Many companies have attempted to improve their financial close process, but most are still burdened with the slow-paced record-to-report cycle even to this day. Some companies take several weeks, or worse, even months, to close their books. I even know of companies that produce a different version of truth every time they generate financial reports, thus, undermining the integrity and reliability of the reports.
In most companies, the financial close process is a frenetic period that requires the temporary setting aside of some finance activities and overtime work for most accounting personnel. This environment increases the level of stress within the department, as well as the risks of errors. And yet, demand by both internal and external users for instant access to updated and reliable financial information will continue to intensify. Thus, the need for a robust financial close process is so important.
There is really no standard solution to the complex issue of the financial close process as different entities may require different approaches. I have listed some activities that I believe can be tried to improve the financial close process based on my experience as an external auditor.
Invest in a good accounting system—Most companies still primarily employ a manual method, often using Microsoft Office (Excel). This is not reliable in the long run as spreadsheets can break, and formulas can be overridden. A number of less expensive but more reliable off-the-shelf accounting systems are now available in the market. Companies need to carefully evaluate the accounting systems suitable to their business. To accomplish full computerization in the office, there should be thorough commitment among the people.
Invest in quality people—Management should view the accounting department not as a cost center but rather as a business strategy partner. It is important to invest in highly competent accounting personnel, especially with the choice of chief finance officer (CFO) or head of accounting, considering that they will provide the updated and accurate financial reports needed for strategy formulation and decision-making.
Record all financial transactions judiciously—Ideally, financial transactions should be thoroughly recorded as they transpire. It is critical for the accounting department to establish confident partnerships and good working relationships across departments, given that some transactions are processed by departments other than the accounting, and coordination among them is very crucial.
Complete the reconciliations regularly—In my experience as an external auditor, bank reconciliation statements are submitted notoriously late. Ideally, bank reconciliation should be done on a monthly basis. Companies with no regular bank reconciliation statements usually have to provide numerous adjusting entries during the financial close. Entities should also perform intercompany reconciliation regularly. Ironically, intercompany transactions are oftentimes taken for granted and not monitored regularly, thereby causing delay in the finalization of the financial statements. Sometimes, two related parties treat the same transaction differently, even though their accountants work in the same office.
In some cases, certain transactions or reconciliations cannot be processed because the necessary information is not yet obtained—either from another department or a third party. Instead of passively waiting for the information to arrive, evaluate and look for ways on how to get the information much faster. Alternative approaches could be considered, such as making an estimate of an account balance based on historical results or deriving data from other sources.
Start the close process before the period ends—Some accountants consider the first day of the following month as the start of their month-end activities. This traditional way of thinking needs to be changed by starting the close cycle days before the month-end. There are activities that can be done before the end of the month such as determining the allowance for doubtful accounts; computing for depreciation expense; and preparing pre-payment amortization and accruals where the amount does not vary monthly.
Analyze the causes of post-closing adjusting journal entries—Ideally, post-closing adjusting journal entries should be at the minimum, but in some cases, I have encountered entities with adjusting journal entries reaching to a hundred. In most cases, adjusting journal entries are used to correct an error. Entities need to investigate what caused these adjusting journal entries. Are there certain errors that continue to occur month after month? Adjusting journal entries may have resulted from the untimely preparation of reconciliation, the incorrect accounting treatment of certain transactions due to unclear or inadequate accounting policy, a lack of understanding or knowledge of accounting personnel on how to treat such transactions, or plain human error. By evaluating the nature of these adjusting journal entries, the company can identify which area they need to address or focus on.
Timely review of the accounting head, or CFO, or similar functions—In some cases, the completion of the financial close process has been delayed due to the absence of the required review. In doing the review, the accounting head or CFO may have to engage more substantial effort in reviewing non-routine transactions and entries involving estimates and judgments as these are areas prone to financial misstatements.
In recent years, regulators have placed more emphasis on the responsibility of the management with regard to financial statements. Availability of financial statements in a timely manner will create an atmosphere of confidence among investors and other stakeholders, and the benefit will eventually redound to the stockholders, management and employees. Therefore, the management should focus on and put resources in a robust financial close process.
Boyet Murcia is a partner, Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 800 staff members. For comments, please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our Website: www.grantthorn.com.ph; Twitter: pagrantthornton, and FB: P&A Grant Thornton.