Organising BCAS RRC – Learnings for Internal Audit

Blogger: Uday Sathaye

IA @ BCAS Blog #18

In initial years of my Practice, much before learning and understanding Internal Audit as a practice area, I got an opportunity to be a part of the organizing team of Residential Refresher Course (RRC) of Bombay Chartered Accountants Society (BCAS).  Then, I realized that this is my Passion. Once I found my passion, my entire approach to Planning RRCs changed. Passion always helps you getting extraordinary results whether it’s a Planning for RRC or conducting an Internal Audit Assignment. So, the first question that we must ask ourselves as Internal Auditors is “Am I passionate about Internal Audit?” Excellence demands passion – so to excel, developing passion for the subject makes a huge difference.

My journey of organizing BCAS RRC’s for last 35 years has taught me a lot and this process of learning is still on. I find it interesting to observe that many of the things that I learnt while organizing RRCs made me a better Internal Auditor. I can correlate so many of my experiences and learnings from RRC to the field of Internal Audit.

What are the common factors that lead to Success and give exceptional results whether it’s RRC or Internal Audit?

A.      Study of Human Nature

Understanding a person is necessary, be it Vendor, Service Provider, your Own Staff or Auditee and Auditees’ staff.  When you understand the persons with whom you are dealing, you develop the art of getting the best from each relationship. Understanding human nature, putting yourself in their shoes, helps you get a better perspective and also find workable solutions to the problems.  Be polite but remain firm on your views, so that you do not compromise the quality and yet maintain impeccable relationships. Your technical skills help you spot lapses and problems, but it is your interpersonal skills that make the stakeholder accept the problems and work towards a solution.

B.      Communication

Document everything as the evidence is necessary.  Whatever is not documented is considered as not done. But even more than the written communication, the quality of oral communication needs to be paid attention to. Communication eliminates assumptions. Communication creates connections. The BCAS RRCs requires us to communicate with a wide variety of people and agencies – ranging from senior paper writers and panelists, Past Presidents, pan-India participants across age groups, venue management staff, BCAS staff members, catering contractors, printers, audio visual service providers, et al. Communicating with each of these at a personal level, forming a pleasant connection, helped me and my team in ensuring that each agency delivered better than what the contract demanded and each of the participant went back enriched with a great learning experience.

Applying this analogy to Internal Audit, I realized that while it is important to maintain the written documentation trail impeccably; it is utmost necessary to supplement with oral communication – that adds charm and ease at every level in Internal Audit. Here too, different approach is required when talking to auditee, HODs, Audit Committee members, IT system specialists or the canteen staff at the audit location (after all, we all need those late evening snacks and strong coffee at the time of audit closures!!)

C.      Holistic Approach To Deliver Exceptional Serivces

Like in all RRC’s, an important factor in Internal Audits is the best use of available time which is always limited.  The entire RRC event is planned in a manner that maximum benefit goes to the participants, and they go back with not only better technical knowledge but also with great memories, lasting friendships, and lot of laughter. Planning technical sessions alongside networking and entertainment sessions, and excursions to experience the local culture are an integral part of each RRC.

For an Internal Audit engagement also, effective time allocation and planning ensures that not only the agreed scope is covered, but the assignment ends with an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, and a high acceptance rate for valuable recommendations and suggestions made. This requires equitable time allocation to planning the audit, execution, communication, presentation, validation and persuasion. Going beyond the scope, delivering beyond expectations often creates the “Wow” in an internal audit assignment. Keeping the team morale high by adding that occasional outing, celebrating small wins and sharing some lighter moments makes the team member interested in the subject and deliver beyond expectations.

D.      SWOT Analysis – Talent Optimization

When we form the Team of volunteers in RRC, SWOT Analysis helps in getting desired results since the specific talent and aptitude of each person is engaged effectively. While forming the team for Internal Audit such analysis leads to desired results – not everyone in the team may be adapt at data analytics or drafting of reports, but a balanced team with optimal allocation of responsibilities creates a favourable working environment and gives most astounding outcomes, while helping team members to sharpen their skills in areas where they may be lacking.

