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CAN ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENTS WIN THE FIGHT AGAINST FRAUD?

Magali Michel, Director, Yooz

 

Despite the implementation of increasingly sophisticated security systems, corporate fraud continues to gain ground: half of all UK companies have been victims of fraud in the past two years, according to a survey conducted by PwC.

Not all companies are on equal footing when it comes to the fight against fraud. The human, organisational, and financial means implemented for protection will be completely different for small, medium, or large enterprises.

A common myth is that smaller companies aren’t a target for cyber attacks because they represent a smaller target, yet a Verizon study found that 43% of cyberattacks last year targeted small businesses.

Smaller businesses are in fact the most vulnerable to a catastrophic impact of fraud, with a Malwarebytes study finding that 22% of companies that are attacked cease operations immediately.

No company can escape the danger of fraud, and there is no direct connection between company size and the monetary amounts of fraud.

The fight against fraud must be part of a strategy based on three core pillars: technology, the organisation itself and its behaviour.

 

The technologies used to fight against fraud

The Big Data revolution is enabling the handling and analysis of vast volumes of information, often in real-time, and is helping finance departments detect anomalies in invoices or emails for example and better defend against fraud. Together with Machine Learning, businesses can make it possible for the company to go even further, such as risk scoring its clients and suppliers.

Digitisation, or automation, technologies that leverage AI are the other essential tools and an important part of any effort to mitigate risks. It not only increases speed, but it also reduces costs and improves agility. Creating and organising a rigorous process that includes complete traceability and security makes these solutions extremely effective in fighting fraud.

More advanced technologies RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is another technology based on machine learning and further automates tedious and repetitive tasks. For example, a “software robot” can query databases, maintain records, establish accounting reports, and even process simple transactions. 

Behaviour

Raising employee awareness is one of the most important aspects of fraud prevention. Most fraud takes advantage of a lack of vigilance, a level of employee naivety, or even cooperation within the company or its partners.

 

Two points stand out in particular:

Raising awareness and providing regular training to all departments and every hierarchical level within the company, including top management, is important to highlight everyone’s role and the responsibility they play in identifying warning signs and exposing potential fraud.

It is also important to implement communications that are adapted to each different stakeholder group within the company, reflecting the company’s commitment to fraud prevention, identifying the consequences of not taking fraud prevention seriously and highlighting the benefits of executing well-defined fraud prevention plans and practices.

Communication needs to be presented according to the company’s size, business sector, and internal specifics (work practices and target employees) to avoid the risk of creating a disconnect between theory and practice.

Your organisation

Internal control is certainly not a new idea. Furthermore, companies can leverage the COSO (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission, a joint initiative to combat corporate fraud) framework created in 1992, followed more recently by COSO 2.

 

What does the company gain by actively fighting fraud?

Beyond the understandable peace of mind that security brings and assurance that the company will not become the victim of fraud, security for processes represents a competitive advantage due to its reinforcement of the company’s reputation for reliability as well as a reassurance for commercial partners, employees and customers.

Increasingly tighter regulations, such as Europe’s GDPR, the Sapin 2 law in France, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and other recent and highly restrictive anti- corruption laws, were first seen by managers as an obstacle or nuisance for their companies, potentially even slowing their growth.

Various types of fraud and embezzlement have been around in companies for a long time, but the issue is typically regarded as something that used to remain more or less in the background, or something that only happens to other, larger organisations that stand more to lose.

The turning point happened at least a decade ago, when authorities categorically asserted that fraud could also be used as a means to finance terrorism and money laundering. Companies therefore progressively began to consider the potential of fraud in their operations. The most responsive and best-organized companies quickly derived a number of benefits:

  1. Client loyalty

Clients will remain loyal to companies that they have confidence in. Rigorous compliance with procedures and the application of a variety of regulations often embodied by standards and certifications reassure the company’s partners and customers and are often even a determining selection criteria for clients and suppliers.

  1. Reduced operating costs

Eliminating exposure to financial risks, avoiding production shutdowns, and even maintaining business activity by mitigating or even preventing fraud all impact the bottom line.

