Becoming a Trusted Advisor to the business: Rethinking the role of Internal Audit at Majid Al Futtaim - Retail

Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) is a leading conglomerate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with a business spanning across retail, entertainment and lifestyle and a geographic footprint stretching from Egypt to Pakistan.

Such scale and scope, across multiple sectors and jurisdictions, make the Internal Audit (IA) function critical for business continuity and governance but also complex to execute effectively. Striking the balance between upholding the highest auditing standards while also helping the business to grow and innovate, requires fresh thinking and an agile approach. 

Towards the end of 2018, MAF Retail commenced an overhaul of its IA function to connect the unit to the wider business, better allowing it to become a growth enabler. Ali Hamdan, Senior Vice President of Audit & Advisory Services at MAF Retail, joined at the start of this reform initiative and here he shares with us the journey the IA function has been on to become a trusted advisor and valuable partner to the business.


The people equation

In a fast-moving risk landscape, talent is essential to ensuring the IA function can adjust and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Without the best talent, IA cannot keep abreast of the technical and organisational shifts and respond effectively to the nuances within different commercial segments. One of Ali’s reform goals has been to cultivate a pool of subject matter experts with a deep understanding of MAF Retail’s business segments so that it can turn from a back office unit into an active contributor of expertise and ideas to the business.

the people equation

In sync with the function’s purpose of founding a transformed IA keeping pace with change, creating value, remaining relevant, and enhancing impact and influence, it falls naturally to prioritise building capabilities for now and the future through effective talent development and resilience, and next generation resourcing.

Attracting talent into IA is a key first step, and this has been achieved by outlining clear and comprehensive professional development pathways. “Many people inside MAF Retail are requesting to join IA now because of the reputation, impact and development opportunities. One of its unique selling propositions is the comprehensive personal development roadmap for 3 years by grade and title for all its talent,” he explains. With plenty of development opportunities and constant exposure to different tasks, the IA employees are empowered to then go to any geography or function and be a change agent within the business. 

To boost engagement with the wider business, IA also participates in the Internal Audit Awareness Month in May, by running a program of multitude of activities to illustrate to the business what IA is and does, and why it matters. It makes staff feel that IA is a function that is there for them - not a policing unit. Its success is proven by the exponential increase in volume of management requests from just three in 2019 to more than 25 in 2021. This year [2022] they are already at 20, coming from senior members as much as junior people. 

Active listening is important for ensuring change is inclusive and takes people with rather than being perceived as imposed on them. The IA team focuses on listening, digesting the concerns and then coming up with a creative response instead of simply listening to respond. And by delivering small wins early on the team quickly built engagement and support rather than trying to ‘boil the whole ocean’.

Process excellence

IA needs to provide the right level of agility to focus resources efficiently and make timely progress, while ensuring that audits do not unduly burden the business units. Flexibility has become even more essential during the pandemic, especially for MAF as the firm sought to adapt to the sudden boom in e-commerce transactions. The COVID era period was ad-hoc, a learning curve, which pushed IA to change from simply being an assurance provider into advisory mode.

process excellence

While MAF Retail IA is not yet fully agile, significant strides have been made through process innovation. One example is ‘swing reviews’. These are an attempt to fix a recurring problem in audit, which is whether a problem raised in one audit is also affecting other units or geographies. Auditing teams often cannot answer this within the scope of the work program they conducted.

Now, if an audit is advancing through multiple phases and during the first, reveals issues that could be affecting other parts of the business, the team will rationalise the scope and explore the issue horizontally – across more than 12 geographies, before moving on to stages two and three. Swing reviews have resulted in many recoveries for the business, increased efficiencies and identified universal themes that need to be addressed. This is especially useful to strengthen the internal control environment and governance effectiveness given MAF Retail’s federated structure.

Another process innovation has been an ‘above’ and ‘below’ the line approach. Above the line issues are approved by the audit committee, and everything else on the watchlist is tagged as ‘below the line’. Above the line issues are ‘must do’ audits while priority two are potential reviews that depending on the circumstances, IA might review or re-scope depending on management requests.


Technology and data are the third pillar of MAF Retail’s audit reforms. The technologies available today, from automation to advanced data analytics, have greatly augmented the human capabilities of IA and now the full population can be sampled and data will show a clear picture.

MAF Retail is now ramping up its investments in Data Analytics, by using new data analytics technology; introducing Process Mining into the business for the first time, and using Artificial Intelligence, including exploring the deployment of robotic process automation (RPA) to enable continuous auditing.

Data driven

More advanced analytics and data can give personnel greater visibility, but it can also make audit an ongoing background hum that is seamlessly part of the business, rather than an intimidating process, and help mitigate any risks on an ongoing basis.

The IA function is also striving to have a seamless level of data and technology integration so senior management - right up to the MAF Retail CEO and its Executive Committee - can be provided with up-to-date immediate access to the organisation's assurance activities, audits and general risk landscape so they can make informed decisions and adjust any plans accordingly on a continual basis.

Contact us

Adnan Zaidi

UAE Risk Leader and Middle East Assurance Clients & Markets Leader, PwC Middle East

Tel: ​+971 56 682 0630

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