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11.isea vol call for paper no 1 pp. 65-73


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11.isea vol call for paper no 1 pp. 65-73

  1. 1. Issues in Social and Environmental AccountingVol. 4, No. 1 June 2010Pp 65-73 Can Audit Prevent Fraudulent Financial Re- porting Practices? Study of Some Motivational Factors in Two Atlantic Canadian Entities Mostaq M. Hussain Patricia Kennedy Victoria Kierstead Faculty of Business University of New Brunswick-Saint John CanadaAbstractMuch as has been written and done to prevent Fraudulent Financial Reporting (FFR) practicesbut FFR is still exists in the corporate world. It is common to think about FFR practices in largecompanies for its greater amount of consequences, though such practises have negative conse-quences in small companies as well. FFR practices raise questions about the legitimacy of con-temporary financial reporting process, roles of auditors, regulators, and analysts in financialreporting. This empirical study attempts to investigate the motivational factors of the preven-tion and detection of FFR through the auditing process. The interviewees were carried outwithin the entity and proprietary theoretical framework with some accounting related manage-ment in two medium-sized organizations in Atlantic Canada in winter 2008. The findings ofthis research demonstrate that an audit is not enough to prevent and detect FFR. The auditstructure needs to be revised and employees need to be educated in order for them to betterunderstand their internal control process, and their own role. Companies need to evaluate theircontrols and internal audit process instead of relying on the yearly audit. This study found thatthe most common methods used for FFR are improper revenue recognition, understatement ofexpenses/liabilities, and overstated and misappropriation of assets.Keywords: Fraudulent Financial Reporting, Audit, Saint John1. Background fined as intentional misstatements that can be classified into two types. TheAuditors Role first is misstatements arising from Fraudulent Financial Reporting (FFR)It is generally held belief that auditors’ and second misstatements arising fromjob to find fraud and error as part of the misappropriation of assets. Thereforescope of the engagement for auditing errors are the unintentional acts thatfinancial statements. Fraud can be de- cause financial statements to be mis-Corresponding author: Mostaq M. Hussain is Associate Professor of Accounting at Faculty of Business University ofNew Brunswick-Saint John, Canada. Tel 1506-648-5805, Fax 1506-648-5574, E-mail:
  2. 2. 66 M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73stated. As Messier and Emby (2004) known as the US Treadway Commis-elicited a number of reasons of FFR. sion) did an in depth study on FFR inThey are: (1). Manipulation, falsifica- 1987. The report outlined ways to pre-tion, or alteration of accounting records vent and detect FFR. “The preventionor supporting documents from which and detection of fraudulent reporting isfinancial statements are prepared. (2). important because the financial reportingMisrepresentation in, or intentional process relies on the integrity of the re-omission from, the financial statement of ported information.”(Warrick and Riner,events, transaction, or other significant 2004). The Treadway Commission iden-information. (3). Intentional misapplica- tifies the control environment, ‘tone attion of accounting principles relating to the top,’ as the most important factor inamounts, classification, manner of pres- preventing FFR, it will be senior man-entation, or disclosure. (4). Management agement that is the first defense againstoverride of internal controls that other- FFR. Even though senior managementwise may appear to be operating effec- is the first defense in many cases it istively. However, misappropriation is the senior management who is involved inresult of theft of the company’s assets FFR. With increasing pressures fromand can include: embezzling cash re- shareholders to maximize earnings it isceipts, stealing assets, causing the com- often senior managers who feel the mostpany to pay for goods or services not pressure to make the organization morereceived. profitable. Ernst & Young (2000) issued the findings of its general internationalFraud can be committed in a number of fraud study (not limited to FFR), whichways. There are several ‘red flags’ men- states that employees committed 82 per-tioned in Warrick and Riner’s (2004) cent of frauds with management beingstudy. According to Warrick and Riner involved in one third of those.(2004), an auditor should look for anumber of issues when performing an In the business environment importanceaudit, like: (I) Unusual or complex trans- should be placed on internal controls asactions, (II) Emphasis of management this is the first defense in preventingon short term earnings, (III) Pressure to fraud on an individual level. Internalmeet stock analyst expectations, (IV). controls can be difficult to implementAccounting estimates for valuing things depending on the size of the organiza-such as warranty expenses, (V). Weak tion. Large corporations with hundredsinternal controls, (VI). A weak or non- of administrative staff are more likely toactive board of directors, and (VII). In- have efficient segregation of duties thancentive compensation plans structured an organization that only has a few ad-on high financial performance. ministrative staff. According to COSO, fraudulent reporting occurs most often inAccording to the Committee of Sponsor- smaller corporations. There are fiveing Organizations (COSO, 1999), large components of internal control: controladjusting entries at the end of the quarter environment, risk assessment, controlor year that involve revenue or asset ac- activities, information and communica-counts should be considered carefully. tion, and monitoring. The control envi- ronment sets the tone of the organizationThe National Commission on FFR (also as it is the foundation of all other con-
