Overview of the Accounting Industry
Most business proprietors do not want to get over-involved in time-consuming non-productive accounting activities. Nonetheless, there is a necessity at the time of starting up to have accurate figures, to satisfy Statutory Regulations relating to company taxation, and submission to Company Regulators (such Companies House in the UK). In addition, as a business grows, it needs to decide how much accountancy can be done in-house, and how much externally. The following summarise the most commonly used type of accounting services:-
Every business must keep financial records in order to satisfy Statutory requirements. Given that such records should reflect the immediate transactions being undertaken by the business, such records would normally be kept in-house. Occasionally, where such records could be written up less frequently (i.e. weekly or monthly), an external book keeping service could be used. Quite often, for certain types of businesses (e.g. Pubs, hairdressers), 'record books' in a specific format can be purchased - in addition, modern software programs also cater for all manner of businesses.
The most common accounting service involves using a Chartered Accountant will undertake is to produce the Financial Accounts of a business. Chartered Accountants work in nearly all commercial and manufacturing sectors, including audit, taxation, insolvency and financial and general management. Accounts are produced from the financial records of a company. At the end of the financial year, all transactions are totalled, and a Trial Balance is produced, from which the Financial Accounts are prepared. The Financial Accounts are a snapshot of the state of the business at the end of its financial year.
Another common accounting service involves employing the services of a company tax advisor. Dealing with company tax issues yourself can be a minefield unless you have a fair knowledge or are personally acquainted with someone who knows what they are doing. Nearly always completed externally based upon the results of the Business as shown in its Financial Accounts. Business owners are rarely tax experts and this area is usually left to tax consultancy professionals who can advise as to the ramifications of management decisions, especially as regards cash flow.
Many business owners preparing a company for sale may need to employ the accounting services of a qualified external auditor to review recent Statutory Accounts and internal Business procedures. This involves analysing transactions to ensure that all correct procedures have been followed and reviewing Company costs and revenues to make sure that no fraud has taken place.
Many accountancy firms supply compliance services. A compliance service can help a business meet its financial reporting requirements wherever they do business. For example in the UK, this can range from meeting Statutory obligations, adhering to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), to Taxation issues. GAAP is generally concerned with adhering to Financial Reporting Standards (FRS) which are published by the independent Financial Reporting Council, which is made up of the major Accountancy and Finance Bodies.
There are also many specialist accounting services. For example, factoring services facilitate the sale by a business of its debts to a third party (usually at a discount). Another specialist service example is a fraud management service. This is an extension of an audit. The Accountancy firm is involved in fraud detection and elimination through setting up and following through various internal controls within businesses and reviewing accounts to confirm that they correspond accurately to historical events. Liability analysis is another specialist service that involves the use of various ratios (e.g. cash short-term liabilities) to determine the financial health of a business and ensure that it does not run into cash flow problems.
Insolvency is a separate regulated specialist profession under the Insolvency Act 1986. Licences are issued to Insolvency Practitioners subject to passing the examinations and fulfilling requisite experience qualifications. Licences can be issued by Chartered and Certified Accountants, The Insolvency Practitioners' Association, and the Law Society.
Possibly the most important aspect of accounting for new businesses are management accounting services. Management Accounting uses accounting information to provide business managers with the means of assisting in making informed decisions. A "once-a-year" snapshot is of little use when there are key financial areas (e.g. cash flow, profit and loss) that need constant review. So management accounts are produced from adjusted trial balances taken on a regular basis from the books of account. Normally as a minimum these would consist of an actual versus budget comparison for the current period and year to date and forecast for the year in a specific format plus a cash flow analysis. Management information tends to focus more on the future (financial information is snapshot of the existing position) and is used extensively within a business, rather than for the benefit of its owners and statutory purposes. Although it is based upon the existing financial position, management information will also contain plans for the future in the form of budgets which can be used as an instrument of financial control, and as a guide to future strategy.
In nearly all businesses, pay usually represents at least, if not, the largest cost item, so it is crucial to ensure that the payroll function works correctly insofar as staff and the tax authorities are paid accurately. Many firms employ a payroll services provider to take away the hassle of payroll administration This is one area where starter and small businesses try to avoid spending disproportionate amounts of time, but medium and large businesses operate payrolls in house using bespoke payroll software.
Purchasing (and to some extent Procurement) involves the acquisition of assets, goods or services - procedures vary widely between organisations. Sometimes purchasing services are outsourced to accountants. Normally, a medium-sized organisation upwards will have a purchasing manager, goods inwards section, and accounts payable section within the finance department in order to avoid fraud. Similarly, many accountancy firms can also provide stock taking and inventory services. Stocktaking is the physical count (both annually and cyclically) of the quantities and qualities of the items of stock and work-in-progress held in a business's warehouse in order to measure its value in the accounts for both management and audit purposes. In addition, various stock items (large volume items, high value items) are counted regularly to ensure that the bulk of the stock valuation figure at any one time is accurate and to eliminate fraud and pilferage.