The client, a Financial Services organisation providing loan finance in consumer and commercial markets, was embarking on a drive into a new market. This entailed the development of a new Business Unit, and as part of this, the deployment of a new platform to link retail customers and their clients with the lending facility.
What the client needed
The client programme had already been mobilised at pace, driven by a desire to be able to hit peak trading seasons for the sector. The initial requirement was to review the mobilisation, and in particular to assure that the programme:
- had mobilised effectively and was set up for delivery success;
- was set to deliver the target outcomes and net business benefits; and
- status was as reported regarding the initial release – looming at the time of the first assurance instance.
Consequent to the assurance assessment and reporting the requirement was then:
- to support the development of action plans; and,
- to support decision making and planning to develop delivery capability and address any gaps identified by the assurance.
Our APPROACH and key challenges
We configured a short, sharp, piece of assurance, reporting back using our well-established framework to both focus our effort in the most relevant areas, and to provide a baseline comparator. Our approach also had to align with the client’s own internal assurance and audit processes and standards. The assurance was carried out by two consultants working part-time, and involving a mixture of interviews, observation and document review.
Given the client’s operating model, and a degree of autonomy for the target Business Unit and its management team, we had to navigate carefully some understandable politics and tensions in playing back our findings and making associated recommendations.
The key challenges we faced were:
- providing the service to a very busy team;
- landing some challenging messages in a delivery environment that was both lacking some maturity and also eager to progress and very result driven;
- assuring what for the client was a very large programme, and therefore liable to induce some caution, and therefore having to provide some critical challenge without spooking the client; and,
- navigating politics and some tension consequent to the overall operating model.
The initial assurance was well received, together with the consequent recommendations, and led to the client engaging PiC on an ongoing basis to continue periodic assurance through the entire programme lifecycle of two years.
Key deliverables included:
- Clear reporting of findings and recommendations, blending the client’s own internal framework with PiC’s reference framework.
- Playback sessions for the Programme team to share the findings, and then shape the recommendations to build buy-in.
- Development of the ongoing assurance framework and plan.
What we learned
The main learning was the value of the assurance framework to help provide clarity of focus, particularly when the time allotted to provide the service is limited.
Agreeing the structure of outputs, in line with this, so that findings are clear and can easily be linked to recommendations, was also important.
Buy-in is vital: in this instance, given the federated nature of the client organisation, and the broader relationships and reporting lines, the programme team felt slightly ‘done to’. The audit and risk function had legitimate reason to seek assurance, but the risk was that the central desire for control might be at odds with the more entrepreneurial mindset of the business unit. This continued to be a challenge throughout the relationship.
Taking time to share feedback is vital, but so is holding the line when challenged. In this context being realistic about the thoroughness of the assurance is also important – we worked very much on an 80:20, but a facility was available to follow-up in more detail where there were any disputed areas where risk was significant and exposure material.
In intermittent assurance continuity is vital. In this case one of our Directors provided not only account oversight, but also intimate involvement with each assurance instance.
What the client said
“PiC’s ability to flex style to meet our needs stood out immediately and was a key factor in our decision to work with them”.
“PiC were clearly very established programme managers – not simple auditors”.
“The continued presence and input of the Director was absolutely critical”.