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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Help the Success of the External Audit by Educating Your Professional Team on the Characteristics of Skepticism.

Expect your external auditors to
embrace a professional level of
skepticism in order to succeed.
Skepticism is integral to the conduct of external auditors. But the exercise of skepticism should not be limited to external auditors. Even if not codified in law or regulation, deterrence and detection of financial reporting fraud requires all participants in the financial reporting supply chain to exercise skepticism.

Skepticism is a questioning mindset, and it requires an understanding that even the best organizations can be susceptible to fraud. Management, audit committees, and internal auditors, at a minimum, should take a “trust but verify” approach with systems, methods, and communications rather than accept critical information at face value.

Skepticism is not an end in itself and is not meant to encourage a hostile atmosphere or micromanagement. The word skepticism, in fact, comes from the Greek word skeptikos, which means “inquiring” or “reflective.”

Is skepticism a set of personality traits, or is it a learned skill? The short answer is both. We will consider skepticism as an individual characteristic, albeit with multiple dimensions, listed as follows:

  • Questioning mind—A disposition to inquiry, with some sense of doubt
  • Suspension of judgment—Withholding judgment until appropriate evidence is obtained
  • Search for knowledge—A desire to investigate beyond the obvious, with a desire to corroborate
  • Interpersonal understanding— Recognition that people’s motivations and perceptions can lead them to provide biased or misleading information
  • Autonomy—The self-direction, moral independence, and conviction to decide for oneself, rather than accepting the claims of others
  • Self-esteem—The self-confidence to resist persuasion and to challenge assumptions or conclusions
READ MORE>> The Fraud-Resistant Organization


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Creating a Fraud-Resistant Culture in Your Business; the Importance of Skepticism

Skepticism is discouraged in some
cultures around the globe,
 particularly when it means
 challenging superiors within an
 organization. When dealing
internationally, training and
education can lessen the
gravity of this reluctance.
In an age of complex accounting in an increasingly global economy, the entire financial reporting supply chain must participate in deterring and detecting financial reporting fraud.

The effort begins with a tone at the top that promotes an ethical culture, a tone set by the CEO and management, reinforced by boards, audit committees, and internal auditors, and enhanced with the knowledge and presence of external auditors

The effort requires the exercise of healthy skepticism up and down the financial reporting supply chain. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all the players in an organization to know their roles in delivering high-quality financial reporting, to be part of the financial reporting supply chain’s “deep defense” in deterring and detecting financial reporting fraud, and to perform those roles to the best of their abilities.

To effectively conduct an audit of an organization’s financial statements, an external auditor should have a thorough understanding of an organization and its industry to evaluate whether the results suggest that a fraud risk exists. The external auditor should know how to assess fraud risk, including the risk of management override of controls, and how to respond to identified risks. In accounts or assertions with lower risk of material misstatement, less evidence and documentation may be required, while accounts or assertions where higher risk factors are present demand more rigorous examination of evidence.

What is most helpful to aid the external audit is to train staff to use characteristics of skepticism. While some individuals are more naturally disposed toward skepticism, research shows that individuals can be trained to employ professional skepticism.

What is skepticism?

Throughout the audit process, auditing standards call for external auditors to exercise professional skepticism, defined by the auditing standards as “an attitude that includes a questioning mind and a critical assessment of audit evidence.” External auditors are required by professional standards to be alert for information that suggests material errors in the financial misstatements, and must exercise skepticism when considering the possibility that there may be a material misstatement of the financials due to fraud. External auditors must also apply professional skepticism when they consider the risk that management may override internal controls, and take that risk into account when formulating judgments about the nature and extent of audit testing.

PCAOB’s Practice Alert No. 10 Maintaining and Applying Professional Skepticism in Audits, reminds auditors of their obligation to exercise professional skepticism throughout the audit, and suggests skepticism is “particularly important” in the following circumstances:

  • Significant management judgments 
  • Transactions outside the normal course of business, such as nonrecurring reserves, financing transactions, and related-party transactions that might be motivated solely, or in large measure, by an expected or desired accounting outcome 
  • The auditor’s consideration of fraud 

To properly exercise skepticism, in addition to diligently pursuing sufficient appropriate audit evidence, an external auditor can employ effective interview and inquiry techniques, including how to evaluate nonverbal communications. 

External auditors also should be familiar with judgment biases and other threats to skepticism. 

