I have written quite a few posts on performance management of firms and how management accountants can use both financial and non-financial performance measures. One thing I have not thus far mentioned is the actual presentation of such information. I am not one of those people who uses the bells and whistles and products like Powerpoint, but I do appreciate that information presenting in a short, concise format. One way to do present information in a clear way is to use a graphical format. So, here I give a great example which a kind reader of my blog referred me to.
We all know how successful Apple Inc are. Now you can look into their annual reports and analysts presentations to get a view of how much money they make. But wouldn’t you love to know what Apple’s managers get to see on a regular basis in terms of the company performance. That is, what kind of performance measurements might they use and report on internally. Below you’ll see a great infographic on the performance of Apple’s retail stores. The data shown is self-explanatory, so I will not detail it here. When I first saw this graphic, I thought wow, wouldn’t this be a great internal performance measurement tool. Of course, we don’t know if Apple actually prepare something like this infographic, but it is certainly quite effective at getting the message across.
A while ago, I promised some Facebook friends to review some text books from bookboon.com, a website where you can download free accounting books. Given my teaching and research area is management accounting I choose the text on Managerial and Cost Accounting. As I am an author myself, I have had quite a bit of experience in both writing and reviewing text books. So, I will try to be critical but fair. So here goes.
First, the authors seem well experienced and qualified to write the text, so that’s good. The writing style is pretty clear, although it uses US English (not an issue, just a minor comment). There are a total of 21 chapters (see below for the full contents), which covers the vast majority of the important management accounting topics. Now to be fair, I have not read all chapters word-for-word, but the text does seem to cover all topics pretty well at an introductory level. The authors use some graphics to explain stuff and give normally one example of a technique per chapter.
So far so good, but now for the downsides. I suppose it must be remembered this a free text. And even though it is free, it is actually quite good in terms of basic content. But it does fall down on what I as an author/lecturer would expect of a textbook. The pitfalls are in the area of exercises within the text (I know there is a separate book of exercises, which I have not reviewed yet) and basic things from a pedagogical nature – learning objectives, key terms, real life examples and so on. The content, as I said previously, is also at an introductory level and for the more advanced or specialist management accounting courses simply would not be enough – for example, there is little is no references to academic research. The downloaded file also has adverts, which I can live with, but some might find this annoying.
And finally, as I am a bit of a techie, I tried to download the book first on my Android Tablet (in July 2012). This did not work. I actually think this is a major pitfall. Why? Well, the book is absolutely fine for a non-specialist introductory course in management accounting or accounting. The audience for this book is less likely to be those in universities in developed countries (although I have nothing to verify this, but I am quite sure that it would be difficult to challenge the embedded text books), but more so developing countries. I have read in The Economist and several other sources that countries like India are considering given cheap (less than $100) tablets to students with texts pre-loaded. This text would be ideal for such students to introduce them to the basics of management accounting, with the more traditional texts helping them in more advanced areas.
So my overall opinion, a reasonable book for the fact that it is free. But, I would suggest it is most suitable for introductory courses and get it working on tablets.
Table of Contents of the book.
