I remain a big believer that moving into IA is actually a great route into many Finance roles in bigger businesses.
BMC's Associate Director, David Lovenbury, interviews Steve Hulme, the newly appointed CFO of leading peer to peer lender ZOPA. Steve is a fierce advocate of beginning your industry career in internal audit...
Steve, tell us why you decided to move into IA after leaving RR? You were a prize winning NQ ACA with a First, surely you had the pick of the best jobs at the time?
I joined Rolls-Royce because I got the chance to move into the rapidly advancing field of IT Audit, they sponsored me through an IT Audit qualification and offered the opportunity to work across multiple businesses and geographies. Having previously worked in external audit, the idea of settling into a single role in a single place was a bit alarming – I wanted more from my working life and flexibility and variety were high on the agenda. My ambition was to work for a global business in an interesting area.
Dispel the myth that IA is just asking to check invoices and ticking boxes. What kind of projects did you get involved in?
My initial audits were tech and information security reviews in some of the many subsidiaries of Rolls-Royce across the UK, I then worked on rolling out corporate governance across the whole group, I ran project audits in the US and Germany and visited Rolls-Royce Brazil for 2 weeks. Once I was promoted to Manager I got involved in IT strategy and was then seconded to a key role implementing a new Group financial reporting system for 6 months.
Do you think that moving into IA helped you become a better accountant and CFO?
My accounting skills were already established, but the experience I got in financial control was instrumental to my future success. I became much more tech savvy and systems literate. Working in internal audit built my influencing skills, which was required in an environment where you would be working with highly experienced and senior people, sometimes with quite critical findings.
What advice would you dispense to a NQ or RQ ACA in a Top 20 firm wanting to leave the profession, would you urge them to consider a career in IA?
I remain a big believer that moving into IA is actually a great route into many Finance roles in bigger businesses. It gives you a chance to build a strong reputation, more time to assess what are the best roles to move into and a broad understanding of the whole business.
As part of your research make sure you speak to people who already work in the function, what’s their experience, how varied have their roles been. There will be some audit functions where the scope to get involved in varied work or move role in the future is less so it’s obviously better to steer away from those. However, I actually benefitted enormously from continuing my role in internal audit for several years. As other staff came in and moved into business or accounting roles I was able to accelerate my career and gain varied and interesting experience.
What were the highlights of your career in IA?
International travel was always a highlight for my role, however equally satisfying was seeing a material improvement in a key business area as a result of your work.
None at all.
Faced with a decision to move into an IA role with a PLC or move into a Financial Accountant role, what would you choose, and why?
To be fair I have never booked a GL journal in my life, so I avoided all junior elements of financial accountancy. I entered that world as a Financial Controller and therefore running the team. I got much broader experience in IA than repeating a month end process in Financial Accounts. In a smaller business an FA role could be varied and much more interesting however I avoided being part of a large month end machine.
IA seems to becoming an increasingly important function in business now, especially with governance in mind, do you agree?
Yes, that’s definitely the case, the bar for controls and governance is going up. Some businesses can treat internal audit as a ‘necessary evil’ but I’m of the firm opinion that it’s critical to have independent oversight, especially as the pace of change and degree of process automation accelerates. IT skills are also going to become increasingly important, there’s no need to do sample checks when the whole universe of transactions can be checked in a systematic way.
Finally, tell us about ZOPA, and explain to us what “peer to peer lending” is …?
Zopa is a technology-led financial services innovator, launched in 2005 as the world’s first peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platform. We directly match people looking for a competitive rate loan with investors looking for a higher rate of return, and over our 12-year history we’ve lent over £3bn to low risk UK borrowers.
At the end of 2016 we announced our intention to launch a next generation bank in order to offer our customers a broader set of products and services. So, it’s a really exciting place to work!