A Review of Month-End and Quarter-End Best Practices Streamlining Processes Before the End of the Year
As we approach the end of the third quarter, it’s time for more than all things pumpkin spice, falling leaves, and cooler temperatures. For CFOs, it’s also time for quarterly financial reviews and audits. The third quarter is particularly relevant because as we near year-end (for calendar taxpayers), we want to ensure that our financials are in order for any strategic planning and budget planning needs for the new year.
Quarter-End is Also Month-End
Just because it’s time for a quarterly review though does not mean it’s time to put aside our normal month-end review. As a reminder, best practices for month-end financial and accounting tasks include:
Reviewing the general ledger.
Reviewing the balance sheet and profit and loss statement.
Reconciling balance sheet accounts.
Running budget comparisons
Running prior year comparisons.
Reviewing monthly bank reconciliations (particularly for any checks that have not been cleared or any suspicious activity).
Ensuring all bills are current by reviewing Accounts Payable.
Reviewing Accounts Receivable aging.
Reviewing any investment activity.
With regard to specific quarter-end reviews, actual wages paid should be reconciled with any Form 941s that are issued. We always advise our clients to be especially cognizant of any adjustments that need to be made prior to the filing of the annual Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Board and committee minutes required for annual audits should also be approved and filed at this time, and any scheduled quarterly audits conducted. Given our “new normal,” many companies are also taking a closer look at their financial technology at the end of each quarter. With more businesses operating virtually, ensuring your company has the most up-to-date technology and accessible systems is crucial to conducting business efficiently.
Streamlining Closing Processes
While there is no doubt that much needs to be done during a month- and quarter-close, there is always room for improved efficiency in the processes. These closing procedures should not be days upon endless days (or weeks) of analysis of every small detail, particularly when those details have no impact on the company’s big picture or leadership’s decision making. Making this process longer than it has to be costs not only time, but also money.
Leadership needs timely information to effectively run the business. Efficient month-end and quarter-end close processes not only increase timeliness, but also improve controls, and reduce risks. Streamlining these processes gets information to leadership faster for smarter decision-making. Streamlining can include:
Set a goal for a 3-5 day close (yes, it can be done).
Gather a team for the closing process with clear directions and goals. Make sure everyone is in alignment and clearly understands what is expected of them pre-close.
Prepare a detailed close schedule. This should be reviewed at the pre-close meeting.
Conduct a post-close meeting to review what could have been done differently to improve the process.
Continuously implement those improved procedures in future month and quarter closes.
After all, time is money, and no one knows that better than the CFO. Barker Associates has extensive experience in helping companies streamline their month- and quarter-end closes. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
When I have guests over for dinner, I empty trash cans, pull out the cloth napkins, and replace the everyday hand towel with a nice guest towel. The morning after the dinner party, I almost always say to myself that we should keep the house this tidy and organized all the time. A decluttered house feels really nice. Working at home during the pandemic has allowed me to have the time to keep the house up better and I have enjoyed it.
Think about getting your house in order and keeping it that way, similar to keeping your books and records audit ready. When business owners and their CFOs go through an audit that requires a lot of up-front preparation to get the information auditable, they generally discover facts about their business of which they were previously unaware. The ability to use financial data to think strategically and make sound decisions about the operations of the business is not a luxury to undervalue.
Auditors estimate their costs for performing your audit based on the books and records being clean and auditable. I have asked some auditors how much more first year audits cost than their original estimate due to the books and records being out of order. They report that the range is 20% to over 10 times the original estimate. This is not a pleasant outcome for anyone.
Here are seven tips on how to keep your books auditable and help reduce your audit costs.
Maintain a checking account balance in checkbook style that one person reconciles to the bank statement and then a second person reviews for accuracy.
Reconcile balance sheet account balances no less than once a quarter, if not every month. The two accounts that are generally audit gremlins are prepaid expense and accrued expenses. If you have not reconciled these accounts in the last year, I can almost guarantee you there will be unexplained numbers in them.
Keep a data room with all of your contracts and loans. With the digital age and the end of the metal filing cabinet, this seems to be something that is rarely maintained appropriately. Read more about the data room in my previous blog Who is Your Betty.
As soon as you decide to engage an auditor, your immediate next step should be to get the list of information they will want. Assign a person and a due date to each item on the list and distribute it to the responsible parties. Set deadlines for delivery of the documents and monitor progress until the tasks are completed (Excel schedule, Asana, or other project management software).
Complete the confirmation information and attorney letters immediately after you receive the list of the items the auditors want to confirm. Make sure the auditors give it to you as soon as you have a year-end trial balance for them to review.
Provide the auditors with a complete trial balance. Every adjustment to the trial balance you provide auditors increases the price of the audit.
