An overview of key steps for successfully implementing UK SOx

UK SOx is now upon us, and enterprises in the scope of the legislation need to be on top of their obligations. Those affected are known as Public Interest Entities or PIEs, defined as privately held or publicly quoted businesses with at least 750 employees and revenue of more than £750m per annum – the ‘750:750 rule’.

While UK SOx shares similarities with its US counterpart, it’s crucial to understand that you cannot simply transpose the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act onto PIEs operating in the UK.

In the UK, it requires public companies to implement internal UK SOx controls over processes and systems that influence financial reporting, with the intention of preserving market value and safeguarding shareholders from fraudulent activities.

UK SOx incorporates distinct requirements tailored to the UK market, drawing upon the UK Corporate Governance Code and the Financial Reporting Council’s (FRC) guidance, which is being replaced by the Audit, Reporting, and Governance Authority (ARGA). It places emphasis on internal control effectiveness, risk management, and the responsibilities of directors and the audit committee.

Here are some practical tips and best practices to help large businesses (PIEs) in the UK overcome their specific UK SOx challenges.

Preparation and planning

As with any major transition that has far-reaching implications, proper preparation and planning are essential to success. The three elements below should be considered a fundamental part of this phase of implementing UK SOx:

  • Conduct a gap analysis
    Perform a thorough gap analysis, comparing your current internal control environment against UK SOx requirements. Identify any discrepancies and prioritize corrective efforts based on the level of potential impact. Essentially, look to address the key risks first.
  • Develop a compliance roadmap
    Build a detailed roadmap to compliance, outlining clear timelines, responsibilities, and resource allocations for each implementation step. Assigning clear ownership ensures everyone is aligned and prevents tasks falling through the cracks.
  • Seek professional guidance
    Forge a partnership with a specialist UK SOx advisory firm or consultant. Such expertise guides your process, navigates complex areas, and helps you address regulatory nuances to stay on course towards success. External auditors are actively promoting their offerings around SOx.

These steps effectively lay the groundwork for UK SOx, ensuring a smooth and efficient compliance journey. Remember, just as for any other compliance program, proactive planning and expert guidance are crucial for successful implementation and long-term regulatory adherence.

Internal controls and risk management

UK SOx places an emphasis on the need for effective internal controls:

  • Implement a robust internal control framework
    Implement a robust internal control framework aligned with industry standards, like COSO. Robust control testing is essential to ensure they function correctly. Document key controls meticulously across critical financial business processes, encompassing control activities, monitoring procedures, and information flows. Rigorous testing and ongoing monitoring are vital to identify and address weaknesses before they evolve into significant risks.
  • Leverage technology
    Leverage automation tools to streamline internal control management. Utilize them for control monitoring, data collection, and report generation, boosting efficiency by reducing manual intervention and ensuring accuracy through automated calculations and consistent data handling. This strategic technological deployment not only minimizes costs but also provides valuable insights into control effectiveness.
  • Technology specific challenges
    Implement data governance policies and procedures to ensure data accuracy, security, and accessibility for reporting purposes. It is essential to integrate SOX compliance requirements into IT systems and processes to avoid the need for manual workarounds, which are often symptomatic of control weaknesses. Do not overlook the design and implementation of fraud prevention measures aligned with UK SOx requirements, including whistleblower hotlines and internal investigations.
  • Conduct regular risk assessments
    Conduct regular risk assessments to actively identify and evaluate both internal and external threats that could compromise the accuracy and reliability of financial reporting. Consider factors like evolving regulations, operational changes, and market conditions. Once identified, assess the potential impact of each risk, and promptly design and implement mitigating controls. This proactive approach minimizes the likelihood of disruptions and fosters a culture of risk awareness within your organization.

Using this approach, your enterprise is better able to navigate its preparation for UK SOx while simultaneously strengthening its internal controls and risk management practices.

Governance and responsibilities

UK SOx places an onus on all stakeholders to fully discharge their responsibilities:

  • Obtain board and management buy-in
    Secure active engagement from the board and senior management. Their visible commitment and direction are pivotal, driving effective resource allocation and setting the tone for the entire organization. Remember, a united front inspires confidence and motivates compliance efforts.
  • Assign clear roles and responsibilities
    Eliminate ambiguity by assigning clear ownership for specific SOx compliance tasks within different departments and functions. Transparent accountability ensures everyone understands their part and facilitates seamless collaboration across various teams.
  • Provide ongoing training
    There is no substitute for knowledge, and ongoing training supports the competence of your employees. Provide regular education on UK SOx requirements, their individual roles, and reporting procedures. Equip them with the tools and understanding to actively contribute to compliance success.
  • Establish an effective audit committee
    Appoint an audit committee whose members are independent of management, including at least one financial expert. This ensures they possess the necessary expertise, independence, and adequate resources. This allows them to provide objective assessments, effectively oversee SOx compliance, and act as a trusted advisor to the board.

Collectively, these steps foster a culture of collaborative compliance where everyone plays a vital role. This not only minimizes compliance risks but also builds trust, accountability, and transparency.

AP invoice automation that supports UK SOx from APMatching

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