In Black & White

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Best Practices for Financial Reporting - Eliminate rounding errors

Best Practices for Financial Reporting - Eliminate rounding errors

  • Jamie Black
  • Excel
  • minute(s)Complex reports (Financial statements / Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Budget Book, etc) often present the same value in multiple locations in multiple ways. For example: on page 5 we show total revenue, on page 100 revenue is broken down by type, and on page 200 revenue is broken down by source. The trouble is, the value on page 5 and the total of the break-downs on pages 100 & 200 must all agree. The most common reporting tools (Word & Excel) do not have good methods to confirm and enforce that agreement (see how CaseWare Working Papers solves this problem here). You're left with a manual, error-prone process. The amount of detail provided in even a moderately complex report means rounding errors likely occur hundreds of times. This requires massive time investment during the reporting process to check & double check & triple check as your proceed through the reporting process. This article will explore just one of the common causes of disagreement between these values and suggest best practices to minimize failures of agreement. Different Rounding Approaches Lead to Disagreement As we have examined in our post Best Practices for Financial Reporting with Excel (Step 2), the optimal method for dealing with these 3 different revenue presentations is by linking back to central data source. We will assume you are following this advice. Let's use the following as our central data source (G/L): Approach 1 On page 5, where we just need total revenue we would enter a formula that adds all of the individual account values and rounds the result. Your page total 5 will show total revenue as $804.  Approach 2 But what about on page 100 where we present revenue by type?  The problem becomes apparent. When we need to present more detail, we round each individual account value and then add up those rounded values. Your page 100 will show total revenue as $801, which does not agree to the total of $804 presented on page 5. In other words the problem is we use different approaches to rounding: Approach 1 adds raw values and rounds the total Approach 2 rounds raw values and then adds them The Solution This problem may seem trivial: "Just link the values together!" For example, the value on page 5 might be a cell reference formula to the total of the revenue by type on page 100.  As we discussed in our post Best Practices for Financial Reporting with Excel (Step 2) this causes other problems and only "solves" this problem in one location. It does not address the total on page 200 or any of the other locations that we provide break downs. A better way to address this problem is to attack the foundation of it; always use a single approach to rounding! We must choose one of the two approaches. Given that we must provide detailed disclosures which must be presented rounded to the nearest dollar in many locations we are forced to select the rounding model used in the detailed break-down schedules everywhere. So the recommendation is: If you must present detailed but also rounded disclosures, round all account values in your report and then add them. Thus the value on page 5 becomes $801 which will agree "per-force" with all other presentations.   By following this model you will immediately eliminate all of your "true" rounding issues. In coming articles we will discuss some of the other causes of disagreements.  
Many finance departments use spreadsheets where rounding errors are a continual struggle. This article presents best practices to minimize rounding errors.
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In Control: Internal Control - More than Just Segregation of Duties

