Certification Corner - The Institute Of Internal Auditors  


2nd Quarter 2013
printPrint Article

A Sign of the Times: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Certified Internal Auditor® Designation


Much of the world stays in touch by Skyping, watches television on their phones, and don’t give a second thought to paying bills online. These are all signs of the times. An equally important sign of the times is that more than 115,000 practitioners now hold the distinction of being Certified Internal Auditor® (CIA®). It is a designation that demonstrates these professionals are positioned to meet the evolving demands of stakeholders in our increasingly complex world. 

As The IIA launches its year-long celebration of the CIA program’s 40th anniversary, we reflect on four decades of its progress. Let’s start the trip down memory lane by inviting you on our journey to relive the hard work, adversity, and achievements that have made the program the only globally recognized certification for internal audit practitioners in the world today. 

The first handheld mobile phone call was made, the Sydney Opera House opens, and the Bosporus Bridge connects the contents of Europe and Asia for the first time. It was 1973 and internal auditing was about to take a monumental leap toward solidifying its position as a cornerstone of effective governance as The IIA developed its first certification, and granted more than 8,000 practitioners the CIA through a grandfathering provision based on experience. In August 1974, the first 654 candidates tested their knowledge and skill level to prove they were worthy of the designation, “Certified Internal Auditor.” 

 “After I passed the exam as a staff auditor and became a Certified Internal Auditor, my career took off. My management placed a lot of emphasis on professional development and doing quality work. Being a CIA opened many doors for me that otherwise may not have been opened.”

– Denny Beran, CIA, CRMA, 2011-2012 IIA Chairman of the Board, Retired Senior Vice President of Audit, J.C. Penney Company, United States, Certified in 1974

From the onset, the CIA designation was designed to be the ultimate achievement in internal auditing; preparing for the exam was rigorous and passing it proved challenging. Of the first 654 candidates, 122 passed all four parts. John R. Ballard, CIA (1972-73 IIA president), was recognized as the first recipient of the brand new designation. The other 532 candidates would wait a full year for another chance to prove themselves, as the exam was only offered once a year until 1982. However, this did not deter practitioners from pursuing it. 

By 1976 the number of exam candidates had nearly doubled to 1,099 and it was offered at 55 sites, including locations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, and Nigeria. That same year, the U.S. Civil Service Commission recognized CIA certificates as equal to the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate in satisfying its standards for accountants and auditors employed by the U.S. government. 

While the world watched Nadia Comaneci receive seven perfect tens at the 1976 Olympic Games and saw Ayatollah Khomeini return to power in Iran in 1979, The IIA’s Board of Regents (BOR) – the body responsible for preparing, administering, and grading the CIA exam – worked over the next decade to keep the exam content fresh. During the 1970s internal auditors focused on compliance and had not yet shed the stereotype of “policemen” of policy and process. However, with the 1977 introduction of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the days of internal auditors primarily focusing on cyclical auditing was transitioning. Microsoft was founded in 1975, in 1977 King of Rock n’ Roll Elvis Presley passed away at Graceland, and by 1979 Margaret Thatcher was named as the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain. The world was changing quickly and so too would the profession.

“Having a CIA designation indicates to clients and co-workers your level of knowledge and professionalism. For me, personally, it has meant that the client understood that internal auditing is a profession with international standards.”

– Rosemarie Chinchilla, CIA, CCSA, CGAP, CRMA, Consultant, Canada, Certified in 1986

In the 1980s, while prosecutors were embarking on the uncharted territory of using DNA to convict criminals, practitioners challenged themselves to expand their horizons and improve organizational efficiency. The desire to prove they were up to this expanded role was evidenced through the growth of the number of CIA candidates and recipients. During May of 1984, there were 1,987 exam candidates and 496 candidates successfully passed all sections of the exam. 

