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Category Archives: CFO

When Business Leaders Confess That They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

When Business Leaders Confess That They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I have avoided yoga class for a few months because I was intimidated by the fact that most of the participants twist and turn like the performers in Cirque du Soleil®. This morning I decided I would break through my barrier of feeling intimidated and attend the class. As I drove to class, I realized one of the reasons I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone TODAY was because I had attended previous classes with this specific teacher. Alyson Foreacre is the owner of Yoga Den, where I attend. She is an amazing teacher who I trusted to lead me through my own practice of yoga. If all I did was stay in one yoga pose and breath, she would probably encourage me to do more in a very respectful and empathetic way.

My journey with yoga can be compared to how business leaders feel about financial information. In my years of practice, I have learned that they are intimidated by financial reports. They are fearful of asking questions, they don’t want to sound ignorant. Feeling intimidated by yoga class and by financial information is similar, as in both cases we are keeping ourselves from something that can be helpful in our overall lives.

My feelings of intimidation with yoga were primarily tied to fear of not keeping up with the class and not knowing how to do all the moves. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about how yoga class is a practice, not a directive. I was so right when I told myself “I got this” with Alyson’s assistance. She is an encouraging teacher who provides alternatives if she knows you need them. She also lovingly encourages you when you need a little guidance. Today she even laid on the floor beside me to show me how to do a certain move.  She validated my confidence in her ability to get me through the difficult moves.

I often meet with entrepreneurial business owners, nonprofit leaders or business professionals in corporations to discuss their pain points. The most frequent statement I hear during those discussions are “I don’t know what I don’t know.”  I have to admit that, it wasn’t until I was attacked by the anxiety of doing the right kind of Downward-Facing Dog and other yoga moves, that I truly have the proper level of empathy for this statement. I also realized that I should feel honored that my clients trust in me to share their own fears of financial information.

When Business Leaders Confess That They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Being responsible for an entire organization, or even just a section of one, without understanding the financial implications can be frightening. It takes a lot of courage to push through your uncomfortable zone, to accept some uncomfortable space for some time until you understand. Just like my sore muscles right now are telling me it will take a few times before that class feels good.  But I know that if I dare to go again and I struggle, Alyson will be there for me.

Is it possible that you don’t know what you don’t know? If you struggle with the following internal dialog, the answer is probably “Yes”:

  1. I do not receive financial statements each month timely and I do not understand why.
  2. Cash is very tight, and I am not sure we have enough money to pay the bills and make payroll for the next month or two.  I am not sure how to address this.
  3. The new revenue recognition guidance is required, and I do not know where to begin with implementation.
  4. The organization needs to raise capital and I do not know what the right type of investor is for our organization.
  5. The corporation needs to divest of a subsidiary or a line of business and I am not sure how to make that work. What are the options?
  6. I know we need better systems and process to improve the customer experience but I do not know where to begin or have the time to ask various vendors what their system does, or even understand the full capabilities of our current system.

Barker Associates can help you work through these anxieties and guide you through the process. We are direct communicators who will share with you the reality of the situation, even it is not what you want to hear. Recalling my sore yoga muscles, I will be empathetic to your journey of not knowing what you do not know. Give me a chance to let my experience work for you. https://mindybarkerassociates.com/contact/

Marriage Counseling for You and Your Budget

It is the first month of the calendar year and for many, the start of the fiscal year as well. The first month for you to start measuring the results you assuredly planned and documented in a budget for the year.

 

Each of you has a different relationship with your budget. Each of the components of this relationship can lead to great results or negative ones, depending on how you react to them. Your reactions can impact your personal career as well as the health of the company you own or work for.

 

Read more about some of the pitfalls of budgeting and how to enhance your relationship with the budget to achieve the great results for which you planned.

Marriage Counseling for You and Your Budget

 

CEOs, Presidents and Executive Directors

If you created the budget while sitting with your accountant, made sure you were comfortable with the revenues and expenses, but have not communicated it to the managers and leaders of the organization, you have just cheated on your budget. My counsel is to get the budget in a presentable format to communicate to those who have a chance to manage day-to-day to help you achieve the results forecasted in the budget.

 

The message to your managers should include your overall strategy, backed by practical, measurable goals.  Your leaders need to believe in your strategy because if they do, your job of leading the organization to positive results will be so much easier.