  3. 3. M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73 67trols. Several circumstances can affect These could include, according to Car-the risk assessment of a corporation. penter (2001): (I). Internal controls asThey include (but are not limited) to: the first line of defense. (II). Using inter-new personnel, rapid growth, new tech- nal auditors that report to an audit com-nology, and foreign operations. Control mittee of the board of directors ratheractivities are the policies and procedures than senior management. (IV). Holdthat help to ensure that the appropriate management accountable to the samemeasures are taken to address the risks. standards of misconduct as non-The controls can include but are not lim- management. (V). Use fraud detectionited to: segregation of duties, under- software. (VI). Effectively communicatestanding of control activities and per- ethics and fraud programs to the em-formance reviews. Information and ployees to ensure that employees per-communication refers to the information ceive the programs to be working.system relevant to the financial reporting Moreover, Warrick and Riner (2004)objectives and communication is provid- suggested the appropriate segregation ofing an understanding of individual roles duties, and the need of performing ratioand responsibilities. Pre-assumably, a analyses on firm account balances.well operating information system can Beasley (2000) argues that audit com-reduce the risk of material misstatement mittees should meet at least quarterly,when monitoring assesses the quality of and according to NCFFR (1987), Auditinternal control over time. During the committee members should be of thecourse of an audit these and other inter- firm.nal controls will be evaluated by theauditor to ensure they are sufficient. The Understanding why employees commitauditor will also establish materiality, fraud is a key factor in being able to de-the level of misstatement that will not tect fraud. A study by Hollinger andaffect the decision of a reasonable user Clark with 12, 000 employees in theof the financial statements. workforce found that nearly 90% en- gaged in ‘workplace deviance’, whichPrevention of Fraud included behavior such as goldbricking, workplace slowdowns, sick time abusesThe Treadway Commission cited that and pilferage. On top of that, an aston-education as one way of preventing ishing one-third of employees actuallyfraud by making those who are responsi- had stolen money or merchandise on theble for the everyday accounting duties job. (Wells, 2001) There are three fac-and making aware of how fraud is com- tors that contribute to employees com-mitted and then educating them about mitting fraud they are: pressure, oppor-detecting procedure. In addition to edu- tunity, and rationalization. If employeescating employees about how to prevent feel they are not being treated fairly andand detect fraud the board of directors adequately they are more likely to com-can play a key role in preventing fraud. pensate themselves in the form ofThe board should support the ‘tone at “wages in kind”. Fraud is also commit-the top’ or even set the tone of the or- ted because of financial pressures. Cres-ganization. It is the board who can di- sey (in Wells, 2001) found that the em-rect management to have certain preven- ployees “must perceive an opportunitytion and detection controls in place. to commit and conceal their crimes, and
  4. 4. 68 M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73be able to rationalize their offenses as likely that the manager will not act in thesomething other than criminal activ- best interest of the owner.” (Messier andity” (Wells, 2001). Wells also lists a Emby, 2004) By having the corporationnumber of questions. Whenever they are audited the auditor adds value to infor-answered positively, there should be a mation by increasing its reliability andred flag for fraud motivation. The ques- credibility.tions are follows: Is management compensation tied It is management’s duty to be aware of closely to company value? the consequences of fraudulent reporting Is management dominated by a sin- whether it is legal, social or ethical. The gle person or a small group? news has been dominated in recent years Does management display a signifi- by many scandalous tales of large corpo- cant disregard for regulations or rations committing fraud. For example controls? Enron has had to restate their financial Has management restricted the audi- statements for a total of eight billion dol- tor’s access to documents or person- lars and some of the executives have nel? been charged with committing fraud. Has management set unrealistic fi- Fraud is not limited to corporations. One nancial goals? of the Big Four firms Arthur Anderson, Does management have any [past “was the auditor for a number if entities history of illegal conduct? involved in FFR. The effect of Arthur Is an employee obviously dissatis- Anderson was devastating. Their com- fied? plicity with the scandals ultimately de- Does that employee have a past his- stroyed them.”