Part 1. Introduction to Managerial Accounting
1. Managerial Accounting
1.1 Professional Certifications in Management Accounting
2. Planning, Directing, and Controlling
2.1 Decision Making
3. Cost Components
4. Product Versus Period Costs
4.1 Period Costs
5. Financial Statement Issues that are Unique to Manufacturers
5.1 Schedule of Raw Materials
5.2 Schedule of Work in Process
5.3 Schedule of Cost of Goods Manufactured
5.4 Schedule of Cost of Goods Sold
5.5 The Income Statement
5.6 Reviewing Cost of Flow Concepts for a Manufacturer
5.7 Critical Thinking About Cost Flow
Part 2. Cost-Volume-Profit and Business Scalability
6. Cost Behavior
6.1 The Nature of Costs
6.2 Variable Costs
6.3 Fixed Costs
6.4 Business Implications of the Fixed Cost Structure
6.5 Economies of Scale
6.6 Dialing in Your Business Model
7. Cost Behavior Analysis
7.1 Mixed Costs
7.2 High-Low Method
7.3 Method of Least Squares
8. Break-Even and Target Income
8.1 Contribution Margin
8.2 Contribution Margin: Aggregated, per Unit, or Ratio?
8.3 Graphic Presentation
8.4 Break-Even Calculations
8.5 Target Income Calculations
8.6 Critical Thinking About CVP
9. Sensitivity Analysis
9.1 Changing Fixed Costs
9.2 Changing Variable Costs
9.3 Blended Cost Shifts
9.4 Per Unit Revenue Shifts
9.5 Margin Beware
9.6 Margin Mathematics
10. CVP for Multiple Products
10.1 Multiple Products, Selling Costs, and Margin Management
11. Assumptions of CVP
Part 3. Job Costing and Modern Cost Management Systems
12. Basic Job Costing Concepts
12.1 Cost Data Determination
12.2 Conceptualizing Job Costing
12.3 Tracking Direct Labor
12.4 Tracking Direct Materials
12.5 Tracking Overhead
12.6 Job Cost Sheets
12.7 Expanding the Illustration
12.8 Another Expansion of the Illustration
12.9 Database Versus Spreadsheets
12.10 Moving Beyond the Conceptual Level
13. Information Systems for the Job Costing Environment
13.1 Direct Material
13.2 Direct Labor
13.3 Overhead and Cost Drivers
14. Tracking Job Cost Within the Corporate Ledger
14.1 Direct Material
14.2 Direct Labor
14.3 Applied Factory Overhead
14.5 Financial Statement Impact Scenarios
14.6 Cost Flows to the Financial Statements
14.7 Subsidiary Accounts
14.8 Global Trade and Transfers
15. Accounting for Actual and Applied Overhead
15.1 The Factory Overhead Account
15.2 Actual Overhead
15.3 The Balance of Factory Overhead
15.4 Underapplied Overhead
15.5 Overapplied Overhead
15.6 Influence of Gaap
16. Job Costing in Service, Not For-Profit, and Governmental Environments
16.1 The Service Sector
16.2 Capacity Utilization
17. Modern Management of Costs and Quality
17.1 Global Competition
17.3 Lean Manufacturing
17.4 Just in Time Inventory
17.5 Total Quality Management
17.6 Six Sigma
17.7 Reflection on Modern Cost Management
Part 4. Process Costing and Activity-Based Costing
18. Process Costing
18.1 Process Costing
18.2 Comparing Job and Process Costing
18.3 Introduction to the Cost of Production Report
18.4 Job Costing Flows
18.5 Process Costing Flows
18.6 Job Costing Flows on Job Cost Sheets
18.7 Process Costing Flows on Cost of Production Reports
19. Equivalent Units
19.1 Factors of Production
19.2 An Illustration of Equivalent Units Calculations
19.3 Cost per Equivalent Unit
20. Cost Allocation to Completed Units and Units in Process
20.1 Cost of Production Report
20.2 Journal Entries
20.3 Subsequent Departments
20.4 The Big Picture
20.5 FIFO Process Costing
21. Activity-Based Costing
21.1 Pros of ABC
21.2 Cons of ABC
21.3 The Reality of ABC
21.4 A Closer Look at ABC Concepts
21.5 The Steps to Implement ABC
21.6 A Simple Analogy
21.7 A Case Study in ABC
21.8 Study Process and Costs
21.9 Identify Activities
21.10 Determine Traceable Costs and Allocation Rates
21.11 Assign Costs to Activities
21.12 Determine Per-Activity Allocation Rates
21.13 Apply Costs to Cost Objects
21.14 What Just Happened?
21.15 A Great Tool, But not a Panacea
It’s always great to find and example of where some simple planning and management accounting type work would have done quite a bit for a particular company or decision.
During the summer just past, a great example came to life. The London 2012 Olympics have come and gone, but I’m sure you can imagine such an event needed a lot on planning. Mostly, the games went fine. However, a few weeks before the games kicked off, a story broke about how G4S would not be able to deliver the number of security personnel they were contracted to provide. You can read more on the BBC website here, but in a nutshell G4S racked up losses of £30-50m. Why? Well it seems to boil down to not been able to recruit enough new staff and train them within the timeframe, and thus G4S have to cover the cost of army personnel provided instead. According to the BBC, the value of the contract was £280m and one would think there should be scope for profit in this. I wonder did anyone ever ask this key question: What if we cannot recruit enough staff? If this question was asked, then the next question might be: how much will it cost us if we cannot provide enough staff. These two relatively simple questions might have forced managers at G4S to think about the risk of this happening and the costs. This does not mean they would have not faced the problems and costs they did, but at least they may have been more prepared to deal with the problem as it happened – or better still planned better from the start.
