Now that the noise has died down and fewer executives are complaining about the expense and pain of implementing Sarbanes-Oxley measures, there's news that the SOX rules appear to have played a role in slashing potentially one of the biggest risks a company can face--accounting-related fraud. According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, accounting fraud in the U.S. decreased by almost two-thirds--with 13% of responding companies saying they experienced it, down from 36% in 2005 when the consulting firm last conducted the poll of senior executives.
SOX controls contributed significantly to the drop, says Steven Skalak, global investigations leader for PWC, but he
notes that interviews indicated that just as important was the new risk management climate that has encouraged a more proactive approach and a strong corporate culture of transparency. "The tone at the top and communications of the code of conduct is an absolutely essential adjunct to an organization's control structure," says Skalak. "A culture that supports a holistic compliance program together with a clearly understood, and lived, code of ethics, creates the true foundation for an effective anti-fraud program."
That's one reason why encouraging a culture supporting whistleblowers can be critical. A broader global survey of 5,400 executives in 40 countries reveals that 30% of the fraud incidents that came to light in 2006 were first reported to whistleblower hotlines. About 19% of fraudulent activities were detected by internal accounting departments; another 14% were uncovered as a result of external tips.
But while there are fewer companies reporting fraud, those committing it seem to be getting a bit greedier. In the past two years, the loss per company from fraud averaged $2.42 million, according to those surveyed, up from $1.73 million between 2003 and 2005. "A big reason for the increase is that more and more companies are doing business in the emerging markets, and economic crime is more expensive in those areas," says Skalak.