(Warrick and Riner, tory of dishonesty or illegal con- 2004) duct? Does that employee have known financial pressures, such as exces- 2. Methodology sive debt, bad credit or tax liens? Research Method Has that employee’s lifestyle or be- havior changed significantly? To develop a better understanding of the motivational factor on fraudulent report-The growth of the modern corporation ing and how an audit can detect and pre-has given the rise to absentee owners vent it from control fraud we turned to a(shareholders) and the use of managers prominent Saint John company (X), and(agents) to operate the corporation on a an accounting firm (Z), in order to haveday-to-day basis. “The agency relation- a diversified view. Semi structured in-ship between an owner and manager terviews were conducted with each in-produces a natural conflict of interest terviewee on March 20, 2008 and Aprilbecause of the information asymmetry 4, 2008 respectively. The first inter-this means that, the manager generally viewee is from Company X and the sec-has more information about the ‘true’ ond interviewee is from Company position and results of opera- These two were selected to evaluate thetions of the entity than the absentee opinion on auditing from the perspectiveowner does. If both parties seek to of a large corporation and that of firm.maximize their own self-interest, it is The interviews were conducted on site
  5. 5. M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73 69during an hour long pre-booked appoint- tions upon liquidation.ment. Notes were taken during the inter-views and organizing the interview re- The entity theory is quoted as beingsults immediate after the interviews. “income centered”. Any net income orThe first interviewee holds a CA and loss of the firm within a given year be-was chosen because of his extensive longs to the firm. In the event that theknowledge of business practices in large firm has a positive net income on thecompanies. The second interviewee has income statement for the year, will onlyher BBA and was selected for her be considered income to the sharehold-knowledge in accounting practices from ers if dividends are declared. In this ex-the perspective of a large firm as well as ample the amount of income to theher previous experiences in the industry. shareholders will be the amount of theFollowing the interviews, secondary dividend that they receive from thesources of information was scrutinized firm. The remaining profit belongs toin order to find the consistency/ the firm.inconsistency of provided information.However, the exact references of secon- It is the entity theory that contributes todary source are not elicited here in order fraud because when the company is suc-to not disclose information about the cessful, in terms of a positive net in-names of the organizations interviewed. come, money can be distributed to shareholders. In this case, if fraudulentTheoretical Framework: Entity Theory reporting occurs then this net income or loss has the potential to state in a wayThe entity theory is based on the simple that goes far away from the truth andequation that assets are equal to equities fairness. More successful a company is(liabilities plus shareholder’s eq- the one that distributed more money touity). Assets and liabilities are consid- the shareholders. If a company is suc-ered to be resources and obligations of cessful they can raise additional capitalthe entity itself, but not the shareholders based on the past distributions and theor proprietors. If management is com- predicted future distributions. The pro-mitting fraudulent reporting, the number prietary theory can contribute to fraudwithin this equation will not be cor- on the basis that executives are temptedrect. Management over valuating one or to record assets and liabilities inappro-several assets can greatly change the priately to increase their wealth. Share-company’s financial statements. The holders are also seeking to invest in adifference between liabilities and share- company with an increasing net incomeholder’s equity is that rights of the credi- so that they may receive higher divi-tors can be determined independently of dends. Management may be pressuredother valuations- if the firm is sol- by shareholder to show a positive netvent. The stockholder’s rights are meas- income for this reason.ured by the valuation of the assets origi-nally invested plus any reinvested earn-ings and revaluations. The equity hold- 3. Empirical Findings and Analysisers of the firm have the right to receivedividends and share in net assets in the We recently interviewed Kevin Houri-event that the firm should cease opera- han who is a chartered accountant with
