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#auditiscool An interview with Bernadine Burnell

1/10/2018 by Andy Winterburgh

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Last week I interviewed Bernadine Burnell who earlier this year started a new role as Chief Internal Auditor at TPICAP, having previously held a number of FTSE100 Chief Auditor roles in Insurance and Asset Management.  Bernadine talked to us about her career journey and how she fell in love with Audit and Finance as well as some of the challenges she sees ahead for the Internal Audit industry.

Hello Bernadine, great to see you again and to interview you for #auditiscool.

Can you tell us about your career journey? Where you started and how your career progressed.

I came to England (from rural Ireland) in 1983, initially to work for 6 weeks in a summer job. Later that year I was offered the opportunity to work in a Finance Department. I discovered that I really enjoyed it and I have stayed working in finance for most of my career. 
 
After sitting AAT exams and then ACCA to qualify I joined Legal & General in 1997 and had my first taste of audit as a Senior Auditor and stayed in the function for three years before returning to a finance role. 
 
Over the next 10 or so years I remained at Legal and General holding a number of Finance Director roles, before laterally heading up the Finance Shared Service function and finally heading up the Group Internal Audit function in 2013. This coincided with the publication of the FS Code, by which time I had been with the company for 17 years. At that stage, I could see myself continuing in an audit role for the remainder of my career and I really wanted to make a positive difference. 

I moved to MS Amlin in 2014 as Chief Auditor and then to Williams & Glyn as part of the RBS proposed divestment before finally moving to my new role with TPICAP as Chief Internal Auditor earlier this year.
 
What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the wide variety of the Internal Audit role and the fact that I have such a significant opportunity to support the business in improving the control environment. Being in a role that accesses every corner of the organisation gives us a unique perspective.  Being able to share insights appropriately can be particularly valuable to management.  Anyone who knows me will know that I am a straight talker. For me, the role of the audit function is to keep the company safe and this requires us to be able to call it as we see it, whilst maintaining our relationships with executives. Our role is to maintain laser focus on the ‘corporate good’. Everything we do is to protect the stakeholders (board, customers, investors)

 What is your proudest achievement in your career to date?

Probably one of the most proud moments was when I qualified as an ACCA. I worked full time and studied at night school. I was seven months pregnant when I sat my finals! When I look back now, I don’t know where I found the determination to push through the challenge. I’m delighted that I did though, because it created the opportunities that led me down this exciting career path. I could not have achieved nearly so much without the unstinting support of my husband Peter, and my two amazing kids, Jane & Tom.
 
What key leadership lessons have you learnt?
 
- Always recruit people smarter than yourself
- Be kind & respectful, be visible, be yourself
- Check-in regularly to ‘inspect what you expect’
- Effective communication takes many forms - use them appropriately 
- Cakes make even the dullest day brighter!
 
If you only had 5 minutes to interview someone for an IA role what question(s) would you ask them?

- Tell me about yourself…and if I had more question time, I would ask:
- What attracted you to this role?
- What is your career ambition for the role after this one?
- How would your friends describe your strengths and what would they say are the things you need to work on?
 
What career advice would you give to an Internal Auditor at VP, AVP and Director level?

My advice for all of these levels would be much the same. Make sure to network with others at your career stage and also more senior CAs. Get yourself a Mentor and ideally, also a Coach. Reverse mentoring is becoming very popular and gives great insights into understanding the future generation of auditors, so capitalise on that knowledge. Be a role model wherever possible. Remember to say it as it is and say it as early as feasibly possible. Take time to build trust, it forms the cornerstone of every relationship, so is worth investing heavily to achieve it.
 
What is the best piece of advice you have received?

The best advice I have received was ‘bring your best self everyday’ - if something is worth doing at all, then it is worth putting in the effort to do it well.

Why do you think diversity and inclusion is so important? 

Great teams are built when you are able to complement the skills and knowledge of everyone and harness those to work together. It therefore makes absolute sense that this requires us to draw on the widest possible pool to achieve this and that those teams need to mirror our wider society. Our biggest blocker will be our own unconscious bias - be aware of it, be vigilant and challenge it everyday.
 
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the Internal Audit Industry in the next 12 months? 
 
There are a few specific challenges I would highlight:
- Geo issues, such as Brexit
- Regulatory implementations: GDPR, IFRS 9 (and 17), MiFID II, SMR for firms coming into line in 2019
- Increased regulatory expectations on Internal Audit
- The ongoing challenge to ensure we continually improve (resource utilisation/cost management; reporting on what matters)
 
What do you do to relax?

It’s a bit of a cliche, but my happiest time, honestly, is the time I spend with my family. It’s harder these days, now that the kids have headed off to university and are busily forging their own lives, so the time that we do spend together is very special. I’m lucky to live near to some wonderful countryside walks and open spaces, so I try to enjoy that whenever I can. Socialising over some good food and nice wine is a guilty pleasure and we are starting to travel a bit more, now we have flexibility to do so. 

And finally, why do you think Audit is cool?

Right now, Audit is one of the best places to work. We have such a unique role, the only one which spans truly across the entirety of any organisation and such an opportunity to support executive management and to challenge. It’s also full of great people, many of whom have come to audit though a range of routes and not all are ‘lifetime’ auditors. The breadth of skills and experience that people bring to audit is rapidly expanding and its helping to make us a better function as a consequence.

Thanks Bernadine, it’s been great to hear about your thoughts on the Internal Audit industry.

#auditiscool

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