In Control: Internal Control - More than Just Segregation of Duties

  • Holly Ueland
  • In Control
  • minute(s)We strike up conversations about all manner of topics with finance professionals across North America, but discussions about Continuous Controls Monitoring (CCM) can be difficult. In part it is challenging because not many of us have extensive experience with Internal Control. For example, on numerous occasions we've heard comments like “Yes, our internal controls are great; we have segregation of duties!”  With this in mind, and in consideration of the problems that a weak system of Internal Control causes, we thought we would explore some of the basics in this post. Perhaps the simplest way is to use an analogy: Imagine you are driving in your vehicle. Your objective?  To safely get to the grocery store and back, taking the most efficient route possible.  On your route, there are risks - other vehicles, pedestrians, traffic lights - which threaten to slow you down or even derail you completely on your journey. But you're not powerless.  Your car has a number of features that allow you to navigate these dangers - the mirrors, the steering wheel. the turn signals, etc. The skillful use of these features can greatly increase the likelihood of you getting to the grocery store. More than just Segregation of Duties Imagine you climbed into your vehicle and all you found was a brake pedal - no steering wheel, no turn signals, no headlights....  Would you start off on your trip? Most likely not - a single safety feature is not enough! You need a wide array of components working as an integrated system in order to have a safe and efficient trip. Your organization's internal control system is the same. Segregation of duties is an important component (see Control Activities below) of the system.  But it alone is not enough to protect your organization and ensure the attainment of your goals. What is needed is an entire framework of internal control. There are a number of different frameworks but the most popular and the one recommended by the GFOA is COSO. Below, the COSO pyramid illustrates the components of a their framework: Control environment This is often referred to as “tone at the top” and represents the many elements of the internal environment that define how the entity will conduct its activities overall.  These include “soft controls” such as shared values, high ethical standards and expectations, and openness.  However, it also includes “hard controls” such as formal job descriptions and performance reviews, and enforced disciplinary practices for violations from expected behavior.  It is hard to over-estimate the importance of this component. In fact, in January of this year the GFOA published a best practice regarding the control environment we strongly encourage you to read. Risk assessment Risk is defined as an event that will impact the achievement of one or more objectives. Risk assessment involves the identification and assessment of likelihood and impact of relevant risks.  Control activities Control activities are those actions carried out to mitigate risk in order to increase the likelihood that objectives will be achieved. Generally they break down into two categories: Preventative & Detective. Preventative: Authorization and approval: These activities provide the go-ahead to act on the entity’s behalf.  A common example is purchase approval limits, whereby individuals can commit up to a specific amount of the organization’s funds to obtain goods and services. Physical controls: This includes activities that ensure the physical security of assets, such as pass cards to restrict building access to only authorized personnel. Detective: Verification: Verification assists in determining if a transaction is legitimate and based on valid information.  For example, ensuring that purchases are made only from approved vendors. Reconciliations: The most common type of this control is bank account reconciliations.  However, any activity that ensures two or more types of information agree can be defined as a reconciliation, such as a 3-way match between a purchase order, receiving documents and the invoice received from the vendor. Here we see the role of segregation of duties. It is an example of one type of control activity (preventative).  It involves separation of the responsibility for the various aspects of a transaction – initiation, custody, recording and reconciling.  For example, separating the approval of a purchase (initiating), the ability to create a purchase order (custody), actually creating the purchase order (recording), and performing the 3-way match mentioned above (reconciling).  Information and communication Communication is the glue that holds this system together.  Information is obtained both from internal activities, such as transaction data, and external sources, such as regulatory requirements.  Appropriately and effectively communicating information across and outside the entity is essential for the achievement of objectives. Monitoring How do you know the control activities you are counting on are present and functioning? This is the role of monitoring. Unfortunately it is all-too-frequently overlooked. Your control monitoring system can either be based on manual effort from staff, or automatic checking from one of your computer systems. The other important aspect of your monitoring system is its frequency: periodic or continuous. Manual monitoring very rarely approaches continuous unless you have the resources for MANY dedicated internal auditors. It's much more likely that it will be periodic. Your automated monitoring protocols are more likely to be continuous, although the way you implement them will determine their frequency. Monitoring tends to be one of the weakest elements in most organization's internal control structure for two reasons:  Time-intensive: Let's say your organization processes 12,000 A/P disbursements per quarter and you are worried about duplicate payments. To ensure your control activities are working (monitoring), you need to find over 600 randomly sampled disbursements. Once you have this random sample, you now must find and review all the supporting documentation to ensure that there are no duplicates. For most organizations this is several weeks of work. Ongoing: You need to monitor all the time. The more infrequent the monitoring, the less confidence you have that your control activities can be relied on to mitigate risk. If you spend weeks of time looking for duplicate payments, how likely are you to tackle monitoring of duplicate payments every quarter? For most of us, we don't have the time available to dedicate to this rigorous of a protocol, despite how high-risk this area is.  Improve Your Framework of Internal Control It should be clear now that breaking some high-risk tasks into a pieces and segregating them among different staff is just one small (but important) piece of an effective internal control system. But it's not nearly enough. Developing a proper framework involves much more, and relies on a robust, continuous monitoring program in order to safely "drive" your organization to your objective. Click the image below to learn more about how to ensure a more efficient, effective and organization. 
Understanding internal control components is essential for finance officers & is the first step in understanding the benefits Continuous Controls Monitoring CCM
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CaseWare Feature Spotlight: Map Purge