As part of my research work, I like to study how organisations and their management accounting practices change over time. And, I particularly like to frame my research as a story of change. I like the stories of how things change (or don’t) as these stories quite often get to the bottom of things quickly, or summarise everything that happened in a brief and concise way. Of course, when I am in research mode, there are often many thoughts flying around in my head. Recently, I was doing some work on how technology has changed the role of management accountants. I put on an old CD I had from Dire Straits (Love over Gold, 1982) and as I was listening to the first track, I realised, hang on this is a story of change. The song is Telegraph Road, here are the lyrics:
Telegraph Road lyrics
Songwriters: Knopfler, M;
Telegraph Road is nowadays US Route 24 in Michigan. The song tells the story of how what was once a dirt track, became a telegraph line route, and ultimately a highway with all the associated development. When I actually realised the story this song tells, I started to think, okay it was only written 30 years ago, but look how much has changed in even that short time. I thing it’s time Mark Knopfler wrote a new version! By the way, if you don’t know the song, it’s about 15 mins long and has some really cool guitar pieces.
In June this year, I was watching a programme called “The men who made us eat more” on BBC. It told the story of how super-size portions and combo-meals came about in fast-food chains like McDonalds, Burger King and other similar ones. One of the participants mentioned how the profit margin on the extra portion (or the additional products in a combo-meal) is huge. He explained why, and the explanation is again an application of understanding costs and volumes (or CVP).
Let’s take the example of a portion of french fries. If we think about the cost of a regular size portion first. The variable cost would be mainly the ingredients, i.e. potato, packaging cost and maybe energy costs. There would be quite a few fixed costs – all the costs associated with the running of the restaurant, including staff costs (they need to be paid even if there are no food orders). Now if we make the portion size larger, the additional cost will be very small – some extra ingredients, a slightly bigger package and that’s about it. But, the price increase is proportionately much higher than the cost increase usually. Thus, by encouraging a customer to super-size or buy a combo-deal, profits can rise at a much faster rate than the corresponding increase in costs.
In this and the next post, I will give you two simple examples of cost-volume-profit (CVP) analysis in action. CVP analysis, or sometimes it’s called break-even analysis, is a useful decision tool for any business to understand effects of cost changes or sales volume changes on underlying profit.
The first example relates to small Montessori school run by someone I know. In Ireland, preschool children get some free childcare and the owner of the facility gets paid €250 per child per month. The Montessori in question is insured to have 11 children with one staff member, but beyond this a second employee is needed. The full capacity of the school is 15 children and the extra employee costs €620 per month. This is a fixed cost. If you do some quick calculations, you can see that it takes 3 children (€ 750) to cover the employee cost. Thus, the owner needs to have 11 or less children with one employee, or 14 or more with two employees. So you can see how the fixed cost increase affects the volume needed to keep profit levels stable. There may of course be some additional variable costs with more children, but I am ignoring these to keep the example simple.
A short post today – holiday season.
You may know about tools like the Balanced Scorecard which are used by many organisations to monitor performance from financial and non-financial aspects. Here is another type of scorecard, developed by CIMA, which may be quite useful to managers and boards of directors when trying to formulate a strategy. The tool prompts managers to consider the business model of the organisation and reflect in the external environment, risks/opportunities, implementation and options available. Have a read of a document prepared by CIMA/CGMA by clicking this link .CGMA Strategic scorecard_T1 FINAL . This document explains the scorecard quite well.
