person looking at complicated white board coso framework

COSO Framework: What Is It And How Is It Used?

Firms are often large, and almost always very complicated.

Imagine a situation where a firm has to make sure that its financial statements are accurate and free from fraud. To do this, the firm would have to track down every single transaction made by the company and then compare it against what was reported in the financial statements.

This process would be very costly and time-consuming, which is why most firms outsource this function to accounting firms.

The problem with outsourcing is that there is always the potential for corruption and mismanagement.

In order to combat this, the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) developed a framework to help organizations manage and control their businesses.

It is useful to use a framework like COSO to ensure that all business processes are aligned with the organization’s overall objectives. The framework also provides guidance on how to identify and deal with risks.

In this article, we will discuss the COSO framework in detail and how it can be used to improve organizational effectiveness in various situations.

What is the COSO Framework?

The COSO framework is a set of principles and guidelines that help organizations to manage and control their businesses. It was developed by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission in 1992 in response to the corporate scandals of the 1980s.

You might be thinking, what happened in the 1980s that led to the COSO framework being brought about?

Well, during this time there were a number of high-profile corporate scandals involving organizations such as Enron and WorldCom. These scandals brought to light the fact that many firms were not doing enough to prevent or detect fraud.

In response to these scandals, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in 2002. This act introduced stricter requirements for publicly traded companies in the United States, including the need to have an effective internal control system in place.

Then came forth the COSO framework -  which provided guidance on how to develop and implement an internal control system.

gavel being hit by judge

5 Components of the COSO Internal Control Framework

The COSO internal control framework is based on 5 main components and 3 additional principles.

The first five components are known as the ‘internal control components’, and are as follows:

  • Control environment;
  • Risk assessment;
  • Control activities;
  • Information and communication;
  • Monitoring.

We will now discuss each of these components in detail:

Control Environment

The control environment is the foundation for an effective internal control system. It sets the tone of an organization and provides guidance on how employees should act.

It includes factors such as the ethical values of management, the organizational structure, and the delegated authority.

A strong control environment instills discipline and promotes adherence to company policies, whilst also reducing the likelihood of employees engaging in fraudulent activities.

With fraud becoming more and more common in today’s corporate world, this is an especially crucial component of the COSO framework.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is the process of identifying and assessing risks that could potentially affect the achievement of an organization’s objectives.

Risks can come from internal or external sources. Internal risks include things like fraud and embezzlement, while external risks might include natural disasters or changes in market conditions.

Organizations need to identify and assess risks on an ongoing basis in order to make sure that they are taking appropriate steps to mitigate them.

Control Activities

Control activities are the policies and procedures that help ensure that management’s directives are carried out. They help to ensure that risks are appropriately controlled.

Some examples of control activities include segregation of duties, authorization requirements, and physical controls (such as security cameras).

Information and Communication

Information and communication systems are necessary in order for an organization to run effectively. They help to ensure that relevant information is available to those who need it, when they need it.

An effective information and communication system will disseminate information in a timely manner and will be tailored to the needs of the user.


Monitoring is the process of assessing whether the internal control system is functioning as designed and taking corrective action if necessary.

It is important for organizations to monitor their internal control systems on an ongoing basis in order to identify any weaknesses or issues. Corrective action can then be taken to fix these problems.

The COSO internal control framework provides a comprehensive approach to internal control that can be used by organizations of all sizes. Implementing an effective internal control system can help to improve organizational effectiveness and reduce the likelihood of fraud.

people discussing a document coso framework

3 Principles of the COSO framework

​​The last three principles of the COSO framework are in addition to the internal control components. These are as follows:

  • Objectives setting;
  • Evaluation and revision;
  • Communication and training.

Objectives Setting

The objectives setting component of the COSO framework helps organizations to set goals and objectives. It also provides guidance on how to prioritize these goals and objectives.

Evaluation and Revision

This component helps organizations to periodically review their goals and objectives, as well as providing guidance on how to review and evaluate most effectively.

Communication and Training

Communication and training helps organizations to communicate their goals and objectives to employees. The framework provides advice on how to train employees on using their specific internal control system well.

person behind a stack of books

How is the COSO Framework Used?

Organizations use the COSO framework to design and implement effective internal controls, as well as improve organizational effectiveness.

Internal controls are the policies and procedures that an organization uses to ensure that its employees act in accordance with its objectives and collaborate effectively.

The framework provides guidance on how to identify and manage risks, set objectives, and make decisions. It also helps organizations to communicate information about the achievement of objectives to interested parties.

5 Benefits of the COSO Framework

Let’s have a browse at some of the key benefits of the COSO framework, to judge whether this could be the right internal control framework for you. Here are 5 of its main benefits:

1. It Provides a Comprehensive Approach

This framework takes into account all aspects of the organization, from strategy to operations. This ensures that no important element is left out when measuring effectiveness.

2. Flexibility

It can be adapted to the specific needs of any organization, regardless of size or sector. This makes it ideal for use in a wide range of businesses.

3. It is Objective

It provides a clear and unbiased way to measure organizational performance. This is essential for making accurate comparisons between different organizations.

4. The Framework is Internationally Recognized:

The framework has been endorsed by leading organizations such as the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and the American Accounting Association (AAA). This level of international recognition gives it a high degree of credibility.

5. It’s Easy to Use

The framework is based on a simple 5-step process that can be easily followed by anyone, which makes it very user-friendly and straightforward to implement.

Challenges of Using the COSO Framework

While the COSO framework provides a number of benefits, there are also some challenges associated with its use.

One of the main challenges is that it can be difficult to implement the framework in organizations that have not used it before. This is because the framework requires a certain level of commitment from senior management in order to be successful.

Another challenge is that the framework can be time-consuming to implement, particularly in large organizations. It requires a lot of planning and coordination between different departments.

Finally, the COSO framework is not always easy to understand and use. It contains a lot of technical jargon and can be difficult to interpret in some cases, especially for those who are unfamiliar with business terminology.


Situations Where You Might Use The COSO Framework

The COSO framework is not just a random theory -  it has some very real applications to the real world. Here are a few of these applications in further detail:

1. Expanding Operations

Imagine your firm is expanding its operations into a new country. You have done your research and you are confident in the new venture, but you want to be sure that all possible risks have been considered and mitigated as much as possible.

The COSO framework can help you do this by providing a systematic way to identify and assess risks, and develop plans to address them.

2. Increased Competition

Or, suppose your firm is facing increased competition from a rival company. You need to find ways to improve your own competitiveness, and one way to do this is to better understand your customers’ needs and preferences.

The COSO framework can help you accomplish this by providing a structured approach to customer analysis and market research.

3. Strategy Shift

Another example is if your firm is considering a major change, such as a new product launch or a shift in strategy.

The COSO framework can help you plan for and manage this change by providing a way to identify the potential risks and opportunities associated with the change, and develop plans to address them.

Final Thoughts

​​The COSO framework is a comprehensive system that provides organizations with guidance on how to improve their internal controls.

The framework is based on eight interrelated components, which work together to achieve organizational objectives.

When used correctly, the COSO framework can help organizations to prevent and detect fraud, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and protect their assets.

Have a look at some further details in this article of how and when to use the COSO framework, and judge whether it might be a good fit for your company.