CaseWare Feature Spotlight: Map Purge

  • Darryl Parker
  • CaseWare Feature Spotlight
  • minute(s)As Certified Consultants and Trainers for CaseWare International, the group at F.H. Black & Company Incorporated gets a chance to talk to Working Papers users from all over the world about how they use the software to do their daily work. Often people don't appreciate the full depth and breadth of the software's abilities and we get the chance to help long-time users get even better at using the software. These "Feature Spotlight" blog posts are designed to: Help those considering CaseWare understand how the solution can transform their reporting processes amd introduce existing users to some of these power features and techniques and help you to become a true "black-belt" masters of the software. One of the features that many people do not know about or are not comfortable using is Mapping Purge.  This blog post will introduce the Map Purge, and its strengths and weaknesses.  What Problem Does Mapping Purge Solve? In short, too many groupings. CaseWare International releases several standard map number typologies in North America: for GAAP and for IFRS.  These map numbers are attempts to provide a comprehensive and standardized way to report all common types of assets, liabilities, equity, revenues, and expenses. However in any one Working Papers file, it is likely that many, many of those map numbers have gone unused.  Just take a look at the Other Revenue map numbers available in the standard GAAP mapping: That's a big long list of $0.00 map numbers for you to constantly scan and consider.  Further, every map number represents another value that must be calculated and recalculated by CaseWare. These extra, unnecessary calculations can dramatically slow down your Working Papers file. Wouldn't it better if the unused map numbers were removed from the file, and you only had to review and consider the relevant ones?  That is the problem that Map Purge was created to solve for you.   How to Create Map Purges First, if you're lucky you already have some map purges defined in your Working Papers file. Writing map purges is something the typical user will do very rarely - once you have a good purge, you can simple use the Copy Components tool in Working Papers to copy it among your files. BEFORE YOU START - A Word of Warning!!! Map purges will delete map numbers out of your Working Papers file, and there is no undo button.  You must take a backup prior to running a mapping purge. Even better, take a disposable copy of your file and thoroughly test a purge and verify its effects before running it in your live file.  And even then, you should take a backup of that live file in advance of running your thoroughly tested purge! If you don't have the map purge that you need, here's the process to create it: Open your Working Papers file On the Tools Ribbon, click the Options item Select Mapping -> Purge in the left sidebar Click the New button Give your map purge a short name in the "Filter ID" text box Type a description that you could expect your colleagues to read and understand the goal of the purge in the "Description" text box. Decide whether you are writing a filter to delete the map numbers that match your criteria, or keep only the map numbers which match your criteria. Select the appropriate radio button. NOW, here's the hard part: write the filter expression.  This is a Boolean dbase filter expression that resolves to "true" or "false".  The meaning of the "true" depends on your selection to the radio button in the step above.  It will either mean that the map number should be deleted, or it should be retained. Finally, decide what should happen if an Unassignable map number has all of its subsidiary map numbers removed by the purge. Check or uncheck the checkbox based on the appropriate behavior. Click OK. Your map purge is made.  Just select it from the list and hit that "Purge Now" button The Weakness of the Map Purge feature The concept of a Map Purge is a powerful one and when it works well for you it can have a dramatic effect on your Working Papers file.  The purge pictured above removed more than 500 map numbers from the Samp01 file in about 10 seconds.  However, there are some serious limitations to what a dbase filter expression can achieve for you.  In particular, you cannot filter your map numbers based on whether or not accounts are assigned to it, only if the accounts have specific balances.  Consider: What about a Due To / Due From map number that is expected to balance to $0 for the parent in your consolidation, but will have balances for the subsidiaries? What about map numbers that sometimes have important balances in some interim periods, but get adjusted to $0.00 at the end of the year? The map purge feature cannot help you in these situations; the dbase filter cannot differentiate between the case of a set of accounts which net to $0 or the case of there are no accounts at all.  It cannot help you if there are accounts in the map number in a period or balance type that you hadn't anticipated and included in your filter expression. Look for an upcoming article where we help you resolve this problem with Map Purges and truly clean up your Working Papers file for maximum performance and efficiency. Want to become a CaseWare Master? Click below to see our upcoming training courses.  
CaseWare Feature Spotlight: Map Purges reduce file size, improve speed and generally simplify your CaseWare Working Papers file.
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Go Cali Go!

