Comparing Internal and External Audits

Businesses use two types of audits to gauge financial results: internal and external. Here’s a closer look at how they measure up.

Focus

Internal auditors go beyond traditional financial reporting. They focus on a company’s internal controls, accounting processes and ability to mitigate risk. Internal auditors also evaluate whether the company’s activities comply with its strategy, and they may consult on a variety of financial issues as they arise within the company.

In contrast, external auditors focus solely on the financial statements. Specifically, external auditors evaluate the statements’ accuracy and completeness, whether they comply with applicable accounting standards and practices, and whether they present a true and accurate presentation of the company’s financial performance. Accounting rules prohibit external audit firms from providing their audit clients with ancillary services that extend beyond the scope of the audit.

The audit “client”

Internal auditors are employees of the company they audit. They report to the chief audit executive and issue reports for management to use internally.

External auditors work for an independent accounting firm. The company’s shareholders or board of directors hires a third-party auditing firm to serve as its external auditor. The external audit team delivers reports directly to the company’s shareholders or audit committee, not to management

Qualifications

Internal auditors don’t need to be certified public accountants (CPAs), although many have earned this qualification. Often, internal auditors earn a certified internal auditor (CIA) qualification, which requires them to follow standards issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

Conversely, the partner directing an external audit must be a CPA. Most midlevel and senior auditors earn their CPA license at some point in their career. External auditors must follow U.S. Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS), which are issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Reporting format

Internal auditors issue reports throughout the year. The format may vary depending on the preferences of management or the internal audit team.

External auditors issue financial statements quarterly for most public companies and at least annually for private ones. In general, external audit reports must conform to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or another basis of accounting (such as tax or cash basis reporting). If needed, external auditing procedures may be performed more frequently. For example, a lender may require a private company that fails to meet its loan covenants at year end to undergo a midyear audit by an external audit firm.

Common ground

Sometimes the work of internal and external auditors overlaps. Though internal auditors have a broader focus, both teams have the same goal: to help the company report financial data that people can count on. So, it makes sense for internal and external auditors to meet frequently to understand the other team’s focus and avoid duplication of effort. Contact us to map out an auditing strategy that fits the needs of your company.

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Lean Manufacturers: Reap the Benefits of Lean Accounting

Standard cost accounting doesn’t necessarily work for lean operations. Instead, lean accounting offers a simplified reporting alternative that generates more timely, relevant financial data. But it’s not right for every situation.

What’s lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturers strive for continuous improvement and elimination of non-value-added activities. Rather than scheduling workflow from one functional department to another, these manufacturers organize their facilities into cross-functional work groups or cells.

Lean manufacturing is a “pull-demand” system, where customer orders jumpstart the production process. Lean companies view inventory not as an asset but as a waste of cash flow and storage space.

Why won’t traditional accounting methods work?

From a benchmarking standpoint, liquidity and profitability ratios tend to decline when traditional cost accounting methods are applied to newly improved operations. For example, to minimize inventory, companies transitioning from mass production to lean production must initially deplete in-stock inventories before producing more units. They also must write off obsolete items. As they implement lean principles, many companies learn that their inventories were overvalued due to obsolete items and inaccurate overhead allocation rates (traditionally based on direct labor hours).

During the transition phase, several costs — such as deferred compensation and overhead expense — transition from the balance sheet to the income statement. Accordingly, lean manufacturers may initially report higher costs and, therefore, reduced profits on their income statements. In addition, their balance sheets initially show lower inventory.

Alone, these financial statement trends will likely raise a red flag among investors and lenders — and possibly lead to erroneous business decisions.

How does lean accounting work?

Standard cost accounting is time consuming and transaction-driven. To estimate cost of goods sold, standard cost accounting uses complex variance accounts, such as purchase price variances, labor efficiency variances and overhead spending variances.

In contrast, lean accounting is relatively simple and flexible. Rather than lumping costs into overhead, lean accounting methods trace costs directly to the manufacturer’s cost of goods sold, typically dividing them into four value stream categories:

  1. Materials costs,
  2. Procurement costs,
  3. Conversion costs, such as factory wages and benefits, equipment depreciation and repairs, supplies, and scrap, and
  4. Occupancy costs.

These are easier to understand and evaluate than the variances used in standard cost accounting. In addition, box score reports are often used in lean accounting to supplement profit and loss statements. These reports list performance measures that traditional financial statements neglect, such as scrap rates, inventory turns, on-time delivery rates, customer satisfaction scores and sales per employee.

Should your company abandon standard cost accounting?

