COSO Internal Control Integrated Framework

In 1992, the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) developed a model for evaluating internal controls. This model has been adopted as the generally accepted framework for internal control and is widely recognized as the definitive standard against which organizations measure the effectiveness of their systems of internal control. The COSO model defines internal control as “a process, effected by an entity’s board of directors, management and other personnel, designed to provide reasonable assurance of the achievement of objectives in the following categories: [1]

  • Effectiveness and efficiency of operations
  • Reliability of financial reporting
  • Compliance with applicable laws and regulations”

Five Framework Components of COSO[2]
The COSO internal control framework consists of five interrelated components derived from the way management runs a business. According to COSO, these components provide an effective framework for describing and analyzing the internal control system implemented in an organization as required by financial regulations (see Securities Exchange Act of 1934) The five components are the following:
Control environment: The control environment sets the tone of an organization, influencing the control consciousness of its people. It is the foundation for all other components of internal control, providing discipline and structure. Control environment factors include the integrity, ethical values, management's operating style, delegation of authority systems, as well as the processes for managing and developing people in the organization.
Risk assessment: Every entity faces a variety of risks from external and internal sources that must be assessed. A precondition to risk assessment is establishment of objectives and thus risk assessment is the identification and analysis of relevant risks to the achievement of assigned objectives. Risk assessment is a prerequisite for determining how the risks should be managed.
Control activities: Control activities are the policies and procedures that help ensure management directives are carried out. They help ensure that necessary actions are taken to address the risks that may hinder the achievement of the entity's objectives. Control activities occur throughout the organization, at all levels and in all functions. They include a range of activities as diverse as approvals, authorizations, verifications, reconciliations, reviews of operating performance, security of assets and segregation of duties.
Information and communication: Information systems play a key role in internal control systems as they produce reports, including operational, financial and compliance-related information, that make it possible to run and control the business. In a broader sense, effective communication must ensure information flows down, across and up the organization. For example, formalized procedures exist for people to report suspected fraud. Effective communication should also be ensured with external parties, such as customers, suppliers, regulators and shareholders about related policy positions.
Monitoring: Internal control systems need to be monitored—a process that assesses the quality of the system's performance over time. This is accomplished through ongoing monitoring activities or separate evaluations. Internal control deficiencies detected through these monitoring activities should be reported upstream and corrective actions should be taken to ensure continuous improvement of the system.

What Internal Control Can Do [3]
Internal control can help an entity achieve its performance and profitability targets, and prevent loss of resources. It can help ensure reliable financial reporting. And it can help ensure that the enterprise complies with laws and regulations, avoiding damage to its reputation and other consequences. In sum, it can help an entity get to where it wants to go, and avoid pitfalls and surprises along the way.
What Internal Control Cannot Do Unfortunately, some people have greater, and unrealistic, expectations. They look for absolutes, believing that: Internal control can ensure an entity's success--that is, it will ensure achievement of basic business objectives or will, at the least, ensure survival. Even effective internal control can only help an entity achieve these objectives. It can provide management information about the entity's progress, or lack of it, toward their achievement. But internal control cannot change an inherently poor manager into a good one. And, shifts in government policy or programs, competitors' actions or economic conditions can be beyond management's control. Internal control cannot ensure success, or even survival. Internal control can ensure the reliability of financial reporting and compliance with laws and regulations. This belief is also unwarranted. An internal control system, no matter how well conceived and operated, can provide only reasonable--not absolute--assurance to management and the board regarding achievement of an entity's objectives. The likelihood of achievement is affected by limitations inherent in all internal control systems. These include the realities that judgments in decision-making can be faulty, and that breakdowns can occur because of simple error or mistake. Additionally, controls can be circumvented by the collusion of two or more people, and management has the ability to override the system. Another limiting factor is that the design of an internal control system must reflect the fact that there are resource constraints, and the benefits of controls must be considered relative to their costs. Thus, while internal control can help an entity achieve its objectives, it is not a panacea.


  1. Definition of COSO Knowledge Leader
  2. Framework components of COSO Wikipedia
  3. What Internal Controls Can and Cannot do