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Guarding Your Growth: Proactive Measures Against Construction Fraud

Being a construction company owner, you are involved in multiple projects with significant investments and tons of moving parts. Due to tight schedules, construction accounting and payment process are a mess.

That’s why you often become the victim of expense padding, falsifying change orders, bid rigging, material theft, improper revenue recognition, invoice manipulation, and collusion with subcontractors or suppliers.

Construction accounting fraud can take any of these forms, posing substantial risks to financial stability, project delays, and reputational damage. Effective and accurate accounting is a decisive key to combat construction fraud; however, construction accounting is unique in many ways.

What is Construction Accounting?

Construction accounting operates on a project-based model in which costs are assigned to specific contracts. A separate job is set up in the accounting system, where accountants and bookkeepers focus on tracking costs, progress payments, retainage management, change orders, customer deposits, profitability and other project-specific financial data.

Accurately tracking expenses and profits becomes an added responsibility, given the various types of costs you must manage, encompassing labor costs, equipment, material, marketing and sales, the list is exhaustive. The financial stakes are high, with these costs often exceeding millions of dollars.

Fraudulent activities drain resources, increase project timelines, and result in inferior quality workmanship. By understanding the impact of construction accounting fraud, you can take proactive steps to safeguard your projects and profits.

Understanding the Red Flags of Financial Fraud in Construction Accounting

Accounting errors and purposeful fraudulent actions can occur at any point during a construction project. These include:

Bid Rigging: Unethical contractors colluding to manipulate the bidding processes, ensuring to secure contracts unfairly or at inflated prices. This practice can happen in any form, including bid suppression, complementary bidding, bid rotation, customer or market allocation, and subcontracting.

Bid Rigging

It is significant to detect though difficult as it harms clients and taxpayers and stifles healthy competition in the industry.

Invoice Padding: This occurs when contractors inflate construction fleet management operating costs or submit fraudulent invoices to secure additional payment. This impacts the financial position of your business and undermines the trust between contractors and clients.

Material Theft: Construction materials are stolen from job sites or substituted with lower-grade material, leading to increased project costs, compromising quality, and delays. 10% of every job cost is lost to material theft.

Manipulating Change Orders: Change orders are the lifeblood of construction. However, they often receive less monitored than the initial bidding and contract award process, making them highly susceptible to fraud.

Manipulating Change Orders

At times, contractors issue change orders for a base contract’s work scope, approve unnecessary changes, or may include excess charges and improper price reduction to benefit certain parties.

Kickbacks: A contractor or subcontractor may receive traceable and untraceable kickbacks from suppliers or other parties for using their services. resulting in higher costs for the project and lower quality materials or services.

False Claims: Contractors may mislead or make false statements to win contracts, resulting in incompetent or unqualified contractors being awarded projects.

Proactive Measures Against Construction Accounting Fraud

Financial and accounting fraud have severe consequences, leading to monetary losses and dent your company’s reputation and credibility. To mitigate risk of frauds or suspicious financial activities and guard your growth trajectory, you need to be proactive.

Outsourcing construction accounting plays a first line defense against fraud by implementing effective internal controls, standardized processes, and leveraging advanced technology. This enables you to safeguard your projects, maximize your profits, and streamline your construction fleet management.

Proactive Measures Against Construction Accounting Fraud

Rigorous Internal Control

An outsourced construction accounting partner safeguards fraudulent activities, errors, and non-compliance while keeping your books up to date.

Segregation of Duties – By outsourcing construction accounting, you get access to a full-service team who are well-versed in the nuances of the construction operations and committed to accomplishing your daily, weekly, and monthly accounting needs.

The team establishes a clear separation of duties, minimizing risks associated with errors and fraud. This strategic division enhances internal controls, ensuring accountability and operational integrity.

System Access – The external team should provide secure and controlled system access, including virtual environment, document sharing and all ancillary systems and portals.

Independent Audit – The outsourced team should facilitate a third-party assessment, adding an extra layer of trust and confidence for stakeholders.

Construction Accounts Reconciliation

Your outsourced accounting partner ensures 3-way reconciliation of all financial transactions to ensure that the contractors’ costs and revenue are valid. This enables you to identify irregularities, duplicate or erroneous payments, and fraud, providing credibility to the financial statements.

Financial Reporting

The outsourcing team provides accurate financial statements and reports, which show the performance of a company and project over a specific period of time. This provides vital insights that aid in making informed decisions regarding budgeting, resource allocation, pricing strategies, and investment opportunities.

It’s easy to secure funding and loans for your projects as lenders and investors have comprehensive reports to evaluate creditworthiness.

Standardized Accounting Processes

Construction accounting is a specialized domain. Your extended team provides continuous support to separate personal and business expenses, break down project costs, record day-to-day financial transactions, recognize revenue, track business expenses, reconcile accounts, and more.

Outsourced accountants ensure every financial operation aligns seamlessly with established industry best practices, manage your books, generate reports, estimate your quarterly tax payments, maintain a healthy cash flow, and protect narrow profit margins.

Safeguarding against financial fraud in construction accounting requires a strategic partnership with an outsourcing firm. With this partnership, you seamlessly implement proactive measures that include rigorous internal controls, consistent reconciliation, accurate reports, and standardized accounting processes. Adoption of zero-tolerance approach and opting top-tier security, outsourced construction accounting companies empower you to minimize the risks of financial fraud, protect financial well-being, and maintain a strong reputation within the industry.

By John Bugh

John Bugh is Chief Revenue Officer for Pacific Accounting and Business Services (PABS), responsible for the strategic direction, planning, vision, growth, and performance of the company’s marketing, branding, and revenue streams.

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