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.

How to Consolidate Financial Statements from Multiple QuickBooks Files

 

Two ways to consolidate are:

EXCEL TRIAL BALANCES

[1] Export all trial balances to Excel, position them on the same tab but each below the previous one, tag add a column to tag each account with the entity name, combine the DR and CR into one DR (CR) column.
[2] Create your financial statements with your desired accounts and headings
[3] On your tab with the trial balances, create a column called Balance Sheet and assign a B/S account from your B/S page by linking to it…for all line items. Add another column for Income Statement Accounts.
Be sure to skip all intercompany accounts.
[4] On your financials, use the SUMIF function to pull from the columns on the T/B tab using your mapping.

Pros: You can easy-to-update, professional-looking consolidated financials.
Con: It takes a while to set up the first time.

 

QUICKBOOKS ENTERPRISE

[1] Make sure the Charts of Accounts are identical across all 3 entities for any accounts that you wish to consolidate. Account number, spelling, parent/sub status.
[2] Also make sure that any intercompany accounts are all on the same line, i.e. if you have an asset in one and a liability in the other, change one of them to an asset before consolidating.
[3] Use the tool in the Reports menu to consolidate.

Pro: Doesn’t take a lot of time.
Cons: You have to set up those intercompany accounts each time so they get zeroed out, and you end up with consolidated financials that are in Excel and are very cheesy-looking.

Cash Crunch! Nonprofit Edition

 

The best paths out of a cash crunch depend on the cause of the problem. Some examples are below; I hope one or more is helpful.

We’re going to skip the obvious “Get more grants! Do more fundraising!”

Cause: Solution

Embezzlement: Plug the leak, make them give it back, get a line of credit if necessary to see you through until you do.

Unreimbursed grant expenses: Speed up your processes so you can invoice faster. Engage in faster communications with grantors so they don’t forget about you. Set up electronic inbound payments for the grant funds.

High monthly burn not covered by grants: Take a look at any expenses that aren’t providing the organization with value and cut them. Start with the largest ones, not your deluxe paper clips.

Typical seasonal flux: Consider a line of credit. This financing tool is what a lot of seasonal organizations use to get them through the predictable, seasonal tough times if they haven’t saved up from the abundant times. And next season when the organization has plenty of cash, squirrel more of it into a savings account and then you’ll be your OWN line of credit!

Disallowed grant expenses: Use technology to collect backup documentation so you can submit all of those documents to grantors. For example, use Expensify or Entryless so authorized employees can snap a photo of their receipts or scan them, and send them ultimately to the accounting system. And review grants/authorizations with everyone empowered to spend so no one spends on something not covered by a grant.

Overspending grants: Quickly realign your authorization policies for spending as well as the clarity of your accounting on a grant-by-grant basis. Even basic accounting systems such as QuickBooks and Xero are able to produce an income statement by grant if you set them up to do so.

Should We Change Our Accounting System?

accounting systems
Regarding the decision to change or not change accounting program, consider the following as part of your guidance system:
[1] how easily can the system (with the right people and processes) give you the insights that you require in order to make decisions WHEN you need those insights?
[2] how easy is it to find qualified accounting professionals at an affordable cost to use the system to the level that you require in order to get those insights? Remember that you might have people now who can do it, but how many more are out there and accessible? People change jobs for one reason or another.
[3] how much time does system troubleshooting take away from value-added time / how much do system issues slow down your ability to get those insights?
[4] how easy is it for independent auditors to access the data as well as any transaction backup (that’s jargon for “documentation”) and workpapers? This can impact audit price and on-time delivery of the audited F/S to the board, as well as whether you have to go on extension for the 990 each year.
[5] to what extent is downtime an issue? what are the risks of losing data or not being able to access it when you need it?
[6] does the system include other capabilities or integrate with non-accounting systems such as donor management?

Boost Your Accounting Know-How with These Terms

Outsmart your accountant and other financial friends with these accounting-related definitions:

Fiscal Year

Most companies report their results on a calendar year, from January 1 through December 31. Some companies use a different year for reporting, and that’s called a fiscal year. For example, Intuit’s fiscal year runs from August 1 to July 31. A nonprofit commonly runs from July 1 to June 30.

The word fiscal alone refers to government or public revenues and expenditures. A fiscal year can also be considered the period where companies report their financial results to the public.

Budget

Most companies sit down once a year and plan what they intend to spend. This set of numbers is a budget. It is prepared in income statement format which includes planned revenue and expenses. It can be done for a year, monthly or both.

A common report that compares budget to actual figures is the Income Statement Comparison to Budget which includes columns for month and year-to-date actual, budget, and variance (the difference).

Forecast

While a budget is a longer term plan, a forecast is an attempt to predict the short-term future. Forecasts can be made for cash flow, predicting your bank account balance, or can be focused on potential profit for a period. A forecast is created by enumerating current and expected short-term cash commitments.

