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When you hear the term forensic accounting, images of perpetrators in handcuffs and espionage may come to mind. In reality, it’s not always a CSI moment. Forensic accounting is not only important when taking steps to prevent crime, it’s also vital among day-to-day operations and decision-making within your business.
The Forensic Accounting Academy defines forensic accounting as “the art and science of investigating people and money”. While forensic activities imply the investigation of a crime, many of these methods and techniques should be a part of normal routine oversight, such as analyzing financial statements, reviewing an irregularity, or even when considering significant bids or contracts.
Forensic accounting allows us to identify any deviation from expected results, whether it’s a product of a crime or a less devious mistake. However, when fraud is the culprit, keep some of the facts from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ 2016 global fraud study in mind:
1. In 83% of cases, asset misappropriation was the most common form of occupational fraud. However, it caused the smallest median loss of $125,000.
2. Organizations of different sizes have different fraud risks. Corruption was more prevalent in larger organizations, while check tampering, skimming, payroll and cash larceny schemes were twice as common in small organizations. This is where we recommend our clients have policies and controls in place to minimize risk.
3. Likely your biggest risk is your check register and the controls you put around those procedures. Among forms of asset misappropriation, billing and check tampering schemes posed the greatest risk based upon their relative frequency and median loss.
4. The most common detection method was tips. Organizations with reporting hotlines were much more likely to detect fraud. Even if your company isn’t large enough to have a hotline, most tips will come from within your business. Build relationships with your employees to ensure that they will feel empowered and supported to contact you with any concerns.
5. When active detection methods identified tips, such as surveillance and monitoring or account reconciliation, median loss was lower than when schemes were detected by passive methods or accidental discovery.
6. Fraud perpetrators tended to display behavioral warning signs when they were engaged in their crimes. The most common flags were living beyond their means, financial difficulties, unusually close association with a vendor or customer, excessive control issues and recent divorce or family problems.
7. External audits of financial statements were the most commonly implemented anti-fraud control; nearly 82% of the organizations in the study underwent independent audits. An audit, however, looks at documentation and not controls. It is most often the lack of controls and procedures that enable fraud to take place.
Each organization is unique in its processes, employees and risk exposures. But understanding the activities and systems within your own business helps protect you from internal threats and mistakes. Forensic accounting also gives you the opportunity to implement routine reviews and processes that help your business run smoother. If you would like to learn more about controls and other forensic accounting practices, please contact Cray Kaiser today.
Every month you or your accountant creates a profit and loss statement (P&L) for your business and reviews any pertinent information. If you are like most business owners, you look at the net income and maybe a few other numbers and file it away. But if that is all you do, you are missing many of the important stories your P&L tells.
The language and format of a profit and loss statement may be unfamiliar to you if you are not an accounting professional. Once you understand how to interpret a P&L, it reads like a storybook that tells the tale of your business’ financial progress over the past time period, be it a month or a year. When you dive into some of those stories, you learn a lot about your business that you may not have discovered anywhere else. These stories are important because they can help you identify mistakes and fraud, profitability of jobs and opportunities for growth, such as new, more profitable product mixes.
The buzz around the office is about the big client the sales team just closed and how, that, combined with the decline in prices of raw materials, is going to make a great year. Sitting down to review the P&L, you anticipate seeing a nice big number next to net income, but it is much lower than you expected. The P&L is telling you the story of your business, but it is not matching up with your expectations. How could that be? The P&L offers clues to help you discover the problem. Looking at the P&L, you may see that it shows that raw material costs are going up, not down, which does not match with what you had been told by your operating crew. It may be due to a bookkeeping entry error or perhaps while some raw materials prices are decreasing, others are rising. This could also be a sign that some kind of fraud or theft is occurring, requiring you to review your internal controls.
The P&L may offer another explanation for lower than expected net income numbers: issues with job profitability. Even with a great year in the sales department and reduced prices on your raw materials, the jobs or products may simply not be profitable. The P&L can help you identify why. For example, did you hire more staff to manage the additional sales? Maybe those salaries are higher than what you can handle to still be profitable. Maybe additional staff was not yet hired and the quality of the work of the current staff is suffering, creating more warranty claims and returns, which you will also discover by reviewing and investigating these variances on your P&L.
Your P&L does not just identify potential problems; it also shines a spotlight on opportunities. The ratios on the P&L can be compared year-to-year, showing you which jobs or products are becoming more profitable over time and which are declining. This information can help you identify product mixes or job types that could increase the company’s financial performance. You may decide that the sales team for the area that is improving can share their techniques with the other departments.
Next time you sit down with your accountant to review your P&L, ask about the story it tells. If the story does not flow with the tales you have heard from your team, explore the reasons why. You may not find yourself sitting around the campfire reading your P&L to your grandchildren or anxiously waiting for it to come out as a movie, but it is still a story you do not want to miss.
If you’d like help with your P&L, please contact Cray Kaiser today.