  6. 6. 70 M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73Company X and asked him his opinion counting functions. Kevin’s opinion inon the prevention of FFR through audit- short is that a company needs to have theing. Kevin’s opinion is that “an audit is proper controls in place to prevent fraudnot an effective means of detecting or and not rely on their audit. Detectingpreventing fraudulent financial reporting fraud is not the main goal of the audit.within a large company” like the one he The audit is done primarily to test theworks for. “Audits usually run with the financial statements of the company forassumption that management has integ- accuracy but not for investigating fraud.rity. An auditor would not normally If the audit were to test fraud it would betake a job if they suspected that manage- cost prohibitive due to the great deal ofment was corrupt.” Auditors are more time would possibly be involved in it.looking for errors and omissions that arehonest mistakes. Kevin’s take on the A second interview was conducted withmatter is that of course they do look Shelly Roy a supervisor with Companythrough internal controls to see if the Z. We asked for her opinion on whethercompany has the proper controls and FFR could be prevented through audit.policies, however if fraud were happen- She felt that audit was not an effectiveing it would be very hard for an auditor means to prevent FFR. Shelley elabo-to detect through sampling and testing. rates by explaining “the main focus on an audit is not to detect or prevent fraudIf the company is large with several em- but is to provide reasonable assuranceployees it should be harder for fraudu- that financial statements are free fromlent reporting to occur within the organi- material misstatements”. Shelley feels itzation. Large scale companies often is the controls that the company has andhave well designed controls which make enforces that prevent fraud. She notedit harder for fraud to occur. Depending that “an audit examines evidence thaton how well planned and executed the supports the amounts and disclosures infraud was (even if the auditor were to the financial statements. As part of auditlook at that) the particular entries in- procedures, controls are reviewed to de-volved may not catch fraud. Kevin be- velop an understanding of risk that maylieves that usually when management be associated with amounts in the finan-decides to peruse at fraudulent reporting cial statements”. An example of a con-action, it is generally well planned and trol procedure is the Company havingexecuted which makes it harder for audi- segregation of duties for banking. Thistors to detect. means that there are two signing authori- ties and those who can prepare chequesKevin also points out that it would be are not signing authorities. This preventsvery hard for one person to commit the individual from issuing an unauthor-fraud within an organization. An exam- ized payment to themselves. During anple that he provided us with would be audit, if there was not proper segregationbooking a sale. “If an employee booked of duties, control risk would be assesseda nonexistent sale it would most likely at an elevated level and more samplingget noticed by someone in another group and testing on cash would be required.such as collections or banking.” Thiswould be much easier in a smaller com- Well (2002) says, “I don’t think an audi-pany where one person does many ac- tor could uncover fraud if he stepped on
  7. 7. M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73 71it”. Such opinion may be a negative documents. Enron used offshore entitiesopinion on our audit system, but accord- to create the illusion that they were moreing to Craig A. Latshaw, in his article on profitable than they actually were whichFFR, he mentions that the Government drove up the stock price even thoughand Accounting Profession React, there they were actually losing money. Onlymay be some truth to it. The report the executives knew of the existence ofhighlights that although the Sarbanes- these offshore accounts that were actu-Oxley Act and initiatives that have been ally hiding the losses, the investors knewstarted by the AICPA attempt to reduce nothing about it. At the same time thosefraud but they are not enough. There are executives were working on insider in-still some large issues unresolved as far formation and trading millions of dollarsas FFR is concerned. Management can worth of Enron stock. This took severalstill override internal controls in order to years to unravel and went undetected byproduce FFR. As started in Latshaw’s auditors. The Enron scandal brought toarticle “unfortunately, the majority of light potential conflicts of interest be-work carried on by auditors using the tween consultancy and auditing workcurrent system concentrates on the dis- and the need for tighter regulation oncovery of unintentional errors which, financial derivatives trading. Enron iswith an adequate system of internal con- proof that an audit cannot prevent fraudtrol, will be detected by the company’s when the accounting firm is in collusionaccounting system” (Latshaw, 2002). with the company committing fraud.After conducting the interviews andbased on the empirical findings both After the fall of Enron some of the otherKevin and Shelly are correct in stating companies that Arthur Anderson repre-that internal controls play a large role in sented were investigated. Qwest Com-the prevention of FFR but not the audit. munications was subsequently reviewedIt is however evident that when the in- and it was found that they had inappro-ternal controls fail and managements priately recognized revenue and fourgreed blinds them to their ethical duties, executives including the CFO wereauditors should be looking for ‘red flags’ charged with conspiracy to commit aneven in the most prominent companies. offense against the U.S., securities fraud,The audits preformed by Arthur Ander- making false statements, and wire fraudson did not detect or prevent fraud in affecting a financial institution. An-many companies but may in fact have other communication giant (WorldCom)contributed to it. also fall victim to fraudulent reporting in June of 2002. WorldCom announces thatThe Enron financial scandal perhaps the they have been over stating profits bymost discussed case of fraudulent report- classifying routine expenses as capitaling revealed in late 2001 which led to its expenditures a month later WorldCombankruptcy. This scandal also caused has filed for bankruptcy. CEO, Berniethe dissolution of Arthur Anderson, i.e. Webbers is tried and convicted of falsi-Enron’s accounting firm (which at the fying regulatory filings with the U.S.time was one of the world’s top five ac- Securities and Exchange Commission incounting firms), when it was discovered 2001 and 2002.that they had destroyed important audit