 

I repeatedly hear, in large and small organizations, from managers, supervisors and those on the front line, that they have no idea what the monthly budget is for repairs to equipment, printing costs, etc. They are spending money based on one decision at a time without the benefit of the overall strategy. Without involving your managers in the process, you are not benefitting from their knowledge and experience.

 

Nonprofit Executives and Finance Committee Members

Can you answer these questions? If not, your budget package needs work.

 

  • How much does it cost the organization to run each program? Of that total cost, how much is covered by actual funding commitments and how much has to be raised to maintain the program(s)?
  • How much of your administrative cost – Finance, Accounting, Development, etc., is funded by direct reimbursement and/or the de minimis administration expense reimbursement in grant budgets? How much money has to be raised to cover these costs?
  • Does the budget package have one column for the Net Change in Assets/Income Statement and no backup schedules to show the Revenues and Expenses by program and grant? If your answer is yes, the budget package is one-dimensional. In other words, it does not provide the fundraisers and the Board the needed information to interact with potential donors and speak intelligently about the real needs that are met through fundraising. Many nonprofits go under when they issue one dimensional budgets to Finance Committees year after year. There is no clear understanding of the true funding requirements. Your fiduciary responsibility should lead you to ask for more transparency regarding where the needed funds for programming and administration costs will come from.

 

Finance and Accounting Professionals

Did you manage the budget process so that the budget is constructed the same way the detail accounting entries are made month-to-month? Most non-finance professionals hate to deal with anything that has “Budget to Actual Variance” in the description; add to it that you are explaining that the variances are because the budget has one type of accounting and the actual has another, and you are sure to cause irritation that is just not necessary.  It is like a spouse putting the toilet paper on the roll backward – it is irritating and just not necessary.  It is your job to keep the conversations and analyses about real differences and tie those differences to a real discussion that empowers the team to react and strategically move the direction as planned or make a decision to pivot. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

 

Differences Between Finance and Payroll Practices

Large and small organizations find themselves with the ineffective comparison of budget-to-actual salaries, caused by Finance dividing the total annual salary by twelve for the monthly budget.  Payroll records the true payroll expense. Month-to-month variances result, as Finance budgeted for a full twenty-eight to thirty-one days and Payroll budgeted for twenty-eight or forty-two days depending on whether it’s a two or three pay period month.

 

Insurance

Insurance is typically paid in advance for the quarter or year. If it is material, it should be set up in a Prepaid Account. If insurance bills are expensed as paid, the month variance could be a result of those payments and not an actual expense overage.

 

 

Annual payments for subscriptions

These payments should be reviewed to determine materiality; determine if they should be set up in a prepaid account when paid, or if they are immaterial and should be expensed. When you mirror the actual accounting and the anticipated expense pattern in the budget you can avoid unnecessary variances and questions.

 

Sales Revenue

A company that is anticipating a large increase in revenue should determine how the increased sales and related cost of goods should be spread throughout the year in the budget. Consider the current pipeline and sales cycle when budgeting sales revenue. If your sales cycle is 120 days and there is $1 million in your pipeline at the end of the year, you will not realize $3 million in sales in the first quarter.  A fast-growing entity could possibly reach $12 million in sales for the full year, but it should not be spread evenly to each month. Patterns such as this will frustrate executives and sales staff and make them feel like failures. This would be the equivalent of us expecting our spouse to be Jeff Bezos and to increase our family’s net worth at the same rate.

 

Operations Executives

Make sure you are empowered with the right information to effectively run your department.  Do your best to work with accounting to submit invoices and information within their deadlines so they can process the data into information that you can review and use to communicate effectively with the leaders of the organization.

 

Try to manage potential budget cuts made throughout the year so the troops can stay focused on driving the overall strategy of the business.

 

Think of it like this great example in the Netflix series House of Cards (spoiler alert if you have not begun your binge watching of the series – sorry).

In this episode, Frank becomes President and wants to take funds from FEMA to fund a jobs program to put people to work.  The head of FEMA does not resign and tells his colleague he is not going to resign, as he is the only one who can manage the reduced funds and help those in need if a hurricane does hit after Frank took all the budget money. While the drama is critical for a successful Netflix series, you don’t want a similar drama playing out in your company!

