When I asked my freshly minted CA friends(cleared in Jun-10) about their career plans, more often than not, Internal Audit figured. Even in the articled trainee market, internal audit is sought after. This post tries to explain the reason for that.
In this age of 'lean organizations', not being in the 'revenue producing' side of business would some day qualify your job for being outsourced. This is true specially for corporate finance jobs. Where earlier firms would have an army of clerks(for billing/receivables etc), they have managed to outsource it to specialist firms for a much lesser rate. And this trend is only increasing. The Tata Group outsources( among other things) some routine accounting to its group company E-Nxt. Other Indian conglomerates are following suit and slowly the remaining staff are made to adapt to demonstrate more value or be forced out. In this regard, internal audit may be an interesting role to pursue.
The Bombay Chartered Accountants Society(BCAS) recently held a lecture series on 'Careers in Internal Audit'(you may download the PPT's here) . Each speaker emphasized that internal audit is seen as a leadership pipeline, critical and value adding function etc. While it is often outsourced for reasons of corporate governance or legal requirements(like SEBI directives), companies still need an in house expert(s).
And that expert need not be a Chartered Accountant(though they are often preferred over other professionals). A good internal audit professional can ensure savings much more than what he is paid. If the company outsources the function, the professional can still shift to the business side/Corporate Planning side to use the broad business knowledge he has gathered. That is why I call it 'safe'.
And 'rewarding' because intellectually, it is a challenging field. Fields like taxation are a zero sum game(just take away stuff from the Govt) but internal audit is a real value creation-appealing to people who look for 'meaning in their work'. Finding points is simple(nitpicking) but winning buy-in and ensuring implementation, is what separates the wheat from the chaff. In the short term, the salaries may not match what an external consultant makes but the long term career potential(CEO/CFO) more than makes up for that.