A decade since the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the majority of executives and other professionals agree in a new survey that internal control over financial reporting structure in their organizations has significantly or moderately improved since compliance with the legislation became a requirement.

The study, by consulting firm Protiviti, polled nearly 600 executives and other professionals who are involved with or have a stake in the SOX compliance process.

The top benefit of SOX, according to survey respondents, is “enhanced understanding of control design and control operating effectiveness” (44 percent), followed closely by “internal audit’s ability to perform more traditional audits” (43 percent).

“Sarbanes-Oxley has had its share of controversy in the past, but nearly 70 percent of respondents in our survey reported that the internal control over financial reporting structure in their organizations has improved since compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 became a requirement,” said Protiviti executive vice president of global internal audit Brian Christensen in a statement. “Companies are still learning and working to improve continuously the quality of their internal controls as well as the effectiveness and efficiency of their compliance processes, even 10 years later.”

The majority of executives surveyed said they are focusing on automation of their companies’ internal controls to realize the full benefit of the landmark legislation. Only 17 percent of the survey respondents said they have no plans for further automation.

The survey found that many companies are still focused on reducing the number of key controls, streamlining the total population of controls, narrowing the overall assessment scope, decreasing the number of manual controls and increasing the number of automated controls.

Companies, regardless of their size or year of compliance, plan to maintain their current level of spending on compliance in the upcoming fiscal year – a possible indicator that organizations have the compliance process well-managed and under control.

A majority of large organizations (73 percent) leverage their SOX compliance efforts to drive continuous improvement in business processes that affect financial reporting, and a significant majority of organizations that are beyond their fourth year of compliance (69 percent) do so.

The survey is available for download at www.protiviti.com/soxsurvey. Protiviti plans to host a free 90-minute webinar on June 5 at 9:00 a.m. PDT to review the results of its SOX compliance survey. To register for the webinar, visit www.protiviti.com/webinars. In addition, a podcast about the survey results and their implications for public companies is available at www.protiviti.com/podcasts.