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An Interview with Demi Agrotis - Leading Audit #auditiscool

29/01/2018 by Andy Winterburgh

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It's been great to see so many of you reading our Leading Audit Series.  The feedback to date suggests that the #auditiscool message is resonating with many.  So far we've shared interviews with two FTSE100 Chief Auditors and we're going to share interviews of two more FTSE100 Chief Auditors later in the series.  

But in order to show the diversity of talent in the ranks of the profession at various levels, we're also going to share the experiences of Audit Leaders at varying stages in their careers and on their own journeys. 

In that context, next up is our interview with Demi Agrotis.  After more than 12 years, Demi will shortly be leaving Royal Bank of Scotland, where she has held various Internal Audit leadership roles, to join another major Bank (with a little help from Hybridge).  She also has a young family and is proud to be a role model showing that you can have a great career and a family.  

Here she tells us why she thinks audit is cool and who has inspired her career so far.

Demi, welcome to the Leading Audit Interview Series,

Q: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AND WHAT IS THE WORST JOB YOU’VE EVER DONE?

Prior to starting university my first job was a cashier in my local Waitrose store. I’ve never really had a bad job, whilst I have enjoyed some jobs more than others I believe every role can provide important learning experiences. 

Q: WAS INTERNAL AUDIT YOUR FIRST CAREER CHOICE AND WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE? 

In my second year at university, I secured a summer internship at KPMG who then offered me a place on their Audit Graduate Programme once I completed by degree.  My time in External Audit was a phenomenal experience where I managed to develop a breadth and depth of knowledge and practical experience. It was only after the completion of my ACA that I started to explore other roles within Financial Services and that is when I stumbled across roles within Internal Audit. 

Q: WHY DO YOU THINK AUDIT IS COOL?

Audit enables you to look across the organisation, influence management's mindset and behaviours and gives you access to the most senior people in the firm. You have the mandate to effect change and help protect the organisation from financial and reputational risk. With Audit continually evolving we always remain relevant! 

Q: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A CAREER IN IA?

Really so that I could invest time understanding the ins and outs of one organisation. As an External Auditor you have limited time to really see how an organisation operates.  However, as an Internal Auditor you are conducting multiple audits which examine issues relating to a company's business processes and key risks. 

Q: WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE?

I typically wake up around 6am, and then focus on getting my children ready for school. On the train to work  is my opportunity to respond to some e-mails and read the latest financial and economic news. 

Every day at work is very varied, and this is what I enjoy about my role. It can consist of a number of different activities, for example overseeing the delivery of audit engagements, people management activities as well as being involved in both internal and stakeholder meetings.  

At the end of the day I always make sure I plan and organise myself for the next day.

Q: WHO OR WHAT HAS HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOUR CAREER?

My family have been very supportive.  As a mother of two small children, there are times you have to make difficult choices between meeting commitments at work vs. home.  However, knowing that my family can help with school picks up and if the children are ill is so reassuring.  I know for sure that without their support I would have had to give up or alter my career path. 

I have also been very fortunate to have worked with some fantastic line managers and mentors during my career.  They have created opportunities for me to take on stretching assignments in preparation for the next role or acted as a sounding board when I needed to make a decision.  

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO INTERNAL AUDITORS ON DEVELOPING THEIR CAREERS?

Directors should network and focus on relationship building not just with stakeholders but also your team.  There are many benefits to networking for example it can open new doors to new opportunities, expands your support network by gaining different perspectives and advice on key matters impacting you. It also makes you more visible and accessible.  

For VPs I would says that based on my own experience, this was the level which required me to be bold and take on stretching tasks so that I could stand out.  I saw tasks that others didn't want to get involved in as an opportunity for me to drive change, raise my profile and enhance my skillset.

If you are an AVP whatever work you are assigned, spend quality time really understanding the business / products you are auditing, as your technical / soft skill knowledge improves you will gain more confidence not just in yourself but also with your stakeholders.  However, don't put yourself under so much pressure to learn everything in one go.  

Q: WHO INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?

There are so many people that inspire me primarily because of certain qualities that they display.  I admire individuals who are passionate about what they believe in and never give up trying to achieve their goals despite the challenges they face.

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?

I have a strong work ethic.  I am very organised, diligent and committed to meeting deadlines and taking responsibility for the quality of my performance and the performance of my team.  

As I am very focused on achieving my deliverables, there have been occasions where I have sometimes powered through a meeting agenda without full getting feedback from everyone in the meeting.  To avoid this occurring, I try not to start the discussion first so that I create an opportunity for others to voice their views and opinions.  

Q: WHAT ARE THE COMMON QUALITIES THAT THE BEST INTERNAL AUDITORS SHARE?

I think there are 3 key qualities. Firstly, being inquisitive and asking lots of questions. Secondly, team working and collaboration - the successful delivery of an audit is typically achieved through a team effort rather than by one individual on their own. Finally, strong relationship building skills, learning how to adapt your style in order to build rapport and trust with your team and stakeholders.  

Q: WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

I was particularly proud of the audit work my team and I have delivered which focused on conduct risk. The output of our work resulted in significant changes being taken by the business to improve its control environment and risk culture. 

I am also proud that I am a role model to other working parents that you can still have a family and pursue a professional career.

Q: WHY DO YOU FEEL THAT CHAMPIONING INCLUSION WITHIN THE INTERNAL AUDITING PROFESSION IS SO IMPORTANT? 

I am a massive supporter of inclusion and diversity as it helps to foster a more creative, innovative and empathetic workplace which helps to identify risk from different perspectives. It enables incredible, driven, very capable individuals who ordinarily may have given up their careers either because of childcare commitments or have a disability stopping them coming back into the workforce. If everyone within Internal Audit thought in the same way, the function would never evolve and be able to respond accordingly to the changing world we live in or see risk in all its facets.  

Q: WHERE DO YOU SEE THE PROFESSION IN 10 YEARS TIME?

I think technology and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a huge impact on the shape, size and capability of the Internal Audit function within 10 years. What that will look like?  Well, time will tell! 

Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY CHALLENGES FOR INTERNAL AUDITORS IN 2018?

One of the key challenges for Internal Audit is keeping up with all the regulatory changes and requirements imposed on financial institutions. Also the enhancement and simplifications created by automation and technology. The rate of technological change is incredible. A key challenge for Internal Auditors will be to remain forward looking so that we can identify and prevent the next problematic events or conduct scandal.  

Q: FINALLY, WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX?

I love spending any free time I have with my family especially my two children. During school holidays we like to travel, visit the theatre or simply go for walks to our local park. When I do get some time to myself, I love to read as it enables me to switch off from my daily routine. It helps me to de-stress and re-charge my batteries!

Thanks Demi, it's been great talking to you today and was great working with you in securing the job you start in February.

Hybridge is proud to support Sally Clark in her mission as Deputy President of the CIIA to spread the message that #auditiscool

If you’d like to talk to us about how Internal Audit functions are ensuring they hire and retain top talent, or if you’re an Internal Audit professional and you’d like to work with a recruiter who understands the market, is well connected and will take time to find the right opportunity for you, get in touch with Hybridge today. 

Follow us on LinkedIn for news of the next of our Leading Audit Interview Series and up to date insights on Financial Services Internal Audit recruitment.