Accounting Considerations for Business Insurance Coverages

Business Insurance CoveragesWith more than eight million small businesses in America, and more than $776 billion in net premiums issued by the insurance industry in 2022 for commercial policies (according to the Insurance Information Institute), business insurance is big business. Along with protecting businesses from a myriad of claims, insurance expenses also have to be accounted for correctly.

When it comes to defining prepaid insurance, it’s essentially remittances that businesses (and individuals) make to an insurance company in advance. Normally, the usual time-frame for an insurance policy is 12 months. The time-frame is important when it comes to distinguishing between current and long-term asset classification.

If a prepaid expense, such as an insurance premium payment, is not utilized within 12 months of the remittance, it’s considered a long-term asset. Since it’s very uncommon for it to happen, it’s not seen in many financial statements, but is an important consideration to ensure that prepaid expenses are accounted for correctly.  

Important Accounting Factors

Since the coverage takes place in the future, but the payment is recorded in a preceding period, the prepaid insurance expense is considered a current asset on the balance sheet. Then, when the coverage is effective, the accounting consideration changes to the expense side of the business’ balance sheet.  

Here is an example of how businesses account for insurance expenses.

Company X pays an insurance premium of $3,000 on May 15 for the following 12 months starting June 1. The May 15 payment is recorded on the same date with a debit of $3,000 attributed to prepaid insurance along with a credit of $3,000 to cash. As of May 31, nothing has changed insurance-wise or accounting-wise for this policy, so the full $3,000 will be reported as prepaid insurance. However, once coverage is effective things change.

When June 30 rolls around, an adjusting entry will show a debit insurance expense for $250 (one-twelfth of the annual policy premium), and the same amount will see a credit to prepaid insurance. The June 30 debit balance for prepaid insurance will now be $2,750, leaving the remaining 11 months of insurance coverage that hasn’t yet elapsed – or eleven-twelfths of the $3,000 insurance premium cost.

This process repeats for the remaining 11 months. Depending on the business’ needs, coverage changes, policy changes, etc., the amounts may change but the process will likely remain the same.

Additional Factors

A related term, insurance payable, is another type of debt that is connected with an insurance expense. Listed on a company’s balance sheet, it represents a business’ outstanding premiums. This shows how much a company needs to pay the insurance company, and ideally by the end of the current period to remain current, avoid overdue fees, or have the policy canceled by the insurance carrier.

Along with giving businesses peace of mind, having the right mix of commercial insurance requires the right type of accounting considerations for the business’ internal and external accounting and tax reasons.

Sources

https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-commercial-lines

How to Develop a Credit Policy

How to Develop a Credit PolicyA credit policy explains how a company will manage lines of credit for client accounts and what procedures to follow for severely outstanding invoices. It helps a business promote a robust foundation for its working capital level.

Defining a Credit Policy

Unlike personal credit scores, business scores range from 0 to 100; the scores from the FICO Small Business Scoring Service range from 0 to 300. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, a first step to establishing business credit is to sign up for a Dun & Bradstreet (DUNS) number for each business location.

There are three components to a company’s credit policy. First, develop an effective system of following up on past-due invoices. Second, define when, how much, and the terms of credit extended to customers. Third, establish how the business underwrites a client’s creditworthiness and put guidelines in place to determine when to increase or decrease lines of credit for clients.

Memorializing a Company’s Credit Policy for External and Internal Uses

The reason why it’s so important to have a credit policy in writing is because 6 in 10 workers in large American business workplaces have found it challenging to get information from their fellow co-workers, according to a report by YouGov and Panopto. This same report found that processes that are not documented result in employees wasting an average of 5.3 hours/week either looking for the right person or waiting for a response.

Internally, it enables employees to understand the policy inside and out, creating more efficient workers. Externally, it sets clear ground rules and reduces the likelihood of mismatched customer expectations.

