Despite the increase in regulatory oversight, only seven percent of the respondents felt that institutional fraud is less prevalent today than it was five years ago. Of course, that backs up one of the major arguments put forward when the Sarbanes-Oxley act was first introduced: that the SOX requirements wouldn't reduce unethical and fraudulent business practices, it would just force the practitioners to get better at what they do.
I never fully bought into that argument. It's a bit like the argument against banning handguns, that if you make the guns illegal, only criminals will own guns. But this survey makes one wonder just how uniformly the mandates are being followed.I found it interesting that while a majority of the guys whose job it is to uncover institutional fraud felt that SOX has been somewhat or very effective in identifying incidences of financial-statement fraud, they don't feel that more government regulation is the answer to preventing fraud. Instead they point to enforcement as the problem, indicating that companies needed to be more vigilant about pressing charges against employees suspected of or identified in fraudulent activity. In addition, they say that those convicted of fraud should receive heftier sentences.
Guilty As Charged
The survey also looked at several of the high-profile convictions, from WorldCom's Bernard Ebbers to Enron's Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, and asked examiners whether they agreed with the verdicts against the recently charged executives. In all but one instance, the examiners were nearly unanimous with 93 percent to 97 percent agreeing with a guilty verdict. Did you guess who the anomaly was? That's right, 28 percent of the examiners have a soft spot for Martha Stewart.