With accounting fraud and financial reporting mistakes creating a lack of confidence, understanding how financial reporting mistakes occur and are detected is an important topic. According to the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the first nine months of 2018 saw 8.8 percent more accounting fraud enforcement action cases versus 2017.
Controls are procedures implemented to lower the chance of financial reporting issues. While these mechanisms are meant to prevent an overload of problems, they are not always foolproof. Corporations also are required to show that sufficient financial oversight is in place for financial records and assets by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. There are two types of controls: preventive and detective.
As the name implies, preventive controls are devised to avert mistakes before they happen. Methods include ongoing training, worker evaluations, and mandating different layers of authorization for transactions.
Detective methods look at the granular accounting steps. Having internal and external audits performed and comparing real-world activity against what’s been budgeted or forecasted are two ways to implement this approach. However, performing account reconciliation where the business’ financial data is compared against third-party documentation can provide near real-time insight into what is actually occurring. This includes analyzing checks and cash the business has collected and documented on their books but that may not be reflected on bank statements. Another factor in the reconciliation process is checks the company has sent out that have not been processed by the business’ vendors, etc.
Since detective controls alert companies to errors after the fact, it is important that they are conducted in a timely manner – daily, monthly, quarterly, or annually. If there’s a discrepancy between the company’s ending cash balance and the bank’s monthly statement, there might be differing balances. This can be due to the financial institution’s service fees and checks taken into account by the business that aren’t yet reflected on the financial institution’s statement. However, other cases of discrepancies could point to signs of fraud.
According to the University of California Los Angeles, there are many ways to split tasks. Doing this is integral to successful mitigation of errors and unauthorized behavior because it deters the likelihood of multiple workers collaborating. Specifically, when it comes to authorizations, reconciliations, and responsibility for the assets, it is a high priority for businesses to break tasks up among multiple workers.
Examples include dividing the duties between opening the mail/preparing a list of checks to review and the individual who deposits the checks. The individual who oversees accounts receivables should be separate from the person who creates a list of checks received. It’s not advisable for a sole employee to initiate, approve, and record a transaction. Similarly, reconciling balances, handling assets, and reviewing reports should not be done by a single employee. A minimum of two individuals should be available to handle any transaction.
While the most diligent accounting professional has made a mistake from time to time, learning how to identify financial reporting mistakes can reduce the likelihood of even rare mistakes being unknowingly shared with others.