Guest editorial on internal assurance: a concept in evolution

Gerrit Sarens (Louvain School of Management, Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium)

Managerial Auditing Journal

ISSN: 0268-6902

Article publication date: 5 January 2015



Sarens, G. (2015), "Guest editorial on internal assurance: a concept in evolution", Managerial Auditing Journal, Vol. 30 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial on internal assurance: a concept in evolution

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Managerial Auditing Journal, Volume 30, Issue 1

This special issue aims at publishing high-quality research articles that advance our understanding of how both internal and external assurance have evolved as a concept and the role assurance has played in corporate governance. Assurance is one of the most commonly studied and debated issues in academic accounting and auditing research. Nevertheless, there is still much confusion in the literature on this concept, basically because its meaning and roles have changed over time, influenced by many micro- and macro-economic factors. The aim of this special issue is to enhance the understanding of the assurance concept and the way it has evolved by publishing both theoretical and empirical studies that look at assurance from a conceptual or historical perspective. In this guest editorial, an overview is provided of the four papers in this special issue, including some personal reflections.

1. A synthesis of the empirical internal audit effectiveness literature pointing to new research opportunities, by Rainer Lenz and Ulrich Hahn

Ten years after Bailey, Gramling and Ramamoorti (2003) presented their research on opportunities in Internal Audit (IA), this paper provides a good synopsis of what the academic literature says about IA effectiveness. Based on this review of the existing literature, a new set of research questions that may help to bring the best out in IA research is proposed. More specifically, Lenz and Hahn review existing empirical studies based on internal auditors’ self-assessments (“inside-out”) and empirical studies based on other stakeholders’ perspectives (“outside-in”) through an “effectiveness lens” which is highly relevant in the current environment in which the IA profession is not always highly valued (cf. #B1). The “outside-in” perspective is regarded as particularly valuable. First, the authors identify common themes in the empirical literature. Second, they synthesize the main trends and themes into a model comprising macro and micro factors that influence IA effectiveness. Third, they derive promising future research paths that may enhance IA’s value proposition. The “outside-in” perspective indicates a disposition to stakeholders’ disappointment in IA; IA is either running a risk of marginalization (IIA, 2013; PWC, 2013) or has to embrace the challenge to emerge as a recognized and stronger profession. The suggested research agenda identifies avenues for future empirical research that can help IA practitioners make a difference for their organization; be recognized, respected and trusted; and help the IA profession in its pursuit of creating a unique identity. Moreover, this paper wishes to motivate researchers to explore innovative research strategies and probe new theories, as well as benefit from cross-fertilization with other research streams. This paper will be a rich source of inspiration for both researchers and practitioners.

2. A new vision for internal audit, by Andrew D. Chambers and Marjan Odar

In this paper, which is strongly related to the first paper, Chambers and Odar explore how internal auditing may recover from being one of the corporate governance gatekeepers that failed to prevent the global financial crisis. They draw on the theory of professions and provide a brief analysis of internal auditing history, ending with an appraisal of the contemporary status. They argue that internal auditing has not been “fit for purpose” and can be enhanced. Low expectations of internal audit are currently addressed by enhanced guidelines from a number of parties. The authors are convinced that internal audit needs to move firmly into the corporate governance space – to audit corporate governance more effectively and to provide more dependable assurance to boards. According to Chambers and Odar, the global Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) can use recent enhanced internal auditing guidelines as a springboard to regain their lead. Internal audit needs to cut the umbilical cord that ties it to management. They are convinced that the accepted “dual reporting” of internal audit is flawed. I really appreciate this kind of critical reflection, as I am strongly convinced that both practitioners and academics have to sit back from time to time to question the fundamental principles and ideas that they inherently take for granted in their work. Therefore, I trust that this paper provides useful reflections for both researchers and practitioners.

3. Implementing combined assurance: insights from multiple case studies, by Loïc decaux and gerrit sarens

This paper by Decaux and Sarens is the first to address combined assurance implementation. It complements the study of the Institute of Internal Auditors UK and Ireland (2010), which identifies the reasons for failed attempts to coordinate assurance activities. Combined assurance is gaining more attention in the world of auditing and governance and is increasingly put forward as a new way of looking at assurance from a more holistic perspective (cf. Sarens et al., 2012). The authors have used qualitative data obtained through semi-structured interviews with six multinationals at different stages of experience in the implementation of combined assurance. The paper shows that organizations are still learning through the implementation of combined assurance because no organization seems to have developed a fully matured combined assurance program. The descriptive findings in this paper reveal that a successful combined assurance implementation follows six important components. The results have implications both for organizations that do not yet have a combined assurance program in place and for those currently at the implementation stage. It also has implications for chief audit executives who are good candidates to lead a combined assurance implementation and also for regulators, as the study describes combined assurance as an important accountability mechanism that helps boards and audit committees properly exercise their oversight role. In addition to the practical implications, the authors also launch a call for more research on combined assurance as a potentially important concept in the governance field.

4. Internal auditors’ perceptions of their role in environmental, social and governance assurance and consulting, by Dominic S.B. Soh and Nonna Martinov-Bennie

This paper by Soh and Martinov-Bennie is complementary to the previous paper on combined assurance. They investigate the nature and extent of the internal audit functions’ involvement in environmental, social and governance assurance and consulting in Australia. To identify emerging priorities, and the profession’s capacity to respond to these, the paper also explores internal audit practitioners’ perceptions of the current and future importance of these issues and the adequacy of their skills and expertise in meeting the challenges associated with their involvement in these areas. Data were collected from 100 chief audit executives and internal audit service provider partners through a survey. They found that governance issues are a key area of focus for respondents’ assurance and consulting efforts, followed by social and environmental issues. While governance issues are perceived to be of greatest current importance to internal audit functions, environmental issues are most commonly expected to increase in importance over the next five years, and are reported to be in greatest need of further development of the internal audit functions’ skills and expertise. As the corporate landscape and expectations around transparency and accountability increase, the internal audit profession needs to address the current perceived skills gap in their ability to provide assurance and consulting on environmental, social and governance issues, to ensure their continued relevance and ability to meet stakeholders’ needs and expectations in providing effective integrated assurance and in contributing to internal improvements. The future-oriented focus of this paper is appreciated, as this is still quite rare in academic research. By doing this, the authors really help internal audit practitioners to think about potential ways going forward. Looking forward and anticipating new challenges in the current business environment in a proactive way is essential to survive and which also counts for the internal audit profession.

Gerrit Sarens, Guest editorial


Lenz, R. and Sarens, G. (2012), “Reflections on the internal auditing as a profession: what might have gone wrong?”, Managerial Auditing Journal, Vol. 27 No. 6, pp. 532-549.

Sarens, G., Decaux, L. and Lenz, R. (2012), A Combined Assurance Approach to Organizational Governance: A Guide for Internal Auditors, The Institute of Internal Auditors Research Foundation, Maitland, p. 139.

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