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JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT VOLUME 8 NO 1, JUNE, 2010


THE ROLE OF AUDITORS IN FRAUD DETECTION, PREVENTION AND REPORTING IN NIGERIA
Akinyomi Oladele John
Department of Financial Studies, Redeemer’s University, Mowe
E-mail: delejohn21@yahoo.com

 

Abstract
This study investigates the role of auditors in the detection, prevention and reporting of fraud. Data were obtained from 184 respondents in Nigeria. The findings revealed that the respondents are very concerned about the problem of fraud. In addition, the respondents placed very high expectation on auditors’ duties on fraud prevention and detection. This perception is in contrast with the stated primary objective of an audit, as stipulated in ISA 200, which merely required auditors to form an opinion on the financial statements, but not of fraud detection.

Keywords: Auditors, fraud, detection, prevention  


Introduction
That an auditor has the responsibility for the prevention, detection and reporting of fraud, other illegal acts and errors is one of the most controversial issues in auditing, and has been one of the most frequently debated areas amongst auditors, politicians, media, regulators and the public (Gay et al 1997). This debate has been especially highlighted by the collapse of both small and big corporations across the globe. The auditing profession in Nigeria has caught the media’s attention following financial scandals in some of the Nigerian banks such as Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank, Afribank, and Bank PHB among others.

There seems presently to be a misconception that auditors’ duties are largely the preventing, detecting and reporting of fraud, for example, Idris (2009). The aim of this paper is to identify financial report users’ perceptions of the extent of fraud in Nigeria, and to determine their perceptions of the auditor’s responsibilities in detecting fraud and the performance of related audit procedures. The paper also aims to ascertain whether the report users’ perceptions of auditors’ responsibilities on fraud are consistent with those of the auditing profession as expressed in auditing standards in Nigeria.

Literature review
Fraud
    Fraud, according to Adeniji (2004:354) and ICAN (2006:206), is an intentional act by one or more individuals among management, employees or third parties, which results in a misrepresentation of financial statements. Fraud can also be seen as the intentional misrepresentation, concealment, or omission of the truth for the purpose of deception/manipulation to the financial detriment of an individual or an organization which also includes embezzlement, theft or any attempt to steal or unlawfully obtain, misuse or harm the asset of the organization, (Adeduro, 1998 and, Bostley and Drover 1972). Fraud has increased considerably over the recent years and professionals believe this trend is likely to continue. According to Brink and Witt (1982), fraud is an ever present threat to the effective utilization of resources and it will always be an important concern of management. ISA 240 ‘The Auditor’s Responsibilities to Consider Fraud in an Audit of Financial Statement (Revised)’ refers to fraud as “an intentional act by one or more individuals among management, those charged with governance, employees or third parties, involving the use of deception to obtain an unjust or illegal advantage”. Aderibigbe and Dada (2007) define fraud as a deliberate deceit planned and executed with the intent to deprive another person of his property or rights directly or indirectly, regardless of whether the perpetrator benefits from his/her actions.

Weirich and Reinstein (2000 cited in Allyne & Howard 2005), define fraud as “intentional deception, cheating and stealing”. Some common types of fraud include creating fictitious creditors, “ghosts” on the payroll, falsifying cash sales, undeclared stock, making unauthorized “write-offs”, and claiming excessive or never-incurred expenses. Pollick (2006) regards fraud as a “deliberate misrepresentation, which causes one to suffer damages, usually monetary losses”. Albrecht et al (1995 cited in Allyne & Howard, 2005:287) classified fraud into employee embezzlement, management fraud, investment scams, vendor fraud, customer fraud, and miscellaneous fraud. Fraud also involves complicated financial transactions conducted by white collar criminals, business professionals with specialized knowledge and criminal intent (Pollick 2006).

Auditors’ responsibilities in fraud detection
The role of auditors has not been well defined from inception (Alleyne & Howard 2005). Porter (1997) reviews the historical development of the auditors’ duty to detect and report fraud over the centuries. Her study shows that there is an evaluation of auditing practices and shift in auditing paradigm through a number of stages.

Porter study reveals that the primary objective of an audit in the pre-1920’s phase was to uncover fraud. However, by the 1930’s, the primary objective of an audit had changed to verification of accounts. This is most likely due to the increase in size and volume of companies’ transactions which in turn made it unlikely that auditors could examine all transactions. During this period, the auditing profession began to claim that the responsibilities of fraud detection rested with the management. In addition, management should also have implemented appropriate internal control systems to prevent fraud in their companies.

