Is Your Accounting Or Finance Department Measuring Up Or is it Down For the Count?

Accounting is a methodology by which a company or financial entity measures, discloses, or provides assurance about the financial information of a company that may be used to act as an aid to managers, investors, tax authorities and other decision makers to reach decisions regarding resource allocation. Financial accounting is a branch of accounting that throughout history has required processes to record, classify, summarize as well as interpret and communicate all financial information concerning the business. In other words one can think of accounting as being the “language of business” and accounting forms as the medium upon with that language is communicated.

The heart of accounting is the measurement of financial transactions that are meant to transfer the legal property rights that are performed through contractual relationships. Accounting specifically excludes non-financial transactions because of the need for conservatism as well as principles of materiality. Persons that practice accounting are known as accountants and it is necessary to have a number of different professional bodies that are formed by accountants all across the globe. There are titles given to different accounting personnel such as Chartered Certified Accountants, Chartered Accountants, and Certified Public Accountants.

The use of accountancy methods allows companies to create accurate financial reports and accounting forms that are of great help to managers, regulators, shareholders, creditors and owners. When the day-to-day business transactions are recorded in the books of the company, the method used is known as bookkeeping. The heart of the modern financial accounting system is called the double-entry bookkeeping system.

Double-entry bookkeeping systems require at least two entries for each transaction, one being a debit and, the other a corresponding credit. It is imperative that the sum of all debits exactly equals the sum of all credits and, if it does, then it is a promising sign that the entries have been properly recorded. Such a system first found use in medieval Europe, though some claim that it was practiced much earlier in Ancient Greece.

To get into the profession of accountancy, one would need to attain certain qualifications based on the country in which they intend to practice. An accountant needs to be licensed by a number of organizations, mostly at the state and country level although it is not always a legal necessity for an accountant to be a paying member of any one of the institutions and bodies that are in the business of providing such licenses.

There are different types of accountancy including cost accounting, cash-basis and accrual basis accounting, financial accountancy, fund accounting, internal and external accountancy, management accounting, project accounting, positive accounting, environmental accounting and social responsibility accounting. In addition, accounting principles, rules of conduct and actions can be described with the help of different terms like concepts, conventions, tenets, assumption, axioms and also postulates.

An oft cited criticism of accounting is that it has not changed much and there is need for affecting reforms to keep up with the changing business needs and because of the need to keep accounting relevant to changes in capital assets or production capacity. That is not to say that the basic principles will change; for these should be independent of dynamic economics. Of late, there has been deviation in accounting from economic principles that has ended up with controversial reforms being affected in order to make financial reports more pinpointing of economic realities.

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Excel Spreadsheets – Do They Still Have a Place in The Finance Department?

From Excel to excellence for the month-end close reconciliation process.

As a financial accounting professional, it is almost certain you will have been using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets during the month end close process. It is also extremely likely you will have experienced problems with them too!

Over the last thirty-odd years, spreadsheets have become a mainstay in finance departments, used for all sorts of tasks, from reconciliation to reporting and everything in between. Despite their popularity with finance staff, they still pose a massive margin for error. The expected error rate when reconciling with spreadsheets is 0.8-1.8% and though this may seem small, for a company with a $1m turnover this represents a risk of $80,000-$180,000.

What’s more, the damage done can also affect public perception and trust in your brand, leading to less tangible but just as dangerous losses.

Is it possible to move away from spreadsheets?

For smaller businesses, the number of accounts needing to be reconciled is relatively small, so it makes sense for smaller businesses to continue using a combination of spreadsheets and QuickBooks. In turn, the team that manages the financial close process will also be relatively small, perhaps just one or two finance staff, so there is also less room for data handling errors.

However, as the number of accounts to reconcile grows and the team managing your monthly close process is expanded, errors can easily worm their way in to the reconciliation process. Once a business has grown, it makes sense to move away from Excel spreadsheets and QuickBooks, particularly for tasks like reconciling. At its capacity, the finance department of a large organisation can generate up to five hundred spreadsheets a month – so it’s easy to see how errors and duplications can creep in.

Will the finance department ever rid themselves of Excel spreadsheets completely?

It seems unlikely that Excel spreadsheets will disappear from the finance department completely; admittedly, they are still a really useful tool for auditing, even for very large businesses (of 1,000+ headcounts) and they will probably remain the go-to program of choice for creating graphs and charts.

However, businesses that are managing to grow and are serious about both productivity and regulatory compliance will likely move their reconciliation and monthly close process to specialist programs, as opposed to makeshift spreadsheets. Especially as the need for advanced reporting and intuitive financial analysis expands beyond the capabilities of Excel.

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Drive Growth Through Innovation in Your Finance Department

Cognitive surplus has been recently proven to be a gold mine for a collection of different departments. Don’t you think it’s about time you learnt to benefit from this within your finance department as well?

Go beyond the apparent and obvious
All of the typical financial processes that most companies will utilise to drive growth are fairly obvious these include: cutting into the bottom line, maximizing revenues at the top line, and calculating the return on investment (ROI) for any new investment opportunities.

But if you can make ‘innovation time’, in conjunction with financial analysis, you will find that you are given a chance to look at less traditional levers to drive growth within your department.

Not a very exciting task
Ensuring that you are given real time away from the stress of daily tasks will eventually prove to be an invaluable exercise. Real time allows you and your department time to reflect and allow you analyse the performance of your finance department within the past versus the demands, your deliveries and performance of today. By reaching into and exploring your cognitive surplus, you and your colleagues could discover areas that are limiting, and which could limit your financial performance tomorrow. By taken a look at these limits you and your department can explore alternative solutions to help drive growth and increase the overall innovation of your company.

