Join Richard Chambers for a new episode of his Agents of Change video series, featuring conversations with internal audit leaders from some of the world’s most prominent organizations about innovation in the profession.
In this episode, Richard sits down with Siebrand Wolberink, Chief Audit Executive at SoftwareOne, to discuss his experiences building and leading internal audit teams at high-growth companies, including:
- To be an innovative Agent of Change, you must be willing to experiment — yielding failures, but also successes.
- Changing the perception of internal audit is key to bringing value and helping your organization navigate uncertainty.
- How to weigh risk vs. opportunity to help a high-growth company build an organization that will last.
Watch the full conversation, and read the can’t-miss highlights below.
The Excitement of Building an Internal Audit Function for the Future
Richard Chambers: These are exciting and challenging times to be in the internal audit profession, and I know you’re having an opportunity to move from one organization to another is giving you a chance to impact internal auditors across multiple organizations. Is that something that’s rewarding for you?
Siebrand Wolberink: Absolutely, and I think specifically when you can start greenfield it’s really exciting. There’s a real merit at the moment for internal auditors and also for the profession. Being able to build something from the ground up, which I’ll be able to do at SoftwareOne, is tremendously exciting — to be able to create something that’s built for the future, forward-looking, and hopefully built to last.
To Be Forward-Looking, Innovative, and Disruptive, Agents of Change Must Be Willing to Experiment
Richard Chambers: That’s why it’s great to have leaders like yourself who bring a new and fresh vision into the roles that they take on. What’s your view of internal auditors as Agents of Change, and why is it more important now for internal auditors than perhaps at any point in the past?
Siebrand Wolberink: Internal audit leaders have an opportunity to change the status quo and the perception. I think that to be able to drive change, you need to have trust. The world is in a very different place than we were, say, 10 years ago or even a few years ago. The opportunity for Chief Audit Executives and other audit leaders to unlock the value that internal audit has is more significant now than it ever has been.
Rather than just being focused on compliance and assurance — which are really important because you’ve got to make sure that we protect company assets and have all the bare basic stuff ticked off and ready. The forward-looking bit becomes really important — where you’re able to be more disruptive, think about thought leadership, how to be able to take a company with you on the journey, and also just walk the talk. You can only do that if you are forward-looking, innovative, and disruptive, which means that you have to experiment with things. To be an Agent of Change, you can only really get there by leading by example or at least trying to, which will implicitly mean there will be failures, but also successes.
Richard Chambers: Great insights and I think I can see now why you enjoy taking on these leadership roles in the internal audit functions.
To Help the Organization Navigate Uncertainty, Educate People on the Value Internal Audit Can Bring
Richard Chambers: The past almost three years have been a period of massive disruption, and heightened, complex risk landscape for the world in general and for business and government organizations in particular. How can internal audit serve organizations in identifying, monitoring, and mitigating the kinds of risk that can swiftly undermine a company’s ability to change its objectives? How can internal auditors help companies navigate that kind of volatility?
Siebrand Wolberink: I think you can do it in different ways. One way is to really first understand the ask, where your value is as an internal audit function, and how to deliver on it. People have a preconceived idea of internal audit. Inherently, this is true. The question is whether that’s the right perception, one you would also would like your stakeholders to have, or whether you need to see if you can change that directly or indirectly using incremental politics and so forth. Right? Because you’re not at the desired state all at once.
I think the complexity in terms of the environment is really interesting. I think I would ask all internal audit leaders, “What have you really done to drive impact in these last couple of years in terms of helping the organization deal with uncertainty?”
If I just look at my own recent experience in the last couple of years, I was in a tourist business, basically, we sold tickets for travel. And guess what? COVID completely leveled the ticket sales. We had no revenue coming in — when you talk about resilience, uncertainty, people, and all of these things, it doesn’t get more profound than that. Internal audit did the horizon scouting, we saw it coming, we tried to get the hearts and the minds of the execs and other people. You just have to be bold and get people from legal, facilities, the people team. Get a look at your technological footprint if people go to remote, the switches you have in place. What is the capacity? You have to really think it through with playbooks. So we probably had 30, 35 people working on playbooks four or five months before it really happened.
