Paper Trails Continue to Create Accountability in Social Institutions

While monitoring the trends that are emerging in the accounting industry, we continue to find a paradoxical mix of fancy AI-driven features that promise next-generation benefits and current news stories about how paper trails are often the last-line of defense against institutional corruption. There’s a brave new world out there, but underneath this next generation of tech seems to be an enduring need to protect the integrity of our social institutions with a paper trail of essential records.

Like so many Americans, we’ve been keeping tabs on the long-term integrity of our elections. This includes replacing outdated voting machines that may be tampered with. It also includes the evaluating and preserving the value of creating a paper trail. In fact, there continue to be studies and news reports that suggest a paper trail and random audits are among the best tools we have to safeguard the integrity of our elections.


What’s Going on in Massachusetts?

Yet, it was another story that came across our news feed that really caught our attention. The Massachusetts State Police Department came close to successfully covering up years, if not decades, of overtime and payroll fraud. The Boston Globe reports that payroll records for a 140-trooper unit had been kept hidden for years. As allegations of abuse started to surface, the department tried several times over the period of a few months to get authorization to destroy the paper records. Instead, the Records Conservation Board keeps denying each request, citing the need to complete ongoing investigations into the department’s payroll practices.

The payroll records are the only surviving evidence of these practices over the years. World events continually recast a seemingly eternal debate about efficiency vs integrity in electronic recordkeeping. This is true of our democratic elections and it’s true of the integrity of our accounting and payroll systems. We’re optimists and believers in the potential of AI tech to greatly reduce the burden of accounting service needs. But in addition to savvy auditors, it seems like the inevitability of institutional malfeasance also requires a paper trail that we can fall back on and trust to preserve our most basic bookkeeping and accounting operations.

Put it all together, and it’s not hard to imagine a future that may not be too far off in which we have systems that deploy both AI systems to monitor internal operations as well as some kind of paper trail to serve as a deterrent against fraud and corruption.