Considerations Before Writing Out a Credit Policy

Depending on the interest rate environment, clients may have a hard time obtaining financing. If they are able to obtain financing in a high-interest rate environment, it will come with a higher cost for the customer. The business may need to have more stringent policies.

Terms of Sale May Not be One-Size-Fits-All

It is imperative to explain how payment terms work before the company engages with clients. Be it net 15, 30, or 60 days, etc., consider how payment timeframes may incentivize pre-payment or early payment discounts. From there, determine when and how the company takes action to deem when payment is “delinquent,” and when it’s considered uncollectable and finally written off and sold to a debt collector.

Depending on the size/revenue/etc. of the company writing the policy, it is not ideal to treat smaller companies the same as larger/more established companies. For example, giving a company a net 45 term versus a net 30 or net 15 has two available outcomes.

Larger companies may be able to pay faster, but if they are given more time to pay, it can negatively impact the receiving company’s cash flow. And while giving small companies similar terms can create more goodwill, it also can cause a company to take it for granted. This presents the potential to never receive payment for outstanding invoices if the small business faces bankruptcy. Similarly, depending on the type of business and/or sector it’s in, risk should be rated appropriately.

Determine Roles/Responsibilities

Ensure each department and person within each department has a defined role within the credit approval process. The sales department can help craft payment terms to reduce late payments and maximize sales. The credit department can handle reviewing to extend, lower, and increase credit limits. The accounts receivable (AR) department should follow up on late invoices, collect payments, and record incoming payments.    

While there’s no boilerplate form for a business’ credit policy, having a policy in place will help a business navigate its internal and external needs more effectively.

Sources

eBook: Valuing Workplace Knowledge

https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/plan-your-business/establish-business-credit

How to Calculate Operating Return on Assets

How to Calculate Operating Return on AssetsDuring Q3 of 2023, businesses in the United States made approximately $3.3 trillion, according to Statista. This is right behind the third quarter of 2022, when corporations in America made even more money. These figures are the net income of the respective periods, according to the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA).

With profits reaching all-time highs since Q3 of 2012, understanding how businesses can analyze their profitability ratios through the Operating Return on Assets (OROA) ratio is another helpful tool for number crunchers.

Defining OROA

This calculation helps business owners and analysts determine how well a business is run. It shows the percentage, per dollar, that a business makes in operating income relative to assets involved in day-to-day operations. Unlike the regular return-on-assets (ROA) calculation, the Operating Return on Assets ratio takes a more selective consideration of assets. The primary consideration for the assets in OROA’s calculation is to only consider assets employed in a business’ traditional operations.

The calculation is as follows: 

OROA = Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) / Average Total Assets

Another way to look at EBIT for the calculation is to look at the Income Statement’s Operating Income. For the average total assets, it’s taking a look at the business’ Balance Sheet and determining the two most recent yearly Total Assets for the company, that are used in its normal business activities.

Putting the OROA into practice, it’s calculated as follows:

OROA = $85,000 (Operating Income) / ($425,000 + $450,000) (Total Assets) / 2 =

  = $85,000 / 437,500

   = 0.1942 or 19.42 percent

This means that for every dollar of operating assets, the company has produced $0.1942 in operating income.

There are two important distinctions between OROA and the traditional ROA assets calculation. When it comes to income, OROA uses EBIT or Operating Income, but ROA uses net income as the numerator. With assets considered, OROA uses assets used for regular business operations, while ROA accounts for total assets in the calculation.

Interpreting Operating Return on Assets

One important way to use the result includes looking at a company’s OROA on a trended basis to determine if a business is declining, stagnating, or increasing its profitability.

Especially for investors, it’s important to contrast the OROA of the company at hand against rival businesses within the company’s same industry. When it comes to comparisons, the higher the OROA is, the better the result.

Another important consideration for investors is that OROA provides an accurate assessment of a business’ core operations. Since assets analyzed are for a business’ core profits or services, if a business reports profits from selling a division or it reports a one-time profit surge from investments, its core profitability is less likely to be skewed during investment analysis.