There’s a bit of an educational point where you need to be able to be convincing, and be able to take people with you on the journey, and just demonstrate value without saying, “I told you so,” or “I don’t think you can ever do that.” You’re trying to make sure that people can make the best types of decisions from a risk-based perceptive.
At High-Growth Companies, Understanding the Business is Key to Weigh Risk vs Opportunity
Richard Chambers: I want to go back to something that you alluded to when you talked about how the pandemic presented such extraordinary risks for the company that you worked for. Yet, what we saw during the pandemic is that potentially existential risks for some companies were credible opportunities for others. The food delivery industry, for example, where you ended up, was a place that saw tremendous growth during the pandemic. What did you learn from your vantage point about risks and opportunities, and how the same experience can create risks for one company and opportunities for another?
Siebrand Wolberink: Yeah, it’s a very stark contrast, food delivery versus tickets with flights. What I found interesting is that you can start to see how the story is going to play out over a certain amount of time, because at some point when you look at investment positions, return on investment, CapEx, even in terms of skillsets, offshoring, all of these things you think about in a more mature environment, the tendency when a company grows so fast is that growth beats everything else and you just want to go as fast as you can. Every other corporate governance function is there to protect the basics, but you just want to be on a rocket ship, and you’ve got to bootstrap and go. It also implies that from a risk perspective, you’re willing to take extremely high risks in certain areas that at some other companies, you would be less inclined to take.
From the opportunity perspective, when you think about growth versus quality, for example, of revenue and what sits underneath it. Do you really understand your customers, how they’re trending? Do you understand the churn rates? Do you understand the reasons why your customers are leaving you? Are you thinking about saturation points? Are you thinking about what are your targets, profitability, and customer service quality that you’re giving? Because you’re building a company that’s hopefully going to last decades rather than a bootstrap or rocket ship type of idea that we just want to grow.
In a Rapidly-Changing Environment, Your Three-Year Plan Should Encompass
Richard Chambers: If I were going to ask you to think about the future, so we’ve talked about what’s happened in internal audit these last few years but if I ask you to look ahead to the decade ahead, what would your crystal ball tell you that internal audit needs to be able to do better to better serve organizations in the coming decade?
Siebrand Wolberink: I feel in such a rapidly evolving environment, it’s really important that we baseline our quality standards as a profession. Because I see some audit functions are very forward-looking, innovative, disruptive, experimental, agile, all of these things that I’d like to do as well.
But then I also hear from a lot of heads of audit, friends, colleagues, peers, that they’re actually just looking just at compliance, or their stakeholders are asking, “Just give me assurance that these compliance risks are being managed,” or, “just do this SOX work.” Right? Internal audit functions that just do SOX.
The world is changing — it’s always changing, and now it goes pretty fast. I’ll give an example from a recent McKinsey report. So if you look at generative AI, people now are talking about it, but there’s a roadmap of technology and digitalization revolutions that are expected in the next 10 years. In 10 years, it might be quantum computing, and then it’s going to impact encryption, communication, and things like this. Some of these things are a lot closer by their data points.
Being able to say, “How am I going to shape my guest auditor program?” Getting skillsets in, thinking about my sourcing, thinking about learning and development. Being able to create a path that’s truly forward-looking. So if I ask somebody, “What’s your path five years down the line, what you think internal audit should look like?” I don’t mind if people don’t know it 10 years, but if people don’t have a view three years down the line, I would get slightly concerned. I think then the question is, “How did you get to that viewpoint?” You should be able to answer that hopefully pretty confidently, which will then set you up for the next three years.
Check out more audit leader interviews with Richard Chambers on our Agents of Change video series channel.