Ethics in Financial Reporting

Integrity is of utmost importance for a successful career in business and finance in the long run. Some believe that the world of finance lacks ethical considerations. Whereas the truth is that such issues are prevalent in all areas of business.

The business environment in much of the world is reeling from the revelation of several financial scandals in the past few years. The optimism of the turn of the century has been replaced by scepticism and distrust. It will be discussed as to how we landed ourselves in this situation, what is being done to correct it, and what the future holds for us. Though Enron has been used as the poster-child for this purpose, breakdowns in accounting and corporate governance in Enron as well as in other companies will be discussed.

Some companies that have encountered financial reporting problems will be discussed along with the role of auditors (including Andersen’s role in Enron), the regulatory environment, some of the causes of the problems, and the current and possible future outcomes.

Ethics and Accounting

Ethics (maintaining fair and true statements) is a key part of financial reporting. For shareholders to trust a company with money, they must feel confident in the company’s financial reporting. Financial reporting presents all data relating to the entity’s current, historical and projected health meaning investors and shareholders rely upon the financial data available for making informed and educated decisions. To help entities comply with business regulations and maintain financial reporting, shareholders can trust the existing organizations designed to monitor different aspects of the accounting world.… Read the rest

Case Study: The Collapse of Lehman Brothers

Lehman Brothers Inc operated at a wholesale level, dealing with governments, companies and other financial institutions. Its core business included buying and selling shares and fixed income assets, trading and research, investment banking, investment management and private equity.

In September 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company became insolvent with finances totalling $639 billion in assets and debt worth $619 billion; it became the largest bankruptcy in history. The company employed 25,000 employees worldwide including 5,000 and was the fourth largest US financial bank at the time of the bankruptcy. It also became the biggest victim of the subprime mortgage disaster that had put the global financial sector into meltdown.

History

In 1844 23 year old Henry Lehman the son of a cattle merchant immigrated to the United States from Rimpar, Bavaria. He set up home in Montgomery, Alabama where he opened a dry-goods shop. In 1847, following the arrival of his brother Emanuel Lehman, the firm became “H. Lehman and Bro.” With the arrival of their youngest brother, Mayer Lehman, in 1850, the firm changed its name again and “Lehman Brothers” was founded.

The brothers expanded their dry goods store into a cotton business after noticing the potential the highly valued cotton had, even accepting cotton as a payment for products within their shop. Cotton trading became a key part of their business and they eventually relocated to New York, there Lehman became a member of the Coffee Exchange and then on to the New York Stock Exchange in 1887.… Read the rest

Case Study: WorldCom Accounting Scandal

Founded initially as a small company named Long Distance Discount Services in 1983, it merged with Advantage Companies Inc to eventually become WorldCom Inc, naming its CEO as Bernard Ebbers.WorldCom achieved its position as a significant player in the telecommunications industry through the successful completion of 65 acquisitions spending almost $60 billion between 1991 and 1997, whilst also accumulating $41 billion in debt. During the Internet boom WorldCom’s stock rose from pennies per share to over $60 a share as ‘Wall Street investment banks, analysts and brokers began to discover WorldCom’s value and made “strong buy recommendations” to investors.’ During the 1990’s WorldCom evolved into the ‘second-largest long distance phone company in the US’ mainly due to its aggressive acquisition strategy.

A cycle became apparent in the marketplace where an acquisition was seen as a positive move by the analysts leading to higher stock prices of WorldCom. Consequently this allowed WorldCom to gain greater financing and backing for further acquisitions repeating the cycle. One of the most significant and largest acquisitions was that of MCI Communications Inc in 1998, becoming the largest merger in US history at that time. British Telecommunications were also in the running for the takeover of MCI Communications making a $19 billion bid, when Bernard Ebbers the CEO of WorldCom decided to place a counter bid 1.8 times higher than that of what BT had placed, at $35 billion. Evidently this takeover was agreed and the merger between the two brought MCI WorldCom into second position behind that of AT&T in the telecommunications market.… Read the rest

About Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002 commonly known as Sarbanes-Oxley Act or SOX Act was enacted by US Congress to handle concerned issues surrounding business management and financial reporting as a way to restore and maintain investor confidence in the US capital market grappling with corporate scandals and accounting irregularities. With the integrity of the market further compromised by the failures of Enron’s bankruptcy and WorldCom, the act considered as the most significant corporate regulatory reform since the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, sought to curb the ongoing-spectacular corporate failures and scandals occurring in North America. The WorldCom’s failure was the last straw, prompting the speed passage of most drastic legislation to affect the accounting profession since 1933.

The major purpose of this act is to provide reliable and accurate information to the investors. The formation of this act had to undergo a detailed process of iteration and redaction to ensure its comprehensiveness. This act deters reporting misleading and fraudulent financial information of corporations, by establishing increased sense of responsibility on the administrative bodies and directly to the management. Although prior to the act, the financial statements of some companies were perceived to be sceptic by a few, but the significance of the inception of an act was prompted by the implausible failure of Enron and WorldCom. They were the leading companies in their respective industry and in early 2000s; they filed bankruptcy on divulgence of their accounting fraud. The divulgence of their accounting fraud raised questions over the credibility and reliability of the financial statements of the companies that existed in the market.… Read the rest

Money Laundering

Money laundering is a process used by offenders who attempt to conceal the true origin and ownership of the proceeds; these proceeds are results of criminal activities. It allows them to maintain control over the proceeds and provide a legitimate cover for their source of income.

The laundering of the proceeds that result from criminal activity is done through the financial system. The people who are involved in such an action exploit the facilities of the financial institutions of the world. Such an action is done easily under these conditions of free movement of capital. Banks involved in such actions risk to lose their market reputation.

Money laundering is accomplished in three stages, involving numerous transactions of the launderers. Here they are:

  1. Placement – It means a physical disposal of cash proceeds got from illegal activity. Illegal activities like drug trafficking, extortion, generate very volumes of money. People involved in these activities cannot explain the origin and source of these funds to the authorities. There is a constant fear of getting caught. So the immediate requirement is to send this money to a different location using all available means. This stage is characterized by facilitating the process of inducting the criminal money into the legal financial system. Normally, this is done by opening up bank accounts in the names of non-existent people or commercial organizations and depositing the money.
  2. Layering – It implies a separation of illicit proceeds from their source; there are created complex layers of financial transactions meant to disguise the audit trail and they assure anonymity.
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Case Study: The Collapse of Enron

Enron Corporation is an energy trading, natural gas, and electric utilities company located in Houston, Texas that had around 21,000 employees by mid-2001, before it went bankrupt. Its revenue in the year 2000 was more than $100 billion and named as “America’s most innovative companies for six consecutive years by Fortune. Enron was a company that was able to profit by providing the delivery of gas to utility companies and businesses at the fair value market price. Enron was listed as the seventh largest company in the United States and had the domination in the trading of communications, power, and weather securities. In 2002, the company used to be a member of the top 100 fortunes companies but later on after facing an accounting scandal, the company started to collapse. The scandal of Enron has been the largest corporate scandal in history, and has become emblematic of institutionalized and well-planned corporate fraud; the Enron scandal involves both illegal and unethical activities.

The CFO Jeffrey Skilling and the CEO Ken Lay played major roles in the Enron scandal. Both of them committed securities fraud and conspiracy to inflate profit. In disguise debts of Enron, Lay and Skilling used off-the-books partnerships, after that they lied to investors and employees about the company’s disastrous financial situation while selling their own company’s shares. Enron’s top level management has violated several accounting laws, SPE laws, and bent the accounting rules to satisfy their own desires of profit in the short term but ignoring long term repercussions for investors, stockholders, employees and the business itself.… Read the rest