand how likely and to what extent it is that each enterprise business objective will be achieved.

Is the anticipated level of achievement acceptable?

I welcome your thoughts.

 

Is a new maturity model for GRC the right model?

September 25, 2016 4 comments

I have been a proponent and supporter of the OCEG[1] view and definition of GRC for a very long time. In fact, OCEG honored me for my GRC thought leadership by making me one of the first OCEG Fellows (along with my friends, Michael Rasmussen and Brian Barnier).

I remain an advocate of their definition of GRC as well as their focus on Principled Performance.

Very recently, OCEG leadership published a maturity model for GRC (developed by RSA Archer, which has been an active member and sponsor of OCEG for as long as I can remember). You can download it (and become a member for free, which I heartily encourage) from the OCEG web site.

This paragraph from the Introduction to the paper explains both GRC and Principled Performance.

As the think tank that defined the business concept of GRC, OCEG has long talked about the need for a harmonized set of capabilities that enable an organization to reliably achieve its objectives, while addressing uncertainty and acting with integrity. These capabilities are outlined in the GRC Capability Model (“the OCEG Red Book”), the publicly vetted, free and open source standards for GRC planning and execution. The outcome of applying effective GRC is Principled Performance, which demands a mature, integrative approach to governance, risk management and compliance; the component parts of GRC.

GRC is defined by OCEG, repeated in the section above, as “a harmonized set of capabilities that enable an organization to reliably achieve its objectives, while addressing uncertainty and acting with integrity.”

What I like about their definition is:

  • It focuses on achieving objectives and delivering value to stakeholders, not just avoiding harm and remaining in compliance. Risk is managed, not for its own sake, but to help drive performance.
  • It describes a capability that is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than governance[2], which includes not only the operation of the board but those of the legal department, internal audit, the strategic planning function, performance management, investor relations, and more; it is more than simply risk management, because it requires that the consideration of risk be part of the rhythm of the business (credit to EY for that expression) as decisions are made and strategy not only developed but executed; and, it is more than compliance: in fact, the OCEG definition includes not only compliance with applicable laws and regulations (what they call a ‘mandated boundary’) but with societal norms and the values of the enterprise (a ‘voluntary boundary’).
  • It emphasizes the need for harmony between all the various elements of the organization if they are to drive towards and achieve shared goals for the enterprise.

This section from OCEG’s Red Book (version 2.0) builds on the short definition above. It says that GRC is:

“A system of people, processes and technology that enables an organization to:

    • Understand and prioritize stakeholder expectations
    • Set business objectives that are congruent with values and risks
    • Achieve objectives while optimizing risk profile and protecting value
    • Operate within legal, contractual, internal, social and ethical boundaries
    • Provide relevant, reliable and timely information to appropriate stakeholders
    • Enable the measurement of the performance and effectiveness of the system”

The question for me as I review the maturity model is whether it truly describes a GRC capability.

I believe it is a valuable piece of work, but only if you are concerned about the R and the C.

I am afraid that the authors, who are friends as well as colleagues, have fallen into the trap I started talking about more than 6 years ago.

The ‘G’ in GRC is silent.

Where is there mention of everybody, from the board down to the shop floor worker, working to shared objectives? If enterprise objectives are not just set and approved by the board and top management, but cascaded down and across the enterprise with all performance incentives fully aligned, how can we expect the right risks to be taken and value delivered?

Don’t expect harmony when people do not see the songsheet.

Where is there mention of effective decision-making? Both the ISO and COSO risk guidance is moving towards an emphasis on intelligent and informed decision-making. But, I don’t see that here.

Where is the integration of performance management and risk management? Sadly, it is not here either.

This is a fine document for risk and compliance maturity. But is it a maturity model for GRC?

Hopefully, there will be a version 2.0 of the model where the G is not silent, where it is in fact dominant.

I welcome your views.

 

[1] OCEG, the Open Compliance and Ethics Group, is a not-for-profit think tank that focuses on Principled Performance and GRC. It has a wonderful website at www.oceg.org with many valuable resources for members. Membership is free for individuals.

[2] I like the OECD definition of governance: “A set of relationships between a company’s management, its board, its shareholders and other stakeholder. Corporate governance also provides the structure through which the objectives of the company are set, and the means of attaining those objectives and monitoring performance are determined.”

The State of Internal Audit Capabilities in 2015

October 26, 2015 15 comments

Overall, I am pleased to see the progress the internal audit practice has made over the last few years. While there are still serious problems regarding independence and resources in some parts of the world (where internal audit is established only to “check-the-box, not with any intent to be a serious activity), more and more organizations are moving to what I call “enterprise risk-based” auditing; perhaps half are providing assurance through formal audits and assessments of the management of risk; and, many are focusing on identifying problems before rather than after the occur has become a recurring mantra.

That progress is reflected, for example, in Protiviti’s latest Internal Auditing Around the World and in the IIA’s CBOK series.

Yet, the picture is not entirely rosy.

This year, I have been privileged to work with the National Association of Corporate Directors. I was a panelist at three separate events where they discussed cyber risk.

In one group session, a director said that the board could not ask internal audit to assess and help with cyber risk because they lacked that capability. The others voiced their agreement, one and all.

This is a huge problem!

Internal audit may not always have the talent on staff to address every risk or concern, but if the board would only give it the resources, internal audit can either hire that staff or outsource the task.

As a chief audit executive, I have hired specialists to address specific risks in IT (including highly technical personnel), environmental compliance, engineering, fraud investigations, and more. Where possible, I have provided staff (including myself) training in specialized areas, such as derivatives trading, Six Sigma, and Lean Manufacturing.

