Auditors can be good partners to chief executive: Indranee Rajah

Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said auditors can be "good partners to the chief executive".
Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said auditors can be "good partners to the chief executive".ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Internal auditors should position themselves for the future by offering advice on company strategy and harnessing technology, said speakers at a conference on Thursday (April 21).

Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said that these auditors can be "good partners to the chief executive".

They could draw on their understanding of a firm's objectives, and insights on its processes, she said at the opening of the fourth annual Public Sector Internal Audit (PSIA) Conference.

Ms Rajah also co-chairs a working group that aims to position the local legal and accounting services sector for the future under the Committee on Future Economy. Her comments come after the working group had a session dedicated just to internal audit on Monday.

She added that internal auditors also need to "market" their capabilities so as to convince stakeholders to take up their ideas. A deep knowledge about the industry can differentiate internal auditors among themselves, she said.

Ms Tan Boon Yen, president of The Institute of Internal Auditors Singapore (IIA), also noted at the conference that cyber security and information security were the biggest risks related to technology, according to a 2015 survey by the IIA research foundation.

Firms faced the threat of having sensitive data stolen or leaked, she said, citing the recent Panama Papers incident and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010.

To operate in such an environment, internal audit needs to leverage on technology to improve effectiveness and efficiency, she said.

Ms Tina Kim, deputy comptroller for state accountability at Office of the New York State Comptroller, said that computing skills and big data can improve internal audit effectiveness.

For instance, an employee previously used Python, a programing language, to download audit reports from different states in the United States and pull information from the findings and recommendation sections. This saved time spent in locating the information manually.

Also, to identify which bars were operating beyond their permitted hours, the firm looked at records of calls complaining about bar noise. If such complaints were made at time after a bar should have closed, that bar might be operating longer than it should.

Ms Jennifer Ong, director of Group Internal Audit Division at MOH Holdings, said the firm was hoping to consolidate data held in different departments for analysis.

It can use data to identify individuals who abuse medical subsidies, she said. For instance, if a patient makes 200 visits a year to different general practitioner clinics, there is a chance he might be abusing a medical assistance scheme.

The two-day conference ends on Friday.

jkoh@sph.com.sg