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While the textbook role of an auditor is to investigate an organisation's financial report to determine that the report accurately represents the organisation's financial position, a role in an organisation's internal audit team entails so much more.
We speak to Hayley Psaltis, Group Head of Audit at AGL Energy, about the highlights and challenges of her specialisation, the possible opportunities available to those who pursue a career in auditing, and how it's not all about working on audit reports…
Learning every day
Most professionals need to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date, but few keep learning at the breadth and depth of accountants who choose to specialise in auditing.
"You're never really done learning as an auditor. Technology is always changing. You've got to stay abreast of it, stay in touch with your peers… and make sure you know about the latest and the greatest developments in your field," says Hayley.
The sheer variety of industries and organisations that need the services of auditors provides varied career opportunities and the chance to build a whole host of business and communications skills. "You learn resilience. You learn how to manage reactions. You learn how to negotiate," says Hayley.
As the corporate world innovates, there's also the need to keep up with these changes and adapt your audit skills accordingly. Hayley encourages her team to always look out for these potential changes in the industry. "Go grab a coffee with someone, go along to a steering committee meeting - even if it's not relevant to a particular audit that you are doing at the time. Just having your ear to the ground and knowing what's going on is a big part of the job," says Hayley.
Understanding and controlling risk in specific situations is a key challenge, and there's no manual to help you find the answers. Learning how to focus and find your own solutions can pay off later in your career when others look to you for support.
"As an auditor, you get good exposure at a relatively junior level that you wouldn't necessarily get in other roles. I sat in meetings with CFOs in my first year out of university," Hayley says. "If you're asked about your experience, you're always going to have something to draw on. You face challenges, ethical questions, difficult conversations and decisions, having to make tough calls - that's every day in internal auditing."
Roaming far and wide
One of the reasons Hayley became a Chartered Accountant is because the doors to travel and career movement are always open. Prior to her position at AGL Energy, Hayley spent eight years working in London.
With an audit background and all of the exposure you get as an auditor, you are also able to easily move around into different areas of a business.
"The opportunities, I think they are endless. Once you've demonstrated you've got an internal audit capability and skill set, you could move into any role in the business, and that's often what people do," says Hayley.
Embracing a variety of work
In auditing, no two days are the same. In fact, at this point in her career, Hayley spends only about 30 percent of her time working on audit reports. Her to do list often includes reviewing reports, writing audit committee papers, liaising with external specialists to support her team on particular audit engagements, conducting close-out meetings, attending seminars on latest practices, or catching up with fellow heads of audit from other organisations.
Pass on the wisdom
Hayley encourages students to consider a career in auditing and has volunteered in panel discussions and a video series "to help them understand what auditing and accounting is and why it should be something they seriously consider," she says.
"I think it's a great career. It's what I want to do and I don't intend to do anything other than auditing. But for those who are less certain about what they want to do, I don't think you can go wrong with internal auditing as a starting point. You get to see every part of a business, you can work in any industry, any organisation. Develop all sorts of skills - technical skills and soft skills - there's very little you won't get to experience and be able to draw on later in your career."
Note: This interview was conducted in 2017. Hayley Psaltis CA is now the Group Internal Audit Executive at Telstra, Sydney, Australia.