I also used outside resources from consulting and personnel agencies:

  • A derivatives trading and management specialist
  • A “white hat” penetration testing team
  • A former global procurement executive
  • An expert in sales contracting and management
  • A corporate tax specialist
  • and more

Some talk about internal audit being the “consultant of choice”. I wouldn’t go that far. Where I would go is that internal audit should have the capability, whether through its own personnel, co-sourcing, or other contract staffing, to address and provide assurance on the key risks facing the enterprise.

Internal audit should:

  1. Inform the audit committee when it has insufficient resources to address a specialized area of risk, and endeavor to persuade them to provide such additional resources (headcount or dollars) to address the need
  2. Inform the audit committee that it has the capability to obtain the necessary resources to address specialized areas such as cyber security, ethics compliance, corporate culture, corporate governance and more. This means that the CAE needs to build a network that he/she can tap to locate and hire the necessary expertise
  3. Challenge management and even the audit committee when either goes outside to obtain assurance on an area of risk

I welcome your comments.

When to audit business locations

August 16, 2015 8 comments

One of the readers of my work sent me this message.

I was reading your article about modern risk based audit [link added] published in the IIA journal. I find the approach very interesting.

In developing my plan I used to do the traditional risk assessment by identifying the audit universe then prioritizing entities based on risk. In your suggested approach, an auditor should start from the company strategy and objectives, identify the risks that jeopardize these objectives (this could be done through risk management) then audit controls related to those risks.

I had a discussion about that approach 4 months back and I got a lot of opposition from CAEs who audit banks. Their opinion is that they have to audit the big branches every year. I would really appreciate your opinion on that as, for some industries, it seems that covering the audit universe is as important as starting from the risks to objectives (such as expansion in a certain country).

I have seen a lot of CAEs surrender to the old approach simply because they are not politically strong to raise big strategic alarms to their board audit committees and senior management.

Apologies for reaching out to you this way, but I’m very passionate about what I do and I would like to learn and implement new good ideas such as the one suggested by you in the IIA journal.

I will start working on my annual plan now changing the lens to start from the risks on objectives and not from the audit universe. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to reach out for you if I had a difficulty in implementing this?

I enjoy the opportunity to mentor others and to evangelize internal auditing, so I replied straight away.

I used to be in internal audit at a bank, in ancient history, and understand the perspective. The idea is that the larger branches are a significant source of risk. I don’t quarrel with that, but how much work do you need to do there – that’s the key question! Do you look at every risk that is significant to the branch, or only those that are significant (in aggregate) to the bank as a whole?

The risk (pun intended) is that by focusing on details at the branch level you miss the big picture. I write about this in my internal audit book. At Solectron, we had about 120 factories (sites) and margins were so small that a serious issue at any one site could be significant to the business as a whole. My predecessor had an audit plan that spent 90% of the time auditing the sites.

Soon after I took over as CAE, I went over to my IT auditor who, like the rest of the team, was preparing for the next site audit. I asked what he was working on – perhaps looking at some analytics to improve his understanding of the business before he arrived. No. He was starting to draft the audit report! He told me that he found the same issues at every site, so he knew in advance what he would find at the next one!

I asked what corrective actions came from his findings and he explained that local management would upgrade the security, etc.

But, when I asked whether he or the former CAE had thought about whether this pervasive problem should be escalated to corporate and the office of the CIO, he said “no”. No audit had been performed of corporate IT, even the corporate IT security function.

Down in the weeds, missing the big picture.

I changed the approach to the one I discuss in my writing. We looked at the business risks to the enterprise should IT fail in some fashion. That led us to audit the way in which the company approached IT security, the leadership and capabilities of the corporate IT function, and so on.

Recently, Paul Sobel and I were on an OCEG webinar and talked about the topic of my book, world-class internal auditing. One of the survey questions asked whether those listening based their audit plans on risks at the location level or at the enterprise level. Unfortunately, the great majority used the ‘old’ approach, but we were heartened to hear that they intended to move to the ‘newer’ enterprise-risk based approach.

Where are you now and are you changing?

What should be audited at each location or within each business process? The risk to the process or the risk to the enterprise?

By the way, look at a related post on the IIA blog (it will appear this week) where a board member says that most internal audit ‘findings’ are mundane. I believe that is due, in part, to auditors being focused on risks in the weeds rather than to the enterprise.

Are you ready for the new technology that will change our world, again?

August 8, 2015 5 comments

It’s not that long since we were dismissing the Internet of Things as something very much ‘next generation’. But, as you will see from Deloitte’s collection of articles (Deloitte Review Issue 17), many organizations are already starting to deploy related technologies. I also like Wired magazine’s older piece.

Have a look at this article in the New York Times that provided some consumer-related examples. Texas Instruments has a web page with a broader view, mentioning building and home automation; smart cities; smart manufacturing; wearables; healthcare; and automotive. Talking of the latter, AT&T is connecting a host of new cars to the Internet through in-auto WiFi.

At the same time, technology referred to as Machine Learning (see this from the founder of Sun Microsystems) will be putting many jobs at risk, including analysis and decision-making (also see this article in The Atlantic). If that is not enough, the IMF has weighed in on the topic with a piece called Toil and Technology.

Is your organization open to the possibilities – the new universe of potential products and services, efficiencies in operations, and insights into the market? Or do you wait and follow the market leader, running the risk of being left in their dust?

Do you have the capabilities to understand and assess the risks as well as the opportunities?

Do your strategic planning and risk management processes allow you to identify, assess and evaluate all the effects of what might be around the corner? Or do you have one group of people assessing potential opportunity and another, totally separate, assessing downside risk?