When used in conjunction with other accounting and financial metrics, businesses can continually measure and adjust their operations to increase efficiencies to increase their return on operating assets.

Defining Burn Rate, Gross Burn and Net Burn

What is Burn Rate, Defining Burn Rate, Gross Burn and Net BurnWhen it comes to any business, but especially for a start-up, it’s essential to determine how long a company can survive before it must declare bankruptcy and/or close its doors. The biggest metric, especially for a start-up, is to determine how much money a company has to keep its lights on.

The term “burn rate” is defined as how much money a company spends monthly to maintain its operations. It is essential for a company to know how long it can operate before it begins to generate income and hopefully becomes cash flow positive.

It is important to look at two differences between the two sub-meanings of this term: the first is “gross burn” and the other is “net burn.” When it comes to “gross burn,” we are talking about how much a business uses in monthly operating costs. The following formula shows a business how long they have in months to operate.

For example, if a business has $2.5 million available for overhead and it spends $200,000 in monthly overhead costs, it would last 12.5 months. Expressed as a formula:

Available financial resources ($2,500,000)/monthly overhead($200,000) = 12.5 (months)

This assumes the company makes no revenue, which will be accounted for in the next example. However, this is where “net burn” comes into consideration. Net burn looks at how much money a business loses every month, but the difference with this calculation is that it looks at if it can be lowered by any incoming revenue.

If a company spends $10,000 on rent/office space, $20,000 on IT expenses, and $25,000 on employee wages, the gross burn rate would be: $55,000. However, if the company is generating sales at $17,500 per month, for example, and the cost of goods sold (COGS) is $5,000, the following calculation would determine its “net burn rate:”

Net Burn Rate = [Monthly Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)] – Gross Burn Rate

Net Burn Rate = ($17,500 – $5,000) – $55,000

Net Burn Rate = (12,500) – 55,000 = -$42,500 Gross Burn Rate

The difference between the net burn rate and the gross burn rate may seem obvious or intuitive, but depending on how much money the start-up has available, and factoring in how much the revenue brings in and offsets the COGS, it can make a stark difference for the business’ prospects.

Once a business has determined what its “gross burn rate” and/or “net burn rate” is, the next step is to look at how to reduce costs and/or increase revenue to keep working toward positive cash flow. 

Two considerations for the company include what the business can do and what it must do to make more revenue and increase profit margins. For example, companies could look at the cost-benefit analysis of incorporating AI to see if it would have an overall positive impact on labor costs. They also could look at how to create effective marketing campaigns that cost less (using backlinks instead of paid search engine marketing, for example).

Another consideration is that if the company has enough time and is able to re-strategize its model, this can have a material impact on the business receiving a cash injection from outside investors.  

Determining these timeframes and figures are one way a company can reduce costs and/or pivot to more profitable products and/or services. These two calculations can provide avenues to re-invigorate a business in hopes of providing a path to profitability.

Actions Lottery Winners Should Consider

What to do if you win a lotteryWe all have those days when we dream of striking it rich with a winning lottery ticket. Never having to work again while living a life of luxury. While your chance of finding a four-leaf clover is higher than winning the lottery, we can still dream, right? And while we are dreaming, let’s talk about the best ways to deal with landing such a large sum of cash. And since lottery winners have a limited time to claim their prize, it’s important to take prudent steps when managing the money.

How Much Do Winners Actually Take Home?

Let’s take a look at actual prize amounts from recent winnings. The October 2023 Powerball jackpot of $1.2 billion translated to a cash value of $551.7 million. Depending on what the winner decides – either taking the lump sum or opting for a multi-decade annuity – they have a serious decision to make.

It’s important to consider inflation factors if choosing the multi-decade annuity option. For example, when it comes to 30 payments taken over 29 years, the first consideration is to determine if there’s a 5 percent increase in the amount for each subsequent year. However, it’s important to keep inflation and the value of money going forward in mind.