General Ledger

A general ledger is a fancy word for your accounting books. It’s also a very specific report that lists each account within the chart of accounts, beginning balances, the activity of each account for a particular period of time, and ending balances. It includes both balance sheet accounts, such as cash, accounts receivable, and accounts payable, and income statement accounts, such as revenue and expenses.

Fixed Asset

A fixed asset is a special type of asset that includes items such as land, vehicles, furniture, buildings, office equipment, plants, and machinery. Fixed assets cannot easily be converted into cash (cash equivalents are termed current assets) and they must last longer than one year. They are physical or tangible (as opposed to intangibles such as patents and trademarks).

Depreciation

Most fixed assets except land depreciate in value over time. For example, when you drive a new car out of the lot, no one will give you what you just paid for it. This reduction in value over time is recognized on accounting books by recording depreciation. Since assets need to be recognized at market value, depreciation is an estimate of this adjustment. Depreciation becomes an expense and reduces the value of the fixed asset. Unlike most other transactions, cash is not affected when recording depreciation.

Accrual

There are two ways to keep books when it comes to the timing of how items are recorded: the cash method and the accrual method. Let’s invoke Popeye the Sailor Man’s friend Wimpy who always says, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Let’s say today is the Friday before this famous Tuesday.

If you are using the cash basis method, you would record the entire transaction on Tuesday, when you get the cold hard cash. If you are using the accrual basis, you would have two entries: one on Friday to record the sale to accounts receivable and one on Tuesday to zero out the receivable and increase cash. It’s the same net, effect; the only difference is in the timing.

Most small businesses that extend credit keep their books on an accrual basis so they can keep track of everything. Most taxes are paid on cash-basis books, requiring adjusting entries at year end that reverse at the beginning of the year.

Balance Sheet

A balance sheet is a very common report of all of the business’s account balances as of a specific date, such as December 31. These accounts include cash, receivables, fixed assets, liabilities, equity and others.

Journal Entry

A journal entry is usually an adjustment that is made to the accounting books. The result is that some accounts increase and others decrease. In theory, every transaction made to a company’s books is a journal entry. When you write a check and it’s cashed, cash goes down and an expense is increased. When you receive a payment, cash goes up and revenue goes up. Each of these transactions is a journal entry.

Do you feel a bit smarter? I’m not sure how exciting this is for cocktail table talk, but hopefully you feel smarter when it comes you’re your business’s accounting function.

Get Finance-Savvy with 10 Accounting Terms

It’s good to know some basic accounting terms, and here are ten terms with friendly definitions for your review.

Asset:  Essentially, assets are what you own.   These include your bank accounts, business equipment, and even the amounts that customers owe you.

Revenue:  Revenue is what you make.  Another word for it is Sales.  You generate revenue in your business when you make a sale to a customer.  The amount of the sale is included in revenue.

Expense:  An expense is what you spend in your business on items that are not expected to benefit you in the long term.  Expenses include credit card fees, office supplies, insurance, rent, payroll expense, and similar items that you need to incur to keep your business running.

COGS:  COGS stands for Cost of Goods Sold.  It’s a form of expense that directly relates to the product or service being sold.  For example, if shoes are being sold, the cost of purchasing those shoes are consider COGS, while something like rent or insurance is simply an expense.  COGS is more important in manufacturing, retail, and distribution companies.

Net Income:  Another word for net income is profit.  It’s calculated by subtracting expenses from revenue.  If what’s left over is a positive number, it’s net income and if it’s negative, it’s a net loss.  Besides your salary, it’s the amount of money you can either keep or re-invest into your business.

Debit:  A debit is a term that tells you whether money is being increased or decreased.  The hard part is that it’s opposite depending on the account and the company.  Here are some examples:

  • A debit to cash increases it, so that’s good.
  • A debit to a loan you owe decreases it, so that’s good too because you are paying it off.
  • When you talk to a bank teller and they want to debit your account, it means they are taking money away, because your account is a liability to them.  So it’s opposite.

Credit:  A credit is a term that tells you whether money is being increased or decreased.  The hard part is that it’s opposite depending on the account and the company.  Here are some examples:

  • A credit to cash decreases it, as in writing a check to someone.
  • A credit to a loan you owe increases it, so you owe more money.
  • When you talk to a bank teller and they want to credit your account, it means they are putting money in, because your account is a liability to them.  So it’s opposite.

 

GAAP: GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.  It refers to the set of standards that must be followed by accountants when creating accounting reports for people like bankers and investors who rely on them.

Liabilities:  Liabilities are what you owe.  If you have loans taken out for your business or owe vendors money for invoices of purchases they sent you, those are liabilities.  Common liabilities include sales tax that you’ve collected but not paid, unpaid vendors’ invoices, credit cards that are not paid off each month, mortgages on buildings, and any bank loans you’ve taken out.

Equity:  In mathematical terms, equity is the net of your assets less your liabilities.  In more philosophical terms, it’s the net amount you and your fellow business owners have invested in your business adjusted by the years of net income you’ve made less what you’ve taken out of the business.

How many terms did you already know?  Do you feel smarter already?  Knowing accounting terms will help you understand this aspect of your business a bit better.