How can isolated opportunity and downside risk processes get you where you need to go, making intelligent decisions and optimizing outcomes?

When you are looking forward, whether at the horizon or just a few feet in front of you, several situations and events are possible and each has a combination of positive and negative effects.

Intelligent decision-making means understanding all these possibilities and considering them together before making an informed decision. It is not sufficient to simply net off the positive and negative, as (a) they may occur at different times, and (b) their effects may be felt in different ways, such as a potentially positive effect on profits, but a negative potential effect on cash flow and liquidity; the negative effect may be outside acceptable ranges.

With these new technologies disrupting our world, every organization needs to question whether it has the capability to evaluate them and determine how and when to start deploying them.

COSO ERM and ISO 31000 are under review and updates are expected in the next year or so. I hope that they both move towards providing guidance on risk-intelligent and informed decision-making where all the potential effects of uncertainty are considered, rather than guiding us on the silo of risk management.

Are you ready?

I welcome your comments.

 

For more on this and related topics, please consider World-Class Risk Management.

Assessing the organization’s culture

August 1, 2015 7 comments

It’s difficult to argue that an organization’s culture does not have a huge effect on the actions of its board, management, and staff.

Fingers have been pointed at the culture at GM, Toshiba, a number of US banks, RBS, and more – asserting that problems with the culture of the organization led to financial reporting issues, compliance failures, and excessive risk-taking.

Now, a new report by the Institute of Business Ethics, Checking Culture:  new role for internal audit, “shines a spotlight on the role of internal audit in advising boards on whether a company is living up to its ethical values”.

The authors quote the CEO of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors (UKIIA):

“Through a properly positioned, resourced and independent internal audit function a board can satisfy itself not only that the tone at the top represents the right values and ethics, but more importantly, that this is being reflected in actions and decisions taken throughout the organisation.”

In 2014, the UKIIA published Culture and the role of internal audit.

I strongly recommend reference to both papers.

As usual, I have some concerns.

  • While internal audit clearly has a role, why is the assessment of culture not performed by management – specifically by the Human Resources function? Wouldn’t internal audit add more value if it worked with that function and helped them not only assess culture periodically but build detective controls to identify potential problems on a continuing basis?
  • There is no single culture within an organization. The UKIIA report includes this great quote: “The problem is; complex organisations, like the NHS [the National Health Service], mean there is no ‘one NHS’. There is a tangled undergrowth of subcultures that, even if they wanted to march in step, probably couldn’t hear the drum beat”.
  • Culture has many forms: ethics; risk; performance; teamwork and collaboration; innovative; entrepreneurial; and so on. All of these are critical to success, but they can be in conflict with one another, such as risk-taking and entrepreneurial. Any audit engagement would need to focus on specific areas and know where management and the board draw the line between acceptable and non-acceptable. Taking too little risk can be as damaging as taking too much!
  • Culture is very personal! It changes as managers and other leaders change, as business conditions change, and so on. Any audit engagement has to take note that the behavior of decision-makers can change in an instant and any assessment can quickly be out-of-date and misleading. In fact, poor behavior by a tiny fraction of the organization can have massive impact – and this may not be detected by any survey.

Does this mean that internal audit should not have a role? No. They should.

This is my preference:

  1. All internal auditors should be aware and alert to any indicators of inappropriate behavior of any kind: from ethical lapses, to excessive risk-taking, to disregard for compliance, to poor teamwork, to ineffective supervision and management, to bias or discrimination, to – you name it.
  2. Internal auditors should not be afraid of bringing these issues to the attention, not only of senior internal audit management (so that the need can be assessed for a broader review to determine whether this is an individual, team, or broader problem) but to more senior management and Human Resources so they can take action.
  3. The CAE should talk to the CEO and the head of Human Resources and help them establish the proper guidance, communication and training in desired behaviors, as well as periodic assessments and detective controls to assure compliance.
  4. The CAE and the CEO should discuss the organization’s culture and its condition with the board (or committee of the board) on a regular basis. My preference is for the CEO to take the lead, with additional information provided by the CAE on internal audit’s related activities and opinion.

For a different spin, check these out:

What do you think the role of audit should be, especially vs. the role of management, when it comes to culture?

Core Principles for Effective Internal Audit

July 24, 2015 4 comments

The IIA released an update to its standards (specifically, the International Professional Practices Framework, or IPPF) at its recent International Conference, in Vancouver. They now include new Core Principles for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing, as well as a Mission of Internal Audit statement.

This is how the principles are described:

The Core Principles, taken as a whole, articulate internal audit effectiveness. For an internal audit function to be considered effective, all Principles should be present and operating effectively. How an internal auditor, as well as an internal audit activity, demonstrates achievement of the Core Principles may be quite different from organization to organization, but failure to achieve any of the Principles would imply that an internal audit activity was not as effective as it could be in achieving internal audit’s mission (see Mission of Internal Audit[1]).

  • Demonstrates integrity.
  • Demonstrates competence and due professional care.
  • Is objective and free from undue influence (independent).
  • Aligns with the strategies, objectives, and risks of the organization.
  • Is appropriately positioned and adequately resourced.
  • Demonstrates quality and continuous improvement.
  • Communicates effectively.
  • Provides risk-based assurance.
  • Is insightful, proactive, and future-focused.
  • Promotes organizational improvement.

I was privileged to be a member of the task force (RTF), composed of leading internal audit practitioners from across the globe, which recommended that the IIA leave the definition of internal audit unchanged but add core principles and a mission statement. Taking the last item first, we recognize that each IA department will probably have its own mission statement, customized to its organization and charter. However, including a generalized mission statement in IIA guidance would be useful.