With your financial performance analysis in situ and a collection of innovative ideas in hand you’ll be able to better forecast and set up departmental budgets, whilst providing a firm foundation from which you are able to review any innovative concepts to vary the business structure serving to help alter the performance/cost ratio in a positive direction.

Want a push towards the right direction
Want a sensible push towards the right direction, which will help you greatly improve the performance of your finance department?

You probably have an identical gut feeling that was brought to our consciousness by an accounting survey of the financial close process: only 28 % finance employees trust the reported numbers within the month end financial close making historical account analysis an even more arduous task.

Financial Reconciliation software can make the whole financial close process quicker and more economical by the complete integration of automatic account reconciliation with automated approval workflows. With the utilization of summary dashboards, account reconciliation software makes strict compliance the quality standard for your team, whilst at the same time executives are often accurately kept within the loop with drill-down reports at the press of a button.

You can conjointly do away with binders and build your historical analysis faster and easier with a completely digital archive. Although storing all monthly close reports in binders may provide that old-fashioned feel of security, however that feeling can be misleading. Using binders to archive can in the long run prove more of a hindrance than a help. Problems that can arise are:
Which binder is all the information archived in? This issue can further be compounded with the problem of physical space required to store all of your company binders.

Where in the binder is it? Generally binders over time become too hefty to go through. So whether you’re working with binders or spreadsheets maintaining that control and overview are a top priority. At any moment, you need to have all documentation in place and to understand the status of every person and every task. Financial Reconciliation software can help you to streamline and digitize your monthly financial close process. Whilst allowing you to replace cumbersome spreadsheets and full binders with an up-to-date real-time overview of the entire balance sheet reconciliation process.

Taking all of the above into account what’s more, due to all of these efficiencies financial reconciliation software will actually help you facilitate to make ‘innovation time’ within the financial department, serving to create a virtuous cycle of enhancements and innovations with in your department.

With all of these helpful features and more it isn’t hard to ascertain how using financial reconciliation software will greatly utilise your cognitive surplus and help streamline your finance department helping your business grow.

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How to Evaluate Your Finance Department

Nobody knows your business better than you do. After all, you are the CEO. You know what the engineers do; you know what the production managers do; and nobody understands the sales process better than you. You know who is carrying their weight and who isn’t. That is, unless we’re talking about the finance and accounting managers.

Most CEO’s, especially in small and mid-size enterprises, come from operational or sales backgrounds. They have often gained some knowledge of finance and accounting through their careers, but only to the extent necessary. But as the CEO, they must make judgments about the performance and competence of the accountants as well as the operations and sales managers.

So, how does the diligent CEO evaluate the finance and accounting functions in his company? All too often, the CEO assigns a qualitative value based on the quantitative message. In other words, if the Controller delivers a positive, upbeat financial report, the CEO will have positive feelings toward the Controller. And if the Controller delivers a bleak message, the CEO will have a negative reaction to the person. Unfortunately, “shooting the messenger” is not at all uncommon.

The dangers inherent in this approach should be obvious. The Controller (or CFO, bookkeeper, whoever) may realize that in order to protect their career, they need to make the numbers look better than they really are, or they need to draw attention away from negative matters and focus on positive matters. This raises the probability that important issues won’t get the attention they deserve. It also raises the probability that good people will be lost for the wrong reasons.

The CEO’s of large public companies have a big advantage when it comes to evaluating the performance of the finance department. They have the audit committee of the board of directors, the auditors, the SEC, Wall Street analyst and public shareholders giving them feedback. In smaller businesses, however, CEO’s need to develop their own methods and processes for evaluating the performance of their financial managers.

Here are a few suggestions for the small business CEO:

Timely and Accurate Financial Reports

Chances are that at some point in your career, you have been advised that you should insist on “timely and accurate” financial reports from your accounting group. Unfortunately, you are probably a very good judge of what is timely, but you may not be nearly as good a judge of what is accurate. Certainly, you don’t have the time to test the recording of transactions and to verify the accuracy of reports, but there are some things that you can and should do.

Insist that financial reports include comparisons over a number of periods. This will allow you to judge the consistency of recording and reporting transactions.
Make sure that all anomalies are explained.
Recurring expenses such as rents and utilities should be reported in the appropriate period. An explanation that – “there are two rents in April because we paid May early” – is unacceptable. The May rent should be reported as a May expense.
Occasionally, ask to be reminded about the company’s policies for recording revenues, capitalizing costs, etc.

Beyond Monthly Financial Reports

You should expect to get information from your accounting and finance groups on a daily basis, not just when monthly financial reports are due. Some good examples are:

Daily cash balance reports.
Accounts receivable collection updates.
Cash flow forecasts (cash requirements)
Significant or unusual transactions.

Consistent Work Habits

We’ve all known people who took it easy for weeks, then pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline. Such inconsistent work habits are strong indicators that the individual is not attentive to processes. It also sharply raises the probability of errors in the frantic last-minute activities.

Willingness to Be Controversial

As the CEO, you need to make it very clear to the finance/accounting managers that you expect frank and honest information and that they will not be victims of “shoot the messenger” thinking. Once that assurance is given, your financial managers should be an integral part of your company’s management team. They should not be reluctant to express their opinions and concerns to you or to other department leaders.

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