Most companies are required to use standard cost accounting methods for formal reporting purposes to comply with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But lean manufacturers may benefit from comparing traditional and lean financial statements. Such comparisons may even highlight areas to target with future lean improvement initiatives. Contact us for more information.

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Close-Up on Professional Standards for CPAs

The accounting profession is largely self-regulated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Part of its mission involves the development and enforcement of a broad range of standards for the profession.

Why do these standards matter to you? By having a little familiarity with the guidance that accountants and auditors follow, business owners and managers are better able to take advantage of the services offered by CPAs.

Existing standards

The AICPA requires CPAs to adhere to overarching ethical guidance contained in its code of professional conduct. Additional guidance is contained in standards for the following types of services:

Audit and attest. These standards must be followed when conducting, planning, and reporting audit and attestation engagements — such as compilations, reviews and agreed-upon procedures — of nonpublic companies.

Preparation, compilation and review. This guidance specifically governs such engagements for nonpublic companies.

Tax. These rules apply regardless of where the CPA practices or the types of tax services provided.

Personal financial planning. These standards cover such services as estate, retirement, investments, risk management, insurance and tax planning for individuals.

Consulting services. This guidance applies to CPAs who provide consulting services related to technology or industry-specific expertise, as well as management and financial skills.

Valuation services. Business valuations may be performed for a variety of reasons, including tax and accounting compliance, mergers and acquisitions, and litigation.

The AICPA also has standards governing the administration of continuing professional education programs and peer review of the work performed by other CPAs.

New Forensic Accounting Standard

Similar to the need for valuation services, demand for forensic accounting services has grown significantly in recent years. So, the AICPA recently added a standard for forensic services. This newly approved guidance covers investigations and litigation engagements involving forensic accountants. It goes into effect on January 1, 2020.

Beware: Statement on Standards for Forensic Services No. 1 places several limitations on forensic accountants, including prohibitions on charging contingent fees and providing legal opinions or the “ultimate conclusion” regarding fraud. Instead, it’s up to the trier-of-fact (generally a judge or jury) to determine innocence or guilt regarding fraud allegations. However, a CPA can express opinions regarding whether the evidence is “consistent with certain elements of fraud” and other laws based on their objective evaluation.

Bottom line

For any given assignment, a CPA may be required to follow multiple professional standards. In addition, CPAs adhere to general standards of the accounting profession, including competence, due professional care, and the use of sufficient, relevant data. These extensive rules and restrictions are good news for you — they promote the highest levels of quality and consistency when you receive services from a CPA.

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Put a QOE Report to Work for You

An independent quality of earnings (QOE) report can be a valuable tool in mergers and acquisitions. It’s important for both buyers and sellers to look beyond the quantitative information provided by the selling company’s financial statements.

Quality matters

There’s a lack of guidance from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) regarding scope and format of a QOE report. As a result, these engagements may be customized to meet the needs of the party requesting the report.

Typically, QOE reports analyze the individual components of earnings (that is, revenue and expenses) on a month-to-month basis. The goals are twofold: 1) to determine whether earnings are sustainable, and 2) to identify potential risks and opportunities, both internal and external, that could affect the company’s ability to operate as a going concern.

Examples of issues that a QOE report might uncover include:

  • Deficient accounting policies and procedures,
  • Excessive concentration of revenue with one customer,
  • Transactions with undisclosed related parties,
  • Inaccurate period-end adjustments,
  • Unusual revenue or expense items,
  • Insufficient loss reserves, and
  • Overly optimistic prospective financial statements.

QOE analyses can be performed on financial statements that have been prepared in-house, as well as those that have been compiled, reviewed or audited by a CPA firm. Rather than focus on historical results and compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), QOE reports focus on how much cash flow the company is likely to generate for investors in the future.

Beyond EBITDA

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the trailing 12 months is often the starting point for assessing earnings quality. To reflect a more accurate picture of a company’s operations, EBITDA may need to be adjusted for such items as:

  • Nonrecurring items, such as a loss from a natural disaster or a gain from an asset sale,
  • Above- or below-market owners’ compensation,
  • Discretionary expenses, and
  • Differences in accounting methods used by the company compared to industry peers.

In addition, QOE reports usually entail detailed ratio and trend analysis to identify unusual activity. Additional procedures can help determine whether changes are positive or negative.

For example, an increase in accounts receivable could result from revenue growth (a positive indicator) or a buildup of uncollectible accounts (a negative indicator). If it’s the former, the gross margin on incremental revenue should be analyzed to determine if the new business is profitable — or if the revenue growth results from aggressive price cuts.   