Go Cali Go!

  • Jamie Black
  • About FHB
  • minute(s)We want to share an amazing story of a young woman fulfilling her dream of participating on the Cadet Canadian Wrestling Team.  At only 15 years old, Calista (Cali) Espinosa trained for years and recently won a spot on the national wrestling team, which means she will be travelling the globe to compete and train. She has worked hard to get where she is and is determined to work even harder as a member of the national team. Cali comes from a supportive family of four in Richmond, B.C. and as many sports parents can attest, financial obligations of being on any athletic team, let alone a national team, can be very expensive. At F.H. Black & Company Inc. we recognize the importance of sports for our young people. Participating in sports creates leaders, builds confidence and teaches kids how to be good team players.  F.H. Black & Company Incorprated is matching all donations to the Go Cali Go fund. It’s our way of supporting an amazing young athlete and helping her dreams come true.  To learn more about Cali’s wrestling career and promising future – and to make a donation, visit her website. We hope you will join us in helping Cali celebrate her hard work and pursue her dreams.
We want to share an amazing story of a young woman fulfilling her dream of participating on the Cadet Canadian Wrestling Team.
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6 Reasons to prioritize Continuing Professional Development in 2016

6 Reasons to prioritize Continuing Professional Development in 2016

  • Jamie Black
  • Continuing Professional Development
  • minute(s)No one can deny the benefits of networking; you hear about it all the time.  Popular websites like LinkedIn exist to facilitate networking, and if you open any professional magazine, there is bound to be an article telling you how important it is. Now, stop and consider how many times have you heard someone speak of the benefits of continuing professional development ("CPD")? Too often, accountants approach CPD with the attitude that it is a unavoidable, distasteful necessity. Perhaps you feel you already know everything you need to, or that taking a course will take away valuable time from your other responsibilities. But today more than ever before, professional development is one of the most valuable parts of your long-term career plans. Consider all the important benefits you get from continually developing your skills: 1) Refresh Unused Skills While you may feel that you and your team are up to date on a particular skill set, a periodic refresher can be very beneficial.  If a skill is not used frequently, it becomes rusty and is not as effective when needed. Was your last training session years ago? Research tells us your abilities have likely degraded significantly. How much? In one study of CPR training for medical professionals, the researchers found that degradation due to non-use approached 100%. "By 12 months after training the scores in both groups were similar to the pre-training scores". 2) Get Prepared for Change No matter the field you participate in, your business environment will change: staff change business processes change, software and hardware you use are likely updated with new features and capabilities each and every year. Over the larger time frame, these technological changes can be dramatic. There are always new pronouncements in your reporting standards (PSAB, GASBE, IFRS etc) and Your own job could change! Education is essential to take advantage or be prepared for all the above change agents. 3) Connect with Other Professionals Remember that bit we mentioned about networking earlier? Professional development provides a special kind of networking opportunity. Not only will you meet new professionals, you immediately have a topic for discussion - the course material! If the course is online, networking can be an even stronger benefit. After all, you could be connecting with professional from around the country or even around the globe. Now the caveat here is "does your online course emphasize networking"? Look to see if you can get contact details of other attendees and if sharing and chatting is encouraged during and after the session. 4) Break Out of Old Ways of Thinking You work side by side with your team every day. As a group, you are exposed to the same opinions and perspectives day in and day out. Professional development opportunities expose you and your team to new voices, fresh approaches and new perspectives. Do you have a problem that you're stuck on, where you have been spinning your wheels trying to solve it without success? Relevant CPD can be the catalyst to bring fresh ideas and practices to your organization and take your performance to the next level. 5) Motivate your team Nothing drains enthusiasm from a team like the same-old, daily grind. Knowing that some repetitive (let's say annual) task is coming and that it will be just as horrible this year as it was last year can really demotivate and demoralize the troops.  You can help! Continuing education is a wonderful opportunity to show initiative and bring up-to-date information and current industry best-practices back into the fold. Be the leader in your team who comes back with new ideas, approaches and plans.  6) Meet your Professional Requirements This is for you pessimists: You have to take some CPD don't you? Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA), the Government Finance Officers (GFOA), the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and just about every other profession you care to name require their professionals to invest in on-going education. They may call it Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or Continuing Professional Education (CPE) but they mean the same thing; you are required  to participate in a certain number of education hours. When selecting courses, be sure the course meets your verifiable CPD requirements and not only will you be furthering a skill, but you'll be meeting an association requirement.  We provide an overview of CPA requirements in a previous blog, For Canadian CPAs, what qualifies as CPD? A couple quick tips to ensure you get the most from your CPD: Consider selecting the course type and format that best suits your organizational and individual employee's needs. For example: Is travel necessary or is there a local or online solution? Will the session occur shortly before the need to use the skill? If so, this will minimize any memory lapses. Have you come prepared with questions to ensure you get the most out of your course?  To get more tips, download a no-charge copy of "Maximize the Return from Your Online Training Investment" where we share 20 tips to prepare you for a better online education.
Professional development training sessions are perhaps one of the most valuable tools in an employee's tool bag. It's simply a matter of perspective.
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Sunshine Coast Regional District Finds Bright Solution in CaseWare