For example, between March 2021 and March 2023, the average monthly inflation rate was 5 percent or higher, according to Statista Research Department. It peaked during June 2022 at 9.1 percent on a monthly basis. If the lump sum was taken before inflation increased during the post-COVID-19 reopening, or the annuity was increased by 5 percent, lottery winners without a plan to preserve and increase their earnings would have seen their money’s purchasing power decline.

Another thing to consider is how to legally navigate the tax code. For example, when it comes to federal taxes, 24 percent is automatically withheld. According to the 2024 Federal Tax Code, large winnings will put the winner in the 37 percent tax bracket. If the winner is single or married, the 37 percent bracket kicks in at $578,125 and $693,750, respectively. Additionally, winners also are required to determine compliance with state, county, city, etc. taxes. State taxes can vary greatly; looking at you: Pennsylvania at 3.07 percent, and New York at 10.9 percent.

When it comes to being generous through philanthropy, winners can work with their legal and financial professionals to determine how to offset taxes. This can take the form of direct donations, creating a donor advisor fund (DAF) to get the tax benefit immediately, especially if the lump sum is taken, but also if an annuity is taken. With 2023’s standard deduction threshold of $13,850 (single) and $27,700 (married couples), winners might consider how to make charitable donations part of a tax reduction plan.

Another question to ask is whether establishing a trust would be helpful when sorting out one’s distribution of assets. If a winner dies intestate (without a will), the state of that person’s residence will determine who gets your money – regardless of who you may have wanted to receive it.

Similarly, setting up a trust may be beneficial for both claiming the lottery winning anonymously, and it can help determine how to give money to family members. A trust can be set up for a family member or a pet’s care and can be conditional on releasing the funds when the individual reaches a certain age.

While these steps are not comprehensive, and each winner will have unique circumstances, there are many legal and financial considerations to think about immediately upon winning and before claiming a jackpot.

Sources

https://www.irs.gov/credits-and-deductions-for-individuals

https://www.statista.com/statistics/273418/unadjusted-monthly-inflation-rate-in-the-us/

Understanding How Variances Vary

how to calculate VariancesVariance analysis is found by determining the difference between what was budgeted and what actually occurred. Additionally, when variances are added together, we get a better picture of how well a company is measuring its performance against expected metrics. It’s also important to be mindful that each metric is measured to determine what the actual cost is versus the industry’s standard cost.

Whether it’s materials, labor, electricity, or another metric, if the actual cost is lower than the standard cost for the same quantity of materials, it would be a favorable price variance. However, if the number of materials was more than the standard quantity, it would be considered an unfavorable variance. Examining variance allows us to analyze the price and quantity of the variable being analyzed. Always keep in mind that unusual or significant variances should be investigated to see why such anomalies exist.

It’s important to distinguish between variances and the types of inputs. When it comes to materials, labor, and similar variable overhead, variances to be analyzed are for price and quantity/efficiency. When it comes to fixed overhead, analysis looks at variances in budget and volume.

One way to conduct variance analysis is through the Column Method. The following example illustrates this:

A business produces widgets. The following assumptions are made:

  • 6,000 widgets are produced in a month
  • Direct labor hours are used as the basis to allocate overhead costs to products
  • Denominator level of activity is 8,060 hours, resulting in $48,360 in fixed overhead expenses budgeted.

