A lack of basic internal controls can leave your company vulnerable to pilferage, embezzlement, and other types of misappropriation.
Small firms generally can’t afford to hire internal auditors or set up separate divisions to break up duties. But even smaller companies can establish controls in certain high-risk areas, such as the following:
Cash disbursements. If at all possible, the owner/manager should sign checks. This control has a dual purpose: management sees how the company is spending its money, and the cash disbursement function is kept separate from bookkeeping or accounting. If the same person signs checks and enters disbursement transactions in the accounting records, embezzlement is harder to prevent. Requiring two signatures on checks above a certain amount also provides greater control.
Customer collections. Consider having the owner/manager open the mail, especially if customer collections are a regular part of your business. Alternatively, you might ask someone separate from the accounting function to open the mail and prepare the deposit slip. Of course, the practice of making daily deposits is also a good control.
Personnel practices. By taking care to perform background checks before hiring key employees, especially those who will be handling cash or other high-risk assets, you can prevent problems later on. Of course, financial pressures, addictions, and other factors can corrupt even good employees.
Perhaps a small business’s greatest control is the “tone at the top.” If management sets a high standard, employees generally follow. However, if a manager is perceived as lax – for example, he or she doesn’t respond quickly when evidence of misappropriation surfaces – employees might conclude that theft isn’t such a big deal.
Remember this: A company that fails to establish minimum controls is providing a golden opportunity for fraud.