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Thinking Like an Auditor

  • Time and Expense Fraud – Expense Abuse – Gaming the Limits

    February 15, 2019 | By Lyle Jacon, BBA, MBA

    Expenses, aren’t they fun? Every business needs to provide funding for expenses that are incurred on behalf of the company, in order to benefit the company. Most employees will be very serious in what expenses they charge and will diligently work to ensure company money is spent wisely by following the policies that have been set. Others, however, will see expenses as an added benefit, a cash withdrawal system that is just an additional part of what is owed to them and will actively work towards gaming the system as much as is possible to increase their income. And still, others will see it as “no harm” or “not a big deal” to take advantage of maxing out on their daily limits occasionally.

    With that said, expense abuse can be very easy to hide – no matter what the reason or method. By keeping below daily, weekly or monthly limits, the employee can keep their expenses under the radar. Some will question – well if it is so easy to hide and therefore, difficult to identify, what’s the big deal and how much will we benefit from auditing it? We are only talking about say $50 per day every once in a while, – so, it’s not really a big problem, is it? Well, think about if you have 10 employees that are maxing out on inappropriate expenses at $50 per day, just once a week – that’s $26,000 per year.

    “Houston, do we have a problem?”

    First, you want to see if you have a potential problem with gaming the limits on expenses. To determine if you have any potential concerns, you’ll first need to review your expense policies. Do you have limits either daily or monthly on total expenses? Are there also limits either daily or per transaction by expense type? To identify if you have any concerns along these lines, we suggest using a Benford’s test to identify if there are any spending patterns that may indicate gaming of the system.

    For example, if the daily limit is $50 we would suggest conducting the Benford’s on expense report data for the month, quarter and/or year. The expectation would be that you might see an inordinate amount of expense submissions totaling out to $48 or $49 in a given day. To conduct the analysis, obtain expense data for all employees showing the details – employee identifier (name, ID#, CC# - something to indicate who accrued the expense), the date and amount. If available, other data that is helpful is expense type, vendor, and payment type (if you have a file showing both cash and credit expenses).

    With TeamMate Analytics, you can run the Benford’s test on the file. Trends may not be seen or identified over a single period, so it may be helpful to run it for a month, a quarter and a year if available. To see if there is a concern with any employee or vendor, TeamMate Analytics’ Quick Visualizer tool can be used to conduct a check on the number of transactions and/or the amount by the employee and then by vendor – if concerns are identified, generate a pivot chart. From the pivot chart, you can drill down to the exact transactions and use the detailed transactions to generate your report with recommendations.

    Ongoing Implementation

    So, you’ve identified that some employees are working the system to their benefit and not necessarily in the company’s best interests and you want to continually monitor the situation. Since we already know our concerns – that some employees are artificially submitting expenses that are just under the threshold level – you can set up a Custom Module in TeamMate Analytics to identify this each month.

    There are many ways that companies may lose money through Time and Expense fraud – some intentional, others accidental. But, by putting in place these tests and ensuring employees know that all expenses are monitored should reduce losses related to non-supported expense reimbursements.

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