You may have read about the scandal at Wirecard AG (see here for example), where about €1.9 billion in cash probably did not exist. As a result, the German regulators are calling for more oversight. While I agree that more oversight may be useful, I also think it is worthwhile reflecting on the absolute basics of bookkeeping, accounting and auditing that seem to not get much mention in the media. As is often my style here, I’ll relate to my own experience.
Close to 30 years ago now, I started to study accounting (September 1990). The first few weeks of the class covered bookkeeping. This was a bit repetitive for me, having done accounting as a subject at secondary school. One of the things I learned was how to prepare a bank reconciliation. In Summer of 1990, I got a summer job at a small audit firm. For my very first task, I was presented with two books (pre computer days 🙂 ) from a company – their cash receipts and cash payments. From these, I had to manually check every payment or receipt to the bank statements to make sure they matched. Some transactions had errors, some were missing, but at the end I could explain – or reconcile – the balance of cash per the company’s books and per the banks records.
Just pause for a moment. The act of doing this bank reconciliation means that the accounting records of a business agree with an external information source – the banks records. Thus, as either an auditor or an internal accountant at a business, I can be somewhat confident that the financial statements to be prepared from the accounting records are reasonably accurate. This assumes of course all transactions ultimately go through the company bank accounts. A bank reconciliation was one of the first things I learned to do as an accountant, but also one of the first things I looked for when doing an audit.
Following from the above, how can I be sure as an auditor that a company is disclosing all their bank accounts? I cannot speak for every jurisdiction, but usually the client signs a letter addressed to the bank(s). The letter is sent by the auditor and requests the cash balance at year end plus a list of all accounts held in the name of the entity/entities being audited.
Thus, if 1) a company accountant does a bank reconciliation, 2) the auditor checks it is done and 3) the auditor sends a letter to the company’s bank, then all should be fine and cash balances easily verified. I can only presume something very untoward was happening at Wirecard, but how it was allowed to continue beggars believe. Any auditor should be able to do the simple tasks I have described and surely a bank letter should have revealed the €1.9 billion did not exist.
However, as an educator, I rarely teach bank reconciliations. This is somewhat disappointing perhaps, and I often think should we (or I) be at least reminding students of the absolute basics. They will of course learn it quickly in practice. It is also worth pointing out that accountants (when part of a profession) are also bound by codes of ethics. Not every jurisdiction has a legally recognised accounting profession which educates and guides members.
To keep track of the many things I do, I have to take notes. For example, all the posts on this blog are noted somewhere first and then I write about them when I get time. I use a product called Evernote, which is just brilliant. I can do anything I want in this app in terms of taking notes. And, like all apps there tends to be adverts for related products from time to time. One I found interesting (but don’t use) is Expensify. This app seems to be very useful for track this annoying expenses. You can see more here on the app’s features. One thing it might be really useful for is those annoying fuel receipts small businesses have. For example, a sole trader might have 2 or 3 receipts for diesel each week, which are probably paid for in cash. These receipts frequently get lost and are a pain to store too. So it might be useful to use a product like Expensify to take a snap shot of these and store them. You can also use the app to track mileage, so this might be useful for small companies whose employees may get paid mileage.
- Expensify Trips: Track your itinerary from your expense report (expensify.com)
- Apps I’m digging lately (intomobile.com)
Some time ago, I read a blog post on the Zoho website about double entry accounting. Zoho provide a number of business related applications. The essence of the Zoho blog post is conveyed in the title of this post. Double entry accounting has been around for the last six centuries and has been embedded in the most simple and most complex accounting software. And there are no signs of it disappearing. The have been some proposed alternatives, such as the Resources, Events, Agents model (which is sometimes used in teaching). But like the DVORAK keyboard, even if some alternatives may be an improvement on the double entry system, they are likely never to catch on. Why you might ask? Well, in my institutional theory thinking the answer is probably because the practices around double-entry accounting have been repeated so many times by so many people, that they have become the accepted way of doing things in business. In other words, the double entry system of accounting is a routine. And, not only that, there are also rules about double entry. I regard rules as written, and there are plenty of written rules of the double entry system – in text books, in software for example. If a practice has both been repeatedly performed for 600 years or so, and it has been written as a rule, the as the Zoho blog post says ” the traditional double-entry model was deeply ingrained in the business person’s and accountant’s psyches, and it was never going to be easily changed”. And it will probably remain so.
