The world is rapidly evolving, and the financial landscape is no exception. In today’s fast-paced environment, every industry must remain agile in response to rapidly advancing technologies, the pervasive influence of digitalization, and the ever-shifting demands of the market. Unforeseeable events such as global pandemics, military conflicts, and natural disasters can have a profound impact on the global economy.
Businesses must be prepared to weather these storms and continue to thrive. However, it doesn’t take a cataclysm to shutter a business, lead to mass bankruptcy, and induce economic collapse. Most commonly, the reasons for corporate failure are fraudulent practices and misappropriation, wrong distribution of resources, both financial and human, as well as the lack of effective systems of internal control, risk management, and governance processes.
Today, the changes in business practices due to market demands and digitalization, economic uncertainty, and unprecedented competitiveness within every industry make the role of auditors more significant and critical than ever before. This poses several questions: How can the internal audit process adapt to the demands of this modernized business environment? What sets apart auditors of the past from auditors of the future? And what is the future of relationships between companies and auditors? To answer these questions, we consulted with one of the leading internal audit and risk management experts in the Middle East, Arif Zaman.
Arif’s professional journey arose from his deep passion for learning all subtleties of business operation and corporate processes. Inspired by a remarkable conversation with his teacher about the power of high-quality auditing to improve, refine, and move businesses forward, Arif was inspired to master the craft of professional accountancy through attending the most prestigious universities of the United Kingdom, obtaining half a dozen of high-level certifications, and launching into the big business by joining one of the most iconic firms of today, Ernst & Young.
In these early years of risk management, he played an instrumental role in several high-level projects directed at the improvement of the company’s business process management and the development of a finance and accounting manual for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
Arif continued to have key roles undertaking projects at a leading European telecom company, Telenor, a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, HSA Group, and a legendary Dubai corporation EII Capital that constructed the famous “Burj Khalife”, which is the tallest building in the world.
Arif has saved these companies from five to ten million dollars annually through consolidation, resources optimization, enhancement of operational control, and development of advanced risk mitigation policies. He also received international acclaim for his expertise in corporate audit operations carried out across 28 airports throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Arif has often been invited as a keynote speaker at conferences and webinars dedicated to the development of internal audit and risk management. Today, he shared his unique vision and extensive experience with us.
“You create opportunity, don’t wait for it”, is Arif’s life motto. With a career founded on the art of identifying challenges and finding secure and efficient solutions, Arif firmly holds the belief that every change and modernization confronting today’s business world, even those initially appearing daunting, are brimming with potential. As an example, he points to the contemporary market’s call to “embrace digitalization” and become proficient in a multitude of cutting-edge technologies, which may not initially ignite much enthusiasm among older generations. However, as Arif highlights, once put into action, these technologies demonstrate the power to transform the entire audit process, identify any systematic weaknesses in an instant, eliminate any risks of human-factor errors, and immediately develop simple and elegant solutions.
“The application of technology in the field of auditing offers a diverse range of benefits. It empowers professionals to unearth control weaknesses, facilitates comprehensive data examination, allows auditors to concentrate on vital core processes, enables examination of entire populations rather than relying on small samples, supports remote work, enhances both efficiency and precision, illuminates trends and hidden patterns that are often elusive without technological aid, and even opens the door to predicting future trends”, shares Arif. What’s more, he ardently believes that the hallmark of the future auditor is their embrace of change and innovation. Such auditors possess the ability not just to adapt to novel technologies and methodologies but to harness them, seamlessly incorporating every emerging trend, approach, or software program into their arsenal.
However, what Arif would like to emphasize the most is the significance of the change of the entire essence of relationships and interactions between businesses and auditors: “In the past couple of decades, we have noticed that there has been a quite dramatic transformation in the role of the internal auditor. Once considered to be the ‘financial police,’ the catcher of wrong-doers and identifier of compliance gaps, auditors are now viewed as strategic partners”.
He strongly believes that the future of ultimate success is in partnership and collaboration, where every employer, employee, and auditor are on the same side, and work together to enhance company operations.