I love learning new sh*t and one of the best results of changing positions is that I have the ability to learn and grow. I spent a lot of time as an auditor and learned many ways to account for the wackiest of transactions (and to audit them!).
But now that I have been in the controller/accountant space for a little while, there are a few critical takeaways I have picked up that are worth sharing. These takeaways and how you use them can be beneficial for you and will help to give you a different perspective on the daily activities that matter to you and your accounting team.
The mundane tasks of accounting are incredibly ripe for automation. Receive an invoice from a vendor? You should not need someone to punch all those details into your accounting system. When you pay it, you should easily be able to match that payment out of your bank to the invoice you paid to clear it out of your payables accounts. Similarly, receiving payments from your customers should be a streamlined process to clear that now-paid invoice from your receivables accounts. Most accounting software I have touched want to be as easy as possible for you to match up the cash you receive with what you billed. You should take advantage of that. Bank feeds are the core of this connection.
However, bank feeds suck. Bank feeds allow your accounting system to “match” cash payouts or receipts with the original bill or invoice they are associated with. That requires a little bit of detail about who is paying or what they are paying. Some banks provide very little information or detail, so your software has to do guesswork, meaning mistakes can be made. Plus, there will be more effort required from your team to correct or ensure the proper “matching.” Those extra touch points and hand holding are a drag on the process. The good news is that some banks are leading the process to improve this. They are the ones that are lovely to couple with. To that end, the more data your bank provides, the easier it is for your accounting software to recognize. Find a good bank option with excellent feeds – you will be glad you did.
Many small business books are prepared to be easily converted to tax returns. That means they lean toward cash basis, and you need to be diligent if you need them to be GAAP basis. Most small businesses will not have robust processes to identify outstanding liabilities (why would they? the owner is concerned with current cash flow, not future payments). Most folks give very little consideration to ASC 606 (why would they? the company completed the service and is ready to collect. That revenue is good to recognize! I mean, most small business contracts are not all that fancy and almost certainly will not include loads of deliverables and, most importantly, deliverables delivered over time). Deferred rent? Stock comp? ASC842? All foreign, all not that relevant, applicable, or useful. Bunches of GAAP topics do not matter to small businesses. Truly, the burden to even consider getting it right in some spots would almost certainly not be worth it, too. Ultimately, who cares? The business owner is doing what they love and trying their hardest to make money doing it! They do not have time to be worried about some future lender. They are concerned about making sure they can make estimated tax payments or, in those lean times, that they can make payroll.
This leads to – cash flow is king. I am sure it is a phrase for a reason, but the cash flow statement to an auditor is nearly an afterthought. That statement is a compilation of key data from other areas audited within the financial statements. It is the worst to prepare and the most neglected. But to business owners, knowing what to expect in the short term is critical. For folks generating their own business, it helps to serve as a guide for how much business they need to generate to be able to meet their payment needs. Giving your clients expectations on when they will need cash and how much is probably the most effective service you can offer. The challenge is that sometimes hard to do.
There is something special about being able to provide value immediately. As an auditor, the company pays you, but typically they need you to deliver your product to someone else. Sadly, that often makes you little more than a commodity. Plus, there are inherent restrictions on how much “help” you can provide to your clients (the appearance of independence is taken very seriously). No matter what you do, the personal payoff of “helping others” can be hard to find and achieve. That is not the case for me anymore. I know who I am helping. I know exactly what I am helping them with. Nothing is quite as rewarding as fixing a problem immediately and without worrying that I will compromise something.
I have been lucky to learn a lot of new sh*t in my new role. It has helped me to identify actionable steps to be a great advisor. Here are the critical actions you can take to make your work easier, increase your appeal, and be a better partner for your clients:
1. Finding quality banking partners with the best feeds
2. Improving cash flow modeling to provide critical decision-making insight
3. Highlighting the areas where you have the expertise, be it GAAP, controls, or taxes (or some