Sometimes we often forget the basics of accounting. It’s so easy nowadays to forget what’s behind the transactions and journal entries we make in accounting software. So, today I’ll got back to basics and describe a ledger account. Ledger accounts can be used in financial and management accounting to accumulate things like costs, revenues, the value of assets etc.
It’s probably easiest to describe what a traditional manually written ledger account looks like. The term T account (see left) is often used to describe a ledger account as this is what an account looks like in a handwritten ledger (a ledger is just a type of notebook). The left side of the account is called the Debit side, the right hand the Credit side. The details of every business transaction can be recorded in a ledger account. There are rules (called rules of double entry accounting) which tell us what to do. What we do depends on the type of transaction. If we wish to record an increase in an asset or expense , then we record the details (date, amount, some narrative) on the debit side of the account. If we wish to record in increase in an income, liability or capital account, then we record the details on the credit side. For example, if I make a sale for cash of €1,000, I would record this on the debit side of the bank account and the credit side of the sales account. There are always at least two ledger entries for every transaction – this is the double entry system of accounting, which you can read more on in this post. If I were to enter this cash sale in some accounting software, while I might not see a ledger account, the principles are there in the background. For example, some software might show debit entries as a plus, credits as minus. No matter what the software, be it simple like Quickbooks or complex like SAP, the same process as a manual ledger account occurs.
Elsewhere on my blog, I have written a post of the basics of the double entry accounting system. I had a comment on this post asking for some more information on single entry accounting – so here it is.
The basic idea of the double entry accounting system is that information is recorded twice. The system allows any business or organisation to get a picture of its incomes, expenditures, assets, liabilities and capital at any point in time. The double entry system is encoded into all accounting software and is the basis of all financial reports of businesses.
In the double entry system, any transaction is recorded from its source all the way through to the financial statements. For example, if a supplier is paid the following happens:
- the cheque is recorded in a “day book” – normally a cash/cheque payments book
- the suppliers balance is updated – in a personal ledger account
- the bank balance is updated
- by virtue of the previous two items, the assets (bank) and liabilities (trade payables) are updated
- the financial statements (income statement and balance sheet) are updated.
In a single entry system, some of the above is not done. The best way to explain this is by an example. When I worked in small accounting firm some years ago, most sole traders kept what were single entry records. At that time (the early 1990’s) most small sole traders kept records in a manual form – most had no computer anyway. The records would typically comprise a book where all purchases/expenses were recorded, a book where all payment in and out of the bank were recorded and a book where all sales were recorded. Records of things like assets – how much was owed by customers or records of vehicles for example – and liabilities – how much was owed to suppliers for example – were not kept. Using these books, it is only possible to prepare an income statement. Thus, as the double entry system is not applied in full, i.e. transactions are not recorded through ledgers in this example, then the single entry system applies.
It is not possible to say that the single entry system means that only certain specific records are kept. It’s probably better to think of the single entry system of accounting as one which does not fully use the principles of double entry, but does allow profit to be calculated. In the example above, what we did was to build up a list of the assets and liabilities, as well as the capital of the business, to allow us to prepare an income statement (profit and loss account) and statement of financial position (balance sheet).
Still on holidays, so a shorter piece again. I found this post on all allbusiness.com. It is US orientated, but you’ll be able to change VAT for sales tax and dollars for euro/pounds. The post gives some good tips, whether you’re looking after your own book-keeping or getting someone to do it for you.
