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How Eurobank got to grips with data analytics in internal audit

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 07 Dec 2021

During the worst of the pandemic, Eurobank’s internal audit team took the opportunity to develop its data literacy as pressures to perform increased.

Eurobank’s internal auditing team spent the pandemic looking at how remote working altered the bank’s risk monitoring framework and control environment, alongside the usual risks that might impact an organisation of its size and sector. 

“We realised that we had to become much more data literate,” says Dimitris Kaskantanis, Eurobank’s head of internal audit data analytics. 

Analytics has been available in some form or another in the internal audit market for years, but the increasing volume of data, the new tools being continuously developed as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning have changed the game in terms of the data that can be collected and processed. Data analytics provide an opportunity to get a more accurate and complete view of what’s happening in the organisation, and the internal audit team at Eurobank was in a good position to take advantage of it, as long as they had the right skills. 

“The expansion of datasets, the democratisation of machine learning algorithms and the increasing use of low or no-code tools provides opportunities to obtain valuable insights but also creates the need to learn new tools and languages,” says Kaskantanis. 

The plan was for the internal audit team to embrace analytics across all stages of the auditing process, from planning to execution and risk assessment. The team is fairly large, around 70-strong, with mixed abilities. Some were fairly data literate, others had some knowledge, and others had basic knowledge. It requires a mixed strategy to reach a degree of expertise appropriate for their role. 

As a first step, Kaskantanis and his team did a gap analysis to identify the current skill levels, organisational needs and weaknesses. From that, it crafted learning paths tailored to different abilities. It chose the ICAEW Data Analytics Certificate as part of its learning materials.

“The data analytics certificate offered a pretty holistic view of the skills required, so it helped many people at different levels to see the big picture.”

As people get a better understanding of analytics, their overall understanding of the big picture improves, Kaskantanis says. For internal auditors, it means getting the information that allows them to articulate better questions for the business and have more detailed discussions with technical stakeholders within the organisation. “We are auditors; we try to identify issues and propose solutions for the bank. This project provides both a cultural benefit and an awareness benefit.” 

Kaskantanis says that the internal audit team, bucking the usual trend, embraced the possibility to bring in change and improve their skills. “People were rather excited, and they were happy to see that the bank gave them the opportunity to grow.” 

Instead, the obstacles were of the more technical variety. Kaskantanis and his team put in place recurring meetings in which to discuss use cases, problems that may have occurred and any lessons learned. 

“We encourage the exchange of ideas and concerns,” says Kaskantanis. “We have this forum to assist with technical issues. And of course, we're always open and eager to offer support and assistance to people when needed.”

The team is also using alternative channels, such as a recurring newsletter or an internal communication platform, to educate a wider group of people. “If we find something interesting to communicate, we may push it through our internal newsletter.”

The team is now in the process examining new tools and technologies. Eurobank is undergoing a wider transformation programme alongside the work going on in internal audit, including a gradual move onto cloud technology. “If we move to cloud technology, we must have the proper analytic tools and skills to cope with this transition.”

The team, in parallel with other tools, is exploring the use of Python programming language, as it’s so diverse, Kaskantanis explains. It’s a good fit with the overall Eurobank transformation project, he explains, as it works with so many data sets. 

“In internal audit, we try to deploy new tools that will help us to move forward. For example, we are experimenting with identifying anomalies using machine learning algorithms. Python is a good match for this. The certificate was quite extensive in examining Python.”

The team is also looking at its options when it comes to data visualisation; a very important communication tool for them that allows auditors to present multiple dimensions of data in a single visual.

It's an imperative nowadays to be data literate, says Kaskantanis. The volume of information that internal auditors are called on to process is getting bigger all the time. Learning these skills is a continuous process, he explains. The team will need to keep building on its skills as requirements develop and change. “We have to be able to cope with that, so the sooner we upskill, the better.”

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