This paper traces the development of internal auditing from the standpoint of its professional identity. The question of how internal auditors have historically seen themselves bears on how they function as integral parts of internal control systems, and may help researchers formulate future empirical studies of internal auditing.

Over the years, the self-perception of the internal audit profession's function has varied greatly. Internal auditing has lived, to some extent, in the shadow of the public accounting profession, while struggling to achieve public recognition, status in the business world, and a defined role separate from that of an internal monitor, subsidiary to the external auditor. While there have been many changes in terms of the formation of a professional community, belief in the importance of the work, and the growth of a system of self-regulation, the demands of various constituents and the desires of internal auditors for professional status have led to a persistent struggle to define the appropriate functions and organizational placement of internal audit. This struggle continues up to the present time.

Several things stand in the way of a complete professional identity for internal auditing. Internal auditing cannot lay claim to a clearly defined role that is uniquely its own. The internal audit function (IAF) does not own a skill set or knowledge base that is not shared by the external auditors. The impact on the ability to distinguish the internal auditor from the external consultant is detrimental to the profession. Neither has the internal auditor been able to attain complete autonomy. While the IAF now reports to the Board of Directors or its audit committee more frequently than in the past, its continuing strong connection with management hinders its ability to be truly self-determining.

On the other hand, the contributions that internal auditors make to their organizations are very real, and the lack of an externally mandated role allows them to be utility players. For management, the availability of a utility player who can provide internal consulting or assistance that saves overall compliance costs is valuable, as is the ability for boards to rely on an IAF with a deep knowledge of the organization.

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