Leading with a Difference
CapitaMalls Asia Head, Internal Audit, Benjamin Ng, reflects on how the profession has evolved and shares his views on what it takes to become a successful Internal Auditor in the 21st century.
A Confluence of Skills
Meeting highly-skilled yet humble professionals like Benjamin Ng is a great reminder that the traditional internal auditor is quickly becoming a thing of the past. He carries with him a confluence of unique skill sets that enables one to appreciate the complex beauty of what it means to be an internal audit professional in the 21st century.
As a young IT graduate in the late 1980s, Benjamin wanted to use IT as a tool instead of being in the business of IT. His first stint in the working world was as a junior IT auditor at a foreign bank in Singapore. He progressed quickly in his career covering both IT and business audits, and his audits subsequently covered Asia-Pacific cities such as Hong Kong, Sydney, Taipei, and Tokyo. He later moved into business roles in Regional Operations and then Product Operations Manager which gave him better understanding of, and hands-on experience in the business. Benjamin also spent nearly three years in Beijing with one of the Big Four audit firms focusing on providing internal control and risk advisory services to the local financial services sector.
It was in late 2010 that he came back to the internal audit profession, joining CapitaMalls Asia as their Head of Internal Audit. He now manages a team in Singapore and China. Having a unique blend of skill sets in IT, professional services, business and auditing in multiple cities has helped him to appreciate the important role that internal audit plays within the organisation.
What impact has being a member of The IIA had on you personally and professionally?
Joining the IIA gives me access to knowledge and information from professionals who have ‘walked’ the road and are able to share their experience on aspects of risk and controls, strategies, and new mindsets in the profession. The width and depth of the knowledge available is tremendous, and has benefited me professionally.
What study material did you use to prepare for the CIA?
I used the GLEIM study guides for my preparation for the certification exams and found them to be systematic and useful, coupled with the practice questions to check on my understanding, and also provided me the perspective of the expectation of the certification exam. For those taking the exam, it is important that they review the material at least once, including practice questions..
We were once “Policemen”
“Internal auditors were once looked upon as ‘policemen’ of the company in the 1980s”, he chuckles. As a junior auditor, he had his fair share of hostility and rejection whenever he came round knocking on management’s door. “As a young person, how do you react when a department management says ‘I have no time for you?’”, he muses. “You have to be persistent and resilient. If as an internal auditor, you are not persistent, you will not be able to get the job done.”
Describing his relationship with management now, Benjamin says, “I arrange to speak with the CEO regularly and before I do the annual audit plan, I speak with the various country heads. I view regular communications with senior management and my Audit Committee as important, and I also encourage my staff to build their own relationships with different levels of management.”
The Integrated Auditor
As Head of Internal Audit, Benjamin is constantly training his staff to become integrated auditors, professionals who understand both the operational and IT aspects of a business. “As internal auditors, you cannot avoid IT when conducting audits. We need to understand systems and the risks in order to provide assurance and add value.” He adds, “When I hire internal auditors, I look for people, not necessarily with the relevant industry background, but young professionals who have relevant internal audit background and good life exposure. I also ask about their knowledge on current affairs. I believe that if one keeps pace with world news and trends, it means they are curious, and curiosity is a great trait to have in this profession.”
Benjamin also makes the CIA a KPI for his staff. Anyone who joins the team has to attain the CIA certification within two years. He believes that having a globally-recognised internal audit certification makes for a solid foundation in the profession.
When asked about what made him decide to do the CIA in 2007, he said, “I started my internal audit career by learning on the job and picking things up along the way. I then took the initiative to embark on the CIA programme as I felt it was a systematic learning platform to reinforce my work experience, and gave me more knowledge on the technical aspects of internal audit.”
Internal Audit – A Business Partner and Catalyst
Benjamin’s view of internal audit in the next ten years is that the profession must be seen as a business partner. In order to achieve that, he believes that “Internal Audit must be progressive. We are in partnership with management to enhance the overall control framework within our organisation. We should be the catalyst to help raise control awareness within the organisation and to help reinforce controls alongside business growth.”
Inquisitiveness is key to success. “As internal auditors we need to think beyond what is seen, associate all observations and connect the dots, essentially think deeper beyond the symptoms at hand. In order to do this, we need to keep abreast of the profession and the industry that we are in, and where possible, expand our learning scope.”
He adds, “We need to think of how we can help the business units address issues holistically and not just at an individual functional level, so as to minimise recurrence. We want to try and make a positive difference so that Management will see us as a help rather than a hindrance. And this translates to the business units appreciating the work that internal audit does because we value-add to the business. Internal Audit must run alongside management and help them as they work towards their goal, and not be seen as just hurdles or obstacles along their way.”
Benjamin’s message to young professionals looking to become internal auditors is a thought-provoking one. “Internal Audit is a great profession. It sharpens your analytical skills but more importantly, it is one of those jobs which help you become more aware of your surroundings and also conscious about the importance of nurturing relationships. You can acquire a lot of emotional intelligence. It’s not just about technical skill; it accelerates your personal growth and makes you a better person to relate to.”
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I like playing badminton and squash very much. So would want to get a game as much as I can. Sometimes to de-stress, to be ‘brain-dead’, I go fishing where I do not have to think too much except reeling in the line. I also enjoy reading.
How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
As much as possible, I try to keep my coffee to a maximum of 2 cups a day, although I generally drink one a day. Coffee does not work on me so I do not need coffee to kick-start the day.
Do you play any musical instruments?
I like to sing and I try to strum my guitar occasionally when I get a chance, only very basic stuff that I am capable of.
Benjamin Ng has been a member of IIA Singapore since 2005. Besides Singapore, his internal audit work takes him to different places in China, India, Japan, and Malaysia where there are flourishing shopping malls. When he isn’t travelling, he enjoys spending quiet evenings with his family.