Other cost assumptions include:

Direct Costs

Labor: 2.6 hours/widget @ $14 per hour

Materials: 10 pieces/widget @ $1/widget

Overhead

Variable: 2.6 hours/widget @ $8/hour

Fixed: 1.3 hours /widget @ $12/hour

However, the business saw the following costs for the month’s production:

Variable overhead manufacturing costs: $34,000

Fixed overhead manufacturing costs: $50,000

Both of the following are Direct Costs:

Material: 50,000 items bought @ $0.96/widget

Labor: 8,000 hours totaling $128,000

Materials Variance

Real Quantity x Real Price = 50,000 pieces x $0.96 per widget = $48,000

Real Quantity x Industry Price = 50,000 pieces x $1 per widget = $50,000

Standard Quantity x Industry Price = 36,000 pieces x $1 per widget = $36,000

Price Variance = $50,000 – $48,000 = $2,000

Quantity Variance = $50,000 – $36,000 = $14,000

When we find the difference between these two amounts, there’s an unfavorable variance of $12,000. Additionally, it’s worth looking at why there were 50,000 pieces used versus the standardized 36,000 pieces. It could be due to defective materials, problematic machinery, etc.

Labor Variance

Real Hours x Real Rate = 8,000 hours x $16 per hour = $128,000

Real Hours x Industry Rate = 8,000 x $14 per hour = $112,000

Standard Hours x Industry Rate = 7,800 x $14 hour = $109,200

Rate Variance = $112,000 – $128,000 = -$16,000

Efficiency Variance = $109,200 – $112,000 = -$2,800

Based on this calculation, there’s a total unfavorable variance of -$18,800. Management should look at why labor costs are higher than the standard and why production took more supplies than the industry standard.

While this is not all-encompassing, it does show the importance of understanding the nuances of calculating variances and how it’s essential to understanding a business’ (in)efficiency.

Documenting Fiduciary Accounting Practices

Fiduciary accounting, which is also referred to as court accounting, is a way to document and report financial activity during a discrete period of time for legal entities, such as a conservatorship, estate, trust or guardianship.

It’s meant to give adequate notice to all relevant parties when it comes to every consequential financial activity impacting the administration that occurred over the accounting time frame. It shows every disbursement and receipt that is managed by the legal entity’s fiduciary. It accounts for transactions beginning with the initial funding or principal, and the resulting future transactions, including income.

When it comes to the format of fiduciary accounting, along with the United States having its own unique modifications, the Uniform Principal and Income Act requires checking the governing instruments, in addition to state laws, to ensure fiduciary accounting compliance is met. However, looking at the National Standard Format, the following components in a filing are accepted by most courts:

  • Documentation of incoming and outgoing monetary sums of the legal entity’s starting principal and income produced
  • Documentation of the entity’s liabilities and assets
  • Documentation of any payment the fiduciary received
  • Legally authorized individuals hired by the fiduciary, what pay they received and their association with the fiduciary

The primary consideration is that being part of being a fiduciary is having a legal duty to the beneficiary of the legal entity, including “the duty to account” to the beneficiary. This duty to account is oftentimes required by the governing document, the state statute, a court order, linked to court proceedings or a beneficiary requesting an accounting. If this duty is breached, the fiduciary may be liable.

The accounting should ensure a reporting of every asset in the legal entity. During the first year, the beginning balance will list the assets that fund the account. For successive accountings, the starting balance and the ending asset values on the preceding accounting should be the same. Along with the assets in custody of the legal entity being documented, any asset that has been withdrawn, paid out or moved must also be documented. Income received from the entity’s investments is to be measured against the principal and income investment schedules to ensure that all income, dividends and interest have been received and reported correctly.  

Reasons Why an Accounting is Done

Some of the more straightforward reasons a fiduciary accounting is done is to ensure the fiduciary is compliant. There’s also greater efficiency when doing this annually versus more infrequent intervals, since mistakes can be identified and corrected sooner. The same accounting results can also be used for the entity’s tax filings.

Other reasons concern the fiduciary and beneficiaries. The beneficiary can review and challenge the accounting if there’s impropriety suspected. When the fiduciary has completed their responsibilities for the beneficiaries and entity, liability for the fiduciary may cease to exist, even if the beneficiaries decline to execute a receipt, release and refunding agreement (or similar document). If an approved accounting is necessary to be submitted with a court, the above four documents may be considered an acceptable substitution in place of an accounting.