The RTF debated whether the IIA standards are rules-based or principles-based. We all felt that they are principles-based, so somebody asked what those principles are. After a lot of discussion, we developed ten that after minor word changes are the Core Principles listed above.

In August, I am joining with Paul Sobel in a free OCEG webinar to discuss World-Class Internal Auditing (based, in part, on my book of the same name). One of the questions we will each answer is which of the principles is our favorite. My choice will probably be “is insightful, proactive, and future focused”. I explained why in a post last year, Auditing Forward.

But, I might also choose “communicates effectively”. Here are a few excerpts from the book:

It is revealing that the IIA Standards do not require an audit report! Standard 2400, Communicating Results, simply says “Internal auditors must communicate the results of engagements.”

The audit report, I learned, is not a document that summarizes what we did and shares what we would like to tell management and the board.

Instead, it is a communication vehicle. It is the traditional way internal audit communicates what management and the board need to know about the results of our work.

The audit report is not for our benefit as internal auditors. It is not a way to document our work and demonstrate how thorough we were. It is for the benefit of the readers of the report, management, and (when I was CAE) the audit committee. It tells them what they need to know, which is typically whether there is anything they need to worry about.

………………….

I talked to my key stakeholders in management and on the audit committee and listened carefully so I could understand what they needed to hear after an audit was completed.

I heard them say that they wanted to know the answers to two questions:

  1. Is there anything they need to worry about?
  2. Are there any issues of such significance that somebody in senior management should be monitoring how and when they are addressed?

In other words, they wanted to manage by exception. They were going to trust internal audit and operating management to address routine issues; they didn’t want to waste their time (my expression; they didn’t actually use those words) on matters that didn’t merit their attention.

………………….

The traditional way to express an opinion in an audit report is through a rating scale, such as one that uses a three point scale of Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory.

I don’t believe that a rating scale conveys to the executive reader what they need to know.

If we are tasked with assessing controls over risks, we should not only be telling management whether the risks are being managed effectively but explain, in business language, the effect on corporate objectives.

………………….

My focus is always on providing each stakeholder with the information they need to run the business, when they need it, in a clear and easy-to-consume fashion.

………………….

Which are your favorite principles?

Do you agree with my thoughts on auditing forward and effective communications?

How does your internal audit department measure up to these principles?

[1] To enhance and protect organizational value by providing risk-based and objective assurance, advice, and insight.

Compliance and risk appetite

July 18, 2015 7 comments

Recently, a compliance thought leader and practitioner asked my opinion about the relevance of risk management and specifically risk appetite to compliance and ethics programs.

The gentleman also asked for my thoughts on GRC and compliance; I think I have made that clear in other posts – the only useful way of thinking about GRC is the OCEG view, which focuses on the capability to achieve success while acting ethically and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Compliance issues must be considered within the context of driving to organizational success.

In this post, I want to focus on compliance and risk management/appetite.

Let me start by saying that I am a firm believer in taking a risk management approach to the business objective of operating in compliance with both (a) laws and regulations and (b) society’s expectations, even when they are not reflected in laws and regulations. This is reinforced by regulatory guidance, such as in the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which explain that when a reasonable process is followed to identify, assess, evaluate, and treat compliance-related risks, the organization has a defense against (at least criminal) prosecution. The UK’s Bribery Act (2010) similarly requires that the organization assess and then treat bribery-related risks.

I think the question comes down to whether you can – or should – establish a risk appetite for (a) the risk of failing to comply with rules or regulations, or (b) the risk that you will experience fraud.

I have a general problem with the practical application of the concept of risk appetite. While it sounds good, and establishes what the board and top management consider acceptable levels of risk, I believe it has significant issues when it comes to influencing the day-to-day taking of risk.

Here is an edited excerpt from my new book, World-Class Risk Management, in which I dedicate quite a few pages to the discussion of risk appetite and criteria.

Evaluating a risk to determine whether it is acceptable or not requires what ISO refers to as ‘risk criteria’ and COSO refers to as a combination of ‘risk appetite’ and ‘risk tolerance’.

I am not a big fan of ‘risk appetite’, not because it is necessarily wrong in theory, but because the practice seems massively flawed.

This is how the COSO Enterprise Risk Management – Integrated Framework defines risk appetite.

Risk appetite is the amount of risk, on a broad level, an organization is willing to accept in pursuit of value. Each organization pursues various objectives to add value and should broadly understand the risk it is willing to undertake in doing so.

One of the immediate problems is that it talks about an “amount of risk”. As we have seen, there are more often than not multiple potential impacts from a possible situation, event, or decision and each of those potential impacts has a different likelihood. When people look at the COSO definition, they see risk appetite as a single number or value. They may say that their risk appetite is $100 million. Others prefer to use descriptive language, such as “The organization has a higher risk appetite related to strategic objectives and is willing to accept higher losses in the pursuit of higher returns.”

Whether in life or business, people make decisions to take a risk because of the likelihood of potential impacts – not the size of the impact alone. Rather than the risk appetite being $100 million, it is the 5% (say) likelihood of a $100 million impact.

Setting that critical objection aside for the moment, it is downright silly (and I make no apology for saying this) to put a single value on the level of risk that an organization is willing to accept in the pursuit of value. COSO may talk about “the amount of risk, on a broad level”, implying that there is a single number, but I don’t believe that the authors of the COSO Framework meant that you can aggregate all your different risks into a single number.

Every organization has multiple types of risk, from compliance (the risk of not complying with laws and regulations) to employee safety, financial loss, reputation damage, loss of customers, inability to protect intellectual property, and so on. How can you add each of these up and arrive at a total that is meaningful – even if you could put a number on each of the risks individually?