We can help

Using an objective accounting professional to provide a QOE report can help the parties stay focused on financial matters during M&A discussions and add credibility to management’s historical and prospective financial statements. Contact us if you’re in the market to buy or sell a business.

© 2019

Now or Later? When to Report Subsequent Events

Financial statements present a company’s financial position as of a specific date, typically the end of the year or quarter. But sometimes events happen shortly after the end of the period that have financial implications for the prior period or for the future. Here’s a look at what’s reportable and what’s not.

Classifying subsequent events

So-called “subsequent events” happen between the date of the financial statements and the date the financial statements are available to be issued. This lag usually lasts two or three months, because it takes time to record end-of-period journal entries, make estimates, draft footnotes and, if applicable, complete external compilation, review or audit procedures. The two types of subsequent events include:

Recognized. These events provide further evidence of conditions that existed on the financial statement date. For example, a major customer might file for bankruptcy. There was probably evidence of the customer’s financial distress in the prior period, such as a decrease in revenue or a buildup of receivables. The customer’s bankruptcy filing may trigger a write-off for bad debts to be recorded on the balance sheet in the prior period.

Nonrecognized. These subsequent events reflect unforeseeable conditions that didn’t exist at the end of the accounting period. Examples might include a change in foreign exchange rates, a fire or an unexpected natural disaster that severely damages the business.

Generally, the former must be recorded in the financial statements. The latter type of subsequent event isn’t required to be recorded but may have to be disclosed in the footnotes.

Disclosing subsequent events

Nonrecognized subsequent events must be disclosed in the footnotes only if failure to disclose the details would cause the financial statements to be misleading to investors and lenders. Subsequent event disclosures should include 1) a description of the nature of the event, and 2) an estimate of the financial effect (or, if not practical, a statement that an estimate can’t be made).

In some extreme cases, the effect of a subsequent event may be so pervasive that a company’s viability is questionable. This may cause the CPA to re-evaluate the going concern assumption that underlies its financial statements.

Footnotes add value

Subsequent events may not be reflected on a company’s balance sheet or income statement. But, when in doubt, companies typically disclose subsequent events to promote transparency in financial reporting. Contact us for more information about reporting and disclosing subsequent events.

© 2019

Auditing Accounting Estimates and the Use of Specialists

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) recently voted to finalize two related standards aimed at improving audits of accounting estimates and the work of specialists. Though the new, more consistent guidance would apply specifically to public companies, the effects would likely filter down to audits of private entities that use accounting estimates or rely on the work of specialists.

Estimates

Financial statements often report assets at fair value or use other types of accounting estimates, such as allowances for doubtful accounts, credit losses and impairments of long-lived assets. These estimates may involve some level of measurement uncertainty. So, they may be susceptible to misstatement and require more auditor focus.

PCAOB Release No. 2018-005, Auditing Accounting Estimates, Including Fair Value Measurements , aims to improve audits of estimates. The new risk-based standard would promote greater consistency in application. It would emphasize the importance of professional skepticism when auditors evaluate management’s estimates and the need to devote greater attention to potential management bias. Under the updated standard, auditors would consider both corroborating and contradictory evidence that’s obtained during the audit.

Use of specialists

Some accounting estimates may be easily determinable. But many are inherently subjective or complex, requiring the use of specialists. Examples include:

  • Actuaries to determine employee benefit obligations,
  • Engineers to determine obligations regarding environmental remediation, and
  • Appraisers to determine the value of intangible assets or real estate.

The audit guidance on using the work of specialists hasn’t changed much since it was originally published in the 1970s. It deals with auditors’ oversight of third-party specialists, as well as the auditor’s use of the work of a professional hired by management. Existing guidance requires auditors to evaluate the relationship of a specialist to the client, including situations that might impair the specialist’s objectivity. But it doesn’t provide specific requirements.

PCAOB Release No. 2018-006, Amendments to Auditing Standards for Auditor’s Use of the Work of Specialists , would provide more direction for carrying out that evaluation. The updated standard would extend the auditor’s responsibility for evaluating specialists beyond simply obtaining an understanding of their work. It would require auditors to perform additional procedures to evaluate the appropriateness of the company’s data, as well as significant assumptions and methods used. However, auditors wouldn’t be required to reperform the work of the company’s specialist.

Stay tuned

The PCAOB issued these related standards simultaneously at the end of 2018, and wants both to become effective for audits of financial statements for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020. However, the updated guidance is pending approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Contact us to discuss how these updated standards are likely to affect your company’s audit procedures in the coming years.

