Every financial transaction your company records generates nonfinancial data that doesn’t have a dollar value assigned to it. Though auditors may spend most of their time analyzing financial records, nonfinancial data can also help them analyze your business from multiple angles.
Gathering audit evidence
The purpose of an audit is to determine whether your financial statements are “fairly presented in all material respects, compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and free from material misstatement.” To thoroughly assess these issues, auditors need to expand their procedures beyond the line items recorded in your company’s financial statements.
Nonfinancial information helps auditors understand your business and how it operates. During planning, inquiry, analytics and testing procedures, auditors will be on the lookout for inconsistencies between financial and nonfinancial measures. This information also helps auditors test the accuracy and reasonableness of the amounts recorded on your financial statements.
Looking beyond the numbers
A good starting point is a tour of your facilities to observe how and where the company spends its money. The number of machines operating, the amount of inventory in the warehouse, the number of employees and even the overall morale of your staff can help bring to life the amounts shown in your company’s financial statements.
Auditors also may ask questions during fieldwork to help determine the reasonableness of financial measures. For instance, they may ask you for detailed information about a key vendor when analyzing accounts payable. This might include the vendor’s ownership structure, its location, copies of email communications between company personnel and vendor reps, and the name of the person who selected the vendor. Such information can give the auditor insight into the size of the relationship and whether the timing and magnitude of vendor payments appear accurate and appropriate.
Your auditor may even look outside your company for nonfinancial data. Many websites allow customers and employees to submit reviews of the company. These reviews can provide valuable insight regarding the company’s inner workings. If the reviews uncover consistent themes — such as an unwillingness to honor product guarantees or allegations of illegal business practices — it may signal deep-seated problems that require further analysis.
Facilitating the audit process
Auditors typically ask lots of questions and request specific documentation to test the accuracy and integrity of a company’s financial records. While these procedures may seem probing or superfluous, analyzing nonfinancial data is critical to issuing a nonqualified audit opinion. Let’s work together to get it right!
Every new company should launch with a business plan and keep it updated. Generally, such a plan will comprise six sections: executive summary, business description, industry and marketing analysis, management team description, implementation plan, and financials.
Now, ideally, you would comprehensively update each section every year. But if the size, shape and objectives of your company haven’t changed all that much, you may not need to make major revisions to the entire plan. However, at the very least, you should always review and revise your financials.
Explain your route
Lenders, investors and other interested parties understand that descriptions of a business or industry analysis may be subject to interpretation. But financials are a different matter — they need to add up (literally and figuratively) and contain realistic projections in today’s dollars.
For example, suppose a company with $10 million in sales in 2019 expects to double that figure over a three-year period. How will you get from Point A ($10 million in 2019) to Point B ($20 million in 2023)? Many roads may lead to the desired destination; your business plan must explain its route.
Let’s say your management team decides to double sales by hiring four new salespeople and acquiring the assets of a bankrupt competitor. These assumptions will drive the projected income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement referenced in your business plan.
When projecting the income statement, you’ll need to make assumptions about variable and fixed costs. Direct materials are generally considered variable. Salaries and rent are usually fixed. But many fixed costs can be variable over the long term. Consider rent: Once a lease expires, you could relocate to a different facility to accommodate changes in size.
Balance sheet items — receivables, inventory, payables and so on — are generally expected to grow in tandem with revenues. The financials in your business plan must accurately and reasonably justify the assumptions you’re making about your minimum cash balance, as well as debt increases or decreases to keep the balance sheet balanced. And these amounts must be current.
From a lending perspective, your bank will be expected to fund any cash shortfalls that take place as the company grows. So, realistic cash flow projections in your business plan are particularly critical. The financials section should outline how much financing you’ll need, how you intend to use those funds and when you expect to repay the loan(s).
Keep it fresh
Your business plan needs to tell an accurate, objective story of your company — where it’s been, where it is right now and where it’s heading. Keep the whole thing as fresh as possible but pay special attention to the numbers. We can help you review your financials, arrive at reasonable assumptions, and express your objectives and projections clearly.
Working from home has its perks. Not only can you skip the commute, but you also might be eligible to deduct home office expenses on your tax return. Deductions for these expenses can save you a bundle, if you meet the tax law qualifications.
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction. If, however, you run a business from your home or are otherwise self-employed and use part of your home for business purposes, the home office deduction may still be available to you.
If you’re a homeowner and use part of your home for business purposes, you may be entitled to deduct a portion of actual expenses such as mortgage, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, as well as depreciation. Or you might be able to claim the simplified home office deduction of $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).
Requirements to qualify
To qualify for home office deductions, part of your home must be used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business. This is defined as follows:
1. Regular use. You use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use isn’t considered regular use.
2. Exclusive use. You use a specific area of your home only for business. It’s not required that the space be physically partitioned off. But you don’t meet the requirements if the area is used for both business and personal purposes, such as a home office that you also use as a guest bedroom.
Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you 1) use the space exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your business, and 2) don’t have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities.
Examples of activities that meet this requirement include:
- Billing customers, clients or patients,
- Keeping books and records,
- Ordering supplies,
- Setting up appointments, and
- Forwarding orders or writing reports.
