Effective Internal Control Systems and Optimal Processes and Procedures
How do firms choose their strategic control systems? What is the nature and function of strategic control systems? What are the critical elements of strategic control systems? What is the nature and function of internal control systems as critical element of strategic control systems? These strategic policy questions relate to the role of optimal organizational internal control systems, processes and procedures designed to create and sustain operational performance excellence that maximizes the return on investment and shareholders’ wealth while minimizing risks exposure and the cost of operations, simultaneously.
Clearly, effective internal control system is correlated with optimal operational performance excellence and critical to sound organizational systems and strategies designed to maximize the wealth producing capacity of the enterprise. In these series on organizational performance excellence, we will focus on the pertinent strategic control system questions and offer some operational guidance. The overriding purpose of this review is to highlight some conceptual framework, quality management theory and practice, strategic relationships, and industry best practices. For specific financial management strategies please consult a competent professional.
Internal controls as integral part of the strategic control systems is interrelated series of activities imposed on the standard operating procedures of an organization, designed to safeguard assets, minimize errors, and ensure that operations are conducted pursuant to standards. While strategic control systems establish standards and methods for measuring performance, determine whether actual performance matches the standard-expected performance, and execute corrective action, internal controls are designed to mitigate the level and types of risks to which an organization is exposed.
Further, while control systems ensure operational effectiveness, control activities frequently slow down the routine process flow of business operations, which may reduce its overall efficiency. Consequently, the design of internal control systems requires management to balance risk mitigation with operational efficiency. This process can sometimes result in management accepting a certain amount of risk in order to create a strategic profile that allows an organization to operate more efficiently and effectively, even if it suffers occasional losses because controls have been deliberately reduced.
Additionally, all organizational strategies subject to constrained optimization have costs and benefits. The critical question is: Do the benefits justify the costs? In practice, executive leadership applies the net present value approach to weigh the costs and benefits of structures, systems and strategies. The optimal option maximizes the net benefit by equating marginal costs and benefits.
Some Operational Guidance
In general, no organization is immune to misappropriation, embezzlement or corruption-whether it’s inadvertent or deliberate. Many organizations don’t assess misappropriation or corruption threats until they have already occurred. Effective internal control systems should be designed to mitigate the level and nature of risk which organizations experience. In practice, as integral part of internal controls, organizations leverage technology-enabled solutions to scan across the entire spectrum of operational risks, promptly.
The ability to identify potential high-risk internal and external transactions quickly before they adversely impact organizations is critical to optimal internal control systems designed to create and sustain operational performance excellence derivative of business intelligence, risks mitigation, data analytics and evidence-based knowledge driven effective organizational systems, processes and procedures.
Moreover, internal controls should provide the mechanisms, rules, and procedures implemented by organizations to ensure the integrity of financial and accounting information, facilitate accountability, and mitigate fraud and the entire spectrum of operational risks. Besides complying with laws and regulations, and preventing employees from misappropriating assets or committing fraud, internal controls should facilitate operational efficiency and effectiveness by improving the accuracy and timeliness of financial reporting. Effective internal control objectives should include regulatory compliance, accuracy, validity, physical safeguards, and error mitigation. Control procedures should include separation of duties, access controls, random physical audits, standardized documentation, trial balances, periodic reconciliations, and approval authority.
Controls should always include policies and procedures put in place to ensure the continued reliability of accounting systems. Accuracy and reliability are paramount in the accounting systems. Without accurate accounting records, managers cannot make fully informed financial decisions, and financial reports may contain devastating errors. Control procedures in accounting should be broken into several categories, each designed to prevent fraud and identify damaging errors before they become problems or crisis.
Control system should fully address regulatory requirements, meet stakeholder expectations and protect organizations from potential catastrophic ï¬nancial and reputation damages. When properly deployed and integrated, organization’s risk mitigation, anti-misappropriation, anti-bribery and anti-corruption technology-based solution should use digitally enabled analytics and advanced monitoring tools to help organizations scan across the compliance and operational risks spectrum, so they can more intelligently anticipate, mitigate and manage risks.
While smaller organizations with limited resources cannot always afford elaborate internal controls including segregation duties and decisions, system of internal controls tends to increase in complexity as organization increases in size. Establishing standards and methods for measuring performance; determining whether actual performance matches the standard-expected performance; and taking corrective action should always be integral to effective internal controls.
Finally, internal control is most effective when it is embedded and supported by a culture of assessment and continuous improvement. Therefore, effective internal control should consist of an integrated process for assuring organization’s objectives in operational efficiency and effectiveness, reliable financial reporting, and compliance with laws, regulations and policies are being met. Controls should include effective use of firewalls and encrypted passwords that limit internal and external access to critical business intelligence, proprietary, accounting and other financial information. Systematic measurement, analysis, and knowledge management require internal control results to be collected, analyzed and used for continuous improvement.
In sum, control systems should provide processes and procedures by which an organization’s resources are directed, monitored, and measured. Internal control system should include human elements such as board of directors exercising effective oversight and independent internal auditors conducting random periodic audits and unscheduled verification. Control systems, processes and procedures are critical in detecting and mitigating high risk activities and preventing various types of misappropriation and protecting the organization’s resources, both tangible and intangible resources.