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An Interview with Valeria Locatelli - Leading Audit #auditiscool

26/02/2018 by Andy Winterburgh

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Valeria Locatelli is a highly respected and incredibly experienced Financial Services audit and risk management professional with infectious enthusiasm.   She is a committed diversity and inclusion campaigner, is the Executive Sponsor at M&G for all D&I initiatives and started the Internal Audit Women’s Book Club, which works to mentor women in the profession.

As a qualified mentor she has also worked with many women outside of the profession in both Financial Services and Non-profit organisations.  She works closely with the CISI to support the development of the Wealth and Asset Management profession and is passionate about professional development.  It’s fair to say people like working with Valeria.

Last week I met with her and we talked about her career and why she thinks audit is cool #auditiscool

Valeria, great seeing you, thanks for taking part in the Leading Audit Interview Series.

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

My first job was in Management Accounting for the food company Danone.  My role was in cost controlling, focusing on manufacturing costs.  I spent the majority of my time on the factory floor checking recipes, production and packaging, a great experience, not least as I got to sample many of the products – though it was not so great for my waistline thinking about it now.

I don’t think I have ever had a ‘worst’ job as such, but certainly inventory counts over the Christmas period in the early part of my career were not a high point.  In particular when counting pigs rolling in mud in a farm or frozen food in massive refrigerated room at -40 degrees.

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

I started my career at Deloitte, in external audit and I have remained in Audit ever since, with short spells (12-18 months) in Finance and Risk over the years.

Q: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A CAREER IN IA?

Like many before me, I wanted to use Audit as a training ground, and until relatively recently I did not consider it a long-term career.  After 15+ years in Audit I was probably in denial!  Audit is a great profession, it has a high standing in organisations, with audits having access to all areas of the business and to senior staff on a very regular basis.  It allows individuals to specialise if they so wish or develop a broad understanding of different topics and it offers diverse technical challenges, but also the opportunity to develop really strong soft skills.  

As a people business, Audit is all about the people.  For me, it offers a unique opportunity to develop and use technical and managerial skills to drive change in the controlled environment of an organisation, taking the business and the people along in the journey, thus facilitating and influencing change in a safe, pragmatic and thoughtful manner.

Q. WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU?

The beauty of working in Audit is that there is no typical day.  Every day brings new challenges and a role in Audit will take individuals outside of their comfort zone on a very regular basis, whether this is dealing with a difficult stakeholder, investigating an incident that just happened, or working in a different country within the same organisation. The common denominator in the life of an auditor is however the need to be inherently ‘nosy’.  As they say, ‘the devil is in the detail’. Regardless of the task ahead, auditors will need to apply the same discipline in understanding the risks associated with the business activity at hand and understand how they can be effectively and efficiently controlled, taking into account the context in which the organisation operates, for example industry trends, regulatory requirements and strategic initiatives.

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

No doubt access to fantastic technical and managerial training, regular open and honest feedback, however painful I might add, and the support to pursue personal interests, for example Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, and non-profit causes.

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

At Director level I would say that adaptability and resilience are key attributes for Internal Audit leaders to partner the business at times of change, like the one we are living in now. Brexit, GDPR, increasing regulatory expectations call for leaders able to flex their audit plan and strategy to the changing environment, and manage their teams through ambiguity.

For VPs it’s important to make time to compare notes with peers in the audit function and in the external market. Understanding the industry landscape, market standards, regulatory expectations allows you to provide real insights to senior management and demonstrate proficiency in your area of expertise.

AVPs should ensure that they understand that documentation of audit work is not just ‘admin’ but the window shop of any Audit function. Audit testing, issues and reports need to be underpinned by sound substantive audit work, but they equally need to be written and reported in a way that compels the business to take action and address the control deficiencies identified.

Q: WHO INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?

I am most inspired by stories and experiences, whether my own or those of others. I strongly believe connecting with others and sharing ‘adventures’ make them that more compelling and powerful.

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?

My talent is that of making connections very quickly, whether that is between data, people or emotions.  I am also a very quick learner, able to read the room and with the resilience to work through feedback to achieve better outcomes.  Like all creative people I am great at energising the teams and leading towards successful outcome with a smile on my face and navigating through change in innovative ways.  This however means that sometimes I have one idea too many, or that I drive too fast for all to follow and over the years I have learnt to listen to the quieter voices around me and take advantage of their thoughtfulness.

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

Restless curiosity, drive to get to right outcome, courage to take difficult decisions and empathy towards business and colleagues.

Q: WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

I am most proud of having influenced the growth and development of the Internal Audit profession and of the pipeline of talent joining it over the years, through various initiatives like the Asset Management Head of Audit meeting, mentoring initiatives and support of the IIA Institute and their qualifications.

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

I have been championing Diversity & Inclusion initiatives for the last 10 years.  At M&G, I am the Executive Sponsor for all D&I initiatives across the organization, and I started last year and mentoring initiative for women in Internal Audit, the Internal Audit Women’s Book Club, supported by mentors across Financial Services, including Audit Directors from Barclays, Prudential Plc, Standard Chartered, Fidelity International, ComputerShare and Aviva.  The idea of the book club came out of discussions with industry peers and colleagues, and the need to have a ‘safe’ environment where to share experiences, challenges, concerns without fear of being judged or give rise to urban legends about us, which can be very damaging.

To me, inclusion is about behaving in a manner that make all colleagues feel welcome and part of the team, and about harnessing talent whatever that might be.  We all each have our own unique talent that, if we discover it, we can all achieve our full potential. But in doing so, we must not try to be somebody else, not matter how uncomfortable the road less travelled can be at times. Championing D&I is about forgetting stereotyping people into buckets and realising we all associated with many different ‘labels’ at the same time and it is our own individual uniqueness that makes us strong and successful.

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

I think Artificial Intelligence and Digitalisation will transform the way auditors work and move the profession from substantive testing of control activities based on samples to real time auditing and continuous monitoring.

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

For Asset Management auditors, keeping up with the pace of change in the industry and provide audit assurance that remains timely, relevant and anchored in the strategic and market context in which the organisation operates.

Q: FINALLY, WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX?

I enjoy the outdoors with my Spaniels, and I love to read. Travelling and catching up with friends are also high on the agenda when I need some ME time.

 

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.