What Is an Internal Auditor (IA)?

An internal auditor (IA) is a trained professional employed by companies to provide independent and objective evaluations of financial and operational business activities, including corporate governance. They are tasked with ensuring that companies comply with laws and regulations, follow proper procedures, and function as efficiently as possible.

Key Takeaways

  • An internal auditor (IA) is a trained professional tasked with providing independent and objective evaluations of company financial and operational business activities.
  • They are employed to ensure that companies follow proper procedures and function efficiently.
  • Final reports are presented to senior management and can include recommendations.

Understanding an Internal Auditor (IA)

The main job of an internal auditor (IA) is to identify problems and correct them before they are discovered during an external audit by an outside firm or regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). One of the roles of the SEC is to regulate how companies report their financial statements to help ensure that investors have access to all of the necessary information before investing.

An internal audit generally performs the three tasks outlined below.

  • Assess any risks and the internal controls within a company
  • Ensure that a company and its employees are in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations
  • Make suggestions as to what needs to be done to rectify a failed audit or issues that were identified as problematic during the audit

Internal Auditing Process

To achieve this goal, internal auditors will typically perform a multitude of tasks, including examining financial statements, expense reports, inventory, financial data, budgeting and accounting practices, as well as creating risk assessments for each department. Detailed notes are taken, interviews with employees are conducted, work schedules are supervised, physical assets are verified, and financial statements are scrutinized to eliminate potentially damaging errors or falsehoods and find ways to boost productivity.

Once an internal auditor has completed the examination, the findings are presented in a formal report. The audit report describes how the audit was done, what it discovered and, if necessary, suggestions for what improvements could be made. It is usually presented to senior executives at the company. If changes are recommended, it's common for an internal auditor to be asked to complete a follow-up audit to determine how well the advised changes have been executed.

Properly-managed publicly-traded companies also carry out internal audits to ensure that the company is complying with federal and state regulations, including those mandated by the SEC. However, companies must also ensure that their accounting practices follow the accounting guidelines as laid out by the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Requirements for Internal Auditors

The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), established in 1941 and headquartered in Florida, is the international professional organization that sets standards, guidance, best practices, and code of ethics for practitioners. On its website, the IIA defines internal auditing as: “an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization's operations. It helps an organization accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes.”

Internal Auditor vs. External Auditor

Sometimes the role of internal and external auditors can be confused. The main difference between the two is that internal auditors (IA) work on behalf of company management. Internal auditors are hired by the company, while external auditors are appointed by a shareholder vote.

Internal auditors are employed to educate management and staff about how the business can function better. External auditors, on the other hand, have no such obligations. They are responsible for reviewing financial statements to ensure that they are accurate and conform to GAAP. Their findings are then reported back to shareholders, rather than management.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the role of the external auditor is to: “inspect clients’ accounting records and express an opinion as to whether financial statements are presented fairly in accordance with the applicable accounting standards of the entity, such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). They must assert whether financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether due to error or fraud.” 

It is a legal requirement for all financial statements from public companies to be audited by a third-party accountant, in accordance with the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. 

Benefits of an Internal Auditor (IA)

Many companies choose to employ an internal auditor, despite not being legally obligated to do so. Robust internal audits are viewed as a key way to correct issues quickly, maintain a good reputation, and prevent money from being wasted. Reports filed by internal auditors (IA) can help companies to prosper and operate at maximum efficiency. For this reason, many executives view them as a necessary expense.