Improving brand image means communicating a company’s fraud prevention practices, how it manages the risk of fraud, and how it shields itself from outside threats contributes to a strong corporate reputation. In the event of a breach, implementing a solid crisis communications plan can prevent further damage.

  1. Promoting the employer brand

Companies reinforce their attractiveness with respect to employees by combining strength and security, encouraging people to dedicate themselves to the brand, and incite interest from job candidates.

 

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Finance

UNDERSTANDING FINANCIAL LITERACY

By Rita Cool, Certified Financial Planner at Alexander Forbes

 

Financial literacy is more than understanding how to work out a percentage, it is understanding how your finances impact your life. There are four fundamental pillars to financial literacy – debt, budgeting, saving and investing – which you should understand before you can achieve financial well-being.

 

Earning – The money that you receive for doing work, passive income from investments or annuity income from other sources. You don’t only earn by selling your time or goods but by earning dividend income, interest or commission. The more you earn the more you potentially have to spend.

 

Saving – This is creating a safety net by having money available in an emergency. Mostly done in a bank account, Money Market account, Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) or access bond where the money put aside could get a positive return, e.g. interest gained or interest saved on bond repayments. Savings should not be exposed to volatile investments as you can’t take the risk that your money is less than what you put away just when you need to use it. Ideally this could be between 3-6 months’ worth of salary, so that if something happens where you can’t earn an income, or you need money for an expensive car repair, you don’t go into debt. Saving can also be used for short term purchases, for example to replace a fridge when it breaks so you don’t have to buy on credit which saves you the interest payments. Or you can save for a short term goal like a holiday.

 

Investing – This is normally done for a longer period and the value of your investment can go up or down, depending on what you have invested in. You can invest in a company privately or invest in shares of a company. You can also make use of a product through a Linked Investment Service Provider. These are companies that invest in a range of assets on your behalf through products like unit trusts, preservation funds, Retirement Annuities or TFSA. Your retirement funds are also invested and your retirement savings are therefore affected when the financial markets go up or down.

 

Rita Cool

Spending – Everyone has expenses and has to spend some of what they earn. The trick is how you spend your money. Do you have a budget of what needs to happen with your money or do you spend everything you see in your account?

 

Borrowing – In most cases you should try to avoid borrowing money but it can also be beneficial in the correct circumstances. Borrowing money because you can get more return than the cost to borrow it is called leveraging. You can borrow money to buy a house that will increase in value over time and that gives you an asset over time. You can also borrow money to buy a company or to expand an existing one.

 

Protecting – In all cases you should protect your assets as well as income. You can take out insurance which pays in the event of your asset being stolen or damaged. You can take out life cover to give your family an income in the event of your death or take out disability cover to protect your income if you get sick and can’t work.

 

Budgeting: A budget is a list of all your fixed and flexible expenses set off against all your income to see if you have enough money to pay for everything each month. If you don’t have enough income you either have to cut your expenses or earn more. This is like splitting a cake between everyone who you need to pay. Don’t promise future cake so that eventually there is no future cake.   Fixed expenses can’t be changed – like a bond or rent, car repayments and school fees. Flexible expenses are things that can change like entertainment and food. Don’t forget haircuts, car registration fees, monthly bank charges or birthday gifts. Remember to budget to pay yourself first by saving for retirement. This should also be a fixed expense. This does not mean treating yourself with gifts but investing in your financial security and financial future.

 

Interest Rate – This is the cost of borrowing money or lending money. If you borrow money you have to pay the lender interest. This can be a fixed rate or linked to the prime rate. You also get paid an interest rate for a positive bank balance and if you invest in bonds you get a fixed interest rate, or coupon rate. You will always get less interest for money you lend than for money you borrow. So don’t sit with money in the bank while you have expensive debts. Pay off your credit card or personal loans with this money. If the money in the bank account was your safety net, your paid off credit card could be your safety net in an emergency but until then you have the benefit of not having to pay high interest rates on the outstanding credit card.

