Niquette M. Kelcher
October 2002 -- In Part One of this series, we discussed how the Sarbanes-Oxley Act came to be, outlined its major provisions, shared accounting and finance professionals' reactions to SOA, and explained what it means to the accounting profession.
If you missed Part One, click here. Here's what's covered in Part Two:
- How managers can implement SOA into the company culture
- How to keep staff members educated and informed
Creating new laws and expecting companies to follow them is one thing, but efficient implementation of them is another. Clair Raubenstine, former president of the Institute of Management Accountants, emphasizes the crucial "tone at the top."
According to Raubenstine, "Companies need to communicate that they are resisting the pressures of the financial community and setting realistic goals. Don't set goals too high for the sales staff, for instance. Additionally, managers should encourage open lines of communication between management and staff. Management needs to 'walk the talk.'"
Ethics programs, already a staple in many companies but expected to pop up in more, also should be implemented. Raubenstine suggests companies establish ethics hotlines and assign ethics coordinators so employees can report suspected misconduct without penalization.
"Management has to continually educate personnel what the company rules are and educate people on how their role fits in with the total organization and the overall mission of the department. Employees need to feel like they are a part of the business," explains Raubenstine.
In turn, he continues, finance and accounting professionals need to recognize that there are more penalties that could be imposed on individuals for not properly reporting financial matters throughout the ranks. "Companies will expect more from their employees so management is properly certifying the financial information," says Raubenstine.
Yvonne LaRose, a Business Management and Personnel Consultant for Executive Recruiting Entrances, agrees that managers need to set an example. "Managers lead by how they conduct themselves; their staff takes their cue on what is important and how to do things based on how managers handle situations. Thus, managers should incorporate into their routine a pattern of following good practices," she explains.
Additionally, adds LaRose, "when reports are presented to a partner or manager, there should not be a rubber stamp approval. Managers need to take the time to actually review the document(s) and ask questions about numbers -- and even sources of information -- to ensure that they know what is there. If there are red flag issues, they should be addressed. Staff should be put on notice that those types of issues are important and attended to at the source so that matters are rectified and the problem abated."
In a SmartPros FMN segment, Dr. Jonathan Schiff, professor of accounting, Fairleigh Dickinson University and president of Schiff Consulting Group, gives similar advice. Schiff says financial managers "should have good documentation of plans, as well as programs in place, that try to do more than merely react to what Congress may come up with, or what the SEC may come up with. They need to be more proactive in designing systems of control that are competitive within one's industry and which raise the level of acumen across management."
Free guidance on corporate ethics is available from a variety of associations. Through the IMA, financial professionals can now get free, confidential guidance on ethical issues via the IMA Ethics Hotline.
"When financial professionals call the toll-free hotline, their inquiries will be forwarded to an experienced ethics counselor, who provides confidential guidance," explains IMA president Margaret Butler. "This hotline is particularly well-suited for small businesses and solo practitioners who need guidance on ethical issues."
The IMA also offers to corporations the use of its Standards of Ethical Conduct for compliance with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Similarly, Financial Executives International encourages companies to adopt its Code of Ethics model (Word doc).
How to Keep Staff Member Educated and Informed
Despite the disruption SOA may cause, the show must go on. Says Wyatt: "As with anything new, accounting firms should encourage reading and study." Companies must continue to perform -- and given the current economy they must perform within a limited budget.
So how can managers ensure their staff is up to speed on the new requirements? SmartPros culled expert opinions and various studies on some cost-effective methods for educating accounting staff members on SOA and related topics.
Webcasts and online continuing professional education are among the most efficient and cost-effective means of staying on top of the profession because companies are spared many expenses by educating staff in the office or at home at their own computers.
Nucleus Research reports that thousands of ongoing return on investment (ROI) studies for Global 2000 corporations indicate that companies adopting e-learning initiatives recognize "first-tier benefits including reduced costs for travel, human resources overhead, regulatory compliance, and customer-support costs." Additionally, second-tier benefits include "improved employee performance that directly impacts profitability." Nucleus found that most organizations could gain significant returns from even modest investments in e-learning technology."
Adds LaRose: "Seminars are an extremely valuable tool in developing a greater appreciation of the terms and nuances of the Act. From these trainings, professionals and leaders will be able to get immediate, first-hand answers to the initial questions -- answers that will build understanding of what is involved and some approaches to responsible attention to details."
Books (hot off the presses)
An entire library of accounting and finance books related to the upheaval of the industry have been published, including material on detection and prevention of fraud, audit committee and ethics handbooks, investor guides, cost management resources and management primers.
Book recommendations from SmartPros:
- The Financial Numbers Game by Charles W. Mulford
- Take on the Street by Arthur Levitt
- Ethics for CPAs: Meeting Expectations in Challenging Times by D. R. Carmichael, Dan M. Guy, Linda A. Lach
- The Audit Committee Handbook by Louis Braiotta, Jr.
- Financial Statement Fraud: Prevention and Detection by Zabihollah Rezaee
- Paying for Performance: A Guide to Compensation Management by Peter D. Chingos
- Valuation of Companies in Emerging Markets by Luis E. Pereiro
- Essentials of Corporate Performance Measurement by George T. Friedlob, Lydia L. F. Schleifer and Franklin J. Plewa Jr.
- Third Party Management for Financial Services, free Third Party Management in Financial Services Illustrated graphic download to visualize and develop an effective approach to managing third party risk in a GRC context.
- OCEG Events
- OCEG CLE Webinars
- OCEG Resource Collections