 

Good luck with your relationship with the budget. Use my advice to help manage your fiduciary responsibility to the organization, as well as your duty to manage your career. Avoid the many aspects of “marital irritation” I have discussed by correctly managing Budget-to-Actual variances.

If you would like to discuss your relationship with your budget directly with me, please sign up for a complimentary 30-minute session through the contact link here.

 

Yikes! Are You Still Using Paper Checks?

Placing paper checks in the mail to vendors places your company at risk if you are placing them in the mail without Positive Pay.
Why don’t you just play Russian roulette with a full chamber or ride a motorcycle without a helmet? That may seem a little over the top, but the paper check is a risky way to submit payments to vendors. 

What Can Happen?

A client contacted me recently to help unravel the mystery of the missing payment to one of his vendors. By researching his automated AP system and conferring with his third-party print vendor, we confirmed that the check had been produced and picked up by the post office for delivery. The check was eventually presented to a bank in Chicago for payment. The vendor was in North Carolina.

The bank in Chicago eventually released a photo to the FBI (yes, they had to get involved) of the person trying to cash the check. We had the chance to view the photo to confirm the person was not an employee of my client’s company. Thanks to using Positive Pay, they did not lose out on the amount of the check.

Check Fraud

The incidents of check fraud are so frequent that law enforcement officials such as the FBI aren’t that interested in pursuing the “little guys;” they want to go after the big fish. Even though the check my client had cut was over $20,000 – big to him – it wasn’t worth pursuing just that instance to the FBI.

If you thought checks were old news, take a look at these statistics from the 2016 AFP Electronic Payments Fraud and Control Survey:

  • Seventy-five percent of organizations that were victims of fraud attempts/attacks in 2016 experienced check fraud, a 4% increase over 2015.
  • Positive pay continues to be the method most often used by organizations to guard against check fraud, used by 74 percent of organizations. Other methods include:
    • Segregation of accounts (cited by 69 percent of respondents)
    • Daily reconciliations and other internal processes (64 percent)
    • Payee positive pay (41 percent)
  • Lack of positive pay (cited by 23 percent of respondents) and clerical errors (18 percent) were two primary reasons for financial loss due to check fraud.

Electronic Payments

As the statistics show, checks continue to be the payment method most frequently targeted by those committing or attempting to commit fraud. One method companies use to fight check fraud is converting to electronic payments. In addition to the fraud prevention benefits, ePayments provide benefits such as:

  • Ability to quickly process last-minute bill and payroll payments.
  • Take advantage of early payment discounts, while paying closer to the due date.
  • Improved client-vendor relationships due to rapid, more efficient payments.
  • Eliminate the cost of printing and mailing paper checks, which can be as much as $9 per check.

Often implemented as an add-on to your existing financial system, the selection of vendors offering B2B ePayment solutions is huge. Barker Associates has seen the “deer-in-the-headlights” look that clients get when trying to sort through the options to choose the best solution for their company.


Gathering this information and learning more about the ePayment process can be overwhelming. Want help? Sign up for a 30-minute consultation with me to discuss. 

In addition, we have compiled an invaluable checklist that will guide you in the transformation of your payment process to select the best vendor for your circumstances.



The New Sales Tax Laws- What You NEED to know!

I have had the opportunity to work with creative, tenacious entrepreneurs who add disruptive technology and new functionality to our world. I understand that as these wonderful people are creating, they do not always think about the best way to maintain the sales and customer infrastructure they need on the back end. A new court ruling could have implications for their business.

To help you all understand how the new sales tax laws could impact your business, I have deconstructed the new rulings to give you the bottom line on the fundamental requirements you must have in place to sleep peacefully, knowing you have the financial clarity to be prepared.

My experience working with the sale of a business, capital raise due diligence and audit prep gives me an understanding of complying with the new out-of-state sales tax requirements.  I can see the look on your face when you ask your tax person, “What information do I need to understand my exposure to the new sales tax law, and they say, “It depends…”

Are Your Customers Out-of-State?

The recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. case (June 21, 2018) has garnered lots of attention from business owners and finance professionals alike. The new law in South Dakota – if you sell a minimum of $100,000 in sales OR 200 transactions to South Dakota customers from anywhere in the US, you must collect and remit that sales tax based on South Dakota’s laws. There are thousands of technical tax issues and caveats that follow suit, with legislators expanding states’ legal ability to collect sales tax on sales executed anywhere in the United States; this should be more than enough to make you think it has got to be 5 o’clock somewhere.

Don’t be distracted trying to learn all the technical aspects of what is required; instead, work with tax professionals at a CPA firm or similar services. When you muster the courage to ask how to prepare for an impending sales tax audit, the person you are talking to is going to say – It depends.

Your tax person will ask many difficult questions, which you can’t answer to off the top of your head. I have worked with hundreds of companies going through audits at a national accounting firm, and I have been the CFO of both large and small entities. The wide range of systems and information about sales and customers that I have seen has been lackluster; in my estimate, a mere 15% of companies have the correct data on their customers organized in a way they would be able to answer questions when the tax professional says – It depends.

The New Sales Tax Requirement- What You NEED to know!

Be Ready for It Depends…

You can quickly feel overwhelmed just thinking about being subject to a sales tax audit for each state that you ship your product to. I’ve compiled the following list as a comprehensive guide to strength-testing your customer database, to see how it will hold up when this sales tax issue inevitably affects you.

1. Can you produce data that shows sales by customer that will reconcile with that year’s tax return submitted to the IRS? Or are you the type of business that does not consistently keep sales data that matches the corresponding financial data? Companies that are not subject to Sarbanes-Oxley, State regulatory filing requirements, or an annual audit do not keep sales data that matches their summary financial documents. In the case of the sale of the business, this becomes a due diligence issue, as the acquiring firm or investor cannot substantiate and analyze the sales to comfortably know what they are buying.

2. Can you dig into your customer data by state and by transaction? Can you determine the number of transactions by state? South Dakota’s new law states that if you have 200 transactions, you are subject to the collection and remittance of sales tax. There is NO dollar limit, or requirement on the 200 transactions. You could make 200 hair bows in your garage then send them to South Dakota, and you will still have to collect and remit sales tax.

3. Do your customer records consistently distinguish between billing and shipping addresses, and how easy is it to report? Is there a clear business rule and process that makes the shipping address distinct from the billing address?

4. If your business model is subscription services, but includes the sale of a product at the beginning of the relationship, can you segment the sale between product and service? For example, if you are a software-as-a-service, (SaaS), company and you sell hardware to run the service at the beginning of each sale, can you produce records that agree with the information in #1, to distinguish between product and service?

5. If your revenue is generated from maintenance and/or installation of items are you able to distinguish customer sales records between the sale of the product and the labor to install? The tax on labor for maintenance and/or labor in each State that charges Sales Tax is different, and you must be able to distinguish the difference between Labor and Parts in your operations, sales, and billing systems. Examples, where this applies, are large long-haul trucks, machinery, or pipelines used in construction, all of which include a sale followed by installation or maintenance.

Be Prepared with a Solid Infrastructure

Strategy discussions with your CPA must include an analysis of how to manage through these new regulations that are inevitably going to make their way through your state’s legislature. Politicians in states other than South Dakota are eager to push similar bills through their system, and it will be a popular but non-controversial pursuit. How exactly will each state implement such sales tax laws? My crystal ball says that only time will tell.

The bottom line is that, once again, I am giving another example of the cost of having the wrong infrastructure in your business.  The costs related to sales tax compliance in this new world will be substantial.  The good news is, with a solid data capture and reporting infrastructure, you can use the same data for analysis, reporting and audit preparation.  Let’s work together to get you running your business with the financial clarity to know where you are headed!

Mindy Barker, CPA
cfo@mindybarkerassociates.com

The CFO – Your Financial Strategist

A CFO has the financial birds-eye-view to develop forward-looking strategic thinking; they understand different cash management policies to help through challenging times; they help prepare a company for both the known and unknown or unexpected financial obligations, using strategies that make sense for the circumstances.

The CFO - Your Financial Strategist

Do you launch bleeding-edge products? If so, you understand it’s not just about product design, sales, and marketing – the CFO is the team member you need to help with the financial aspect of a new product, such as how to price it, is it making money, should we discontinue an old product.