If a company sets its risk appetite at $10 million, then that might be the total of these different forms of risk:

Non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations $1,000,000
Loss in value of foreign currency due to exchange rate changes $1,500,000
Quality in manufacturing leading to customer issues $2,000,000
Employee safety $1,500,000
Loss of intellectual property $1,000,000
Competitor-driven price pressure affecting revenue $2,000,000
Other $1,000,000

I have problems with one risk appetite when the organization has multiple sources of risk.

  • “I want to manage each of these in isolation. For example, I want to make sure that I am not taking an unacceptable level of risk of non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations irrespective of what is happening to other risks.”
  • “When you start aggregating risks into a single number and base decisions on acceptable levels of risk on that total, it implies (using the example above) that if the level of quality risk drops from $2m to $1.5m but my risk appetite remains at $10m, I can accept an increase in the risk of non-compliance from $1m to $1.5m. That is absurd.”

The first line is “non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations”. I have a problem setting a “risk appetite” for non-compliance. It may be perceived as indicating that the organization is willing to fail to comply with laws and regulations in order to make a profit; if this becomes public, there is likely to be a strong reaction from regulators and the organization’s reputation would (and deserves to) take a huge hit.

Setting a risk appetite for employee safety is also a problem. As I say:

…. no company should, for many reasons including legal ones, consider putting a number on the level of acceptable employee safety issues; the closest I might consider is the number of lost days, but that is not a good measure of the impact of an employee safety event and might also be considered as indicating a lack of appropriate concern for the safety of employees (and others). Putting zero as the level of risk is also absurd, because the only way to eliminate the potential for a safety incident is to shut down.

That last sentence is a key one.

While risk appetites such as $1m for non-compliance or $1.5m for employee safety are problematic, it is unrealistic to set the level of either at zero. The only way to ensure that there are no compliance or safety issues is to close the business.

COSO advocates would say that risk appetite can be expressed in qualitative instead of quantitative terms. This is what I said about that.

The other form of expression of risk appetite is the descriptive form. The example I gave earlier was “The organization has a higher risk appetite related to strategic objectives and is willing to accept higher losses in the pursuit of higher returns.” Does this mean anything? Will it guide a decision-maker when he considering how much risk is acceptable? No.

Saying that “The organization has a higher risk appetite related to strategic objectives and is willing to accept higher losses in the pursuit of higher returns”, or “The organization has a low risk appetite related to risky ventures and, therefore, is willing to invest in new business but with a low appetite for potential losses” may make the executive team feel good, believe they have ‘ticked the risk appetite box’, but it accomplishes absolutely nothing at all.

Why do I say that it accomplishes absolutely nothing? Because (a) how can you measure whether the level of risk is acceptable based on these descriptions, and (b) how do managers know they are taking the right level of the right risk as they make decisions and run the business?

If risk appetite doesn’t work for compliance, then what does?

I believe that the concept of risk criteria (found in ISO 31000:2009) is better suited.

Management and the board have to determine how much to invest in compliance and at what point they are satisfied that they have reasonable processes of acceptable quality .

The regulators recognize that an organization can only establish and maintain reasonable processes, systems, and organizational structures when it comes to compliance. Failures will happen, because organizations have human employees and partners. What is crucial is whether the organization is taking what a reasonable person would believe are appropriate measures to ensure compliance.

I believe that the organization should be able to establish measures, risk criteria, to ensure that its processes are at that reasonable level and operating as desired. But the concept of risk appetite for compliance is flawed.

A risk appetite statement tends to focus on the level of incidents and losses, which is after the fact. Management needs guidance to help them make investments and other decisions as they run the business. I don’t see risk appetite helping them do that.

By the way, there is another problem with compliance and risk appetite when organizations set a single level for all compliance requirements.

I want to make sure I am not taking an unacceptable level of risk of non-compliance with each law and regulation that is applicable. Does it make sense to aggregate the risk of non-compliance with environmental regulations, safety standards, financial reporting rules, corruption and bribery provisions, and so on? No. Each of these should be managed individually.

Ethics and fraud are different.

Again, we have to be realistic and recognize that it is impossible to reduce the risk of ethical violations and fraud to zero.

However, there is not (in my experience) the same reputation risk when it comes to establishing acceptable levels – the levels below which the cost of fighting fraud starts to exceed the reduction in fraud risk.

When I was CAE at Tosco, we owned thousands of Circle K stores. Just like every store operator, we experienced what is called “shrink” – the theft of inventory by employees, customers, and vendors. Industry experience was that, though undesirable, shrink of 1.25% was acceptable because spending more on increased store audits, supervision, cameras, etc. would cost more than any reduction in shrink.

Managing the risks of compliance or ethical failures is important. But, for the most part I find risk appetite leaves me hungry.

What do you think?

BTW, both my World-Class Risk Management and World-Class Internal Auditing books are available on Amazon.

Evaluating the external auditors

June 14, 2015 7 comments

The Audit Committee Collaboration (six associations or firms, including the National Association of Corporate Directors and NYSE Governance Services) recently published External Auditor Assessment Tool: A Reference for Audit Committees Worldwide.

It’s a good product, useful for audit committees and those who advise them (especially CAEs, CFOs, and general counsel).

The tool includes an overview of the topic, a discussion of important areas to assess (with sample questions for each), and a sample questionnaire to ask management to complete.

However, the document does not talk about the critical need for the audit committee to exercise professional skepticism and ask penetrating questions to test the external audit team’s quality.

Given the publicized failures of the audit firms to detect serious issues (fortunately few, but still too many) – the latest being FIFA (see this in CFO.com) – and the deficiencies continually found by the PCAOB Examiners, audit committees must take this matter seriously.

