Have you ever tried to solve a BIG PROBLEM using standard audit tools and methods? What do you do if you just can’t figure it out?

Sometimes the most significant audit findings can come from asking the most basic (naïve) questions.

I was brought into a situation where a regulator was expressing concerns about how the audit client had implemented a new government program. The program was designed to help the firm’s customers, and incentives were strong for the client to guide its customers into the new program. For some reason, fewer than 5% of eligible customers had signed up, despite a comprehensive advertising campaign and consistent messaging about the value of the new program.

After the client had spent weeks trying to understand the gap, the regulator turned to internal audit, demanding that they identify the issue and remediate it immediately.

Here’s the dialogue between Management (M) and the Naïve Auditor (NA).

NA: What are we doing to tell customers about this program?

M: We sent all our eligible customers a letter informing them of the opportunity and explaining the value of pursuing it.

NA: Can I see the letter?

M: We’re sure we sent it to everyone and the verbiage was approved by both legal and marketing.

NA: That’s fine, can I please see the letter?

M: Sure, here it is

NA reads the letter and notices that it encourages customers to call a particular phone number to discuss the program and register.

NA: What happens when you call the number?

M: You’re connected to a call center that will process the application

NA: OK, let’s call it!

NA and M sit around a table and dial the number on speaker phone. An automated system answers the call and runs through a 30-second legal disclaimer informing the customer that the call is being recorded, that anything they say can be used as evidence in court proceedings, and that lying would be a criminal offense.

NA:? I think I see the problem!

“What happens when you call the number?” was a very naïve question. It was too obvious for the team working on the project to bother with. But the naïve auditor was simply following the process and finding the real-world problems that drive top-level concerns. This did not require fancy tools, matrices, or systems. It did require a fresh approach to the problem and critical thinking skills.

Great auditors must never lose sight of the naïve approach. It will sometimes find those hidden disasters lurking beyond the standard control environment.

Is your audit team naïve enough to deliver this kind of value?