Want to offer new employee benefits? How much will that idea cost over time?

Considering expansion to a new city, or buying up a competitor? Where do you start?

These are areas where the CFO provides financial strategy and leadership throughout the process.

So, what was your question again – why do you need a CFO? That’s why.

Barker Associates, CFO Strategists, works with entrepreneurial growth companies, established corporations and nonprofits to develop positive cash flow and increase the value of your company. We can be contacted at cfo@mindybarkerassociates.com or 904.728.2920.

Why Should You Hire a CFO?

I have learned from my years as both a CFO and a business owner that many business owners who have not worked directly with a CFO, don’t understand the value they bring to steering the company’s future. When the CEO has a difficult time determining how to spend limited dollars, for example, they may decide to invest in sales and marketing to strengthen sagging revenue, expecting immediate returns with hockey stick-like increases in sales.  Sales and marketing efforts are great investments if properly managed and monitored; however, without discipline and strategy, the expected return may not be realized if the investment was misdirected, to begin with.

CEOs often have a background expertise in sales or technology.  They have enough respect for accounting and finance to know they need at least some of it but, truth-be-told would rather kiss an alligator than to admit how little they understand about financing, how a balance sheet works or why they need a cash flow statement.

Why Should You Hire a CFO

They also don’t understand the difference between a CFO and a CPA.

So, what was your question again – why do you need a CFO? That’s why.

Barker Associates, CFO Strategists, works with entrepreneurial growth companies, established corporations and nonprofits to develop positive cash flow and increase the value of your company. We can be contacted at cfo@mindybarkerassociates.com or 904.728.2920.

Don’t Expect Your CPA To Be Your CFO

I frequently see struggling businesses feel comfortable engaging a CPA to perform an audit, or use a bookkeeper to handle the financial processes of their company and provide monthly finance reports. As we delve deeper into the client’s concerns through probing questions, I often discover that neither the CEO nor the Board fully understands the monthly financial reports that were dutifully distributed to their emails.

Don’t mistake your CPA, who is preparing your tax return or an audit, as the financial strategist for your business.  The CPA’s focus is compliance-driven, not future-focused.  The tax return and audited financial statements are products that show the financial results at a specific point in time.  It is unrealistic to expect your CPA to include ongoing consulting in their services.

To describe in sports terms, think of the CFO like the defensive coach on the field, helping to manage the organization’s financial moves, calling plays in the financial world.

Don’t Expect Your CPA To Be Your CFO

The outside CPA is like the scorekeeper, up in the booth, keeping the score.  It is unfair to blame them when you miss a goal or miss the opportunity to score a touchdown.

Consider adding a CFO to your leadership team to bring a financial, future-focused view to your organization’s decision-making process.

Barker Associates, CFO Strategists, works with entrepreneurial growth companies, established corporations and nonprofits to develop positive cash flow and increase the value of your company. We can be contacted at cfo@mindybarkerassociates.com or 904.728.2920.

Start With Simple

What do making your bed and pitching to potential investors have in common? According to Admiral William McRaven, in his book, Make Your Bed (available at Amazon.com), it’s the simple steps, taken each day, that achieve great results.

To better link these two seemingly unrelated activities, consider this: Chief Executive and Financial Officers may feel overwhelmed by the need to focus on daily tasks and raising capital.  But by executing a simple task, such as making your bed each day, the tone is set for the rest of the day’s attitude and accomplishments.

Combine the responsibilities of a C level position with the priorities of kicking off a new year, and CEOs and CFOs may lack the required focus to also prepare to meet with potential investors. I suggest you personally implement one to two simple habits successfully, then move on to other new habits. The success of achieving even simple changes will reinforce your mindset for success.

Surviving a Disaster – Hurricane Irma

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

The Accounting Department – More Than a Processing Machine

Or – how to become an irreplaceable business partner to your CEO.

 

Why do accounting departments exist? The accounting department can be a processing machine producing mountains of data and reports that get little to no attention OR they can serve as business partner to senior management.

But how do you make that transition to the irreplaceable business partner?

It starts with innovation.  Most people think about inventing a specific product when they hear the word innovation. That is not necessarily the case. It can also mean changing a process – even something as basic as how an entity receives mail, pays bills or records revenue.

