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Archive for the Management Tips Category

Attaching Receipts and Documents to the Transactions in the Accounting System

Consider:

  • the extent to which those records are organized and accessible outside of the accounting system
  • how much is at stake if a deduction is challenged
  • how easy it is to get the organization into an app like Entryless or Expensify or any one of a ton of others in which the spender snaps a photo of a receipt and sends it in for OCR and classification
  • the volume of transactions that could be material that could potentially be challenged, individually or taken as a whole
  • whether anyone is doing quality control on the data entry and needs quick access to the backup for classification
  • the likelihood of the organization to convert to a different accounting system
  • whether the organization has an annual independent audit

Our clients in the $1M-$10M range get us backup documentation for pretty much every transaction. And it comes in handy a LOT.

How to Segregate Duties with Only One Accountant

By Bob Swetz
Controller Consultant | Tier One Services, LLC
“Every business needs to be protected in order to survive and thrive.”
Part 2 of 3

What is segregation of duties and why is it important?
In Part 1 of my series on segregation of duties we explored why it is so important to have adequate segregation of duties in your organization’s accounting department. You can read about that in my article Why is Segregation of Duties Important in Your Accounting Department?
In today’s article, I provide an example of how you can achieve segregation of duties even if your accounting department has only one accountant.

How to make segregation of duties work with only one accountant
If your organization has only one accountant who does everything it may be time for the owner, manager or director to step up and pitch in to split some of the duties with the accountant or bookkeeper.

Let’s look at the bill payment function and assume that there is one accountant and an executive director as the next level of management. To start, don’t let the accountant open the mail. The director should open the mail and give the vendor bills to the accountant to enter. Once the bills are entered, the director can review them and approve which ones to print. It would be ok for the accountant to print the checks, then have the secretary match the checks up with invoices and seal the envelopes.

 

Next, the director can review which bills are ready to go out before returning them to the secretary for mailing. Ideally, borrow and train a staff member from another department to do the bank reconciliations. If your staff is too busy for an arrangement like this, consider outsourcing some of these duties to an outside accountant or bookkeeper. It’s just that important.

In Part 3 of my series on segregation of duties, How to Segregate Duties with Two or More Accountants, I will explore another example of how to make this vital control feature work for your organization.

Why is Segregation of Duties Important in My Accounting Department?


Part 1 of 3
By Bob Swetz
Controller Consultant | Tier One Services, LLC
“Every business needs to be protected in order to survive and thrive.”

What is segregation of duties?
Segregation of duties is the concept of splitting key duties within the same accounting function among multiple personnel. For example, printing, checks and signing checks are in the same accounting function. Ideally, these duties should be performed by separate staff members.

Why is it important?
Allowing the same staff member to perform all or most of the duties in the same function creates an opportunity for that person to cover up improprieties. Let’s take the case referred to above and say that one staff accountant enters vendor bills, writes the checks for those bills, mails them and then to top it off does the bank reconciliation. That staff member could easily write checks to themselves, cash the checks and mark them as cleared in the bank reconciliation without anyone ever knowing about it.
It’s important to remember that controls such as adequate segregation of duties are not intended to point fingers or suggest someone is doing something wrong, they are just good business practice to safeguard the organization’s assets.

I have a small accounting department, so what can I do?
Creating and maintaining adequate segregation of duties is probably the most difficult control challenge a small organization faces. Check out how to face this challenge with a one-person accounting department in Part 2 of my series, How to Segregate Duties with Only One Accountant.

Creating Financial Order in Small Nonprofit Organizations

A $100,000 organization is large enough to go under by blowing member trust and public reputation.

And it’s small enough to experience bookkeeper & Treasurer turnover…as well as difficulties in getting clear, complete, accurate, and timely financial information on an ongoing basis.

So about getting your org’s financial house in order, here is the quintessential problem:
* The stakes are high enough that the org *cannot* afford drama and waste in finance.
* But the org is too small to afford a high-end expert doing year-round bookkeeping AND board reporting AND internal controls (helping to protect organizational assets)
* So your org isn’t alone, a ton of $100K orgs rely on a volunteer Treasurer or a low-paid bookkeeper or even an intern. Result: Turnover, mess, or both. $100K is too large for a volunteer.

The solution:

[1] First, you get the books fixed by an expert. A one-time project. If you don’t do this, old incorrect balances will roll forward forever and haunt you (there should be no drama in accounting, remember?)

[2] Second, have the expert set up systems for automation of correct accounting and reporting. In accounting, never pay a human being to do what a computer can do. Let the computer run this thing on automatic.

