The Fear Of Four... And The Future Of Fraud Detection

I had a few great conversations yesterday about the increasing role analytics will play in risk and compliance programs, which brought to mind the article, For Some Firms, a Case of 'Quadrophobia' appearing earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal and referenced yesterday by the NY Times’ Freakonomics blog.

The article covers a study of quarterly earnings reports over a nearly 30 year period, which found a statistically low number of results ending in four-tenths of a cent. The implication here is that companies fudge their numbers slightly to report earnings ending in five-tenths, which can then be rounded up... clever. Even more interesting, authors of the study found that these “quadrophobes” are “more likely to restate financials and to be named as defendants in SEC Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Releases (AAER)”... not clever.

The report encourages the SEC to enhance its oversight with a new department dedicated solely to detailed quantitative analysis that might catch this type of behavior. It also occurs to me that many corporations would like to identify such trends within their four walls to detect and prevent potentially damaging behavior.

Clearly, the cultural/human aspects of risk management and compliance – policies, attestations, training, awareness, whistleblowing, etc. – are essential. But as the number and complexity of business transactions continue to grow, companies will be looking more and more for ways to analyze massive amounts of data for damaging patterns and trends.