Jonathan Bennett

I left school at 18 and had applied to various universities without really having a passion for going; but then at a careers fair in Birmingham I came across an accountancy tuition provider that was offering a scholarship scheme covering tuition up to ACCA alongside assistance in finding a relevant job. I successfully applied for a scholarship and then paired it up with a job at a top-10 practice in a role that was split across two of their functions – Internal Audit and accounts preparation. It didn’t take long for me to realise that Internal Audit was where I fitted best so I moved fully into the Internal Audit team after 6 months or so, which at the time was public-sector focused and I worked primarily in the social housing sector. The business grew substantially over the years, and I was exposed to a range of new clients and markets early on in my career.  

After completing AAT, I moved on to do ACCA as I felt that was a better fit with an Internal Audit role, but also gave me broader skills across a range of practices. After completing ACCA, I became an Assistant Manager in the Internal Audit team and we continued to expand the type of clients that we were working for. I still had some social housing clients, but I was now working across a range of regulated businesses in both the private and public space. I progressed to Associate Director and then last year I moved to RSM as a Director in the financial services risk team.

Given that I somewhat fell into it, I really enjoy Internal Audit. At different points in my career I would have given different answers as to why I enjoy it, but the thing I would say consistently is the level of variety you get doing this work. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys doing the same thing every day or week, so a good level of variety is important to me, and that’s something you get with Internal Audit from day one. I started on a housing association in Stafford and now I’m running a large client portfolio, mainly covering financial services businesses. Every day is unique, and I enjoy having to react to the varying challenges – never knowing what is around the corner and being able to think on my feet. You have to assess every day as it comes and when you’re delivering a piece of work as an internal auditor, at any stage of your career, you never know what a piece of testing is going to throw up, what you’ll have to write in a report, or what someone is going to tell you when you meet with them. That carries on throughout your career – many partners above me still adore the variety of their day to day lives.

The other part I enjoy is that, unlike a lot of other professional services, Internal Audit is such a people-focused industry. Getting in front of people, generating discussion, going into businesses and building relationships. That’s all a really critical part of Internal Audit – we’re not just box tickers. I love meeting people every day, swapping stories and building relationships with them.

The work we do is different for every client – we scope our work individually for each piece and each client so there’s no standard template to pull off the shelf. Obviously two reviews may look similar if they’re on the same topic, but we always make sure that the review is focused on what the client needs; which is part of the reason there is so much variety in this profession.

Internal Audit does face challenges as a profession – I still think there’s a reputational issue from years gone by where internal auditors are seen as men in grey suits with clipboards who are there to tell you off. When I’m taking on a new client that has had Internal Audit before, we often find that the team may have had a bad experience with previous internal auditors that has stayed with them for a long time. We have to communicate to new clients and the market as a whole that Internal Audit is a trusted advisor and not here to tick boxes. That’s what we’re trying to do for our Internal Audit clients, but we do come up against the challenge of these stereotypes so there’s a big education piece needed.

In reality, we are there to provide assurance and to be challenging – to flag up where controls aren’t in place or operating effectively – and that in itself can bring a bit of fear from the client side. But we’re here to help and collaborate. We want to work together and find the best solution to any risks.

My work is focused in the financial services sector, which is one of the most heavily regulated sectors in the UK. But it’s also a really diverse sector with everything from large, multinational banks running multi-billion pound books to small, community owned mutual firms which have been in place for centuries. It’s important that we as an Internal Audit function are pragmatic rather than dogmatic – that the work we’re doing adds value. Of course, we will raise findings and do the hard work to deliver in accordance with our professional standards, but it has to also be about listening to the client and working with them to find the right solution.

As a service, Internal Audit needs to evolve with the pace of the broader world. We need to challenge the stereotype of Internal Audit being a tick box exercise, and make sure that we’re doing the best possible job which is why new Internal Audit standards have been released which will come into place next year. The theme behind those standards is about adding value, being that additional resource, and being more than just a cog in that mechanical wheel that drives a business.