Work on the format and disclosures of the audited financial statements for the current year as soon as the previous audit is complete. There is no excuse for digging through loan documents to prepare the financial statement footnotes after the year-end, or to read a new GAAP disclosure to figure out how to do it after year-end.
Barker Associates works with companies to access audit readiness, which is a far better investment than starting an audit with false confidence you are able to get through the audit. Let’s work together to make sure your audit fees are not multiples of the original quoted rate from the auditors. Click here to set up a free consultation.
Companies are going through year-end financial reporting.
Just for fun, at cocktail parties and networking lunches, I ask executives and
investors if they get the year-end results as quickly as they would like to get
them. My unofficial survey says that most stakeholders are not receiving
Proactive organizations have “Day Zero” at the top
of mind at the beginning of the month. If you don’t know what this means in
terms of proactively managing your financial strategy, read on…
The truth is that almost every single employee in an
organization can impact the ability of the accounting department to close
timely, yet the company accountant may not be the best source to drive home
that truth. The message from the top should convey respect for each
professional’s time and support for more efficient month-end and year-end
processes – where everyone focuses on funneling information in a manner to
close the records effectively. The ultimate goal is to provide to the
management team a Flash Report as soon as possible following month-end,
followed by the official month end financials.
Day Zero refers to tasks your accounting and finance
departments can complete prior to the
end of the month to speed up the month end close. Decisions about the company
require timely, accurate data – a smooth and timely month-end is vital.
eyeshade” accountants may balk at the idea that they can shorten the
month-end process; however, the strategic finance professional digs into their
process to find and tackle these tasks, as well as improving their process
Here are some examples of what I mean:
standard monthly entries for amortization of intangibles, and
accruals of expense.
Once you have identified the pre-close tasks, create a Day
Zero checklist with deadlines for each item. The finance manager should
oversee that deadlines are being consistently met and if not, get to the root
of the problem to correct the process. One solution may involve asking other
departments to turn in their information based on a schedule you provide in
Refining your month-end close process is an iterative
process if you continually raise the bar to identify better ways to execute.
Automating reconciliation and other process improvements contribute to
shortening the cycle.
Document your processes with Standard Operating Procedures
so that all team members have steps to follow should any one team member need
backup. Keep your SOPs up-to-date through periodic review.
Spend time in the middle of the month following the month-end
process to complete your review of the entire process. Engage your finance team
and uncover those Day Zero tasks you can incorporate into your process.
Everyone in the organization will benefit when leaders have more timely and
accurate information with which to make decisions.
If you are disciplined and implement Day Zero and other
month-end processes, you can provide a Flash Report of results to management as
soon as Day 1 after month-end.
can facilitate a review of month-end processes with your team to ensure you
have uncovered all the possible streamlining opportunities. Provide the best
customer service to your management team possible – provide financial
information and think strategically and become part of positive initiatives to
move the entity forward and not the green-eyeshade accounting department about
which everyone complains.
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)
NetFlix innovated Blockbuster out of business with online streaming.
Amazon innovated a new way to interact with customers with the Prime and Subscribe and Save programs.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Each month end, financial reporting packages are prepared in companies across the nation and promptly filed…somewhere. In most cases, the accounting team has prepared these analyses and turned them over to a senior leadership team who really does not understand how to use them to run the business. Reams of paper reports stand in piles, creating more of an environmental concern due to the use of paper, than the financial concern needed to effectively run the business.
Even though the accounting department has included a tremendous amount of information that may help them prepare for the annual audit, have they contributed information relevant to the management of the business?
By implementing accounting best practices, such as streamlined processes and standard, relevant reporting, work effort can shift from processing to high value activities that invest in the business, such as special projects and guidance on improving the bottom line.
Time is money, and time spent to prepare irrelevant information is wasted. Month end packages should be concise and provide information about the relevant Key Performance Indicators identified by Management. Contact Mindy Barker & Associates to find out how we can guide your leadership team to discover, report and track monthly Key Performance Indicators that help you make timely and informed decisions in running your business.
As a business owner, do you have timely information to run your business? Or do you feel like you are in jail, lacking the freedom to run your business with financial clarity? I admit it – we accountants can be very black and white. Some accountants feel the need to turn the month end close process to a detail-mining analysis of minutia, requiring detail that is not relevant to the big picture and decision-making. The time and expense involved with a long, drawn-out month end close is expensive, with the most expensive part being the opportunity cost of management not having the proper information to make the right decisions to run the business. I can show you that the month end close process should take no more than 5 days. Each month a post-close meeting with all involved in the process can help identify areas to reengineer that will accomplish a 5-day time line. Each Journal Entry should be analyzed to determine if it can be made earlier in the process. In most cases, there are ways to accomplish this. Mindy Barker & Associates can assist with analyzing the process and helping you achieve a 5-day month end close.