Reserve the human beings for what we do best:
Exercising judgment, innovating, and creating connection with other living beings.

[3] Third, contract with an expert *just* for those functions. To exercise judgment (quality control), innovate by automating and streamlining processes, and to create connection with other living beings (preparing board-friendly reports, setting up financial information flows between key people), and to defend the organization’s assets and reputation (“internal controls” – jargon alert!).

Don’t have a CPA write checks and do the books; never have the same person write checks as doing the books. But there are ways to both automate/streamline payments and making the payments more secure than paper checks anyway. You handle the payments, or your Treasurer, and your expert makes it easy. Have the CPA or other qualified person monitor the quality of the books and prepare reports so YOUR board understands them and can make decisions based on them.

To create a success map, contact one of our team members! Start with (844) 844-3766.

Do members of a team want a guided approach to complete a project, or be left to their own creativity?

Do team members want a guided approach?

Be absolutely, crystal clear on the problem to be solved by the project.

Be absolutely, crystal clear on what sorts of things matter and don’t matter on the project and what is flexible/not flexible, for example:

  • timeline
  • method for solving the problem
  • technologies used
  • processes used
  • people involved
  • team-level communication channel & schedule
  • what, specifically, constitutes success

Be absolutely, crystal clear on your level of commitment and your “why.”

Then let each team member know that you are (or whoever is) available for whatever degree of support they require to get the job done and enhance their own value.

If a team member wants checklists, provide checklists.

If a team member wants to be left alone to do the work with latitude and independence, provide a deadline and a problem to solve.

If a team member wants daily meetings, provide daily meetings.

If a team member wants to you to be available via IM, be available via IM.

If a team member wants you to review completed milestones, set up a system to be notified of those milestones.

Is it worth it to track inventory quantities, not just dollars?

 

How much money do you stand ready to make & keep from this data?
Uses of quantity-specific inventory information include:
* prevention & detection of theft and loss
* guard against being overcharged by the supplier
* highest ROI on giving of samples
* shaping of messaging & promotion strategy to focus on highest-margin products, not just highest or lowest sale price
* cash flow management from clarity on reorder points so disbursements aren’t accelerated, or on the other end of the spectrum, she isn’t left without product when a customer needs it
* prevention of losses when she has too much of a non-selling or slow-moving product and has to let it go at a fire sale
* once her business is large enough such that she has to file on the accrual basis, you can help her to make sure she’s not paying too much in income taxes (or too little and then pay extra for it later with money and time)
* assist in setting sales targets & plans for achieving those targets
Track.
Profit.
Repeat.

Accepting a Payment Plan from a Donor or Customer

 

If you accept a payment plan in any situation for any reason, bear in mind that risk is something you can play with and not just be subject to.
A payment plan introduces risk into the equation, because it’s replacing a certainty with an uncertainty.
So if you do ever accept a payment plan, propose terms that then reduce your organization’s uncertainty and/or compensate for the additional uncertainty.
Examples:
* AutoPay only
* Weekly payments, not monthly payments
* Pull from their bank account instead of the credit card account – lower fees for your organization – and only pull from the cc account if the bank account pull bounces, and of course if so then include that fee to get reimbursed plus a surcharge to cover the cc fees (check your state’s laws on this).
* Charge a financing fee
In my experience, a lot of organizations suffer for lack of training about how to identify and counter financial risks. My life certainly suffered for it. I did what I knew…and when I knew better, I did better.

How do you deal with a difficult co-worker?

 