Other ways to qualify
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on the premises. The use of your home must be substantial and integral to the business conducted.
Alternatively, you may be able to claim the home office deduction if you have a storage area in your home — or in a separate free-standing structure (such as a studio, workshop, garage or barn) — that’s used exclusively and regularly for your business.
An audit target
Be aware that claiming expenses on your tax return for a home office has long been a red flag for an IRS audit, since many people don’t qualify. But don’t be afraid to take a home office deduction if you’re entitled to it. You just need to pay close attention to the rules to ensure that you’re eligible — and make sure that your recordkeeping is complete.
The home office deduction can provide a valuable tax-saving opportunity for business owners and other self-employed taxpayers who work from home. Keep in mind that, when you sell your house, there can be tax implications if you’ve claimed a home office. Contact us if you have questions or aren’t sure how to proceed in your situation.
In financial reporting, investors and business owners tend to focus on four key metrics: 1) revenue, 2) net income, 3) total assets and 4) net worth. But, when it comes to gauging short-term financial performance and creditworthiness, the trump card is cash flow.
If a business doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay payroll, rent and other bills, it can spell disaster — no matter how profitable the company is or how fast it’s growing. That’s why you can’t afford to cast aside the statement of cash flows and the important insight it can provide.
The statement of cash flows reveals clues about a company’s ability to manage cash. It shows changes in balance sheet items from one accounting period to the next. Special attention should be given to significant balance changes.
For example, if accounts receivable were $1 million in 2018 and $2 million in 2019, the change would be reported as a cash outflow of $1 million. That’s because more money was tied up in receivables in 2019 than in 2018. An increase in receivables is common for growing businesses, because receivables generally grow in proportion to revenue. But a mounting receivables balance also might signal cash management inefficiencies. Additional financial information — such as an aging schedule — might reveal significant write-offs.
Continually reporting negative cash flows from operations can also signal danger. There’s a limit to how much money a company can get from selling off its assets, issuing new stock or taking on more debt. A red flag should go up when operating cash outflows consistently outpace operating inflows. It can signal weaknesses, such as out-of-control growth, poor inventory management, mounting costs and weak customer demand.
Categorizing cash flows
The statement of cash flows typically consists of three sections:
1. Cash flows from operations. This section converts accrual net income to cash provided or used by operations. All income-related items flow through this part of the cash flow statement, such as net income; gains (or losses) on asset sales; depreciation and amortization; and net changes in accounts receivable, inventory, prepaid assets, accrued expenses and payables.
2. Cash flows from investing activities. If a company buys or sells property, equipment or marketable securities, the transaction shows up here. This section could reveal whether a company is divesting assets for emergency funds or whether it’s reinvesting in future operations.
3. Cash flows from financing activities. This shows transactions with investors and lenders. Examples include Treasury stock purchases, additional capital contributions, debt issuances and payoffs, and dividend payments.
Below these three categories is the schedule of noncash investing and financing transactions. This portion of the cash flow statement summarizes significant transactions in which cash did not directly change hands: for example, like-kind exchanges or assets purchased directly with loan proceeds.
Keep a watchful eye
Effective cash management can be the difference between staying afloat and filing for bankruptcy — especially in an unpredictable economy. Contact us to help identify potential problems and find solutions to shore up inefficiencies and shortfalls.
Accounting software typically sells itself as much more than simple spreadsheet or ledger. The products tend to pride themselves on being comprehensive accounting information systems — depending on the price point, of course.
So, is your accounting software living up to the hype? If not, there are a couple of relatively simple steps you can take to improve matters.
Train and retrain
Many businesses grow frustrated with their accounting software packages because they haven’t invested enough time to learn their full functionality. When your personnel are truly up to speed, it’s much easier for them to standardize reports to meet your company’s needs without modification. Doing so not only reduces input errors, but also provides helpful financial information at any point during the year — not just at month end.
Along the same lines, your company should be able to perform standard journal entries and payroll allocations automatically within your accounting software. Many systems can recall transactions and automate, for example, payroll allocations to various programs or vacation accrual reports. If you’re struggling to extract and use these types of financial information, you might be underusing your accounting software (or it might be time for an upgrade).
Ideally, a champion on your staff may be able to step up and share his or her knowledge with others to get them up to speed. Otherwise, you could explore the cost of engaging Wall, Smith, Bateman to review your software’s functionality and retrain staff on its basic features, as well as the many shortcuts and advanced features available.
Commit to continuous improvement
Accounting systems that aren’t monitored can become inefficient over time. Encourage employees to be on the lookout for labor-intensive steps that could be better automated, along with processes that don’t add value and might be eliminated. Also, note any unusual activity and look for transactions being improperly reported — remember the old technological adage, “garbage in, garbage out.”
Leadership plays an important role, too. Ownership and management are ultimately responsible for your company’s overall financial oversight. Periodically review critical documents such as monthly bank statements, financial statements and accounting entries. Look for vague items, errors or anomalies and then determine whether misuse of your accounting system may be to blame.
Take the time
Many businesses don’t even realize they have a problem with their accounting software until they take the time to evaluate and improve it. And only then does the system finally deliver on the hype — sometimes. Wall, Smith, Bateman can help you review your accounting software and ensure it’s delivering the information you need to make good business decisions.