As Corporate Auditor at electronic component distributor Arrow Asia Pac Ltd., Laura Au CPA oversees the internal controls, compliance and overall operations of its Asia-Pacific offices. She tells A Plus how she made the jump from being an external to internal auditor, and why being an effective one involves being eager to learn, and knowing how to build trust
What is your current role and responsibilities? How is it going so far?
As Corporate Auditor, I’m responsible for the internal controls, operations and compliance with statutory requirements of our offices within the Asia-Pacific region. We act as an independent and reliable party at Arrow to ensure the right internal controls and corporate governance are upheld throughout the organization. I also find ways to improve the effectiveness of our risk management, which involves liaising with different process owners and regional heads to understand their operations. Lastly, we provide consultation and support to different stakeholders on ad hoc investigations and risk-based projects to eliminate any chance of fraud occurring. Things have been going quite well since I joined a year ago. Arrow is a multinational corporation based in the United States, so I also have the opportunity to communicate and work with our teams in the U.S., United Kingdom, South Korea and Taiwan, which I find very interesting.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your role, and why?
The most rewarding aspect of my role is the opportunity for me to add value. My job involves constantly finding new ways to improve processes, so it’s very rewarding when we see a positive outcome as a result of our suggestions being heard and then implemented by management. It’s challenging finding ways to solve different non-accounting issues within tight deadlines in order to keep the ball rolling. I have to be a self-learner to pick up new skills and understand new concepts. For example, my team has been exploring opportunities to implement some data automation functions instead of always relying on data provided by those we are auditing. This seemed easy at the very beginning, but when it reached the implementation phase, it involved a lot of integration of different systems and software. Some of the processes required basic programming knowledge, but our team wasn’t too familiar with this since we all come from finance or accounting backgrounds. Another challenge was understanding certain technical terms or special types of electronic components, such as different semiconductors, transformers, smartphone and smartwatch chips and computer hardware – some of which I wasn’t familiar with at the beginning. So it took me some time to understand different processes before conducting the audit, for instance, how components go from the manufacturer to the warehouse, to the logistics department, and then to the customer.
What inspired you to become an accountant?
I was quite good with numbers and maths when I was a kid. I studied business, accounting and financial studies back in secondary school and I attained my degree in accounting and finance from the University of Hong Kong. After graduating, I really wanted to strengthen my skills in accounting so I started working at PwC as an external auditor. After four years, I moved to the commercial sector, which gave me the opportunity to drill deeper into each business process to really understand a company. I’m proud to have become an accountant and enjoy being an internal auditor. I’m a people person, so I’m lucky that I get to speak with different people and solve their problems as part of my role. You learn a lot through speaking with individuals who are from different regions and backgrounds.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far and how did you overcome it?
It would be learning how to build trust with our process owners and clients, and to have them rely on you. Whether you work in external or internal audit, the job is to make sure things are done according to statutory and compliance requirements. It’s also about confidently delivering the right message and communicating with management to earn their trust. This involves knowing how to listen to them and understanding their concerns before we recommend solutions – ones that could enhance control efficiency and also fulfil compliance requirements.
How do you think the Qualification Programme (QP) has helped you in your career so far, or prepared you for your current role?
The QP has provided me with a strong foundation to build my knowledge in accounting standards, internal controls and corporate governance – all of which are essential factors in being an effective auditor. This knowledge has also helped me become a professional CPA who knows how to ensure the code of ethics and compliance are in place within the company. Back when I was an external auditor, I found Module A financial reporting to be most helpful as it covered a lot of audit-based knowledge. As an internal auditor, I found Module C business assurance to be an essential stepping stone in understanding what good internal controls and good corporate governance look like in a company.