I always like to read about new ways of doing business, or new technology can change existing businesses. You may have seen how various new technologies have helped the taxi-sector. For example, in London you can send a text from a smart phone requesting a taxi and your position can be pin-pointed by the GPS within the phone. Now let’s take this a step further and add an app to the smart phone and then the way the whole taxi industry operates could change? How you might ask. This post from the Babbage blog on Economist.com explains why. In several European countries, taxi users can now use apps to request a taxi. The apps ping the nearest cab, and once a customer accepts a particular offer they can track the taxi progress. All the taxi needs is the same app effectively. This changes the way business is done in the sector as the taxi dispatcher is effectively cut out of the picture. I don’t know about other cities, but I can tell you that a taxi dispatcher would charge its drivers in the order of €200 per week or more in Dublin. For this, the driver (who suffers all risks of owning and paying for the cab) gets fares directed to them usually through some system installed in their cab. Now, if I were a self-employed taxi-driver you could cut out that cost by using an app, I’d be giving it some serious consideration. Of course, as the post notes, taxi dispatchers are not seating idle and a race is on between taxi dispatchers and app developers!
Some recent items in the CGMA magazine summarise some of the features and issues with integrated corporate reporting. Integrated corporate reporting means reporting means more than just reporting the traditional financial/economic type reports to shareholders. Instead, an integrated reporting approach considers social, economic and environmental factors. In the longer term, it can be argued that if firms ignore the environment and society, then firm itself may not be sustainable.
Ideally, a business should be able to prepare a single report which shows now only the typically legally required financial reports, but also how its financial performance affects society and the environment. Some global companies are already doing this. For example, PUMA publishes and environmental profit and loss which values its impacts in terms of resource usages (see here). The CGMA has embarked on an integrated reporting pilot programme over the next two years. They asked an investor, accounts preparer and an integrated reporting advocate for their views. They make for some interesting reading – click on the links to read more. One of the key points emerging is not the difficulties faced in preparing the report or getting the information. Instead, trying to introduce more non-financial data without increasing the information loads (mainly legally driven) given to investors is a great challenge.
From previous posts, you know what a fixed cost is. There is another type of fixed cost called a step (or stepped) fixed cost.
A step fixed cost takes its name from the fact that the cost can take a “step up” if certain things happen. This usually means a cost increases when the activity of a business exceeds a certain level, and the fixed cost then suddenly increases, but remains fixed at this new higher level.
Here are two examples which may help you to understand.
1) Employer liability insurance costs may remain quite stable until a certain threshold is reached. For example, it may cost €10,000 to have cover for up to 100 staff, but €15,000 if the staff number exceeds 100.
2) Typically, internet hosting costs include a high allowance for data traffic volumes. But if a company exceeds this, they may have to change to the next package up. This typically would give a much greater data traffic allowance, and the cost would increase in a step fashion.
I have written before on balanced scorecards at London’s Heathrow Airport. London Gatwick too has a balance scorecard which has similar performance measures (e.g. security wait time, seat availability, flights on time etc.).
I noticed the monthly performance report at Gatwick was displayed publicly again, on the walk-way to the departure gates – better than a corridor to the gents for sure as at Heathrow. Both the Heathrow and Gatwick scorecards are linked to a scheme operated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and the main objective of these scheme is to reward for meeting targets that improve customer service. If targets are achieved then, extra public funding can be paid to the airport, whereas failure to meet targets results in payments by the airport.
The performance measures in both these scorecards are no doubt related to a strategic objective something like “to improve and maintain customer service” – which I imagine would be quite an important objective to any airport. It seems the targets too are reviewed on a regular basis by the CAA, which means customer performance improvement is at least possible. Have a look at the scorecard web page to see more.
Back in February this year I wrote a short post about how Tesco were increasing their use of rail travel to reduce CO2 emissions. It was a good example of how to change your business to both deliver cost savings and be more environmentally friendly. In the February 2012 edition of CIMA’s Financial Management (pp 26.30), there is a great article written by Ben Schiller which provides a number of examples of firms which are seeking ways to reduce transport costs and CO2 emissions. One quote from the article sums up the problems around transport costs “many ships operating today were built to run on $150 a tonne bunker fuel, not a price four times that”. Of course, it is not only ships but all forms of transport which are facing these price increases, such as road haulage and even company cars (for example, when I bought my first diesel car just over 3 years ago, diesel was 99 cent per litre at my local station, now it’s over €1.50). As a result of these increasing costs, we can see more sleek looking fuel-efficient trucks for example on our motorways.
