News on Sunday

Sheila Ujoodha : “Making internal audit a regular investment will pay off eventually” 

She has had a long and fruitful career in audit, corporate governance and risk management in Mauritius and in Africa. Sheila Ujoodha has recently launched SmarTree Consulting, an independent audit and consulting firm and has been nominated as chairperson of audit committee at the Mauritius Institute of Directors (MIOD). Describing herself as a person with great determination, work ethics, values and who has always endeavored to achieve through a result-oriented approach, she shares with us her views on the audit sector in Mauritius.

You have recently launched your audit and consulting firm named SmarTree Consulting Ltd. Tell us what motivated you to open your independent firm and what are your aims through SmarTree Consulting Ltd?
After the significant exposure on world class audit practices at British American Tobacco in countries like Mauritius, Reunion, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique, I always felt that at some point, I would need to translate the experience I gained in multinationals and my innovative skills in the audit and risk management field to the benefit of Mauritian businesses. Being open to exciting challenges, I wanted to mark my presence in international audit related forums, for instance as a speaker at the MIS Training 12th Annual Audit, Risk and Governance Africa conference. In 2018, an opportunity arose, and I seized it to pursue my dream.

Inspired by well-known successful entrepreneurs, my ambition for SmarTree Consulting Ltd is “to engage with our stakeholders with a unique approach of excellence.”

This will involve building a culture of sustainable growth with a strong goal and applying an internal audit philosophy coined with total quality management principles which will focus on the future instead of being stuck in striving to focus on the past events, and will surely enhance the assurance and consulting activities which, consequently, will result in adding value to its customers by reducing risks and improving processes, controls, and operations.

You have also been nominated as Chairperson of the Audit Committee Forum at MIOD. How do you welcome this nomination and what are your objectives as Chairperson?
I’m honored to accept this position and will work hard to instill the necessary international standard culture to all stakeholders.

The Audit Committee Forum (ACF) alludes to the space which fosters the exchange of information and development of best practices. Its main mission is to improve knowledge, commitment and capacity for implementing processes and effective Audit Committees.

As the newly appointed Chairperson of the Audit Committee Forum (ACF), my objective would be to reinforce the ACF purpose in providing audit committee members with practical insights, resources, and peer-exchange opportunities focused on strengthening oversight of financial reporting and audit quality, and the array of challenges facing boards and businesses today – from risk management and emerging technologies to strategy and global compliance.

How important is internal audit and good governance today?
Robust corporate governance represents a key pillar of any type of businesses including public, private and even small businesses. Other than gaining the confidence of stakeholders, especially shareholders and investors, key benefits are (1) improved reputation, (2) fewer fines, penalties and lawsuits, (3) enhanced efficiency, (4) decreased conflicts and fraud.

Internal audit is a crucial part of the corporate governance structure. In simple terms, it helps to locate areas where the business can save time and money by examining the day-to-day tasks, identifying areas of waste and fraudulent spending or improper transactions by employees; hence pointing out areas for improvement. All in all, it gives a unique insight into the organisation and its strategy.

On the path to long-term success, making internal audit a regular investment will pay off eventually as a robust control environment is secured where stakeholders and customers feel assured that their investments or inputs respectively comply with the international accepted standards of governance and best practice.  

Do you trust that the audit sector is marked by competition in Mauritius?
Fortunately or unfortunately, competition is a necessary evil. As a critical driver of performance and innovation, it benefits everyone by enabling us to choose from an array of excellent products at affordable prices.

SmarTree Consulting Ltd will position itself as a firm of ‘big power’ with audit practices of international standards and a strong sense to delight its customers. As we say: ‘If you're a true warrior, competition doesn't scare you. It makes you better’.

According to you, how has technology impacted on the auditing and consulting world?
Change in the business world is accelerating at a faster pace, enabled by technology, amongst others. In the audit and consulting industry, technology has been and will continue to be at the forefront, with many organisations noting the increasing call for staff to learn new technologies quickly and the expanding use of improved software tools, including data analytics. 

More and more, there is a pressing need for internal auditors to have an understanding and be skilled in data mining, cybersecurity, their organization’s IT systems, critical thinking, emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, Cloud and Big Data.

There is a misconception that the accounting and auditing sector is becoming saturated career wise. How far is this true?
Accounting is listed among the oldest careers on the employment market. Every business, large or small, will always need accountants in good and bad times. On the other hand, a variety of industries employ auditors to provide policy and procedural oversight and ensure accurate financial reporting.

The recent trend in multinationals, which are successful, is very revealing since their internal audit department have been involved in strategic management at executive and board level. 

SmarTree Consulting Ltd has hands on expertise to implement this transformation approach to its stakeholders. I strongly believe that opportunities in the accounting and auditing industry will stay abundant despite changes in the business climate as the profession keeps with the pace.

What are the new opportunities for the young generation in this sector? 
The accounting and audit world of the 21st century have been shaken by globalization, accounting software and changes in financial regulation. The shake-ups have given the field a whole new set of challenges, but the advent of technology has also offered opportunities for accountants who can adapt to them. 

What about corruption and vigilance? 
I shall endeavor to say that businesses which adopt a well-structured Risk and Audit mechanism are much lesser exposed to the possibility of corruption risks.

Vigilance came into effect mainly for the purpose of fighting corruption. SmarTree Consulting Ltd in fact provides its stakeholders the tools to ensure witfulness, caution and vigilance at the enterprise.

Which extra-financial theme, environmental, social or governance, is the most challenging for companies in emerging markets to manage?
The environmental, social and governance (ESG) are the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a company or business and can help to better determine the future financial performance of companies (return and risk). 

Today, many globally-orientated emerging markets companies are participating in the UN Global Compact as they recognize the importance of implementing ESG. The Corporate Governance Code for Mauritius (2016) equally gives due importance to these three factors. 

I believe anyone of the three factors are equally challenging since the world at large scrutinize in their own way those entities which fail in upholding them to the required standard and now, through social media, when there is a name and shame campaign, everyone becomes aware of the news at the blink of an eye.