 

Innovation – a new idea, more effective device or process; the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs (Wikipedia, 2015)

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

Consider these examples of innovation:

  1. NetFlix innovated Blockbuster out of business with online streaming.

 

  1. Amazon innovated a new way to interact with customers with the Prime and Subscribe and Save programs.

 

  1. New technology in police cars that carry canine officers has the ability to sense when the temperature in the car is too high, triggering the window to automatically roll down and starting a fan to keep the dog cool.

 

Companies have implemented lots of new ways to process a piece of paper and save steps, time and money … small changes like these add up and allow the accounting team to provide a better product to stakeholders.

Where do we start to transition from a process machine working too many hours … to a business partner to senior management? The key is to move the work time from “process and reporting” to “advisor and special project work.” To do this, you must shorten the month end process and change the annual budgeting process to a rolling monthly or quarterly process.

 

The CEO must support this change and as an accountant, you will need to pitch the change by thinking through the emotional drivers that will appeal to the CEO. If your CEO is the type who is uncomfortable with the financial side of the entity, he or she may ask for more data than they actually need. It’s your job to help them understand the best way to guarantee their success is to know the answer to key questions and have the answers to these questions laid out in a meaningful dashboard format.

A great place to start is with the laborious process of Accounts Payable. The paper associated with Accounts Payable and Expense Reporting can be overwhelming.

 

Here are 11 actions you can take to streamline your company’s accounts payable process:

 

  1. If possible, use an automated purchasing system so that purchases are approved at the beginning of the process. This minimizes time on the back end. The system should be set up so that employees that can order a specific type of product and then send to the appropriate approver.
  2. If you do not have an automated system, think through your process with the goal of moving the approval process to the beginning of the payment process – rather than at the end.
  3. In all cases, maintain a list of vendors and their websites with the logins and passwords, securely stored where only authorized users can access. This is especially important with PayPal, who is relentless if you lose the login and password for their site.
  4. In all cases, set up an Accounts Payable email address that routes to at least two accountants. It should go without saying – but I will anyway because I see it all the time – You do not want vendors sending emails to a specific person. When that person leaves, it creates chaos with the accounts payable communication.
  5. If possible, with your technology, set up a process where vendors upload invoices to the purchasing or accounts payable system, with the general ledger codes already noted.
  6. If this is not possible, ask the vendor to send invoices to the accounts payable email address. From there, the invoice can be matched with the purchase order, approved or sent to the cost center owner for approval.
  7. If you do cannot automate the receipt of invoices, except for nonprofits that must maintain original invoices for grant purposes, scan paper invoices and save invoices emailed with a naming convention either in a cloud-based storage or on a shared drive. Set the naming convention to assist with location of invoices later for research. Something like: <invoice date_vendor name_cost center>; think through what information you will need when you research a payables question. If you are the lead of the accounting department or a leader – do not set this naming convention without the input of the person doing the work.
  8. Process payments on a regular basis. If you are processing invoices when the cost center owners request it or vendors call – you are flushing money down the toilet. This is not a good practice. Get your employees and your vendors on board by communicating the payment pattern.
  9. Consider implementing an e-Payment process, either through your accounts payable software or using a third-party vendor who specializes in e-Payments. Utilize the controls that are built into these types of products, don’t bypass them if they seem inconvenient, they exist to protect the company from fraud.
  10. Process all invoices for the month by the last business day of the month. This is essential to maintain a tight monthly schedule. So you may say – I will not have all the invoices – OK – but you generally get 12 invoices a year and it really does not matter if each and every one is in the month it covers. For the month you implement the change, you may need to record an accrual of expense you will reverse until you get the pattern of expense working correctly.
  11. Reconcile Credit Cards on a monthly basis. You can use Expense Management Apps from your phone similar to “Expensify” to assist management with keeping up with receipts and expenses.

 

If you can implement these changes in your AP environment, you have made a great start to free up time for the transition to a trusted financial advisor to the CEO. The next part of this series discusses changes to the month-end process that will continue to advance your progress from “process and reporting” towards “advisor and special project work.”

 

Mindy Barker & Associates (cfo@mindybarkerassociates.com) works with companies to help maneuver the many questions of strengthening accounting processes and practices through process improvements, as well as other decisions that face growing companies.