Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: 5 Internal Control Tips That Can Save Your Business From Fraud
Will the lack of internal control procedures result in the untimely demise of your business or organization? Studies show that if you don’t take action against fraudulent behavior today, tomorrow could be too late. The term “fraud” covers a lot of ground and includes actions that ultimately affect the accuracy of your financial statements. In fact according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), entities without internal control procedures are more likely to make errors on their financial statements and more likely to be victims of fraud, which is why it is so important for you to protect your business or organization with procedures that ensure accuracy and reliability of these records. “The presence of anti-fraud controls is associated with reduced fraud losses and shorter fraud duration. Fraud schemes that occurred at victim organizations that had implemented any of several common anti-fraud controls were significantly less costly and were detected much more quickly than frauds at organizations lacking these controls” (ACFE, 2014).
Improve Accuracy, Eliminate Fraud
When you implement internal control components into your management strategy, you not only deter fraudulent behavior, you help improve the overall quality of your financial statements, which could result in improved transparency, fewer external audit findings and even additional growth and sustainability. Start establishing internal controls today by incorporating these five components into your daily business or organizational activities.
- Control environment – There’s no doubt about it, when it comes to setting the tone of your business or organization, all eyes are on you. Employees, volunteers, management and even the general public are more likely to “walk the walk” AND “talk the talk” if they see that you hold them and yourself to the same expectations. When leaders demonstrate a good ethical and moral framework, appear to be approachable about all issues and a commitment to excellence, nearly everybody takes notice and adjusts their behavior accordingly. It also helps to develop a rapport with your management team to encourage engagement throughout all levels of leadership.
- Risk assessment – Whether formal or informal, a risk assessment is critical to the process of identifying areas in which errors, misstatements or potential fraud is most likely to occur. By conducting a thorough risk assessment, you can identify which control activities to implement.
- Control activities – The best way to safeguard your business or organization is to segregate duties. This means that you should have different employees managing different areas of the company’s accounting responsibilities. When you put one person in charge of your accounting process you are freely giving them the opportunity to alter documents or mismanage inventory – and it’s a clear indication that you have weak internal controls. Dividing the work among your other employees is critical to the checks and balances of your company or organization. It’s also a good idea to develop procedures for recording, posting and filing documentation. Here are a few activities to get you started:
- Reconcile bank statements.
- Require documentation with expense reports.
- Match invoices with the goods and services you received prior to paying off your accounts payable balances.
- Make sure the person who has access to your business assets is different from the person responsible for the accounting of those assets, which will establish a form of checks and balances.
- Information and communication – Providing your employees with information about the internal control process and the resources available to them is a critical component to your success and the overall success of the internal control activities. In fact, simply knowing there are certain controls in place to promote accuracy and prevent fraud is enough to stop problems before they even start.
- Monitoring activities – Your job doesn’t end at the implementation of your internal control procedures; in fact, it’s just beginning. For your internal controls to work (and work well) you must establish your monitoring activities – and monitor frequently. Establishing internal controls is great, but they will have no effect if you neglect to monitor them. Furthermore, your internal controls should grow with your business or organization to ensure their long-term effectiveness.
Risk management and internal controls are necessary for the long-term success of every business and organization and a financial statement audit is a great way to provide you with insight into the internal controls of your organization or business. This kind of review structure can potentially reveal problems you didn’t even know were there – including fraud. But what if you are not planning on conducting an audit on your financial statements this year? Another option could be to work with a CPA who can help you document an understanding of the design and effectiveness of your internal control policies as a way to reassess your current strategies and identify areas for improvement.