Amid the far more stringent regulatory climate that has resulted from the failures of the economic crisis, the London market for internal audit jobs has flourished and with more jobs than candidates, opportunities are rife. The lateral moves of 2008-2010 have been shaken up over the past five years by the strengthened UK economy, a more positive outlook and subsequent increase in salaries leading to far more opportunities for internal auditors looking to move into the London internal audit market. However, what is interesting is how the demands of the role have evolved in line with global economic developments as well as specific adjustments to the scope of the internal audit function.
The financial services code launched by the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors’ (IIA) in July 2013 is central to this evolution. Two years on from its initial launch, it is now seeing its intentions being actioned as it aims to support firms with how they are managing risk in the face of intense pressure from the public, investors and regulators in terms of improving corporate governance. The code, aimed at improving the operation of internal audit for boards, audit committees and regulators, is advocating an extension to the remit of the internal audit role to encompass risk and control culture as well as the settling of risk appetite.
Towards the end of last year, London’s financial services firms were placing greater emphasis on bolstering their third line of defence, bringing in internal auditors at an earlier stage to assess strategic risks to their business posed by such significant strategic events as product launches, investments and mergers and acquisitions. In light of a brighter post-recession economy, activity on the mergers and acquisitions front has certainly increased and according to the IIA, those in the internal audit function are key to their success. Ensuring good governance of risk across every transaction, internal auditors are being brought on early in the process both to stress test decisions and further give the proper consideration to risks posed by major corporate events to guarantee they are being effectively addressed and managed.
Thus it’s important for those professionals looking to move into internal audit in London to acknowledge that the formerly process-oriented nature of internal audit is moving more and more towards a risk-based approach, focusing on outcomes as opposed to the cycle of events. More so, the undoubted hub for banking and financial services, London’s banks are building up their internal audit teams in response to more regulatory-based audits in capital markets. Requiring more than the historic internal audit function to combat the increased pressure from regulators, candidates looking to move into internal audit jobs in London banks are more likely to be considered if they can demonstrate a blend of both internal audit and compliance experience.
As changes in UK immigration policy have lent themselves to a skills shortage with fewer newly-qualified accountants entering the London market, particularly those with the required hybrid knowledge fundamental to current regulatory pressures, financial services firms more and more are outsourcing internal audit projects to the Big 4 firms, which in turn are always actively hiring. Struggling to attract the top talent to their internal audit teams, London banks are calling on the Big 4 both to utilise the variety of expertise available at these organisations as well as to serve as an effective cost-saving measure.
In industry and commerce, many organisations have expanded their outfits outside of London and into more regional hubs such as Birmingham, Bristol and the South West in a bid to reduce costs and attract candidates looking for a better work-life balance away from the fray of London living. Internal audit professionals should therefore look at extending their job search to include the regional areas occupied by a number of the major banking and financial services institutions.
Furthermore, in line with the IIA’s code, the line of reporting has evolved to bring internal audit teams in direct contact with board level, heralding a significant shift in corporate behaviour. What this means for candidates who want to effectively position themselves for internal audit jobs in London and the South East is the need to place equal importance on soft skills, such as written and communication skills. Organisations both in financial services as well as commerce and industry want candidates, coming from the UK, EU or overseas, to have fluency in written and spoken English in order to be able to fulfil their report writing requirements, manage stakeholder relationships as well as to clearly explain what is being audited and why.
Prospective candidates looking to enter the financial services arena should be able to demonstrate clear and effective understanding of capital rules and regulations when it comes to relaying information to non-financial stakeholders. What’s more, as London’s banks face consistent pressure to even the gender imbalance notorious within the financial services industry, diversity has become a paramount requirement for the hiring process. Within the commerce and industry space, practice-trained accountants are highly desirable with hiring managers looking for those with expertise in financial control and reporting. Being commercially savvy is equally critical as companies of every size focus on maximising market recovery by driving business growth.
Internal audit is no longer simply another ticked box for businesses but an important partnership whereby the internal audit team comes in and works with the firm to improve and enhance its practices and strategic outcomes.