What are Internal Controls?
Internal controls are the mechanisms by which senior professionals within any enterprise handle financial management. They are a set of operational rules which every employee has to follow to guarantee a legally compliant, effective, efficient financial system.
They are the stalwart defenders of regulation, processes, laws, compliance and accounting information, making sure the work of financial firms are legally bound, free of fraud and accountable.
Depending on the size of the company, internal controls may have their own department to handle the maintenance, training and reporting of internal controls. At smaller companies those responsibilities are sometimes seconded to senior leadership members to monitor and maintain with support of accounting partners.
Financial managers are ultimately responsible for the accurate recording of accounts and the compliance of their financial teams – internal controls are the foil against fraud, mistakes, malfeasance and error, as well as training and wider governance to improve internal systems if there are issues.
Internal controls are essential financial and audit operations – the professional that takes on the mantle of internal controller needs to be a fastidious financial professional, with experience in auditing, accounting, reporting, and staff management, and must be cognizant of up to date financial reporting legislation and regulations, and specific internal control operations such as audit trails, preventative controls and detective controls.
A degree in accountancy, economics, finance or maths, and further study at master’s of business administration (MBA), certified public accountant (CPA), certified management accountant (CMA) or a chartered financial analyst (CFA) level can be vital in building a career path to internal controller.
There is no hard and fast way to become an internal controls manager – it takes years of dedication and industry skill set built up, through many avenues such as working for an accountancy firm, auditor, public or private sector.
Generally speaking an undergraduate course, followed by a masters and experience at a Big Four auditor and/or governmental organisation will stand you in good stead.
Although internships are very much worth your while, they bear little impact on your ability to secure a role as internal controller – what matters more is your firm understanding of diligence, governance, and your working experience at senior finance level. Internships are, however, incredibly valuable early on in your career and there is ample experience you can take away that may help you in future if you desire to work as an internal controller.
What skills are needed to succeed as an internal controls manager and analyst?
Calm in the face of the storm
Audit season can be a stressful affair. Your position is unique in that everything you do works towards creating a viable, clear, transparent and legally accurate system of reporting and accounting statements. This means you have to be calm in the face of pressure, clear in your demands of your teams, and able to calmly and succinctly adapt internal systems to meet necessary standards of reporting and anti-fraud management.
Leadership is Key
Internal controls managers and analysts are often senior, highly regarded financial professionals. You must be incredibly clear with direction, able to cross examine and highlight inconsistencies without fail, and able to communicate control processes across departments and to non-financial stakeholders clearly: you have to be a natural financial leader.
Learn to read people
A large part of the reason for internal controls being a protected, and required, job role at larger companies and public entities is because of fraud – people are fallible, prone to error, and at times selfish. You have to be able to read people, understand motive, highlight vulnerabilities and know the limits of internal controls, all whilst creating a culture of support and diligence.
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