Barb Bartlein is known nationally as “The People Pro“… offering advice and strategic assistance in dealing with people issues. She assists clients with management training, professional mentoring, and employee management issues. She’s a nationally syndicated columnist for The Business Journal, a successful author, and one funny lady. Her humor his lit up audiences for years.
She featured Essentials of Corporate Fraud in her recent newsletter, and this is the article she wrote about it:
Protect Your Company From Corporate Fraud
In the aftermath of Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco, many companies have taken steps to protect their businesses from fraud. They have initiated new accounting procedures, complied with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and conducted better screening of new employees. Yet there has not been any noticeable decrease in fraud overall according to a provocative new book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud. Written by fraud expert Tracy Coenen, who conducts fraud investigations for public and private companies, it presents an insiders look at corporate fraud.
“Corporate fraud causes losses to companies of between 5% and 6% of revenues every year. This level has not changed for the last twelve years,” according to Coenen. “When applied to the US gross domestic product, this would total about 660 billion per year.”
What has changed though is the employer’s perspective on fraud. A 2006 survey by Ernst and Young of more than 500 corporate leaders found that companies had increased their spending on assessing and improving corporate controls. As a result, the leaders believed that they made significant progress in detecting and preventing corporate fraud. Yet one out of five companies surveyed by Ernst and Young reported “significant fraudulent activity” within the last two years.
“Corporate executives think that their companies are doing better now than in the recent past when it comes to preventing fraud, but none of the hard data supports that assertion,” says Coenen. “That’s dangerous. Executives and managers may very well be caught off guard by a fraud while they hold on to this false sense of security.”
It is not easy to detect fraud as there is not a typical “profile” of a person who commits white collar crime. They are ordinary employees usually with no known history of fraud. Ninety two percent have no prior criminal charges or convictions related to fraud. Men and women commit a fairly equal number of frauds but those committed by men cost companies more than twice as much as the frauds committed by women. The higher a person’s position in the company, the greater the fraud. Higher positions have greater access to people, data, and opportunities to commit fraud. There also may be less scrutiny and oversight of these positions.
The large frauds we all became familiar with (Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, etc) were all financial statement fraud schemes whereby the executives created fictitious revenue and hid expenses to make the financial results look better. Financial statement fraud generally involves manipulating the financial statements for some indirect benefit to the executives engaging in the fraud. This might mean an increased stock price, a larger year-end bonus, or meeting requirements for bank financing.
Financial statement fraud is by far the most expensive type of fraud, costing companies, on average, $2 million per scheme. Yet it is also the least common type of fraud, present in only about 10% of all fraud schemes. The most common type of fraud, occurring in 91% of all fraud schemes is asset misappropriation. These schemes include things like expense report fraud, inventory theft, cash receipts skimming, and theft of customer data. Often, the employee committing the theft has financial pressures due to life style and poor decisions.
There is evidence that the proliferation of casinos and gambling has driven an increase in corporate fraud. High profile cases like Christopher Kelly, the former advisor on gambling to the Illinois Governor, are in the news on a daily basis. He used corporate funds to pay off millions in debts to a bookie in Chicago and casinos in Las Vegas, portraying them as legitimate business expenses. There is also an extensive study in Australia by KPMG that demonstrates an increase in white collar crime due to the expansion of casinos.
There are steps that employers can take to reduce the risk of white collar crime. Coenen recommends:
- Establishing an anonymous hotline for reporting. Anonymous hotlines cut fraud losses in half because it gives employees an opportunity to report without getting involved. Co-workers may spot a problem long before it is apparent to management.
- Making the ethics of the corporate culture clear. Values and ethics flow from the top down. Employees won’t follow the rules if their bosses are doing the same. Management should be modeling ethical behavior at all times.
- Creating a code of conduct for employees. The boundaries and rules should be clear and employees know what is expected. Don’t allow the “gray area” of having employees substitute their judgment for what is right and wrong.
- Implementing simple fraud prevention procedures. These include segregation of duties, random audits of records and monitoring access to assets and data. Establish levels of authority for financial transactions with multiple signatures.
- For more information on corporate fraud and how you can protect your company, visit: www.fraudessentials.com.
Barbara Bartlein, CSP, is The People Pro ®, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps businesses sell more goods and services by developing people. She presents keynotes and seminars on stress management, balance, productivity, customer service and leadership. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by email at: [email protected] or visit her website at http://www.thepeoplepro.com
I’m proud to call Barb a friend as well as a role model, and I thank her for her wonderful support in my professional efforts, especially as they relate to this book. Barb, you’re the best!