Internal Control and Shady Accounting Practices

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Group 3
1. Why did accounting fraud occur at WorldCom?
Fraud occurred at WorldCom for a variety of reasons. The senior executives had unchecked power because the board of directors were only figure heads, the ethics hot-line was nonfunctional, and in internal audit department did report to the appropriate link in the corporate chain to minimize fraud. These reasons, combined with a poor company culture, created the environment where fraud was able to become an acceptable business process. The senior executives at WorldCom had a "do it or else" attitude that was unchecked by any external force. That external force should have been the board of directors. Unfortunately the board of directors were being directed by the senior executives, given information about WorldCom that was disorganized to hide highly controversial and aggressive accounting techniques. These directors should have recognized they were being used and realized their agency to the stock holders to administer the oversight they were compensated to provide. The ethics hot-line, according to the case, while existed, was not known or trusted by the general population of employees at WorldCom. While many employees were aware of unethical activity, no of them felt that using this channel was a viable solution to addressing problems at WorldCom. Finally, the Internal audit department reported to the senior executive who ultimately steered their activity. If the executive was informed that internal audit was close to uncovering the unethical acts of managers, he directed their internal activity to other areas of the firm and blocked access to their department to the files that could expose the problem. If the internal audit department reported to the board of directors, better policing of executive activity would have been possible. All of these reasons had an element of poor culture in their makeup. Allowing senior executives to bullying their subordinates, inattentive directors, allowing for the ethics channel to be nonfunctional, and accepting the unethical actions of seniors as the way things get done, ultimately doomed WorldCom to a spiral of actions that had the momentum of everyone's livelihood at stake, with no system in place to automatically apply the brakes to protect the shareholders. 2. What is the difference between earnings management (or earnings smoothing) and accounting fraud? What are the relevant criteria to use in distinguishing ethical from unethical accounting practices? I don't think there is a difference between earning smoothing and accounting fraud. Both practices intentionally mislead investors to alter their opinion of their holdings. Even if altering earning to smooth it out is mean only to put investors at ease, the underlying goal of smoothing is to change the perception of risk and volatility, which demand premiums in the market. Relevant criteria for distinguishing ethical from unethical accounting practices are if the accounting practice materially changes what the average investor values the company at and items addressed in GAAP and other accounting standards that are against conventional accounting guidelines actively used and unchallenged in the business landscape. 3. What internal processes or systems do you recommend to prevent fraudulent practices such as those present at WorldCom? Why were these practices not detected sooner?It appears WorldCom's fraudulent activities was uncovered by the companies own internal accounting department, indicating that at least one of five internal controls - "monitoring of controls" was functional. However, I believe if there were to have been periodic external auditing from impartial entities outside of WorldCom, the fraudulent activities would have been uncovered sooner than it occurred in 2005.Other internal control processes that could have prevented WorldCom's fraudulent activities and demise are; hiring competent, reliable and ethical personnel, particularly in leadership positions...
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