On The Blue Couch with Refilwe Mogorosi

This month I caught up with Refilwe Mogorosi, an internal audit manager at ABSA Group. Refilwe attained a master’s degree at the University of Pretoria, with a report entitled “Preventing Banking Failures: The Internal Auditors’ role?”.
She is committed to the Internal Audit profession and is a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) with a history of work in the financial services industry, having exposure to Corporate Investment Banking and Asset Finance.
She serves on the Johannesburg Regional Committee of the Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa (IIASA) and was the recipient of the 2017 IIASA Young Internal Auditor of the Year award.
In her Blue Couch session we spoke about her journey as a student who made sure she had the richest university experience. She also touched on how her time as a student prepared her for the workplace.
Refilwe spoke about how she started out wanting to pursue a chartered accountant’s designation.

I did start out wanting to go the CA route, but as I progressed I thought that, that’s not necessarily something that I wanted to do. And then on the other side I was part of the ‘res’ life and I think that was very helpful on my student journey, because it exposed me to a lot of different things and a lot of opportunities in terms of applying new skills, learning new skills, like presentation [skills], for instance, [and] learning how to work budgets and things like that.

I also asked her why she thinks so many scholars only seem to be aware of accounting and do not necessarily have knowledge about the various other occupations they can pursue in the financial services sector.

It actually starts in high school with career fairs where you are introduced to the concept of CA(SA) and that being the dream. If you get this designation, you’re going to make lots of money, and you’ll be an accountant as soon as you walk in, and people will respect you. You hear that from high school days where BCom Accounting is something that is punted as the option and generally at school if you’re good at maths and good at accounting then it just makes sense for you to move into that field. I didn’t consider any other majors or any other subjects that I was doing as an alternative; I was very focussed on the CA stream. Until I realised I don’t like tax and I think that’s one of the things that we don’t talk about at high school level or during first year. A CA is a designation, it is not a career path, it opens up a lot of career options for you. A lot of CA’s are not even accountants. They go into audit, IT governance etc.

We touched on some of the misconceptions people have about auditors.

I don’t look at numbers and people assume that I look at numbers, I don’t balance books. I look at the organisation, end-to-end. From things like how they execute strategy, to petty cash, to HR policies, to the different product offerings that they have. I don’t think that I was very clear about what a BCom accounting would open me up to, I assumed it would be maths.

As well as the difference between internal and external auditors.

Generally both of these people do not balance books or work with numbers; that’s really more in the accounting space. External auditors work for an external firm that is appointed by the shareholders of the organisation they are auditing and then they will confirm that what we are reporting (the firm being audited) is accurate and complete from a financial perspective. Sometimes they will look at the controls, which are the processes in place to ensure that those numbers are accurate and that is what external audit does. As internal auditor, we actually work for our organisations and we are an independent function from management. We don’t execute any processes like selling anything or buying anything, what we are there for is to assess whether the processes in the business are effective and adequate to mitigate against risk. Essentially you’re providing assurance on the work that management is doing from a risk perspective. We also look at the governance structures and whether those are effective in dispensing their duties and we look at internal controls.

I asked her what it was that she enjoyed about her job.

The reason why I really enjoy it is because I get to interact with people at various levels of the organisation, in different parts of the organisation. So, as much as every audit is the same in terms of process, I’m continuously learning about different things. In my degree I studied accounting, auditing, tax and financial management, but now I’m in a space where I am assessing whether a strategy makes sense. That’s not anything I feel like you can really study for, but it’s continuous learning. It really stretches me, and the most rewarding part is when you see management actually implementing or changing some of their processes based on your report and it saves them money or time. It’s a great feeling.

I asked her whether she taught obtaining her master’s degree helped her advance in the workplace.

While I was doing my master’s I was promoted to the manager role, but I don’t think it was just because of the master’s. I think when my team looked at the fact that I want to progress in my career and that I am committed to internal audit and furthering my education, that was an indication of someone who can move up in terms of leadership roles. I think that’s what the postgrad did for me. In terms of my day-to-day work, I wouldn’t say that much has changed, but what I can say is that I have developed a research skill which has enhanced the way I am able to find information.

She spoke about how having attained some work experience after completing her honours made for a more fulfilling journey as a master’s student.

For instance, when I think about my topic, I would only have seen that after seeing what internal auditors do, and whether what we do is effective or not and in the context of a corporate failure. I really think you can only have an insightful master’s journey when you do have some experience backing you because you can reference that. One of the subjects we looked at was project management. I think, coming out of my honours straight into the master’s it would have been another tick-box exercise. But that was something I could really think about and say when I manage an audit, this is what I can implement. And also, when I am auditing projects, this is the criteria that I can use. It just made it more practical and the types of questions I could ask and the kinds of insights I could get from the course.

She also had some words of wisdom for students hoping to enter the financial services industry.

Get involved in the professional bodies that govern your career. Getting exposure to those organisations (like the The Institute for Internal Auditors (IIA)), reading the magazines and going to the events help, because you can see what is happening in the industry. You get a better feel of what to expect when you do eventually move into corporate. Research! Spend time reading, not necessarily reading about topics in your degree, but look at your soft skills, develop that while you’re still in varsity, you don’t need to wait till you get to the office. Like presentation skills is really important in understanding how to deliver your message. Sharpen that skill, sharpen your negotiation skills, go to courses and learn different skills. Not just technical knowledge, soft skills are really important.

This article presents a paraphrased summary of our chat. The full interview can be watched here.