E.      Operation Research (OR) Techniques

I had studied OR techniques in CA Final Examination.  At that time, I never fully understood the use of PERT, CPM, SIMO charts etc.  Now, when I use these techniques in somewhat modified form in organizing RRC’s as well as in conducting Internal Audits I realize how best we can optimize the use of resources to avoid duplication and save time.  These techniques help a lot in planning human and other resources. They also help in maintaining close attention to the project timelines and help in resource allocation in an objective manner. Monitoring progress to ensure timely completion becomes much easier with the help of these tools and approach.

F.      Checklists

Each Internal Audit Assignment should be treated as a fresh assignment even though it is similar or identical to other assignments handled in the past.  Checklist to carry out each assignment should be prepared afresh.  ‘Copy paste’ should be avoided.  Team leaders should not impose their ideas while making the checklists but should throw the ideas open for discussion.  The final checklist will certainly be a quality product and each team member will feel an ownership of that audit.  The same method is applied at BCAS RRC, treating each RRC as if it is the first one.  That gives the feeling to the participants that each RRC is Unique, as the planning is not constrained by old formats and thinking.

G.      Risk and Crisis Management  

In one of the RRC’s a senior participant suffered a Cardiac Arrest.  We realized that ambulance was not available at that Hill Station nor were adequate medical facilities. We learnt a hard lesson on not anticipating possible risks adequately. For all RRCs held thereafter, we ensured that the venue had adequate infrastructure for dealing with medical emergencies. RRCs invariably lead to some ‘fire-fighting’ situations – a last minute flight cancellation due to which a speaker does not arrive for the session, power failures or unseasonal rains at the venue which require relocation of outdoor sessions, etc. – overtime, the RRC organizing team has incorporated all such hiccups in their plans and are able to handle these situations with ease.

Taking a clue from this, Internal Auditor, while reviewing the efficacy of the risk management processes of the organization must consider such rare possibilities also, particularly when the impact could be disastrous. For risk events that have occurred during the period, suitable enhancement to the risk identification and assessment needs to be ensured. To be taken by surprise once is perhaps pardonable but missing out a second and a third time is a serious failure.

H.      Group Discussion

Group discussion is the soul of BCAS RRC’s. Papers written by scholars are discussed in smaller groups, led by a group leader. The role of the group leader is to moderate the discussion as also, to give opportunity to each of the group members to express their views. It is not uncommon that the best of the inputs come from the most unassuming or the very young members of the group.

Encouraging a group review in Internal Audit provides a great forum to encourage younger and newer team members to have a voice and also, for them to observe and learn from the more experienced members.

I.       Personal and Professional Growth

Like nature gives each season different hues and colours, each RRC adds to the personal and professional growth of the participants in different ways. As a part of the organizing team, I have drawn valuable lessons from each RRC and can say this with confidence, that for a participant each RRC has brought a different flavour and a most unique experience. I have seen the young shy participants of yesteryears become group leaders or even paper writers/panelists in later RRCs.

In a similar manner, each Internal Audit engagement has a unique flavour and adds to our experience bank. A keen learner with an open mind gains the most from each engagement. And just like the RRC, the junior team member soon becomes the team leader or even the engagement partner…. the trick is in approaching each engagement with curiosity and openness, and spending time after each assignment in internalizing the key learnings.

Both, RRC and Internal Audit, help one to develop human qualities of empathy, teamwork, collaboration, agility, responsiveness, communication and more – thus, the professional growth is invariably coupled with personal growth of the individual.

As a Professional and CA in Practice, I am not a hard-core Internal Auditor but whatever assignments of Internal Audit that I have handled, I have tried to co-relate my experiences of unstructured learnings from RRC.

To conclude, Internal Audit is an integral part of our lives – the principles of Internal Audit can be applied to many aspects of our lives and experiences gained through different activities in life can be applied to internal Audit – what is required is the passion and the creativity to observe, capture, innovate and integrate these experiences seamlessly.

This is my first attempt to write a BLOG.  In fact, I was inspired by a blog written by Mitalee Chovatia, where she shared her experiences from travelling for Internal Audit Assignments and co-related the same effectively with her journey as an Internal Auditor. This got me thinking about my RRC planning experiences of decades and the parallels with Internal Audit engagement.

Thanks to Mitalee, I have penned my very first blog combining two subjects close to my heart – BCAS RRC and Internal Audit!

The Blog solely reflects the personal views and opinions of the author(s).

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