Thoughts on Trust and Occupational Fraud in the Workplace

By Mike Nurse, CPA, CFE, CGMA | Clark Nuber PS

Story Highlights

Too much trust can leave the door wide open for occupational fraud.

We need to go back to the old adage “trust but verify.”

Trust is foundational to any relationship, both personally and professionally.  Trust is also something that needs to be nurtured over time, with the main ingredients being integrity, honesty and demonstration of respect.   Lack of trust in the workplace can lead to a culture of backstabbing and paranoid suspicion, and perhaps even to the demise of a business.

But at the same time, trust has a dark side as well.  Too much trust can leave the door wide open for occupational fraud.

Picture the following:  An Accounting Manager (AM) for Firm X has been with the business for decades and is beloved by staff and management alike.  She is like family and has gained absolute trust from the CEO all the way down to her staff.  In theory, there are some internal controls, but since the AM has been with the company for so long, no one ever checks to see if the controls are holding up or even being followed.  This inherent trust is a badge of honor for the AM – it also leaves the door wide open for her to take advantage of the situation.  In fact, over the last 20 years, the AM embezzled a tidy sum of $1.2 million.

How could this fraud go on for so long without being uncovered?  The answer: blind trust.  Nobody at Firm X could ever conceive that the AM would do anything like this, yet it happens.  This scenario happens all too frequently in occupational fraud cases.

So what can be done?  We need to go back to the old adage “trust but verify.”  It is perfectly reasonable to have allowed the AM the freedom to do her job with minimal oversight.  But there needed to be vigilance on the part of management to periodically verify that processes are occurring the way they should be.

Personally, when I feel trusted in the workplace I get the amazing sense that my work is valued and I am empowered to do the best job I possibly can.  It’s a great and exhilarating feeling.  However, I expect management to review my work, verify that I am following procedures correctly, and question me from time to time.  Ironically, this verification also empowers me because I know that our leadership cares about the quality and integrity of our work.

To find out more on how you can implement fraud controls for your workplace, please contact Mike Nurse or Pete Miller.

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Mike Nurse is a manager in the Accounting and Consulting Group at Clark Nuber PS.

© Clark Nuber PS and Focus on Fraud, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Clark Nuber PS and Focus on Fraud with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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