Regardless of the type of legal entity that requires this type of fiduciary accounting, a fiduciary that is diligent and works with an accounting and legal professional can reduce the chances of exposing themself and their supervising entities from unnecessary exposure.

Wage Garnishment Considerations for Business Owners

According to the United States Department of Labor’s Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), wage garnishments are a complex legal process for employers to account for when it comes to employment matters. This article specifically refers to Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. 

Usually authorized through a court order, a wage garnishment directs an employer to withhold or garnish an employee’s wages for a certain amount or percentage to satisfy an outstanding debt. Wage garnishments also can be implemented for delinquent tax obligations and other debts owed to federal agencies of the U.S. federal government, as well as for state-level tax collectors. 

Another consideration for Title III is that for a single debt, employees may not be fired; but if an employee’s earnings are garnished for two or more distinct debts, an employer has the discretion to involuntarily separate an employee from its business. This law also permits varying amounts and percentages of an employee’s “disposable earnings” that may be withheld.

The first step is determining how earnings are defined in the course of deciding the final wage garnishment calculation. Examples include but are not limited to retirement and pension payments to the employee, hourly wages, yearly salaries, commissions, bonuses, along with profit sharing, etc.

When it comes to lump-sum payments, the CCPA requires counting earnings that are for personal services, but not including non-personal service-related lump-sum payment compensation as the first step when calculating the final wage garnishment. 

Defining Disposable Earnings

The final amount able to be garnished is determined by the employee’s disposable earnings. This is defined as the earnings remaining once legally mandated deductions are factored into an employee’s earnings. Example deductions include local, federal and state taxes, along with withholdings for unemployment, Medicare and Social Security taxes. Voluntary deductions, such as health premiums, voluntary retirement plan contributions, etc., are not factored into the disposable earnings calculation.

When it comes to regular garnishment guidelines, which include non-support, bankruptcy or tax-based requests, for both state and federal taxes, the maximum weekly amount is the smaller amount of either one-fourth of the worker’s disposable earnings or how much the worker’s disposable earnings exceed 30 times the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour x 30 hours = $217.50 (as of June 2023).

Looking at a weekly view, if disposable earnings are $217.50 or less, no garnishment can occur. If disposable earnings between $217.50 and up to $290 are considered, only $72.50 may be garnished, depending on how much the outstanding debt is in total. If the worker’s disposable earnings exceed $290 for a weekly pay period, up to one-fourth of the pay period’s disposable earnings can be considered to be garnished. It’s important to note that some bankruptcy court orders, state/federal tax debts and court orders for child support and/or alimony are not necessarily subject to the garnishment ceilings discussed above.

While this information is not comprehensive for employers, it’s important to understand all the federal, state and local regulations to ensure compliance is achieved to reduce the chances for adherence complications.

Two Ways to Measure Revenue Per User

How to Measure RevenueWhen it comes to measuring revenue, it’s essential that businesses analyze it from a variety of perspectives. While there’s revenue and net income on an income statement to show a company’s quarterly financials, another way to measure it is through ARPU (average revenue per user) and ARPPU (average revenue per paying user).

Defining ARPU

ARPU is the average revenue per customer or per unit. It looks at how much revenue is earned over a particular timeframe (multiple times a month, quarter, half-year, or 12 months) divided by the average patron during the same timeframe. This can be applied to many different types of companies, including social media and software as a service (SaaS). It’s calculated as follows:

ARPU = Total revenue/Average units or subscribers

ARPU = $10,000,000/100,000 = $100

Interpreting ARPU

This is a snapshot of a company’s profitability. It’s a way for companies to track revenue generation over a short or long period. With this information, a company or investor can analyze the business’s past and present performance. It can help determine whether or not the business needs to re-evaluate its operations and product models or if an investor should invest in a company.

