5 Ways to Improve Internal Accounting Controls and Oversight in Your Business

Earlier this year, a company approached us after identifying some unusual checking activity while their bookkeeper was out of town for a week at training. They asked us to come in to look at all of the activity and determine if their accounting records were accurate. One of our accounting managers went to their office the following day to review the books (while the bookkeeper was still away at training) and identified that the bookkeeper had been colluding with a vendor to issue fraudulent payments and splitting the proceeds.

Needless to say, the company fired the bookkeeper for theft. The company requested that our accountants take over the role until they could find a replacement and we have continued to provide ongoing accounting support to the company, including oversight for the new bookkeeper.

As a business owner, often your main focus is on the operations of the business. We have worked with several business owners who did not make financial information a priority, instead focusing only on revenue. We have worked with other business owners who recognize the importance financial statements play in understanding the state of their operations; however, with the best of intentions, they delegated the accounting work to an available employee (such as an office manager or admin), or to a bookkeeper with little to no accounting background, while providing no oversight at all.

How to Protect Your Business From Employee Fraud

Employee fraud is more common than you may think, with small organizations (those with fewer than 100 employees) being the most common victims of organizational fraud. As a business owner, you have to take the necessary steps to ensure you’re protected.

Here are 5 ways to improve internal controls and oversight within your organization to help protect your business from employee fraud:

1. Segregate Accounting Duties

Small businesses usually depend on one employee or a bookkeeper to process all aspects of the accounting process, including authorization, execution, custody and posting of transactions. Ideally, the processing of cash receipts and payments will be separated, with different people approving invoices, preparing checks, signing checks and reconciling the bank accounts. Allowing one individual to handle cash or checks received, the deposits, and the posting of payments in the system, increases the chance of fraud. These processes should be segregated among different individuals. If this is not feasible for your organization, it is advisable to rotate individuals performing the above tasks periodically.

You could also consider the use of an online pay service which can be accessed anywhere and provide you with increased control over the payment process. Bills and payments can be authorized conveniently prior to any cash disbursement. If your situation still warrants physical checks, consider signing them yourself or authorizing an additional signer. Ensure the signer is separate from the person issuing the checks and that signer matches the checks to invoices prior to mailing. Finally, be sure to store blank checks in a safe place restricting access.

2. Restrict Access to Financial Systems

The most common accounting software used by businesses give its users the ability to edit and delete previous transactions which could lead to easy concealment of theft. Business owners should retain ADMIN rights (if possible) to the company’s accounting system and consider restricting user access to only areas necessary for their functions. This will help reduce the chances of an individual creating false entries and covering up their tracks. A review of voided and deleted transactions will show any adjustments or deletions and can be instrumental in exposing irregularities.

If approval rights are granted to an employee or bookkeeper in your online pay service, a review of credit memos should be performed to ensure validity of issued credits and deter the creation of false credit memos to cover any intercepted cash.

3. Increase Oversight

Internal controls without oversight is not good enough. You, or a trusted resource, should diligently review bank statements, check or payment registers and bank reconciliations regularly. Review payroll statements for phantom employees and unapproved raises, hours or even expenses. Impress upon the employee the need to keep supporting documents and you should periodically review some transactions and supporting documents for validity and accuracy.

Most importantly, business owners need to make it a priority to review financial reports and understand the trend and changes in the business’ financial data. There should be a focus on understanding month over month or quarterly fluctuations as well as variances between budget and actuals.

4. Have Financial Statements Reviewed by a Third Party

To support bookkeeper and other in-house accounting efforts, business owners should consider utilizing their CPA to periodically review the financial statements. An individual who knows that the work performed will subsequently be reviewed is more likely to be deterred from committing fraud. An outside accountant can be instrumental in identifying inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the financial records as well as helping business owners better understand their financial data.

5. Require Employees to Take Vacation

In the client example mentioned earlier, the company identified the unusual checking activity while their bookkeeper was out of town for training. Embezzlement and other types of fraud require a constant paper trail cover-up in order to go undetected. Therefore, business owners should insist that employees who perform the company’s accounting/bookkeeping duties take a vacation every year and designate a back-up person to cover their responsibilities during that leave. Ideally the vacation should be at least a week long and occur over a month-end when the books are being closed.

Read more: Employee Fraud is More Common in Small Businesses – Are you Protected?

We Can Help

Signature Analytics provides small and mid-sized businesses with the resources of a full accounting team on an outsourced basis, so our clients achieve an effective segregation of accounting duties without having to hire additional full-time accounting staff. We ensure that all of our clients have preventative controls in place and provide an appropriate level of oversight and challenge for the company’s financial books and records.

To learn more about how Signature Analytics can help ensure your business is protected from employee fraud, contact us for a free consultation.

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