Interest is normally shown as a percentage which means “parts of a hundred”.  Cent means 100, the same as there are 100 cents in a Rand. As an example, every R100 you borrow you have to pay back another R9 on top of the R100. On a bond of R100 000 your interest each year that you owe that money is R9 000, or R750 per month. You also still have to pay back the R100 000, so the interest you pay to borrow money makes the overall purchase price of an item much more expensive.

 

Compound interest – This is the benefit of getting interest on interest or growth on growth. At the beginning it doesn’t look like your money is growing that well but over time, if you reinvest the growth your investment grows faster and faster without you having to do extra work.

 

Debt – If you have a lot of debt, the interest you pay becomes very expensive and eventually it is possible that you can’t pay off all the debt repayments. If this happens you need to work out a debt repayment plan. It is possible to consolidate your debt to reduce monthly payments, but this is only achieved because the loans are paid over a longer time and in the end you pay even more in interest. Your debt doesn’t reduce by consolidating it, it increases. If you can work out a debt repayment plan it might be possible to pay your debt sooner and therefore cost you less interest, than if you consolidated your debt.

 

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Finance

FROM COVID TO CURRENCY CRISIS?

One hallmark of the United States’ superpower status is the primacy of the dollar. All regimes rise and fall. There are reasons to believe the US dollar is at risk of losing its status. How likely is this, why, and what might follow?

There are several ways to measure dollar primacy.

First, the US dollar accounts for 62 percent of global central bank reserves, according to the International Monetary Fund. The euro is about 20 percent, and the Chinese yuan 1.9 percent.

Second, in payments, the dollar accounts for 40 percent of cross-border transactions intermediated by SWIFT, a global messaging system for corresponding banking. The yuan: under 2 percent.

Third, in foreign-exchange markets, the dollar is on one side of about 90% of swaps.

And fourth, US Treasuries are considered the ultimate safe haven, which is why foreigners hold nearly $7 trillion of them.

Dollar primacy made sense in the 1940s when the Bretton Woods arrangement cemented its reserve status. The US economy accounted for more than 50 percent of global output, with Europe and Asia devastated by war.

Jame DiBiasio

Today the US accounts for around 15 percent of global GDP. China now accounts for around 18 percent, in purchasing-power parity terms (although the US economy is still larger in nominal terms). The vast discrepancy for the US and China between their economic positions and the influence of their currencies is stark.

Economic prowess is not the sole determinant of a currency’s power, although it suggests long-term directions. The US outpaced Britain as the world’s biggest economy in 1871 but it would take seventy years before the dollar displaced sterling as the leading currency.

Moreover, the tussle between the dollar and the pound was not straightforward. Late nineteenth century America was powered by its farms and factories, but financially it was immature, its banking system haphazard. American merchants had to conduct foreign trade in sterling, not dollars.

London had been the world’s financial center, with the pound at the heart of its money markets, since the founding of the Bank of England in 1694. Despite Britain’s relative economic decline, the gold-backed pound was a reliable, trusted system – an example of the network effect, made valuable by the sheer number of institutions using it.

The dollar only began to compete when the US established the Federal Reserve in 1913, bringing some stability to its banking system. In the 1920s the dollar became a reserve currency on par with sterling, but the Fed botched the 1929 Wall Street crash and the dollar slipped. Only after the devastation of World War II did the dollar triumph. Even then it remained tied to gold, until Richard Nixon floated the currency in 1971.

Since then we have lived in a world of fiat money, money that is based on the power and prestige of government rather than any intrinsic value.

That time also marks the appearance of electronic financial networks.

Techno-capitalism, cheered on by the Reagan-Thatcher model of government, has driven globalization and free capital flows. Since Nixon’s time, America has also supported the rise of China, as part of its overall promotion of free trade and open markets. This US support was initially to counter the Soviet Union but in the 1990s, buoyed by the end of the Cold War and US corporations’ eagerness to outsource labor to China, the pro-engagement argument took on a life of its own.

As America exported jobs it also exported dollars. It fended off challenges from the yen in the 1980s and the euro from 1998. And the US remained blind to the instability of laissez-faire capital flows because the growing list of crises – Latin America, Japan, East Asia, Russia – was “over there”. Domestic problems were viewed as scandals, the accounting frauds of a few bad apples, rather than symptoms of a broader problem.

