Do you really need a debit card?

In another post (See Lame Excuse #1), I use the story of Judas stealing from the disciples’ money bag to illustrate that fraud can take place in any church.  This week I found another Biblical example of this truth.  Luke, in Acts Chapter 5, recounts the sad story of Ananias and Sapphira.

In the story, this couple sells a piece of property and promises the church (and the Holy Spirit!) that the proceeds would be given to the congregation.  As it turns out, the couple comes up with a scheme to withhold some of the funds while making it appear they had given the whole amount to the church.  When confronted, both Ananias and Sapphira cover themselves by lying.

This week, in my routine “fraud news search”, I found a story with some similar characteristics.

Former Church Treasurer Charged…

Did you notice that this treasurer essentially did the same two things Ananias and Sapphira did. She stole money from the church and then lied about it by “doctoring” the books.

What can a church do to avoid such a fate? Here are two observations:

The fact that the fraud was not discovered until a new treasurer took over implies that no one, other than the treasurer, ever looked at the accounting records.  The church was violating the basic accounting philosophy of adequate segregation of duties. Lack of involvement by others made it easy for the treasurer to steal, and then doctor the records to cover her tracks.  Something as simple as having someone other than the treasurer reconcile the bank account monthly might have been enough to prevent the thefts.

Second, I have never been convinced that debit cards are all that useful in the church world.  Sure they are efficient, but a debit card (and his close relative, the credit card) can completely circumvent the best bill approval and payment systems.  If a church insists that it must have cards, by all means adopt a credit card use policy to govern their use.

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