In the 1960’s, the media and public were generally unhappy that auditors were refusing to accept the duties of fraud detection. The usefulness of an audit was frequently called into question as they generally failed to uncover fraud. However, despite the criticism, auditors continued to minimize the importance of their role in detecting fraud by stressing that such duty rested with the management. Due to the advancement of technology in the 80’s, the complexity and volume of incidents of fraud have posed severe problems for businesses. Porter (1997) asserts that, even though the case law has determined that in some circumstances auditors have a duty to detect fraud, the courts have attempted to maintain the auditors’ duties within reasonable limits. In contrast, Boynton et al (2005) argue that since the fall of Enron, auditing standards have been revamped to re-emphasise the auditors’ responsibilities to detect fraud. Their assertion is based on ISA 315 ‘Understanding the Entity and Its Environment and Assessing the Risks of Material Misstatement’ and ISA 240 ‘The Auditor’s Responsibilities to Consider Fraud in an Audit of Financial Statement (Revised)’.

ISA 315 requires auditors to evaluate the effectiveness of an entity’s risk management framework in preventing misstatements, whether through fraud or otherwise, in the course of an audit. Boynton et al (2005) stress that this requirement was not previously necessary. They further explain that such an evaluation was only required previously when they chose to place reliance on that framework and to reduce the extent of the audit investigation. In addition, all staff members engaged on an audit is now required to communicate their findings with each other, to prevent situations where staff members, working independently on their own sections of the audit, have failed to appreciate the significance of apparently minor irregularities that, if combined, take on a more sinister meaning.

Additionally, Boynton et al (2005) and Oremade (1988) claim that auditors are required to be more proactive in searching for fraud during the course of an audit under ISA 240 (Revised). Their duties now include considering incentives and an opportunity presented to potential fraudsters, as well as rationalizations that the fraudulent act is justified. Auditors are also expected to inquire more closely into reasons behind such matters as, for example, errors in accounting estimates, unusual transactions that appear to lack business rationale, and a reluctance to correct immaterial errors discovered by the audit.

Empirical studies on fraud detection
Extensive studies have been conducted in many countries into the perception of financial report users of auditors’ responsibilities in fraud prevention and detection [For example, Monroe and Woodliff (1994) in Australia; Epstein & Geiger (1994) in the US; Humphrey et al (1993) in the UK; and Low (1980) in Singapore; Leung and Chau, (2001) in Hong Kong; Dixon et al (2006) in Egypt; Fadzly and Ahmad (2004) in Malaysia]. These studies found that many financial report users believe that the detection of irregularities is a primary audit objective and that the auditors have a responsibility for detecting all irregularities. This is a misconception and shows the existence of an audit expectation gap between auditors and financial report users with respect to the actual duties of auditors.

Despite the extensive international research on fraud, very few studies have been conducted on the issue of fraud in Nigeria. The extensive international findings may not be applicable in Nigeria as research methods and results are influenced by and usually reflect economic, social or legal factors unique to those countries in which the studies took place. It is hoped that the findings of this study will provide insight into the financial report users’ perceptions on the extent of fraud in Nigeria and their perceptions of auditors’ responsibilities for and procedures in detecting fraud.

Research methodology
The primary data used for this study were obtained through the administration of well designed questionnaire to respondents. The questionnaire is adapted from that used by Alleyne and Howard (2005). Using convenience sampling methodology, the questionnaire was handed to 200 respondents in Nigeria. The respondents were bankers, managers, investors and accountants. 184 questionnaires were returned, yielding a 92 per cent response rate. Furthermore, more than 90 per cent of the respondents claimed that they were aware of what auditors do. The high level of awareness combined with their accounting qualifications and audit experience should add credibility to the findings of the research

   Findings and discussion
 


 Extent of fraud
Table 1: Perceptions of extent of fraud

 

Users of financial reports N = 184

Questions

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

Is fraud a major concern for business in Nigeria?

4
(2.2%)

24 (13.0%)

40 (21.8%)

86 (46.7%)

30 (16.3%)

Do you think that the discovery of fraudulent activity would have a negative impact on users?

