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Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum Day 2: SOX

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the spawn of the Enron, et al scandals, is important to know about and comply with. But I've always thought it was a little boring to learn about. Not when David Kaufman of Acquis Consulting Group is leading the session, though. I went to his SOX presentation yesterday at the Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, and he actually had us laughing, playing, and having fun with financial reporting requirements. Unbelievable. The Family Feud portion was particularly fun, but he paced the session throughout perfectly so that, just when we were starting to get antsy, he'd throw in some comic relief, a case study, an audience response question, or something else to break it up. Not bad for an accountant!

Anyway, the main gist of SOX, as the Act is called, is that the CEO/CFO of publicly held companies have to sign off on financial statements and be accountable for them. Everything to do with money now has to be tracked and documented, with the aim being to prevent fraud. What's that got to do with meeting planning? You'd be surprised. A few key points to ponder:

For meeting planners:

* If you plan meetings across several departments (as many pharma planners do), make sure the money is allocated to the right department.

* SOX is all about having controls in place to ensure fraud doesn't happen. Look at everything you do, identify any places where fraud could occur, and put controls in place to help you prevent it if possible, or at least detect it when it happens. Then monitor the system to ensure it keeps on working, and adjust as necessary.

* If you do get audited, ask the auditors how they want you to document your processes so you don't spend a lot of time doing something they don't need, or have to redo something in the format they want.

* If you do find problems, at the least report them to your manager so you can show auditors that you took action. Even if the problem doesn't get resolved, it gets you out of the hot seat.

* While there's nothing in SOX that says you can't accept gifts from vendors, you cross the line accepting something that could influence your decision-making. Err on the side of caution, Kaufman said.

For suppliers

* Understand that clients will be putting new restrictions on you.

* Make sure you're on the approved vendor list

* Competitive bidding, often called for under SOX, can be a good thing. If a client has a preferred vendor and now has to get several bids, you have a shot at picking up a piece of business, and possibly getting on the preferred list yourself if they like what you do.

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