© 2019

Simplifying the Accounting Rules for Convertible Debt and Equity

Distinguishing between liabilities and equity on a company’s balance sheet may seem straightforward. But difficulties arise when it comes to the terms of complex securities and financial contracts like redeemable equity instruments, equity-linked or indexed instruments, and convertible instruments.

The good news is that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is currently working on a project to improve how to determine the difference between liabilities and equity.

Need for change

Work on this project dates as far back as 1986, when distinguishing liabilities from equity was added to the FASB’s technical agenda. Since then, the board has issued various pieces of guidance to help resolve issues that have been raised. But the outcry for revisions to the liabilities vs. equity topic hasn’t waned.

In 2017, accounting professionals told the FASB that current guidance is “overly complex, internally inconsistent, path dependent, form based and is a cause for frequent financial statement restatements.”

Once again, the project is a top priority for the FASB. In 2019, deliberations will initially focus on two areas:

  1. Accounting for convertible instruments with embedded conversion features, and
  2. Determining whether instruments are indexed to an entity’s own stock.

A convertible instrument, typically a bond or a preferred stock, is an instrument that can be converted into a different security — often shares of the company’s common stock. For example, emerging and growing companies often use convertible debt as an alternative financing solution. It’s basically a loan obtained by a company from venture capital or angel investors whereby both parties agree to convert the debt into equity at a specific date.

Tentative plans

Convertible instruments create complex accounting issues and have become a major source of confusion and restatements. In February 2019, the FASB tentatively voted to:

  • Revise certain disclosures for convertible instruments, including adding disclosure objectives for convertible debt and for convertible preferred shares,
  • Centralize the guidance on convertible preferred shares in Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 505, Equity, and convertible debt in ASC Subtopic 470-20, Debt — Debt with Conversion and other Options, and
  • Improve the diluted earnings-per-share calculation and derivative scope exception.

Under the existing rules, there are currently five models to account for convertible debt, which the board plans to narrow down to one or two models. As a result, convertible debt would be recognized in the balance sheet as a single liability, measured at amortized cost. There would no longer be bifurcation, or separation, of the conversion feature and the debt host. Similarly, convertible preferred shares would be recognized in the balance sheet as a single equity element.

Stay tuned

Many start-ups and midsize businesses use convertible instruments to raise cash. But it’s easy for management to miss an aspect of an arrangement and then follow the wrong accounting model under today’s complex, inconsistent principles. And the complex accounting rules even may cause some businesses to avoid tapping into these financing alternatives.

Fortunately, the FASB is taking steps to simplify the financial reporting requirements — and we’re atop the latest developments. Contact us for more information.   

© 2019

Transparency is Key with Related Party Transactions

In recent years, external auditors have focused more attention on related party transactions. Although related party transactions aren’t necessarily bad, they do raise some concerns about the risk of misstatement or omission in financial reporting.

3 focal points

Issues with related parties played a prominent role in the scandals that surfaced nearly two decades ago at Enron, Tyco International and Refco. Public outrage about these scandals led Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and establish the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). Similar problems have arisen in more recent financial reporting fraud cases, prompting the PCAOB to enact tougher standards on related-party transactions and financial relationships.

PCAOB Auditing Standard No. 2410 (AS 2410), Related Parties, requires auditors of public companies to beef up their efforts in financial statement matters that pose increased risk of fraud. Specifically, auditors must focus on three critical areas:

1. Related-party transactions, such as those involving directors, executives and their family members,
2. Significant unusual transactions (SUTs) that are outside the company’s normal course of business or that otherwise appear to be unusual due to their timing, size or nature, and
3. Other financial relationships with the company’s executive officers and directors.

Subjecting these transactions and financial relationships to enhanced auditor scrutiny may help avert corporate failures. The PCAOB also hopes that enhanced auditor scrutiny will lead to improvements in accounting transparency and disclosures, which will help investors to more clearly gauge financial performance and fraud risks.

From start to finish

AS 2410 requires auditors to obtain a more in-depth understanding of every related-party financial relationship and transaction, including their nature, terms and business purpose (or lack thereof). Tougher related-party audit procedures must be performed in conjunction with the auditor’s risk assessment procedures, which occur in the planning phase of an audit.

In addition, auditors are expected to communicate with the audit committee throughout the audit process regarding the auditor’s evaluation of the company’s identification of, accounting for and disclosure of its related-party relationships and transactions. They can’t wait until the end of the engagement to communicate on these matters.

During fieldwork, expect auditors to be on the hunt for undisclosed related parties and unusual transactions. Examples of information that may be gathered during the audit that could reveal undisclosed related parties include information contained on the company’s website, tax filings, corporate life insurance policies, contracts and organizational charts.