Not only did the 1980s bring a greater emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness, but internal auditing’s role in financial auditing expanded, and there was an intensified focus on fraud and the need for an internal audit function within every organization. Practitioners began to take more strategic approach to their audits, prioritizing audits based on areas of higher risk. These shifts required a concentrated effort by the BOR to ensure exam questions were reflective of internal auditing’s expanded purview. As the rate of evolution for the profession increased, this was critical in keeping the exam content relevant. 

With the evolution of the profession came the need for a renewed commitment to education and development. By 1987 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for CIAs became mandatory and the CIA Student Highest Achievement Award was introduced and presented to Anne C. Owens, a graduate from San Jose State University. Beyond evolving in terms of professional development, the second decade of the CIA’s program brought with it a global expansion. In 1990, the CIA exam was offered for the first time in Spanish and French and experienced a 10-year high in terms of number of registrants; a compliment to the 1990-1991 term of the first IIA Chairman outside North America, A. J. Hans Spoel, CIA, who chose “Globalization Through Partnership” as his chairman’s theme.

“Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor helped me to be a better internal auditor and manager. Without the advantage of the CIA qualification, I know that I would not have risen to the levels that I have in my public sector audit roles. If we want to be viewed as professional, then let us wear our badge with pride.”

– Robert McDonald, CIA, CGAP, Senior Director Assurance and Risk Advisory Services, Queensland Health, Certified in 1997

As the CIA program entered its third decade of existence, technology was becoming a focus of increased importance, both from a standpoint of improving internal auditors’ ability to do their jobs more efficiently and creating a new area of risk to keep on their radar. Although IBM had introduced the first personal computer (PC) in 1981, it wasn’t until the 1990s that a PC usually resided on each practitioner’s desk. The exponential increase in the use of the Internet also made the world a smaller place and the focus on globalization of the CIA program intensified. 

The BOR designed a CIA growth plan guided by the theme “CIA – The Global Mark of Excellence in Internal Auditing,” which included the translation of CIA promotional literature and exams, an expansion of exam sites outside North America, and a review of potential improvements to the exam format and delivery. 

By the mid 1990s, a sure sign of the progress of globalization for the program was the announcement by the European Confederation of Institutes of Internal Auditing (ECIIA) that it would support the CIA designation as the primary designation for internal auditing. An even more certain sign of the times was the Board of Regents’ establishment of a project team in the late 90s to facilitate the implementation of computer-based testing (CBT) for the CIA exam. Although CBT would take almost another decade to become a reality, it was a clear indication of how much technology had permeated the business environment and the profession as a whole.

 “Certified Internal Auditors receive international recognition and an enhanced image among stakeholders. The CIA designation enables the profession to become more precise and standardized. Practitioners holding a CIA are able to make huge contributions to their organizations.”

– Bernd Schartmann, Executive Vice President, Head of Corporate Audit & Security, Deutsche Post DHL, Germany, Certified in 2007

The last decade of the CIA program bore witness to global fallouts from corporate accounting scandals resulting in a proliferation of corporate governance legislation around the world. This directly influenced the development of exam questions as practitioners worked to get their arms around issues that would ultimately take years to navigate. As the dust was settling from the impact of legislation, practitioners began to focus more on risk-based audits and conducting risk assessments. This would serve the profession well, as the world faced the new challenges that accompanied the global economic crisis of 2008. 

However, there were bright spots in this era of uncertainty. In 2008, The IIA announced its plan for the CIA exam’s transition from a paper-and-pencil format to CBT, expanding the reach of the program, increasing the efficiency of administration, and minimizing the wait time for exam results. Just a few short years after implementing CBT, The IIA recognized its 100,000th CIA at its 2011 International Conference in Malaysia. 

As the number of issues facing the profession continue to expand to areas few people had even heard of a decade ago, like cloud computing and social media, the CIA program will continue to evolve to ensure that the designation remains the standard for demonstrating competence and excellence in the internal audit profession. It is through the selfless contributions of dedicated and passionate internal audit practitioners that this has been possible. It will be because of present and future candidates that the next 40 years will prove as successful. We extend our sincere appreciation to them for the magnificent, long-standing, and continually evolving results.