Cognitive biases have their place. Without them, decisions can fall victim to the inefficiency of “analysis paralysis.” However, when not kept in check, judgment biases can lead to bad decisions and to overlooking possible indications of fraud. A delicate balance is required. The first step in striking that balance is awareness.

What are some common threats to skepticism?

There is research that identifies threats to professional skepticism and ways in which such threats can be mitigated. One threat is a lack of vigilance about possible sources of bias in judgment. While everyone uses shortcuts to facilitate forming judgments or making decisions, it is important to be aware of the potential for cognitive shortcuts that can lead to poor decisions. When an individual fails to notice financial reporting irregularities, it could be because he or she fell into one of the several common judgment trapsFollowing is a list of 4 most common judgment tendencies with strategies suggested to help avoid these and mitigate bias:

  1. Confirmation: The tendency to put more weight on information that is consistent with initial beliefs or preferences.
    Solution: *Make the opposing case and consider alternative explanations. *Consider potentially disconfirming or conflicting information.
  2. Overconfidence: The tendency to overestimate one’s own ability to perform tasks or to make accurate assessments of risks or other judgments and decisions.
    Solution: *Challenge opinions and experts. *Challenge underlying assumptions.
  3. Anchoring: The tendency to make assessments by starting from an initial value and then adjusting insufficiently away from that initial value.
    Solution: *Solicit input from others. *Consider management bias, including the potential for fraud or material misstatements.
  4. Availability: The tendency to consider information that is easily retrievable or what’s easily accessible as being more likely or more relevant.
    Solution: *Consider why something comes to mind. *Obtain and consider objective data. *Consult with others and make the opposing case. 
Judgment biases are not the only threat to the exercise of skepticism. Threats exist at every level of the financial reporting supply chain. For example, the individual might face deadline pressure, pressure to please one’s boss or client, or lack of experience in significant accounting estimates. These threats can be mitigated, but the first step is clear-eyed acknowledgment that the threats exist. Understanding the importance of skepticism is a vital part of ensure the success of both the internal and external audits.

The role and responsibility of the external auditor defined:

The primary responsibility of the independent external auditor is to provide an opinion on an organization’s annual financial statements. The opinion is intended to provide reasonable assurance that the financial statements are presented fairly in all material respects. Most large companies (i.e., those with over $75 million in public float), are also required to have their external auditor report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over financial reporting. External auditors are engaged by, and report directly to, the audit committee, but they often have contact across many parts of an organization’s operations, and can garner valuable insights not only about controls, but also about an organization’s culture. In addition, their work across multiple companies endows external auditors with useful perspectives.

Professional standards require the external auditor in a financial statement audit to understand the company’s system of internal control as part of the audit planning process. This understanding includes consideration of the tone at the top and overall corporate culture, and incentives or pressures that may impel fraudulent financial reporting. The auditor considers factors such as management’s philosophy and operating style (including the integrity and ethical values practiced by management), the company’s commitment to competence, the effectiveness of the board and audit committee’s oversight, and the company’s human resource policies and practices (including compensation arrangements). All of these factors contribute to the auditor’s risk assessment of the company.


The more an external auditor engages, and engages effectively, with various members of management throughout an organization, the better the audit design and results. In obtaining information, face-to-face meetings encourage open discussion and the opportunity to assess nonverbal communications. Early in the engagement, auditing standards require the external auditor to brainstorm about possible fraud risks. Topics for brainstorming include:
  • How and where the engagement team believes a company’s financial statements could be susceptible to material misstatement due to fraud
  • How management could perpetrate and conceal fraudulent financial reporting
  • How assets of the company could be misappropriated
  • The importance of maintaining the proper state of mind throughout the audit regarding the potential for material misstatement due to fraud
Other factors that the external auditor may consider as part of its risk assessment include the following:
  • Communications and training programs, including the tools that help each level of management reinforce the desired messages with its direct reports
  • Incentives or pressures that may exist for management to engage in fraudulent financial reporting
  • Management’s fraud risk assessment and results of testing of internal controls
The board and audit committee can leverage the external auditor’s fraud risk assessment to ask questions of management.

Transparent, open, two-way communications between the external auditor and the audit committee are vital, and is it is necessary for all parties involved to employ an attitude of skepticism.

READ MORE>> The Fraud-Resistant Organization

Call GBC Income Tax Services today at 678-366-9232 for all your tax and IRS needs!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Who Gets Audited by the IRS?

