Why Compliance Is A CPA’s Competitive Weapon For 2018

Christoph Huetten

As economies, businesses, and people progress through innovation, so must accountants adapt to the evolving role of finance. The days of the one-dimensional CPA number-cruncher are long gone. Accountants are increasingly expected to master areas outside of finance such as regulation, risk management, financial technology, process management, and business transformation.

While accountants are no strangers to governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), they commonly acknowledge GRC only as it relates to their day-to-day activities, and not as it relates to larger company initiatives. Without fault, most financial positions in a company operate to satisfy their own responsibilities. However, there’s a strategic advantage to CPAs who break out of their silos and support a more comprehensive compliance and risk framework.

Companies should not think of GRC as solely a mandate that protects them from liability. GRC is much more than a mandate: it allows collaboration across the enterprise and can be leveraged as a competitive edge over businesses that have not made compliance a priority. Accountants can play a powerful role in supporting overarching GRC processes. Specifically, CPAs can help ensure their company remains agile among competitors by improving transparency, enhancing performance and preventing fraud.

1. Improving transparency

Providing insight into a company’s financial performance is at the very heart of the accounting role. With new accounting standards such as IFRS 15 and ASC 606, and data privacy laws such as GDPR, the level of transparency increases, and so does the challenge for accountants to manage these GRC efforts. However, most organizations treat these efforts by simply trying to “check the boxes” to ensure that they meet statutory requirements, but little more. Processes are established at the lowest level of sophistication needed to provide the required data and avoid material errors. As companies gain expertise, however, they often improve their processes.

By using tools and technology to automate accounting and reporting processes, they achieve a trifecta of benefits:

  1. The processes to produce the required data become more efficient and less prone to errors resulting in accelerated cost savings.
  2. The processes produce data beyond the scope required by accounting standards with the additional data being useful to steering the company and identifying and managing risks.
  3. The processes embed risk-management procedures through automated internal controls, early risk indicators, and scenario analysis.

2. Enhancing performance

While transparency is critical for gaining trust, improving performance is yet another benefit of a successful GRC program – and one that has a direct impact on the bottom line. By breaking down silos and working across the enterprise to support GRC initiatives, accountants can play a role in increasing operational efficiency. Exxaro Resources Limited is a prime example of a company that proactively restructured its GRC processes to integrate risk, compliance, and audit to drive business efficiency and resilience. Not only has enterprise-wide GRC collaboration led to an improvement in the visibility of risks, but Exxaro has seen a 10% reduction in auditing costs and 20% savings in costs through better resource allocation. The next wave of innovation is to put core traditional integrated GRC applications and processes into the cloud.

3. Preventing fraud

In today’s connected world, the need to properly screen business processes and evaluate the integrity of third parties is critical for detecting potential fraud risks. GRC solutions that provide insight into where sensitive data is stored in the cloud, when and where it’s being moved, and allow control such as defining geolocations for where data and resources can and cannot be stored, are helpful for mitigating risk. Think about how many companies struggle with false, inflated, or duplicate invoices for goods and services. Many incidents are discovered after the fact or never at all. Even when fraudulently dispersed monies are identified, they are not always recouped from the bank. In fact, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that the average company loses 5% of its annual revenue through fraud. A comprehensive compliance program that includes real-time monitoring of fraud and fraud prevention can add both top-and bottom-line benefit.

Changing the perception of accounting’s role in GRC might require a mental shift. Right now, compliance may seem like a necessary evil – a chore with punishments for tardiness or deviation. However, companies that embrace enterprise-wide GRC initiatives have the ability to detect and prevent catastrophic losses. Though accountants face compliance tasks on their to-do lists every day, by leveraging their insights to support GRC across the company more broadly, they can arm themselves with a competitive advantage heading into the second half of the year. Compliance initiatives can add real value to the business by helping to take advantage of new market opportunities, especially when competing against other companies that haven’t made compliance a priority.

This article originally appeared in CPA Practice Advisor and is republished by permission.

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Christoph Huetten

About Christoph Huetten

Dr. Christoph Hütten is senior vice president and chief accounting officer at SAP, based in Walldorf, Germany. Christoph is responsible for SAP’s financial reporting under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and German, European, and U.S. reporting standards; all of SAP’s accounting policies; and the local statutory financial reporting of all SAP legal entities. Additionally, he is responsible for SAP’s Global Finance Academy. He has been with the company since 1999, when he joined SAP as assistant to the CFO. Christoph chairs the IFRS Global Preparers Forum, a formal advisory body to the IASB, and as member of the FASB/IASB Joint Transition Resource Group for Revenue Recognition. He is chairman of the Financial Reporting Committee of Schmalenbach-Society for Business Administration, as well as member of the European Software Accounting Group (ESAG), author of numerous academic articles on the subject of national and international financial reporting, and visiting lecturer for international accounting at Mannheim University. Christoph gained a doctorate degree in Business Administration after completing a bank apprenticeship and receiving degrees in Business Administration from Saarland University, Germany, and in Accountancy from the University of Dundee, Scotland.