When it comes to evaluating an investment, if one company in a specific industry is generating an ARPU of $5 and another company is generating an ARPU of $3, the first company could be a more attractive investment. Similarly, if the trend of a company’s ARPU is increasing, it’s worth looking at how the company’s stock has performed. Additional investment research can determine how the company’s stock price is appreciated.

Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU)

ARPPU is used to determine the average revenue from a company’s paying customers only. To contrast this measurement type, ARPU factors in all users.

Assume the following: A business had revenue of $2 million, an average user base of 1 million, and an ARPU of $2.

If, however, we’re looking at the ARPPU, we need to take out the non-paying user base. If the non-paying user base is determined to be 425,000, the remaining paying base is 575,000. Use the following formula to calculate ARPPU:

ARPPU = Period of Recurring Revenue/Active Paying Users during the same measurement period

ARPPU = $2 million/575,000 = $3.48 per active paying user

Interpreting ARPPU

When the ARPPU is low, this indicates the business’ products or services aren’t well received by customers and those to whom it is marketing. A higher ARPPU indicates a company’s marketing efforts, products, and services are received well by customers. Similar to ARPU, results from ARPPU can be analyzed for trends to see when products or services are well received; and then investigated to determine whether it is influenced by the sales and marketing, customer service, product quality, etc.

Whichever way a business analyzes its sales and revenue generation processes, taking multiple approaches can provide different perspectives to help owners and employees determine when and where to make improvements to its operations.

Common Financial Reporting Mistakes and How to Correct Them

Common Financial Reporting MistakesWith accounting fraud and financial reporting mistakes creating a lack of confidence, understanding how financial reporting mistakes occur and are detected is an important topic. According to the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the first nine months of 2018 saw 8.8 percent more accounting fraud enforcement action cases versus 2017.

Controls are procedures implemented to lower the chance of financial reporting issues. While these mechanisms are meant to prevent an overload of problems, they are not always foolproof. Corporations also are required to show that sufficient financial oversight is in place for financial records and assets by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. There are two types of controls: preventive and detective.

As the name implies, preventive controls are devised to avert mistakes before they happen. Methods include ongoing training, worker evaluations, and mandating different layers of authorization for transactions.

Detective methods look at the granular accounting steps. Having internal and external audits performed and comparing real-world activity against what’s been budgeted or forecasted are two ways to implement this approach. However, performing account reconciliation where the business’ financial data is compared against third-party documentation can provide near real-time insight into what is actually occurring. This includes analyzing checks and cash the business has collected and documented on their books but that may not be reflected on bank statements. Another factor in the reconciliation process is checks the company has sent out that have not been processed by the business’ vendors, etc.

Since detective controls alert companies to errors after the fact, it is important that they are conducted in a timely manner – daily, monthly, quarterly, or annually. If there’s a discrepancy between the company’s ending cash balance and the bank’s monthly statement, there might be differing balances. This can be due to the financial institution’s service fees and checks taken into account by the business that aren’t yet reflected on the financial institution’s statement.  However, other cases of discrepancies could point to signs of fraud. 

According to the University of California Los Angeles, there are many ways to split tasks. Doing this is integral to successful mitigation of errors and unauthorized behavior because it deters the likelihood of multiple workers collaborating. Specifically, when it comes to authorizations, reconciliations, and responsibility for the assets, it is a high priority for businesses to break tasks up among multiple workers.

Examples include dividing the duties between opening the mail/preparing a list of checks to review and the individual who deposits the checks. The individual who oversees accounts receivables should be separate from the person who creates a list of checks received. It’s not advisable for a sole employee to initiate, approve, and record a transaction. Similarly, reconciling balances, handling assets, and reviewing reports should not be done by a single employee. A minimum of two individuals should be available to handle any transaction.

While the most diligent accounting professional has made a mistake from time to time, learning how to identify financial reporting mistakes can reduce the likelihood of even rare mistakes being unknowingly shared with others.

Sources

Wrong Numbers: The Risks of Inaccurate Financial Statements