Let me Illustrate with a story. Some years ago, I joined a global manufacturing company as the head of the internal audit function, with responsibility for the SOX program. I was the first to hold that position; previously, the internal audit function had been outsourced. Within a couple of months, I attended my first audit committee meeting. I informed them that there was an internal control issue that, if not addressed by year-end, might be considered a material weakness in the system of internal control over financial reporting. None of the corporate financial reporting team was a CPA! That included the CFO, the Corporate Controller, and the entire financial reporting team. I told that that, apart from the Asia-Pacific team in Singapore, the only CPAs on staff were me, the Treasurer, and a business unit controller. The deficiency was that, as a result, the financial reporting team relied heavily on the external auditors for technical accounting advice – and this was no longer permitted.

The chairman of the audit committee turned to the CFO, asked him if that was correct, and received an (unapologetic) affirmative. The chairman then turned to the audit partner, seated directly to his right, and asked if he knew about this. The partner also gave an unapologetic “yes” in reply.

The chairman then asked the CEO (incidentally, the former CFO whose policy it had been not to hire CPAs) to address the issue promptly, which it was.

However, the audit committee totally let the audit partner off the hook. The audit firm had never reported this as an issue to the audit committee, even though it had been in place for several years. The chairman did not ask the audit partner why, whether he agreed with my assessment of the issue, why the firm had not identified this as a material weakness or significant deficiency in prior years, or any other related question.

If you talk to those in management who work with the external audit team, the most frequent complaint is that the auditors don’t use judgment and common sense. They worry about the trivial rather than what is important and potentially material to the financial statements. In addition, they often are unreasonable and unwilling to work with management – going overboard to preserve the appearance of independence.

I addressed this in a prior post, when I said the audit committee should consider:

  • Whether the external auditor has adopted an appropriate attitude for working with the company, including management and the internal auditor
  • Whether the auditor has taken a top-down and risk-based approach that focuses on what matters and not on trivia, minimizing both cost and disruption, and
  • Whether issues are addressed with common sense rather than a desire to prove themselves

Does your audit committee perform an appropriate review and assessment of the external audit firm and their performance?

I welcome your comments.

Cyber risk and the boardroom

June 5, 2015 7 comments

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) has published a discussion between the leader of PwC’s Center for Board Governance, Mary Ann Cloyd, and an expert on cyber who formally served as a leader of the US Air Force’s cyber operations, Suzanne Vautrinot.

It’s an interesting read on a number of levels; I recommend it for board members, executives, information security professionals and auditors.

Here are some of the points in the discussion worth emphasizing:

“An R&D organization, a manufacturer, a retail company, a financial institution, and a critical utility would likely have different considerations regarding cyber risk. Certainly, some of the solutions and security technology can be the same, but it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. An informed risk assessment and management strategy must be part of the dialogue.”

“When we as board members are dealing with something that requires true core competency expertise—whether it’s mergers and acquisitions or banking and investments or cybersecurity—there are advisors and experts to turn to because it is their core competency. They can facilitate the discussion and provide background information, and enable the board to have a very robust, fulsome conversation about risks and actions.”

“The board needs to be comfortable having the conversation with management and the internal experts. They need to understand how cybersecurity risk affects business decisions and strategy. The board can then have a conversation with management saying, ‘OK, given this kind of risk, what are we willing to accept or do to try to mitigate it? Let’s have a conversation about how we do this currently in our corporation and why.’”

Cloyd: What you just described doesn’t sound unique to cybersecurity. It’s like other business risks that you’re assessing, evaluating, and dealing with. It’s another part of the risk appetite discussion. Vautrinot: Correct. The only thing that’s different is the expertise you bring in, and the conversation you have may involve slightly different technology.”

Cloyd: Cybersecurity is like other risks, so don’t be intimidated by it. Just put on your director hat and oversee this as you do other major risks. Vautrinot: And demand that the answers be provided in a way that you understand. Continue to ask questions until you understand, because sometimes the words or the jargon get in the way.”

“Cybersecurity is a business issue, it’s not just a technology issue.”

This was a fairly long conversation as these things go, but time and other limitations probably affected the discussion – and limited the ability to probe the topic in greater depth.

For example, there are some more points that I would emphasize to boards:

  • It is impossible to eliminate cyber-related risk. The goal should be to understand what the risk is at any point and obtain assurance that management (a) knows what the risk is, (b) considers it as part of decision-making, including its potential effect on new initiatives, (c) has established at what point the risk becomes acceptable, because investing more has diminishing returns, (d) has reason to believe its ability to prevent/detect cyber breaches is at the right level, considering the risk and the cost of additional measures (and is taking corrective actions when it is not at the desired level), (e) has a process to respond promptly and appropriately in the event of a breach, (f) has tested that capability, and (g) has a process in place to communicate to the board the information the board needs, when it needs it, to provide effective oversight.
  • Cyber risk should not be managed separately from enterprise or business risk. Cyber may be only one of several sources of risk to a new initiative, and the total risk to that initiative needs to be understood.
  • Cyber-related risk should be assessed and evaluated based on its effect on the business, not based on some calculated value for the information asset.
  • The board can never have, or maintain, the level of sophisticated knowledge required to assess cyber risk itself. It needs to ask questions and probe management’s responses until it has confidence that management has the ability to address cyber risk.

I welcome your comments and observations on the article and my points, above.

How much cyber risk should you take?

May 24, 2015 6 comments

I have been spending a fair amount of time over the last few months, talking and listening to board members and advisors, including industry experts, about cyber risk.

