fraud

Related-party transactions: Think like an auditor

Issues between related parties played a prominent role in the scandals that surfaced more than a decade ago at Enron, Tyco International and Refco. Similar problems have arisen in more recent financial reporting fraud cases, prompting the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to unanimously approve a tougher audit standard on related-party transactions and financial relationships. To prevent your company from issuing financial statements with undisclosed or misleading information about these relationships, think like an auditor.

It’s all relative

Under PCAOB Auditing Standard No. 18 (AS 18), Related Parties, Amendments to Certain PCAOB Auditing Standards Regarding Significant Unusual Transactions, and Other Amendments to PCAOB Auditing Standards, related parties include the company’s directors, executives and their family members.

Ultimately, companies are responsible for the preparation of their financial statements, including the identification of these related parties. However, auditors are on the lookout for undisclosed related parties and unusual transactions.

Where to look

Certain types of questionable transactions also might signal that a company is engaged in related-party transactions. Examples include contracts for below-market goods or services, bill-and-hold arrangements, uncollateralized loans and subsequent repurchase of goods sold.

Where can you find evidence of undisclosed related parties? Auditors are trained to consider these types of source materials:

  • Proxy statements,
  • Disclosures contained on the company’s website,
  • Confirmation responses, correspondence and invoices from the company’s attorneys,
  • Tax filings,
  • Life insurance policies purchased by the company,
  • Contracts or other agreements, and
  • Corporate organization charts.

Auditors also scrutinize compensation arrangements and other financial relationships with executives that may create incentives to engage in fraud to meet financial targets.

Leave no stone unturned

AS 18 requires public company auditors to obtain a more in-depth understanding of every related-party financial relationship and transaction, including its nature, terms and business purpose (or lack thereof). Moreover, it requires auditors to communicate with the audit committee throughout the audit process about related-party transactions — not just at the end of the engagement.

Related parties present risks to all kinds of entities, not just public companies. Smaller companies and start-ups also tend to engage in numerous related-party transactions, such as rental and compensation arrangements. These arrangements increase the risks of fraud and legal violations, warranting increased attention for companies of all sizes.

© 2016

Fraud Awareness and the Small Business 2016

By Frank Stover, CPA/CFF/CGMA, CFE

Audit Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has released the biennial Report To The Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, a 2016 Global Fraud Study.

For small business the fraud that owners will most often see committed against them or their company is “occupational fraud”.  The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners defines occupational fraud “as the use of one’s occupation for personal enrichment through the deliberate misuse or misapplication of the employing organization’s resources or assets.”  Occupational fraud can manifest itself in many ways.  Nor is it limited by gender.

Based upon the statistics and information contained in the “Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse”, 2016 Global Fraud Study, approximately two thirds of the reported cases targeted privately and publicly held companies.  Private companies suffered median losses of $180,000. The median losses suffered by small organizations (those with less than 100 employees) was the same as those of the largest organizations, but the impact upon smaller organizations would be much greater.  The total losses caused by the cases studied exceeded $6.3 billion. It is estimated that fraud costs organizations 5% of revenues each year, applying this percentage to the Gross World Product of $74.16 trillion results in a potential total fraud loss worldwide of $3.7 trillion.  Constant vigilance to prevent fraudulent activity is something that small business owners must practice every day.

Generally, occupational fraud categorized as financial statement fraud, misappropriation of assets, or corruption.  Asset misappropriation was the most common form of fraud reported in more than 83% of the cases studied.  Financial statement fraud will typically involve falsification of an organization’s financial statements or some form of regulatory or financial report. Examples include overstating assets and revenues, or understating liabilities or expenses to achieve personal gain.  Misappropriation of assets is the theft or misuse of an organization’s assets, such as skimming revenues, stealing inventory or committing payroll fraud.  Corruption involves fraudsters wrongfully use their influence in a business transaction to procure some benefit for themselves or another person(s), contradicting their duty to their employer or the rights of another, for instance by accepting kickbacks or engaging in conflicts of interest.

94.5% of the cases studied involved the perpetrator making efforts to conceal their fraud by creating or altering physical documentation.

For Small businesses cash, inventory, payroll and misuse of organization assets are the most common areas of fraud occurrence.  Cash is the most often pilfered from small business but because of its nature and importance to small businesses it is usually discovered within one month.  Inventory fraud is usually not discovered until later because small organizations will be more focused on operation measures (for example, revenues run rates, billing cycle  and accounts receivable information) in the short term and inventory will not be counted or reconciled against purchases and jobs in progress until quarter or year end.  Payroll fraud is usually committed by persons who have some form of operational control and authorization such that they can add phantom employees to the payroll or in collusion with others falsified time records submitted to the payroll department, this type of fraud is most usually discovered when there is turnover in personnel, a “falling out” between conspirators, or some form of periodic management review and reconciliation of historical project costs against approved budgets.  Misuse of organization assets many times occurs when a service company employee uses their employer’s assets on the weekend and holidays to run another business on the side, discovery of this type of fraud will usually occur when a disgruntled customer of the employee’s side business complains regarding defective work or makes a warranty claim, control of physical access to company operating assets during no business hours and mileage logs reconciliations are several ways to prevent or detect such abuse.

The most common detection methods in the cases studied were tips (39.1%).  Organizations that had reporting hotlines were much more likely to detect fraud through tips.

There are fraud policies and controls which can assist small businesses in deterring bad behavior.  Some of these include having a clearly written and communicated fraud policy which describes how and who handles fraud matters and investigations within the organization, what actions the organization considers to constitute fraud, reporting procedures (anonymous tip lines, a designated official, etc.), and what consequences the organization will take for such activity and the dedication to follow through with those stated consequences.

Atchley & Associates, LLP is a group of dedicated professionals, which include Certified Fraud Examiners, who can review, assess and make recommendations regarding small business systems of internal controls to decrease the likelihood of fraud being committed.

Fraud in the Cash Disbursements Accounting Cycle

By Tyler Mosley, CPA, CFE

Audit Supervisor at Atchley & Associates, LLP

In the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) 2014 edition of “Report to the Nations on Occupation Fraud and Abuse,”1 85% of fraud cases involve misappropriation of assets. In addition, 29% of all fraud cases occurred in companies with fewer than 100 employees and for those fraud cases the median loss was $154,000.

In our March 2014 blog, Robert Marchbanks, CPA/CGMA, discussed preventing fraud in nonprofit organizations and provided a good checklist of steps an organization can take to prevent and detect fraud. I am going to expand upon one of these items as it is the item I come across the most frequently when performing financial statement audits of nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Many smaller organizations do not have enough room in their budget to hire multiple staff members to perform accounting and financial reporting duties. Specifically we see that some smaller companies do not have adequate segregation of duties related to the check disbursement process. We stress with our clients that having proper segregation of duties is important to mitigate the risk of an employee committing fraud and detecting fraud that timely.

For the most effective segregation of duties, employees involved in purchasing functions (initiating requisitions and approving purchases) should not have disbursement related responsibilities. These employees should not be able to approve invoices for payment, record invoices, receive goods, or have access to the vendor master files. We frequently see in small organizations that the same staff member creates check runs, approves invoices, signs checks, and performs bank reconciliations. In the event that segregation of these functions is infeasible, we suggest that a member of management who is not responsible for any of the aforementioned duties be the sole signor on all checks. They should also periodically review all check disbursement activity to ensure that only authorized transactions have been processed.

A little extra time spent monitoring the check disbursement process could save the company significant amounts of money down the road.

1http://www.acfe.com/rttn/docs/2014-report-to-nations.pdf