Over the years, payroll systems have increased in sophistication, with exciting new security features.
Unfortunately, people continue to find new ways to commit payroll fraud.
At Books and Bas, we want our clients to have peace of mind, knowing they are paying people properly. Because a happy team, means a happy business!
So we wanted to explain how payroll fraud works – and what you can do to reduce the risk for your business.
How serious is payroll fraud?
A global study in 2018 found that payroll scams accounted for 7 per cent of all occupational fraud cases, with a median duration of 30 months and cost of US$63,000.
According to CPA Australia, the damage can be even more significant, as shown with multiple high-profile cases in Australia. For example, Clive Peeters and Hassell Services were defrauded a combined total of almost AU$20 million by former payroll managers.
CPA Australia spoke with Nick Southcombe, chief executive officer of Frontier Software, about the issue.
Mr Southcombe believes the cost to a business’s reputation can be just as detrimental as the financial drain.
“People want to work with – and for – organisations that aren’t only ethical, but also have good controls in place to ensure that high standards are maintained,” he says.
Mr Southcombe told CPA Australia, the best way to deter payroll fraud is to set up stringent internal controls across three areas: people, processes, and technology. Here are some of the steps he suggests.
1. People: Set the Tone at the Top
Instituting ethical behaviour within a business starts at the top.
When upper management projects positivity and integrity, it produces a ripple effect among employees. It will either reduce the prevalence of fraud or make its detection more probable.
Creating an honest and ethical culture also means implementing quality standards, says Mr Southcombe.
He recommends organisations establish – and constantly reinforce – payroll policies and processes to ensure accountability and transparency.
2. Process: Segregate Duties
No single person should be wholly responsible for the payroll process.
Instead, businesses can protect themselves from fraud by assigning different people to key duties – ideally rotating these tasks at least once a year.
Regular accounting reconciliations of payroll to general ledger should likewise be conducted by a person not engaged in payroll preparation.
This makes it difficult for perpetrators to act alone, with Southcombe explaining: “When you segregate duties, malicious behaviour requires collusion.”
3. Technology: Review security access and reporting
Payroll systems offer a number of anti-fraud solutions, chief among them security access controls.
“Make sure there are controls in place to prevent the payroll team – or anyone else – adding ghost employees or changing pay rates,”Mr Southcombe says.
“People should only have access to information that’s relevant to their roles and responsibilities.”
Ensure your technology offers sophisticated reporting tools. These can include details reports, variation reports, audit reports, headcount reports and master file details reports.
With such information at their disposal, auditors can filter out notable changes in any pay period. They can also compare them to historical data.
“This gives managers or other third parties the opportunity to perform sanity checks of payroll and make sure it’s all legitimate,” adds Mr Southcombe.
While artificial intelligence and machine learning can now identify payroll anomalies automatically, Mr Southcombe says businesses need to understand how to adapt their governance accordingly before they implement them.
As critical as preventative measures may be, Mr Southcombe also urges businesses to watch for early warning signs of fraud.
“Beware of the payroll staff that never take holidays, or those who look like they might be living beyond their means,” he suggests.
“If the worst-case scenario does happen, make sure you have a response plan ready, so you can get on the front foot and take control of the situation.”
How can Everalls Books & BAS help you
Issues with payroll fraud can seriously affect your business – not just financially but through damage in reputation.
We want to work with businesses, to ensure everything is set up so they have minimal risk to payroll fraud – and other serious risks that could harm them.
If you want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve done everything by the book – contact our team. We can help safeguard your business.