Although it might seem strange to see this topic on a CFO blog, knowing why it’s here might might place it in context and help this to be more valuable to my readers.
[1] In smaller organizations, the Human Resource function often falls under the Office of the CFO. There is intersection with both compensation and compliance.
[2] We looove efficiency. And there’s nothing that will take a bite out of organizational efficiency than human drama. So those of us who fulfill the CFO role for a combo of hard & soft skills and not just for being geekier than everyone else are really great at this stuff.
How do you deal with a difficult co-worker?
Language is our access to high performance. Language is access to reaching our potential. Language shapes how we view the world and what actions we take.
The question has two powerful words in it and a powerful assumption, and none of these lead to making mission and none of them lead to joy.
There is no winning answer to the question as asked.
The second word (stay with me) is ‘difficult.’
The assumption is that a person is fixed and unchangeable, and this assumption is revealed by the language ‘a difficult co-worker.’
The first word is “deal.” If I do not have the ability to create relatedness with others and create transformation in relationships and in performance, I will need to ‘deal’ with people for the rest of my life.
As long as I continue to believe that a co-worker IS difficult, as if that were a fact, I will never be successful in ‘dealing’ with that person.
The key is to see the world as my co-worker sees it. To be able to describe life, work, mission, a challenge as my co-worker would use language to say it.
Once I can do that, and my co-worker knows that I can do that, change is possible.
Does my co-worker need to change?
No such assumption.
Miracles come out of communication like this. Possible results include:
* I use language more effectively because I can communicate in the way that my co-worker needs
* My co-worker creates a new relationship with life, with work, with mission, with me
* A loyalty is created between us, because I cared to get someone else’s world. Loyalty and high performance go hand in hand.
This list is only the beginning of what happens when in the face of ‘deal,’ ‘difficult,’ and an assumption of unchangeability we instead create relatedness and transformation.
Author Richard Bach wrote: “When you ask the question properly it answers itself.”
The only way to ask the real question obviates the need for the question because it illuminates the solution.
“How do you create transformation in a professional relationship with someone whom you currently do not know very well?”

Figuring Out the Real Value of a Compliance Project

How do you measure the value of a compliance service that you received…or provided?
A story recently came my way in which a business owner received professional services required to help his business be in compliance with federal and state laws.
Specialty knowledge was required to accurately complete the right forms.
He engaged the services of an expert who got the job done…but didn’t want to pay the invoice in full because it just didn’t seem worth the price tag.
As a buyer, have you ever felt like that?
As a service provider, has that ever happened to you?
Let’s hone in on why the business owner did not perceive value for the service. In this case, it was because there just weren’t that many documents produced.
I can’t blame the business owner for using what he knows – and a quantitative metric, at that – in order to assess value.
However, this needs to be a lesson for all of us, those who engage the services of others and those who provide services.
Notice what metric you’re using to assess value. And use the right metric.
“Number of pages produced” is an inaccurate and unhelpful metric.
Ask yourself:
* What isn’t possible without said documents
* Comparable pricing with other service providers for the same level of speed, accuracy, and other factors in the relationship
* Opportunity cost of his time if he were to do this himself
* Length of time that it takes anyone to be able to build the expertise to handle this
* Making sure the RIGHT documents get prepared
* The fallout from the documents being prepared incorrectly or late
The Emancipation Proclamation is only 5 pages long.
The Declaration of Independence is only 1 page long.
But “number of pages” is what he knows to use as a measurement of value in the face of nothing better.
Service providers: Teach your clients how to measure value, and you’ll empower them for life. And thereby get them present to the amazing value they have access to by working with you.
Business leaders: Beware of illusion of value that comes when you measure something that is NOT correlated with actual value. Get clear with yourself and with your service provider about the real indicators of value before your engagement begins, and you’ll both be delighted and better off after your project is complete.

“Compensating” Volunteers in Your Not-For-Profit Organization

Volunteers have their own reasons for devoting their time to your organization. If you’d like to offer them some perks but need to watch the cost of those perks, watch out.
If you have someone in charge of volunteers, it can be tempting for that person to start creating a lot of rules around those perks. Although some people will do this for a power trip or because that’s the only example they know, most people do it out of a well-intentioned desire to keep costs low for the organization.
However, beware: This will chase away volunteers, guaranteed. Don’t overcomplicate and overadminister something that is a huge arbitrage opportunity.
If your organization provides meals, for example, giving a free meal and beverage is a tiny price to pay for the labor required to make it all happen. Tiny. There’s your arbitrage, turning a tiny financial cost into a huge benefit. Don’t go making rules about which food they can eat or how many cups of coffee they can drink.
Find other ways to increase revenues and reduce costs. When reducing costs, choose expenditures with the greatest financial impact and the least benefit impact.
Start by looking at your financial statements for the greatest cost areas.
Typical cost areas that are worth looking at include:
* office supplies
* leases
* number of users for a technology subscription
* memberships that aren’t being utilized
* items that get renewed automatically on a monthly or annual basis
* insurances
* penalties being paid for being out of compliance
* bank fees
* costs related to having everything on paper instead of paperless back-office operations
* income tax preparation and/or independent audit services – can cost less if your internal staff does work that doesn’t require correcting by the tax preparer and/or auditor (who typically cost more)
* any outside services for which you are paying someone hourly – this is a misalignment of the service provider’s interests with your organization’s interests
* lost opportunities to get not-for-profit rates on technology, products, and services
Which areas might be available to help your not-for-profit save some money this budget cycle?

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