Measuring performance of any kind means a target, plan or standard must be in place to measure against. Any business, large or small needs some kind of a plan. In the accounting world plans equals budgets – yes those annoying things! A budget is plan expressed in money terms. Usually budgets for incomes and expenditures are set for a year and each month the business performance is measured against the budget. This is common practice in many businesses but how useful the comparison of results versus budget is depends on how good the budget was in the first place. Should a business complement measuring against budgets with other types of performance indicators? Yes is the answer. Larger businesses use many indicators of performance other than comparing to budgets or profits. For example, a key performance indicator for an airline is”bums on seats”. This is something that can be measured by flight, day etc and related to the costs of running the airline. Could a small business do something similar? Sure it can. Here’s an example for a business I know. This business automates entrances gates for residential and business customers. It offers both installation and maintenance services. As a small business, the owner does not have the time (or staff) to do detailed plans and compare these to actual performance. But, he does know the costs of running the business. So he equates costs to a number of service calls or installations needed per week. For example he knows he needs to do 5 service call to cover wages. One installation and 5 service calls covers all costs and makes a profit.This is a little easier to track and relates the work done to performance in terms of covering costs. It might not be 100% accurate, but it’s a good guide. So what performance indicator would you use for your business?
Brian Skelly wrote recently on outsourcing the work of accounting practices in Irish monthly journal BusinessPlus (www.bizplus.ie). The piece detailed an Irish firm Online Web Accounting (OWA), who are a small accounting practice based in County Meath. OWA provides normal accounting services, but also provides value-added services such as monthly management accounts – all at minimal cost. In fact, Nigel McAuley OWA founder, says he can deliver such services “without being substantially more expensive than an annual service”. How can OWA do this? Well, the firm have reduced costs by outsourcing back office task like book-keeping to their office in Sri Lanka. Here, salary costs of accountants and book-keepers are approximately 25% of Irish levels. Is this a trend to watch out for? For smaller and growing businesses, this might be just what is needed to provide improved management accounting information, without a corresponding increase in cost.
I read this article in Business & Finance (Ireland) recently and thought, whoa, this is too good to be true! A new website called billfaster.com offers small business owners the ability to create good looking invoices for free – yes free! I had a quick look at the software, and it is free to start off with. You can, according to the website, add more features at a charge but the basic invoicing function is free. You can easily (3 clicks they claim) create and invoice and print it or email it to your customer.
To be fair, the 3 click is probably right if you have all your products and customers set-up. The invoices created are quite professional and all is in simple layman’s terms. The whole idea is wonderful for a start-up business in two ways 1) it’s free and 2) it helps you get off to a good start in terms of accounting – a point I keep on making in my books. As the system is web-based, this means your accountant can hop in every so often to see if you doing okay and also you don’t need to worry about things like computers failing or needing backups. A big drawback though is that although invoices can be done, that’s as far as it goes it seems on the free version. You cannot for example get any reports on how much each customer owes you etc.
The double-entry system of accounting is used to records business transactions. No matter how simple or complex the transaction, it is recorded in ledger accounts with a debit and credit entry. The rules are double-entry accounting are incorporated into all accounting software, even if you don’t see them!
The double-entry accountin system ensures the integrity of business transactions and their financial values. It does this by ensuring that each individual transaction is recorded in at least two different ledger accounts and so implementing a double checking system for every transaction. It does this by first identifying values as either a Debit or a Credit value. A Debit value will always be recorded on the debit side (left hand side) of a ledger account and the credit value will be recorded on the credit side (right hand side) of a ledger account. A ledger has both a Debit (left) side and a Credit (right) side. If the values on the debit side are greater than the value of the credit side of the nominal ledger then that nominal ledger is said to have a debit balance and vice versa.
Luca Pacioli, an Italian monk, was the first to document the system in a mathematics textbook of 1494. Pacioli is often called the “father of accounting” because he was the first to publish a detailed description of the double-entry system, thus enabling others to study and use it
Click on this link for a brief animated tutorial I have put together to explain the workings of double-entry.