The 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and its sequel in the eurozone, nearly destroyed the status quo. Even China had to respond to the economic fallout by pumping its economy with credit. But in the US, although the banking system was stabilized, the response was not the sort of austerity demanded of emerging markets. Instead the Fed slashed interest rates and began purchasing Treasuries and other securities, to bring even long-term rates as low as possible.

Japan had been doing this sort of thing for decades, and the eurozone followed suit. The developed world has abandoned laissez-faire in its capital markets, a trend exacerbated by reckless corporate tax cuts made by US Republicans in 2018.

By now, however, China had clocked three decades of heady growth. A cheap and skilled workforce combined with good infrastructure made China the workshop of the world. Its vast middle class hinted at a giant consumer economy in the making.

China’s monetary policy is however immature. It maintains a managed peg to the dollar, along with the rest of Asia (except Japan). China has been a huge importer of direct investment but not financial flows. On the contrary, China has been a vast exporter of capital – it’s a major buyer of US Treasuries – despite its hunger for financing its growth. China has preferred to finance this growth through forced savings among its financial institutions (and therefore its people).

Since the 2000s, Chinese leaders have attempted to rebalance the economy by reducing debt-funded infrastructure and real-estate spending (which support its exports) and growing a domestic consumer market. These attempts always crash into the Communist Party’s insistence on controlling all levers of power and bolstering the privileges of state-owned enterprises over the private sector.

Although both the US and China pursue flawed policies, the status quo might have continued for a long time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated their respective paths.

China responded with a brutal but effective lockdown. The West has unleashed record borrowing to try to salvage its economies. The Federal Reserve has expanded its securities purchases to levels that were unimaginable even during the scariest moments of the GFC.

This raises the question of the sustainability of the currency regime. China and other holders of US Treasuries are now earning almost zero yields. Given America’s future liabilities (pension and healthcare costs), its handling of the GFC shows that it is almost certain to continue to borrow rather than cut spending or raise taxes.

Such spending can be a net benefit if it supports economic growth. If the US invests in, say, its infrastructure and education system, it would be laying the groundwork for long-term prosperity. This may yet happen, but even so, Treasury holders are looking at a grim forecast.

Central banks and global investors will seek alternatives. The yuan is starting to look more attractive. China has its macro problems. But it is the only major economy running a conventional monetary policy, which is to say it is paying investors a yield. Chinese stocks and bonds are now part of global investment indexes. Even as the Trump administration attempts to freeze China out of the global economy, US money managers and banks are making a beeline to participate in China’s financial markets.

The network effect and the sheer weight of Wall Street will keep the dollar dominant for some time. China must still earn investors’ trust. Its introduction of a digital yuan, however, will make transacting the currency much easier. China is laying the groundwork for a new financial system, based on technologies such as blockchain, that may well come to challenge the status quo, starting in emerging markets.

Just as the US in the 1910s undertook the reforms to create a credible financial system, China is trying to do something similar today. It has a long way to go and it faces internal political contradictions (comparable to Japan’s challenges in the 1980s). The US could also reform its monetary and fiscal policies, breathing new life into the dollar regime.

We are probably entering a phase of competition between the dollar and the yuan, and there is no predetermined outcome. America may not get to enjoy the luxury of a gradual transition, though: just as the Suez Crisis of 1956 destroyed British pretensions about the pound, an escalation of the US-Sino conflict could have a similar effect.

The irony is that the biggest winners from a healthy rebalancing among currencies would be ordinary Americans. Dollar primacy benefits Washington, which increasingly relies on the world’s dependence on the dollar as a tool to impose punishments on its enemies. And it benefits Wall Street, the heart of the American dollar export machine. But this arrangement means more debt at home and more jobs sent abroad.

For America to invest in itself it must make it unattractive for its own companies and financiers to send dollars overseas. It can try to do so of its own volition – or risk being forced.

 

Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by Jame DiBiasio and illustrated by Harry Harrison is published by OANDA, a global leader in online multi-asset trading services. It will be available from 1 September on amazon.co.uk, priced at £19.99.

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