Friday, June 11, 2010

Segregation of Duties

As a CPA and business advisor, I hear about fraud and material errors far too often. Due to the lack of internal controls, small businesses are especially vulnerable. According the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the median loss from fraud at a small business was over a $100,000 in the US. It is important for every organization create an appropriate internal control environment to reduce this risk.

A fundamental element in a strong internal control environment is the segregation of duties (SOD). By separating certain duties within an organization, no single employee should be in the position to both perpetrate and then conceal either errors or fraud. While the SOD can be difficult in a small organization, understanding this can help you improve your own control environment.

The principle duties that are incompatible and should be segregated are:
  • Custody of assets.
  • Authorization
  • Recording keeping
  • Reconciliation
Ideally, a different individual would do each of these duties since they serve as checks and balances on each other. By separating the tasks, the system would catch any errors unless two or more employees colluded. Collusion can override even a well designed system.

You must build checks and balances into your financial systems. Simple accounting errors, if gone undetected can devastate a company. Fraud as well. A strong and appropriate system of internal controls will reduce risk and increase accountability. Make sure you design these principles into your accounting system.

I haven't had a chance to check this out but found this free Fraud Prevention Check-up on the ACFE website:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Internal controls for fraud and error prevention

How are you managing your business finances? Many business owners are discovering that their assets are not as well protected as they thought. This is especially true in small business environments where a single employee manages all the finances. Often there are no checks and balances to verify that transactions are accurate.

Fraud frequently increases in a slowed economy as financial pressures grow and fewer people are asked to do more work. Pay cuts and other compensation reductions can leave some employees feeling entitled to more.

When proper, consistent procedures are not in place, employees can learn to manipulate the accounting system to their benefit. Whether they take money from the company or their mistakes are undiscovered, the end result can greatly impact your company’s management discussions, financial reports, and tax filings.

Unfortunately, once your financial records have been altered, discovering problems is extremely difficult. Most standard accounting practices are not designed to uncover internal problems such as embezzlement.

Therefore, the best way to safeguard your company’s assets is to recognize and improve weaknesses in your internal procedures.

I’ll write about some of these business practices over the next few posts.