Company of the Week: Finnair – Internal auditor in Finnair

Most children, I suppose, don’t dream of becoming auditors when they grow up – neither did I. Yet, here I am, working in Internal Audit in Finnair – and loving every minute of it! My journey (and my interest) to my current role has passed through being a freelance guide and tour leader for one of Finnair’s subsidiaries at the time (amongst other employers), Suomen Matkatoimisto/ Finland Travel Bureau, and through external audit at a Big 4.

I have always had a passion for languages and different cultures. Hence the de-tour in my career as a guide during my studies: in the summer time I guided primarily French and American tourists within Finland and to St. Petersburg, and in the winter I led mostly French, Dutch and South African incentive groups in Lapland: snow mobiles, husky and reindeer safaris, Sampo ice breaker cruises and overnights at a Snow Castle became quite familiar during those years. That work was fun, and at the start of each season, I said to myself, this is the last one… There ended up being quite a number of last seasons!

At the same time I knew I would want a career in the field I was studying. Majoring in accounting was clear since day one at the (then) Helsinki School of Economics, just as clear as my interest in management accounting! Back then, I didn’t think that audit would be that interesting.

Little did I know.

After the last “last season”, I applied to PwC’s trainee programme, got in and got pulled into the world of external audit. It was only then that I realised that audit was so much more than just figures. Where else would you get such a broad perspective into different companies, or within the different operations of one company. To a large extent, communication plays a much bigger role in audit that at least I originally had thought: be it presenting the audit objectives, interviews or communicating and supporting your findings, you need to have good communication skills. Reading through documentation on your own will only get you this far, to really understand the activities behind the figures, you need to talk to the people. This is the part that I enjoy most – working with people; and this applies both to external and internal audit.

In Finnair, the mission of Internal Audit is to provide independent, objective assurance and consulting services designed to add value and improve the organization’s operations. Our key audit areas vary from year to year, in the past few years we have had an emphasis on e.g. the sales strategy implementation, and strategic partnerships and alliances.

Even though Finnair operates flights to nearly 100 destinations, the majority of the governance is based in the head office at Helsinki airport and, therefore, most of our audits can be performed directly from there. However, the audits of our sales units do take us to our overseas destinations on a regular basis, and I am in fact writing this on board a return flight from Delhi.

There is no such thing as a typical work day, but the week always starts with an internal team meeting to share the latest in our audits and to discuss any current matters. Some audits we do jointly with a colleague, but mostly we are individually responsible for our audits. The day, and week, continues with all of us concentrating on the audit in hand. However, we continuously work together within our team to share knowledge – not only during the Monday morning meetings, but throughout the week. The majority of my work time I spend in meetings: audit opening or closing meetings or interviews, but also going through audit related materials, such as agreements and accounting material, doing data analysis, or finding benchmarking material regarding the audit area. To me, the beauty of internal audit is that there are not always such clear frameworks as e.g. GAAPs in external audit, but you get to challenge yourself, always learn new and continue searching for the best practises.

External audit is sometimes compared to having a window seat – a great way of having a peak into the operations of a client company. With internal audit, you are sitting on an aisle seat – you are perfectly located to get a more detailed understanding of the company’s operations from within the company, or in Finnair’s case, to see what happens in the aircraft!

 

Veera Talari

Internal auditor