4
(2.2%)

20 (10.9%)

34 (18.5%)

88 (47.8%)

38 (20.6%)


The results in Table 1 show that 46.7 per cent of the respondents agreed and 16.3 per cent strongly agreed that fraud is a major concern for business in Nigeria. However, 21.8 per cent have a neutral opinion while 13 per cent disagreed and 2.2 per cent strongly disagreed with this statement. That the majority of responses agreed with the statements may be due to the high publicity of fraud cases in Nigeria.
 
Overall the responses in this study show that fraud is an area of concern in Nigeria. When respondents were asked whether the discovery of fraudulent activity would have a negative impact on users, 20.6 per cent strongly agreed and 47.8 per cent agreed to this statement. Such responses reflect the common market reaction to negative publicity.


Auditors’ responsibilities for fraud detection

 

Users of financial reports N = 184

Questions

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

Do you feel that it is the responsibility of the auditor to uncover fraud and to report this to the appropriate authorities?

14
(7.6%)

28 (15.2%)

38 (20.6%)

62 (33.7%)

42 (22.9%)

Do you think that there should be legislation to this effect?

16
 (8.7%)

16 (8.7%)

36 (19.5%)

68 (37.0%)

48 (26.1%)


Table 2 shows that 33.7 per cent and 22.9 per cent of the respondents respectively agreed and strongly agreed that the responsibility of the auditor is to uncover fraud and to report this to the appropriate authorities. In comparison only 15.2 per cent disagreed and 7.6 per cent strongly disagreed with this statement. The results are in contrast with the requirements of the Approved Nigerian Standard on Auditing. According to ISA 200 ‘Objective and general principles governing an audit of financial statements’, the objective of an audit of financial statement is to enable the auditor to express an opinion whether the financial statements are prepared, in all material respects, in accordance with an applicable financial reporting framework. However, ISA 200 also requires an audit to be designed so that it provides reasonable assurance of detecting both material errors and fraud in the financial statements. To accomplish this, the audit must be planned and performed with an attitude of professional skepticism in all aspects of the engagement. Professional skepticism is an attitude that includes a questioning mind and a critical assessment of audit evidence. The auditor should not assume that management is dishonest, but the possibility of dishonesty must be considered. The auditor also should not assume that the management is unquestionably honest.

According to ISA 240 and NSA 5, the primary responsibility for the prevention and detection of fraud rests with both those charged with the governance of the entity and with the management of the entity. ISA 240 and NSA 5 requires the management and those charged with governance to place a strong emphasis on fraud prevention (to reduce opportunities for fraud), and fraud deterrence (to persuade individuals not to commit fraud by increasing the likelihood of detection and punishment).

Most of the respondents (37 per cent agreed and 26.1per cent strongly agreed) are of the opinion that there should be legislation to hold auditors responsible for preventing, detecting and reporting fraud. Though it is not a statutory requirement for auditors to prevent and detect fraud (Aderibigbe, 1997), however, once fraud is detected auditors are required to report such fraudulent activities to the relevant authorities.

Overall, the results of the study are similar to previous studies by Chowdhury et al (2005); Epstein and Geiger (1994); Gloeck and De Jager (1993); Humphrey et al (1993); Leung and Chau (2001); Lin and Chen (2004) and Dixon et al (2006) that auditors have a responsibility for preventing, detecting and reporting fraud. The findings indicate that an expectation gap does exist between the respondents and the present statutory requirements of auditors with respect to fraud detection.

Audit procedures
Table 3: Audit procedures

 

Users of financial reports N = 184

Questions

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

Should the auditor assess internal controls used by the company to prevent or detect the theft of assets?

6
(3.3%)

12 (6.5%)

32 (17.4%)

92 (50.0%)

42 (22.8%)

Should the auditor assess the role of the internal auditors?

4
 (2.2%)

20 (10.8%)

30 (16.3%)

92 (50.0%)

38 (20.7%)

Should the auditor work to uncover all related party transactions?

10
 (5.4%)

10 (5.4%)

38 (20.7%)

90 (48.9%)

36 (19.6%)

Should the auditor evaluate whether there is “substantial doubt” about a company’s ability to continue as a going (viable) concern?

8
 (4.4%)

16 (8.7%)

32 (17.4%)

74 (40.2%)

54 (29.3%)

Should the auditor assess management’s style, to determine if the style might lead to fraudulent financial reporting?