Get an External Audit!
Believe it or not, it’s the big fish that get audited more often.

If a Schedule C shows more than $1 million in sales, the odds of being audited rise to 12.1%. If you are in this situation, I would suggest discussing incorporating your business with your attorney and tax professional. This move doesn’t just minimize your audit risk but it also allows you to take advantage of potentially lower tax rates and limits liability.

Here is some IRS data that show the frequency of audits performed in 2012 by return type:

First of all, in 2012 there were more than 143 million individual income tax returns filed, and 1% of these returns were audited that year.

  • When it comes to business returns however, the odds of being audited increase. Many of those 2012 individual returns contained a Schedule C, Income and Expenses for sole proprietors.  Audit risk also rises depending on how much income your business generates. For example, if your Schedule C lists gross receipts under $25,000, your odds of being audited are 1.2%, just a little bit higher than those for individual returns without business income. The odds double to 2.4% when gross receipts exceed $25,000 up to $100,000. Once small business owners bring in more than $100,000 and up to $1 million in gross revenue, their odds of landing in the hot seat increase by 3.6%.
  • When it comes to corporate returns, during 2012, 17.8% of large corporations with more than $10 million in assets were audited. And once assets exceed $20 billion, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you will be audited. In 2012, 415 out of the 446 corporations in this category were audited--that’s 93%.
  • SELF-PREPARED RETURNS ARE TARGETED. There are more than 75,000 pages of tax code. Even tax professionals specialize in certain fields and refuse to take on tax returns or certain types of transactions because of the complexity involved. Once you become self-employed, the ante goes up; there is so much more to know about the tax code, more than can be dealt with through a Q & A session with tax preparation software designed for the individual filer. The IRS knows that there will likely be a lot of mistakes on self-prepared income tax returns that include a Schedule C. Therefore, many of those are pulled for examination.

READ MORE>> Will Your Business Return be Audited

Call GBC Income Tax Services today at 678-366-9232 for all your tax and IRS needs!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What the IRS Looks for to Flag for an Audit

Contact GBC Audit Services today.
"The IRS examined 1.1 percent of all individual tax returns in 2010 and 2011, so the chances that your tax return will be audited are only about 1 in 90." -Moneywatch.

That is the good news, but nevertheless it's wise to be prepared, since being chosen for this is an unpleasant experience. Hire external auditors to come and evaluate your company for you and ensure you are taking care of business. Here is a brief summary of how the IRS looks for returns to audit:

The IRS uses a computerized process to check all tax returns for math and clerical errors, such as incorrect Social Security numbers and addresses, and also runs tax returns through a process that compares the information you report from your bank, employer, and W-2, 1099 and other forms and documents. If you omit an item from your tax return, it's very likely to be picked up by the IRS's computers.

A few newer items that can trip up some taxpayers include payments received by businesses from credit and debit cards and investors who report the sale of their investments. These amounts are reported by banks etc and it's important the amounts be accurate. Also, individuals who report gains from the sale of their investments should also take note that the securities industry is now reporting to the IRS the cost basis of investments that were sold as the gross proceeds from the sale.

Meanwhile, the IRS assigns numerical weights to certain tax return characteristics. These weights are added together to obtain a national composite score for all tax returns. When the total score of all selected items on your tax return exceeds the national average score set by the IRS, the agency will flag the return for a possible audit. The exact items the IRS zeroes in on and scoring method is a closely guarded secret, but some of the things the agency is believed to scrutinize include:

  • Large amounts of income not subject to tax withholding 
  • Unusually large amounts of deductions claimed than seem unreasonable when compared to your income 
  • A large number of dependent exemptions claimed that doesn't square wtih reported SSNs, tax withholding allowances and so forth 
  • Large deductions for charitable contributions, casualty losses, home office expenses, and travel and entertainment expenses 
  • Indicating a change of address when not reporting a sale of your residence and not changing your home related deductions

While an IRS audit is not something most sane folks want to go through, it also isn't something to be feared. If you have kept complete and accurate records of all of your deductions and have reported all of your income, you should be fine. In fact, in about a quarter of audits, the IRS makes no changes or issues a refund. Contact GBC Audit Services today to arrange for smooth-sailing this tax season.

READ MORE>> "What Triggers an IRS Tax Audit?"

READ MORE GBC Tax Services Website
For All Your Accounting Needs Call GBC 678-366-9232


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