A number of things are clear:

  • Boards, not just those members who are on the audit and/or risk committee, are concerned about cyber and the risk it represents to their organization. They are concerned because they don’t understand it – and the actions they should take as directors. The level of concern is sufficient for them to attend conferences dedicated to the topic rather than relying on their organization.
  • They are not comfortable with the information they are receiving on cyber risk from management – management’s assessment of the risk that it represents to their organization; the measures management has taken to (a) prevent intrusions, (b) detect intrusions that got past defenses, and (c) respond to such intrusions; how cyber risk is or may be affected by changes in the business, including new business initiatives; and, the current level and trend of intrusion attacks (some form of metrics).
  • The risk should be assessed, evaluated, and addressed, not in isolation as a separate IT or cyber risk, but in terms of its potential effect on the business. Cyber risk should be integrated into enterprise risk management. Not only does it need to be assessed in terms of its potential effect on organizational business objectives, but it is only one of several risks that may affect each business objective.
  • It is impossible to eliminate cyber risk. In fact, it is broadly recognized that it is impossible to have impenetrable defenses (although every reasonable effort should be made to harden them). That mandates increased attention to the timely detection of those who have breached the defenses, as well as the capability to respond at speed.
  • Because it is impossible to eliminate risk, a decision has to be made (by the board and management, with advice and counsel from IT, information security, the risk officer, and internal audit) as to the level of risk that is acceptable. How much will the organization invest in cyber compared to the level of risk and the need for those same resources to be invested in other initiatives? The board members did not like to hear talk of accepting a level of risk, but that is an uncomfortable fact of life – they need to get over and deal with it!

The National Association of Corporate Directors has published a handbook on cyber for directors (free after registration).

Here is a list of questions I believe directors should consider. They should be asked of executive management (not just the CIO or CISO) in a session dedicated to cyber.

  1. How do you identify and assess cyber-related risks?
  2. Is your assessment of cyber-related risks integrated with your enterprise-wide risk management program so you can include all the potential effects on the business (including business disruption, reputation risk, inability to bill customers, loss of IP, compliance risk, and so on) and not just “IT-risk”?
  3. How do you evaluate the risk to know whether it is too high?
  4. How do you decide what actions to take and how much resource to allocate?
  5. How often do you update your cyber risk assessment? Do you have sufficient insight into changes in cyber-related risks?
  6. How do you assess the potential new risks introduced by new technology? How do you determine when to take the risk because of the business value?
  7. Are you satisfied that you have an appropriate level of protection in place to minimize the risk of a successful attack?
  8. How will you know when your defenses have been breached? Will you know fast enough to minimize any loss or damage?
  9. Can you respond appropriately at speed?
  10. What procedures are in place to notify you, and then the board, in the event of a breach?
  11. Who has responsibility for cybersecurity and do they have the access they need to senior management?
  12. Is there an appropriate risk-aware culture within the organization, especially given the potential for any manager to introduce new risks by signing up for new cloud services?

I welcome your thoughts, perspectives, and comments.

A huge problem with risk appetite and risk levels

May 17, 2015 14 comments

COSO’s ERM Framework defines risk appetite in a way that many have adopted:

“Risk appetite is the amount of risk, on a broad level, an organization is willing to accept in pursuit of value. Each organization pursues various objectives to add value and should broadly understand the risk it is willing to undertake in doing so.”

The problem I want to discuss is whether there is such a thing as an “amount of risk”.

The traditional way of assessing a risk is to establish values for its potential impact (or consequences) and their likelihood. The assessment might also include qualitative attributes of the risk, such as the speed of impact and so on.

But, for many risks there is more than one possible impact, with varying levels of likelihood.

Take the example of an organization that wants to expand and sell its products in a new country. It has set a sales target of 10,000 units in the first year, but recognizes not only that the target may not be reached but that, if things work well, it might be exceeded.

If the sales target is not reached, the initiative will result in a loss of as much as 500 units of currency. The likelihood of that loss is estimated at 5% and is considered unacceptable. There is also a 10% likelihood of a 250 loss, also unacceptable.

Management decides to treat the risk through a number of actions, including advertising and the use of in-country agents, which should reduce the likelihood and extent of losses. However, the cost of these actions will reduce the profits achieved when sales reach or exceed target.

The chart below shows the distribution of possible P&L results, both before and after treating the risk.

Chart for book

So there is no single “amount of risk”. There are many possible outcomes.

It is not sufficient to place a value on the distribution of all possible outcomes and compare that to some other value established as the acceptable level – because some of the points may individually be unacceptable and require treatment.

In this example, management has decided that the likelihood of the greatest levels of loss is unacceptable. If they had reduced the array of possibilities to a calculated number (perhaps based on the area under the curve), they probably would not have considered whether each possibility was acceptable and would not have taken the appropriate action.

Knowing whether the possibilities are acceptable or not, and making appropriate actions to treat them, is critical. A single “amount of risk” fails that test.

We could take this discussion a lot further, but I will stop here. What do you think?

Lessons Learned from the Transition to COSO 2013

May 3, 2015 5 comments

Protiviti has shared with us a useful Top 10 Lessons Learned from Implementing COSO 2013.

I especially like this section:

It is presumed that everyone understands that a top-down, risk-based approach remains applicable to Section 404 compliance, and the transition to the 2013 updated Framework does not affect this. While we don’t list this as a lesson, we could have, because some companies either forgot or neglected to apply this approach when setting the scope and objectives for using the Framework. As a result, they went overboard with their controls documentation and testing. We can’t stress enough that the COSO 2013 Framework did not change the essence of, and the need for, a top-down, risk-based approach in complying with SOX Section 404.

The report has a number of excellent pieces of advice. However, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have points of disagreement.