6
 (3.3%)

26
 (14.1)

16 (8.7%)

100 (54.3%)

36 (19.6%)

Should the auditor ensure that the management conveys the findings of the audit to the board of directors or audit committee, (whichever is applicable)?

16
 (8.7%)

22 (12.0%)

22 (12.0%)

90 (48.9%)

34 (18.4)


This section reports the responses to the question whether auditors should perform additional audit procedures in an attempt to uncover fraud. 50 per cent and 22.8 per cent of the respondents agreed and strongly agreed that auditors should assess internal controls used by the company to prevent or detect the theft of assets. Based on ISA 400 ‘Risk assessment and internal control’, auditors are required to obtain an understanding of the accounting and internal control systems sufficient to plan the audit and to develop an effective audit approach. However, ISA 400 does not particularly require an assessment of the internal control as to whether or not such internal control system enables prevention or detection of theft of assets.

Respondents were also asked whether auditors should assess the role of internal auditors. Based on the auditing standard in Nigeria auditors are not required to assess the role of internal auditors. However, ISA 610 ‘Considering the work of internal auditing’ requires auditors to perform a preliminary assessment of the internal audit function when it appears that internal auditing is relevant to the external audit of the financial statements in specific audit areas. This study shows that most of the respondents agreed that auditors should perform the assessment of internal auditors (50 per cent and 20.7 per cent of the respondents agreed and strongly agreed).

According to ISA 550 ‘Related Parties’, an audit cannot be expected to detect all related party transactions. Nevertheless, auditors should perform audit procedures designed to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence regarding the identification of and disclosure by management of related parties and the effect of related party transactions that are material to the financial statements. The study found respondents to have higher expectation with respect to this issue as 48.9 per cent and 19.6 per cent of them agreed and strongly agreed that auditors should detect all related party transactions.

ISA 570 ‘Going concern’ stipulates that auditors are required to consider appropriateness of management’s use of the going concern assumption in the preparation of the financial statements, and must consider whether there are material uncertainties about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern that need to be disclosed in the financial statements. However, auditors are not required to predict future events or conditions that may cause an entity to cease to function as a going concern. Accordingly, the absence of any reference to going concern uncertainty in an auditor’s report cannot be viewed as a guarantee as to the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern. However the statutory requirement of auditors with respect of this issue is in contrast with the findings of the study, as the majority of respondents expected auditors to perform this duty (40.2 per cent agreed and 29.3 per cent strongly agreed).

Finally, the results show 54.3 per cent of the respondents agreed and 19.6 per cent strongly agreed that auditors should assess the management style so as to determine if such style may lead to fraudulent financial reporting. In response to the question whether auditors should ensure that management conveys the findings of the audit to the board of directors or audit committee, 48.9 per cent agreed and 18.4 per cent strongly agreed.

Overall, the findings of this section reveal that there is a gap between the respondents’ expectation and the present statutory requirements for auditors. This may in turn suggest the perception that the auditing standards in Nigeria are deficient.

Conclusion and recommendations
This study explores the financial report users’ perceptions of the extent of fraud in Nigeria and of auditors’ responsibilities in detecting fraud. It also investigates the perceived extent of the related audit procedures. The study also aims to ascertain whether the report users’ perceptions of the auditors’ responsibilities on fraud detection is consistent with the Nigerian auditing professions’ published standards.

The study found that respondents are very concerned about the problem of fraud in Nigeria. In addition, the results show that respondents’ perception of the official objective of an audit is incorrect, as they placed a very high expectation on auditors’ duties on fraud prevention and detection. This perception is in sharp contrast with the stated primary objective of an audit, as stipulated in ISA 200, which merely required auditors to form an opinion on the financial statement, but not of fraud prevention and detection efforts of the company. The study also found a lack of understanding among respondents of the statutory duties of auditors. The lack of understanding is because the users may not have read the statutory provisions for auditors, or have chosen to ignore or forget them.

The present situation may be improved through several strategies, the two most likely to succeed being: i) educating the users on the role and the actual duties of auditors, through better communication by auditors; and ii) by expanding the scope of the audit to meet market expectations. Porter (1997) believes that education may help in solving the misconception problem as it may reduce the “misunderstanding gap” caused by ignorance. On the other hand, expanding the scope of an audit may help to mitigate the “expectation gap” problem as auditors would then be performing additional duties not previously required. It is hoped that by implementing both approaches, the public’s expectation and auditor’s duties will be brought into closer accord.

 

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