Certain types of questionable transactions — such as contracts for below-market goods or services, bill-and-hold arrangements, uncollateralized loans and subsequent repurchase of goods sold — also might signal that a company is engaged in unusual or undisclosed related-party transactions.

To facilitate the audit process, management should be up-front with auditors about all related party transactions, even if they’re not required to be disclosed or consolidated on the company’s financial statements.

Let’s be honest

Private companies also engage in numerous related party transactions, and they may experience spillover effects of the tougher PCAOB auditing standard, which applies only to audits of public companies. Regardless of whether you’re publicly traded or privately held, it’s important to identify, evaluate and disclose all related parties. We can help you present related party relationships and transactions, openly and completely.

© 2019

ESG Issues: To Report or Not to Report?

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton recently said that public companies shouldn’t be required to disclose information concerning environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters in their financial statements using a standardized format. Right now, these disclosures are voluntary and unstandardized.

ESG issues

The SEC is a long-standing member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO). But, in January, the SEC refused to sign a statement issued by IOSCO that urged companies to disclose nonfinancial ESG matters that may affect a company’s financial condition and performance. Examples include:

• The size of the company’s carbon footprint,
• Efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources,
• Workplace, health and safety issues, and
• Consumer product safety risks.

Media attention on these external threats has increased public awareness and prompted concerns about how ESG issues could impact value or increase a company’s risk of litigation. Some investor groups and regulators are calling for formal rules that would mandate the use of a standardized framework.

SEC position

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce and Chairman Clayton recognize that voluntary ESG disclosures provide insight into company operations when used in conjunction with traditional financial metrics. But they oppose a one-size-fits-all reporting format. They contend that some ESG information isn’t relevant to a reasonable investor and thus takes time away from focusing on more pressing matters.

They also point out that companies that follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) already must disclose material ESG matters in the following sections of their financial statements:

Description of business. This disclosure describes the business and that of its subsidiaries, including information about its form of organization, principal products and services, major customers, competitive conditions and costs of complying with environmental laws.

Legal proceedings. This disclosure briefly explains any material pending legal proceedings in which the company, any of its subsidiaries and any of its property are involved.

Risk factors. These disclosures highlight the most significant factors that make an investment in the company speculative or risky.

Management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A). Public companies must identify known trends, events, demands, commitments and uncertainties that are reasonably likely to have a material effect on financial condition or operating performance.

In addition, some companies voluntarily issue separate standalone “sustainability” reports that cover a broad range of nonfinancial issues. However, these nonfinancial figures aren’t audited, and, unfortunately, some companies use ESG data to present a stronger financial picture than the ones that appear in their audited financial statements.

A custom approach

Voluntary ESG reporting can provide valuable insight to investors and lenders. We can help your company create customized financial statement disclosures and standalone sustainability reports that reflect its most pressing ESG concerns. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

Automating Your Accounting Department

Many businesses have adopted robotic process automation (RPA), or plan to do so in the future. While most RPA initiatives target “core” business operations, routine accounting functions also can be automated to help lower costs and allow personnel to focus on higher-level analyses and strategic projects. Here’s some insight into how to integrate RPA in your accounting department.

Paving the way

In general, RPA eliminates the need for manual (human) intervention. In the accounting department, automation software can assume control of such tasks as journal entries, bank reconciliations, and certain aspects of the budgeting and forecasting process. To begin automating your accounting department, follow these five preliminary steps:

1. Inventory manual processes. Prepare a list of manual processes and rank them by complexity and the number of hours to administer them. This provides a prioritized list of RPA candidates. Select the most straightforward process to convert first.

2. Standardize processes. RPA requires standardized tasks and processes. So, you’ll need to apply a standard approach to all transactions. Identify exceptions and scrutinize why they exist and how they can be eliminated.

3. Focus on the source data. Accounting data often exists in different formats and locations, which doesn’t facilitate RPA. So, you’ll need to centralize your accounting data using a consistent structure and format.

4. Document requirements. Many types of RPA software solutions exist. Identify the functionality and capabilities you’ll need and use this list to screen potential providers.

5. Conduct robust testing. Before relying on the output generated by RPA software, test the output to make sure it’s accurate and reliable. Such testing should use statistically valid sampling techniques. You’ll also need to consider judgmental sampling procedures, which allows team members to select transactions based on their training and experience.

Right for your accounting department?

Throughout your organization, RPA can minimize data entry errors, reduce processing time and lower costs. However, getting it to work in the accounting department takes some initial legwork and a fresh mindset. It also may affect the procedures a CPA performs when preparing your financial statements. Contact us for more information.

© 2019