  8. 8. 72 M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-734. Conclusion and Recommendation occurred, the companys net worth on the financial statements will likely notEmpirical evidence demonstrates that be correct. Represented by the equation,audit cannot solely detect and prevent i.e. Assets – Liabilities = Proprietor’sFFR, or say, an audit is not enough to Equity. The proprietor owns the assetsprevent and detect fraudulent reporting. and liabilities, and therefore, the liabili-It appears that although fraud has higher ties are negative assets of the proprietoraudit risk and can cause an audit to fail making such equation balance sheet cen-but it still receives the least amount of tered. Bookkeeping can be viewed asattention. Empirical evidence supports the proprietor accounting for his ownthat the audit structure needs to be re- property, and such a view can bevised in light of the numerous fraud adapted to corporations as well becausecases that are being exposed. Employ- they are accountable to shareholders forees need to be educated so that they can the profitability of their investment.better understand internal controls and When the corporation is profitable andtheir role in the organizations. Compa- retained earnings are high then share-nies need to evaluate their controls and holders are having access to higherscrutinize their internal audit, or audit amount of wealth (as form of dividends).committees, to ensure that gaps thatcause ‘red flags’ are filled. It is found in The origins of the proprietary theorythe empirical evidence that companies have been traced, in Britain, to Malcombshould not just simply rely on the yearly (1718) who distinguished transactionsaudit to detect fraud but should take pre- that produced profit and subsequentlyventive control measures. increased proprietors’ capital, from those which did not. The theory wasThe research results, i.e. empirical evi- further developed by Stephens (1735)dence, do not seem to be consistent with and Fulton (1800), and was fully fledgedthe entity theory but more in line of the by Conhelm (1818). He added the alge-arguments of proprietary theory. Man- braic approach to transaction analysisagement continuously experiences out- with transactions affecting the account-side pressures to increase profits. Such ing equation (by increasing or decreas-pressures mostly come from the share- ing capital, assets and liabilities) and thisholders in order to receive the benefits study finds the evidence to support thatof their proprietorship/shareholdings, notion rather than the consideration ofthough a business organization is an in- business entity that prevent FFR.dependent entity. Moreover, competitivetendency of companies - not just simplywant to maintain their current size but Referencesthey want to grow, also creating thepressure on management to increase and Carpenter, Brian, W. (2001) “Analyzingmaintain higher stock value. Organizational Fraud”, The Inter- nal Auditor, April : 33-38.The objective of the proprietary theory is CBC News. (2006) “The WorldComthe determination and analysis of the Story” CBC News Online. Sep-proprietor’s net worth. In the case of tember 26, reporting -if in fact fraud has news/background/worldcom/
  9. 9. M. M Hussain, P. Kennedy, V. Kierstead / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2010) 65-73 73Latshaw, Craig A. (2003) “Fraudulent Accountancy, April, pp. 41-48. financial reporting: The govern- Ulinski, Michael. (2006) “An Analysis ment and accounting profession of small company frauds and im- react”, Review plications for auditors in detecting o f b u s i n e s s . frauds”, ASBBS E-Journal Vol. 2, No. 1. t r a d e j o u r n a l s / Warrick, Shane C., & Riner, H. Sam. article/102270927.html “An analysis of business studentsMessier, William F., Jr., & Emby, Craig. understanding of fraudulent finan- (2004) Auditing and Assurance cial reporting”, Journal of Busi- Services: A Systematic Approach. ness Administration Online. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Spring 2004, Vol. 2, No. 2. Limited, Vol. 83, pp. 195-207. Committee of Sponsoring Organiza- wattickJABAOSpring20004.pdf tions of the Treadway Commis- Weber, Toby. (2003)“Four former Qwest sion (1997) “Fraudulent Financial execs indicted” Telephonyonline. Reporting: 1987-1997-An Analy- February 25, . http:// sis of U.S. Public Companies”. Section I www.cos o.or g/ telecom_four_qwest_execs/ p u b l i c a t i o n s / Wells, Joseph T. (2001) “Why Employ- e x e c u - ees Commit Fraud”. Journal of tive_summary_fraudulent_financi Accountancy Online. February al_reporting.htm, William, C. (2002) “The Rise feb2001/wells.htm and Fall of Enron”, Journal of
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