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Internal Audit vs. External Audit: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 20, 2023
Internal audit assesses organizational processes, while external audit evaluates financial statements.

Key Differences

Internal audit is an independent function within an organization that assesses and improves its operational processes, risk management, and internal controls. External audit, on the other hand, is conducted by an outside firm to provide an unbiased opinion on an organization's financial statements.
Internal audit focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of an organization's internal controls and processes, ensuring they're functioning as intended. In contrast, external audit's primary concern is ensuring that the financial statements presented by a company are true and fair.
Organizations usually have an internal audit department to regularly examine and assess their operations. Meanwhile, external audit is typically performed annually by external accounting firms hired specifically for this purpose.
While internal audit is a continuous or periodic process aimed at adding value and improving an organization's operations, external audit is typically periodic, focusing on verifying the accuracy and fairness of financial statements.
Internal audit reports are meant for management's consumption, offering them insights and recommendations for improvement. External audit reports, conversely, are meant for stakeholders like investors, creditors, and regulators, providing them an opinion on the reliability of financial statements.

Comparison Chart


Assesses organizational processes and internal controls.
Evaluates the accuracy of financial statements.


Management of the organization.
Stakeholders: investors, regulators, creditors.


Continuous or periodic, based on organizational needs.
Typically annual.

Conducted by

Internal audit department of the organization.
Independent external accounting firms.


Operational processes, risk management, and compliance.
Financial accuracy and compliance with accounting standards.

Internal Audit and External Audit Definitions

Internal Audit

Internal audit provides management with insights and recommendations for operational improvement.
The internal audit report recommended better training programs for the sales team.

External Audit

External audit is conducted by independent accounting firms outside the organization.
The company hired a reputable firm for its annual external audit.

Internal Audit

Internal audit is an ongoing process within an organization to assess its operations.
The company's internal audit found discrepancies in their inventory management.

External Audit

External audit aims to provide assurance to stakeholders regarding the reliability of financial information.
Investors rely on the external audit report to make informed decisions.

Internal Audit

Internal audit evaluates the effectiveness of internal controls and processes.
Through the internal audit, management realized they needed to strengthen their cybersecurity measures.

External Audit

External audit is an unbiased evaluation of an organization's financial statements.
The external audit confirmed that the company's financial statements were accurate.

Internal Audit

Internal audit operates independently within an organization to maintain objectivity.
The internal audit department operates separately from other departments to avoid conflicts of interest.

External Audit

External audit follows strict accounting standards and regulations.
The external audit identified areas where the company didn't comply with the new accounting standards.

Internal Audit

Internal audit aims to ensure compliance with laws, regulations, and company policies.
The internal audit highlighted certain areas where the company wasn't adhering to regulatory standards.

External Audit

External audit results in an opinion on the fairness and accuracy of financial statements.
The external audit concluded with a clean opinion, indicating no misrepresentations.


Why are internal audits important?

They help identify operational inefficiencies, potential fraud, and areas of non-compliance.

What is an internal audit?

An examination of an organization's operations, processes, and systems to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and compliance with internal policies.

What areas do internal audits cover?

Financial processes, IT systems, operational procedures, risk management, and compliance, among others.

What happens if a company fails an external audit?

Auditors may issue a qualified, adverse, or disclaimer opinion. This can impact the company's reputation, share price, and regulatory standing.

How frequent are internal audits?

It varies; some areas might be audited annually, while others might be on a rotating basis.

Can internal audit findings lead to disciplinary actions?

Yes, depending on the severity and nature of the findings.

Is an external audit mandatory?

For publicly traded companies and some regulated entities, yes. Others may have them voluntarily or due to lender or investor requirements.

Who conducts internal audits?

Internal auditors, typically employees of the organization.

Do internal auditors need specific qualifications?

While not always mandatory, certifications like the CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) can be beneficial.

How do internal audits differ from management reviews?

Internal audits are independent assessments, while management reviews are evaluations by management of their own processes.

Who conducts external audits?

External auditors, usually from independent accounting firms.

Who selects the external auditor?

Often selected and appointed by the company's shareholders or board of directors.

How do external audits benefit stakeholders?

They provide assurance that the financial statements present a true and fair view, fostering trust among investors, creditors, and other stakeholders.

Is an internal audit mandatory?

No, but many organizations conduct them to maintain best practices and ensure sound governance.

Who oversees internal auditors?

The internal audit function often reports to senior management or the audit committee.

How often are external audits conducted?

Typically, annually.

What qualifications do external auditors need?

They typically hold accounting qualifications, such as CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).

Can an external auditor provide consulting services to the audit client?

There are restrictions to maintain the auditor's independence. In many jurisdictions, providing certain consulting services to audit clients is prohibited.

What do external auditors focus on?

The accuracy and fairness of financial statements, compliance with accounting standards, and related financial reporting processes.

What is an external audit?

An independent examination of an organization's financial statements to provide an opinion on their accuracy and compliance with accounting standards.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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