The first is on mapping. It is NOT necessary to map all your controls to the principles. If we take principle 10, for example, it states “The organization selects and develops control activities that contribute to the mitigation of risks to the achievement of objectives to acceptable levels”. Rather than map all your control activities to this principle (or to principle 11, which is the same – just for IT general controls), the organization needs to identify the control(s) it relies on for its assessment that the principles are present and functioning[1]. For principles 10 and 11, that will be the SOX scoping exercise. For the principle on fraud, the control that should be identified is the fraud risk assessment, not every control relied on to detect or prevent fraud.

Then there is the assertion that indirect controls are the same as entity-level controls. COSO (both 1992 and 2013) tell us, correctly, that activities in each of its components may operate at any level within the organization. For example, let’s say that an account analysis is prepared by Corporate Finance as part of the period-end close. This entity-level control may operate with sufficient precision to be relied upon to detect a material error or omission in that account. But the entity-level control is a direct control, not an indirect control. (A direct control can be relied upon to prevent or detect an error. An indirect control is one that serves to increase or decrease the likelihood that other, direct, controls will function effectively. Hiring, integrity, oversight by the board – these are indirect controls where a defect would increase the likelihood that affected direct controls would fail.)

Another example that helps us understand the difference is the hiring process (related to principle 4, in the Control Environment). The hiring process most often is at a lower level than the entity-level, often as deep as the activity level as that is where most hiring managers reside. Controls in the hiring process in this situation are activity level (or what I call ‘intermediate level’ controls, operating at a location or business unit rather than either the top or the bottom of the organization) and are indirect controls.

I could quibble with one or two more points, but I don’t want to detract from the report. I want, instead, to encourage you to read and discuss it.

What do you think?

What additional lessons have you learned?

[1] Full credit for this wording goes to the E&Y national office, who used it in a conversation I had with them about the firm’s training of its audit staff.

The most important sentence in COSO

April 25, 2015 13 comments

In my opinion, one sentence stands out, whether you are looking at the COSO Internal Control – Integrated Framework (2013 version) or the COSO Enterprise Risk Management – Integrated Framework.

That sentence is:

An effective system of internal control reduces, to an acceptable level, the risk of not achieving an objective relating to one, two, or all three categories.

The sentence is important because it emphasizes the fact that the purpose of controls is to address risk, and that you have ‘enough’ control when risk is at desired levels.

To me, this means that:

  1. Before you assess the effectiveness of internal control, you need to know your objective(s), because we are talking about risk to objectives – not risk out of context
  2. You need to know the risk to those objectives
  3. You need to know what is an acceptable level of risk for each objective, and
  4. You need to be able to assess whether the controls provide reasonable assurance that risk is at acceptable levels

You may ask “where is that sentence?”, because when consultants (and even COSO and IIA) make presentations on COSO 2013 and effective internal control, all you hear about are the principles and components.

In fact, anybody who reads COSO 2013 should have no difficulty finding this most important sentence. It’s in the section headed “Requirements for Effective Internal Control”.

This is how that section starts:

An effective system of internal control provides reasonable assurance regarding achievement of an entity’s objectives. Because internal control is relevant both to the entity and its subunits, an effective system of internal control may relate to a specific part of the organizational structure. An effective system of internal control reduces, to an acceptable level, the risk of not achieving an objective relating to one, two, or all three categories. It requires that:

  • Each of the five components of internal control and relevant principles are present and functioning
  • The five components are operating together in an integrated manner

There is no mention of satisfying the requirement that the “components and relevant principles are present and functioning” until after the reference to risk being at acceptable levels.

In fact, I believe – and I know of at least one prominent COSO leader agrees – that assessing the presence and functioning of the components and principles is secondary, provided to help with the assessment.

Let’s have a look at the very next paragraph in the section:

When a major deficiency exists with respect to the presence and functioning of a component or relevant principle or in terms of the components operating together, the organization cannot conclude that it has met the requirements for an effective system of internal control.

When you look at this with the (COSO) risk lens, this translates to the ability to assess internal control as effective, and the principles and components as present and functioning, as long as there is no deficiency in internal control that is rated as “major”.

How does COSO determine whether a deficiency is “major”? That can be found in the section, “Deficiencies in Internal Control”.

An internal control deficiency or combination of deficiencies that is severe enough to adversely affect the likelihood that the entity can achieve its objectives is referred to as a “major deficiency”.

Let’s translate this as well:

  1. If the likelihood of achieving objective(s) is “severe”, then the risk is outside acceptable levels.
  2. If the risk is outside acceptable levels, not only should the related component(s) or principle(s) not be assessed as present and functioning, but internal control is not considered effective.
  3. When it comes to SOX compliance, a “major deficiency” translates to a “material weakness”. The objective for SOX is to file financial statements with the SEC that are free of material error or omission. The acceptable level of risk is where the likelihood of a material error or omission is less than reasonably possible.
  4. That means that if the deficiency is less than “major” (or “material” for SOX purposes), then the related component(s) or principle(s) can be assessed as present and functioning – and internal control can be assessed as effective.

So, the only way to assess whether the principles and components are present and functioning is to determine whether the risk to objectives (after considering any related control deficiency) is at acceptable levels.

Do you see what I mean?

Risk is at the core. Assessing the presence and functioning of components or principles without first understanding what is an acceptable level of risk to objectives is misunderstanding COSO!

Why are so many blind to this most important sentence?

I have a theory: the presentations were all prepared based on the Exposure Draft. That document failed to reference the requirement that internal control be designed to bring risk within acceptable levels. (The defect was fixed after comments were received on the issue.)

Do you have a better theory?

Can you explain the blindness of so many to the most important sentence in the entire Framework?