I found Ben Schiller’s article really great less for some examples we might know about – chip fat being converted to biodiesel, electric vehicles – but more for some real examples from firms we all probably know well. The first way firms can save on transport costs (and green up) is to bring production closer to the market – L’Oreal for example have brought some of their supply chain in-house, by producing thinks like packaging on-site. A second way, is to change the modes of transport. For example, both Philips and Tesco use canals to transport bulky product. Phillips use barges to transport goods to Rotterdam port, while Tesco ship wine between Liverpool and Manchester. In Spain, SEAT rebuilt a short rail line to Barcelona port, carrying 80,000 cars annually using 2 trains a day. Even large shipping companies like Maersk are doing things like “slow-steaming ” (or sailing slower) to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel costs.
There are more examples in the article itself. You can read an online summary here.
Paul Downs is a US business owner who writes on the NY Times Small Business blog. Here is a nice post in a series he wrote on “the numbers I track”. In this post, he focuses on the importance of tracking labour costs. This quote from the post gives a good summary of Paul’s thinking:
“I’m not sure what to think about my labor costs. I have two conflicting theories running through my head. The first: pay people what they deserve. The second: pay people just enough so that they don’t leave. In reality I’m somewhere in between the two. Payroll is our biggest single expense, and it’s easy to let it get out of control and suck up all of the profit in the company”
I’m sure many small businesses experience this same sentiment. Read the full post for more.
John Teeling founded Cooley Distillery in 1987. In January this year, he signed off on a deal to sell the business to global spirits firm Beam (see here) US firm to buy Cooley Distillery – The Irish Times – Fri, Dec 16, 2011. On January 14th 2012, Dr Teeling gave a very useful radio interview on his life is business. Have a listen to the podcast here (January 14th, 2012). There are a few things of interest. For example he tells the story of why Irish whiskey sales declined from 60% to 2% of the world market in the past. And how in 1960, he was one a few people in Ireland you could do Discounted Cash Flows – something we take for granted nowadays.
In recent years hard economic times have hit Ireland and other developed economies. According to an article in the Guardian over a year ago now, the number of businesses failing in Ireland was 5 times that in 2010 – a huge chunk of these being construction firms. I hope have some sympathy for many of the hard-working business people who perhaps have seen a lot of their money lost. But, there is a part of me (probably the accountant) who is not at all surprised at so many Irish businesses failing. Why? Am I getting more cranky (Yes, of course I am)? Well, let me give me a few of many examples I have encountered over the last few years which seem to show poor decision making. But before I do, I should say that many Irish businesses who started during the “boom” years were already doomed to failure due to a pretty high cost structure e.g. rent.
The first example dates back about 2-3 years now. In the area where I live, we collect an amount of money each year to help maintain the common greens in the area. The landscaping business doing the work was charging about €7000 per annum and a new landscaper offered to do the work for €4500. Both were sole traders with similar costs (as best I could guess at least). The original landscaper said he could not do the work for that price and would not even reduce his current price, so the business was lost. Now I don’t know what either landscaper was thinking, but it fairly obvious that the original landscaper was living in the boom years in my opinion. He could have reduced his price by some amount, say €1500. This would mean his net contribution would fall by €1500, but instead he lost €7500 – a bad decision.
The second example relates to a really nice bakery I visited recently in a more affluent part of Dublin. Yes, the price is of course going to be affected by the area, but having paid €4.60 (ok my wife bought it) for a loaf of sour-dough bread I thought this is not a sustainable business. Even people in affluent areas cut back on spending in lean times. The point here is that I thought the price was more reflective of a time four or five years ago.
The third example relates to an employee within a business. The employee left as €900 per week income was not “enough” for him. The job involved manual labour and some skills, but nothing that could not be replaced readily. The right decision was made by the business owner, which was adiós amigo. The employees decision was rather silly though, as the immediate income from social benefits would be way lower.
These three examples to some extent portray how high prices may have become engrained in the minds of business people following many years of the Celtic Tiger. I like to study how practices have become accepted/taken-for-granted, or institutionalised. When practices become institutionalised, there are hard to change. So I wonder are businesses in Ireland failing because some business owners cannot make the change in their minds to reduce costs or prices? In other words, they are finding it hard to break the institutionalised practices associated with past more affluent times. I know there are many other factors, but based on my experience, at least some business failures in Ireland result from a failure to change mindset.