As the eyes and ears of the board, the audit committee plays a pivotal role in helping to stop or reverse the rise in reported fraud incidents worldwide.
Thirty-seven per cent of more than 5,000 respondents in PwC’s most recent global economic crime survey in 2014 reported being hit by one of five most frequent frauds: asset misappropriation, procurement fraud, bribery and corruption, cybercrime, and accounting fraud. That was up 7 percentage points from the 30% of respondents who reported being affected in the 2009 survey.
“It’s everybody’s job in the company to deter fraud,” said Chris Rogers, CPA, CGMA, the CFO at Infragistics, a New Jersey software developer with operations on five continents.
Amongst employees, CFOs and controllers often shoulder much of the responsibility to prevent fraud. On the board level, the independent business experts from outside the company who sit on the audit committee take on a special role as fraud busters, said Rogers, who has served on audit committees at different companies for more than a decade.
Regulation has bolstered the role of the audit committee in past years, he said.
Audit committee members interface with the independent auditor to ensure that the company’s financial results are accurately portrayed, he said. They also make sure sound internal controls are in place and working to prevent fraud, and those controls should uncover fraud quickly and effectively when it occurs.
Given unfettered access, audit committee members can be invaluable conduits of information between the board and the CFO. “In my world, the audit committee is my ally on the board,” Rogers said.
Committee members should not underestimate their influence on the company’s top management to act ethically, according to a PwC report on how audit committees can maximise their performance.
To assess and influence company culture, audit committee members can delve into employee and customer surveys and exit interviews. They can meet with employees outside the executive suite (57% of them did in 2015) and review communications between the CEO and employees to gain additional perspectives regarding the company’s culture.
Rogers recommended installing an employee whistleblower hotline that goes directly to audit committee members.
To do their pivotal role justice, PwC suggested audit committee members also embrace fraud deterrence by:
- Ensuring management performs robust annual reviews of the company’s compliance programmes and reporting systems.
- Requesting periodic updates on the external enforcement environment and the company’s fraud training and prevention programmes.
- Being familiar with the sentencing guideline requirements for effective compliance programmes.
- Understanding the nature and volume of allegations reported to the company’s whistleblower hotline.
- Requesting periodic updates from management about reported allegations.
- Understanding the company’s response to whistleblower laws and whether additional measures should be taken.
—Sabine Vollmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.