Risk in Focus 2021 | Hot topics for internal auditors
Without question, 2020 was defined by the global coronavirus pandemic (GCP). By March, as the research for Risk in Focus got underway, Europe had become the epicentre of the biggest public health crisis in living memory. This caught most countries and businesses off guard, despite the fact the World Economic Forum and others had already been sounding the alarm on global health security and the probability of a pandemic event.
Not only has the virus had huge public health consequences, social distancing and lockdown measures have had profound economic impacts. The GCP is the most significant and far-reaching event for businesses since at least the global financial crisis of 2008, and is expected to cause a deeper recession, higher rates of unemployment and bigger increases in public debt.
Businesses and their risk profiles have been significantly affected by coronavirus. The safety of workers has been a priority, with staff sent home to work in the first half of 2020 under orders from governments and employers. Lockdowns inevitably caused immense operational disruption as companies were forced to rapidly adjust and sectors including manufacturing, construction and industrials had to reduce output in order to maintain distancing measures within their core business.
The beginning of summer 2020 was marked by an easing of restrictions as governments managed the delicate balance of kickstarting their economies with resurgences in infections. It is expected that this challenge will have to be managed throughout 2021. Although the exact course of the pandemic’s development is uncertain, it was continuing to accelerate in the second half of 2020.
The longer-term implications of this exceptional scenario are less clear. Lessons will be learned over the coming months and years by governments and businesses. Internal audit can and should assist in this regard. Its unique 360-degree view of the business and risk-control mindset can help organisations identify their blind spots and opportunities to improve their operations. Looking ahead to 2021, internal audit’s enterprise-wide perspective has never been more necessary. Boards and executive management teams will depend on this independent top-down viewpoint for insights into the business and its risks during what remains a significantly challenging period.
This is the exceptional backdrop against which this year’s Risk in Focus is set.