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Internal Control and Accounting System Design Financial Accounting

By September 17, 2020July 28th, 2023No Comments

accounting internal controls

As an internal control, someone takes that list and walks around verifying that all the assets exist and that all the assets are included on the list. So often in business people operate in compartments, each one “just doing the job,” but good internal control relies on all the parts of a company, internal and external, working together. An unscrupulous employee could steal cash, creating a false sale to cover it, or pocketing a payment on a vendor account.

If the firm has a robust system of internal controls, then the auditors will test the reliability of those controls, and then reduce their other audit activities. Conversely, if the organization has poor internal controls, then the auditors must include substantially more audit procedures in their plan, which drives up the cost of the audit. In short, a robust system of internal control can reduce the price of the year-end audit. This is a significant issue for publicly-held companies, which spend inordinate amounts on annual audits and quarterly reviews by their auditors. Internal control is a set of activities that are layered onto the normal operating procedures of an organization, with the intent of safeguarding assets, minimizing errors, and ensuring that operations are conducted in an approved manner.


Managers found guilty of not properly establishing and managing internal controls face serious criminal penalties. Internal controls are accounting and auditing processes used in a company’s finance department that ensure the integrity of financial reporting and regulatory compliance. Another familiar internal control to prevent fraud is to limit access to only authorized personnel, such as preventing unauthorized personnel from getting access to a warehouse and stealing inventory for resale. Another access content might involve allowing only accounting employees to access accounting systems. Internal control is the general responsibility of all members of an organization. Unfortunately, even though a company implements all these features in its internal control structure, theft may still occur.

Control activities are the specific policies and procedures management uses to achieve its objectives. The most important control activities involve segregation of duties, proper authorization of transactions and activities, adequate documents and records, physical control over assets and records, and independent checks on performance. You can contact us if you need help establishing internal controls for your accounting and finance department to protect your business assets adequately. Signature Analytics is an outsourced accounting firm providing ongoing accounting support and financial analysis to small and mid-size businesses. Internal controls have grown in their importance as a component of most business decisions.

Corrective Internal Controls

He used the identities of at least nine real people as well as eight fictitious people and stole about $6.2 million.1 He was sentenced to 13 years in prison on 33 felony counts. In the coffee caper, it’s likely that the friend who was making the deposits simply changed the deposit slip so that it matched the total amount of checks from the day’s sales, pocketing the cash. Just one simple check by an independent person, or even the owner, could have prevented the theft. Our writing and editorial staff are a team of experts holding advanced financial designations and have written for most major financial media publications.

  • Authorization of invoices, verification of expenses, limiting physical access to equipment, inventory, cash, and other assets are examples of preventative internal controls.
  • Separation of duties involves splitting responsibility for bookkeeping, deposits, reporting and auditing.
  • With both casualty insurance on assets and fidelity bonds on employees, a company can recover at least a portion of any loss that occurs.
  • Allowing a single person to handle all these accounting processes increases the risk of errors or fraud.
  • Two primary arguments that have been made against the SOX requirements is that complying with their requirements is expensive, both in terms of cost and workforce, and the results tend not to be conclusive.
  • A control with direct impact on the achievement of an objective (or mitigation of a risk) is said to be more precise than one with indirect impact on the objective or risk.
  • One of the largest corporate failures of all time was Enron, and the failure can be directly attributed to poor internal controls.

It includes regular management and supervisory activities, and other actions personnel take in performing their duties. The scope and frequency of separate evaluations will depend primarily on an assessment of risks and the effectiveness of ongoing monitoring procedures. Occasional accounting reconciliations can ensure that balances in your accounting system match up with balances in accounts held by other entities, including banks, suppliers and credit customers.

The Three Main Internal Controls for Accounting and How They Protect Your Assets

It should be clear how important internal control is to all businesses, regardless of size. An effective internal control system allows a business to monitor its employees, but it also helps a company protect sensitive customer data. Consider the 2017 massive data breach at Equifax that compromised data of over 143 million people. With proper internal controls functioning as intended, there would have been protective measures to ensure that no unauthorized parties had access to the data. Not only would internal controls prevent outside access to the data, but proper internal controls would protect the data from corruption, damage, or misuse. If you were to go to the concession stand and ask for a cup of water, typically, the employee would give you a clear, small plastic cup called a courtesy cup.

What are the six elements of internal control accounting?

1) Establishment of responsibility, 2) Segregation of duties, 3) Documentation procedures, 4) Physical controls, 5) Independent internal verification, 6) Human resource controls.

This internal control, the small plastic cup for nonpaying customers, helps align the accounting system and the theater’s operations. A movie theater does not use a system to directly account for the sale of popcorn, soda, or ice used. A point-of-sale system compares the number of soda cups used in a shift to the number of sales recorded in the system to ensure that those numbers match. Providing a courtesy cup ensures that customers drinking free water do not use the soda cups that would require a corresponding sale to appear in the point-of-sale system.

Requiring approval for large payments and expenses can prevent unscrupulous employees from making large fraudulent transactions with company funds, for example. Separation of duties involves splitting responsibility for bookkeeping, deposits, reporting and auditing. The further duties are separated, the less chance any single employee has of committing fraudulent acts. For small businesses with only a few accounting employees, sharing responsibilities between two or more people or requiring critical tasks to be reviewed by co-workers can serve the same purpose. Management is accountable to the board of directors, which provides governance, guidance and oversight. They also have a knowledge of the entity’s activities and environment, and commit the time necessary to fulfil their board responsibilities.

  • David Ingram has written for multiple publications since 2009, including “The Houston Chronicle” and online at
  • Evaluations are expected to be fair, representative of actual performance, written, and performed on an annual basis.
  • There will always be a few incidents, typically due to unforeseen circumstances or an exceedingly determined effort by someone who wants to commit fraud.
  • Detective controls are designed to find errors or problems after the transaction has occurred.
  • These controls enable a company provides timely and accurate financial information while complying with the laws of the state.