Assurance is the review of financial data and procedures within a company to ensure that shareholders’ money is being put to proper use, and to provide them with the information they need when considering investing in an organisation. This review is called an audit.
An annual audit, carried out by an independent, external organisation, is a legal requirement for businesses in the UK. It can also involve investigation, analysis and the provision of advice to clients. The final report provides assurance that the company’s results are ‘true and fair’.
Many companies also carry out internal audits. This is not a legal requirement but it is good practice. Increasing regulation means that companies need to be constantly reviewing their processes to ensure compliance; carrying out an internal audit puts them in a better position when it comes to an external audit.
Increasingly, other types of assurance are also being undertaken, such as carrying out due diligence on a company that is a target for a merger or acquisition, or checking to ensure a company is meeting sustainability or social and corporate responsibility standards. These are potential areas in which you could develop your career.
Training, working life and progression
Graduates usually train in external audit while studying for a professional qualification. This hands-on style of training gives you great experience from the word go. It can be hard work juggling the demands of the day job, studying and your social life but there are compensations. You will work in a team, which means there are always colleagues there to help and advise you, and you’ll get time off for study. Initially, you will probably move around the country quite a bit and may have the opportunity to work abroad. Each company you audit will present new challenges. And you have the chance to meet lots of interesting people and develop increasing commercial awareness. As you progress, you will be given more responsibility and be able to use your judgment and experience. After two or three years you should progress to assistant manager and be able to lead teams.
Key skills required
Your academic background needs to be good as professional exams can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be finance-related. Having the right work experience can help. If you can show that you have been able to work with others and build relationships, are able to organize your time and can communicate well both verbally and in writing then you have a head start. You’ll need a degree of self-confidence too. You will meet all sorts of people and may have to be able to winkle out information if it is not being offered readily.
Long hours balanced by variety
The hours can be long at peak times (usually January to April) and, as with all jobs, there is a certain amount of repetition of some tasks. But this can be more than balanced by the variety of companies you visit, the opportunity to meet new people and the chance to gain more skills and experience. There is also a great sense of achievement when each audit is complete – and you all go out and celebrate!