Sunshine Coast Regional District Finds Bright Solution in CaseWare

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is the regional government serving the residents of the Sunshine Coast, a picturesque area located along the southwest coast of mainland British Columbia. SCRD’s 250 employees provide the region’s 28,000 residents with a wide range of diverse services, from recreation to regional water. The organization has complex and highly specific financial reporting needs, and it meets those needs with one solution – CaseWare Working Papers. 95+ Distinct Entities Create Complexity The complexity of SCRD’s financial reporting requirements becomes obvious when one considers the more than 95 distinct services the organization provides. “It is appropriate to think of each of our different services as a separate company,” explains Tina Perreault, Treasurer for SCRD. “Each has its own set of financials and we need consolidated reporting as well.” With an annual report running longer than 50 pages, the work required to gather the financial statements data was extensive, and potentially error-prone. Changing Requirements SCRD actually began using Working Papers in the late 1990s, but as changing public sector accounting requirements demanded adjustments to financial reports, the organization began relying more and more on spreadsheets to balance components of the financial statements. “We knew CaseWare was more than capable of handling the new requirements, but we didn’t have the knowledge to make the necessary adjustments,” explains Perreault. “So, instead we used dozens of different methods to balance sections within the financials, from leadsheets to spreadsheets. When a change was required, we had to make adjustments to each component.” SCRD went in search of a better way. Review Reaps Rewards “We met F.H. Black & Company, an Authorized CaseWare Consultant, at a GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) conference and spoke to them about our situation,” Perreault recalls. “The firm’s knowledge of governmental accounting and of CaseWare is impressive. I was quickly convinced they were the partners we wanted to help us make better use of CaseWare.” F.H. Black performed what it calls a health check of the organization’s CaseWare implementation, and recommended some changes. One of the recommendations was the use of the GAAP Financial component of Working Papers, and the results have been significant. “We learned that there are a number of things that we could have been using CaseWare for, to help streamline our operations,” says Perreault. “The software offers extensive forecasting, budgeting, and statistical analysis capabilities that we can now use to our advantage.” Saving Time, Effort, and Money “We are saving so much time and effort,” says Perreault. “F.H. Black was able to precisely duplicate our financial reporting structure in CaseWare Financials, so we get the results we need with a fraction of the effort.” SCRD’s auditing firm uses CaseWare as well, and Perreault says that she anticipates that this will result in lower audit fees for the organization: “Our auditors will be able to gather the information they need much more quickly, and it’s in the format they are already using. They spend less time, and it will save us money.” Training the staff to use Working Papers was a simple task thanks to the software’s intuitive nature. “After a introductory class they can navigate and problem-solve easily,” notes Perreault. “It is a tremendous benefit to the organization to have multiple people capable of sharing the workload. In the past, we really had only one person who understood the whole system, and that is risky for the organization.” Visibility and Control Perreault likes the level of control SCRD maintains by producing its financial statements in-house. “We are working to more fully automate our entire audit process, and CaseWare is making that possible,” she says. “We have visibility into our statements long before we hand the data off to the auditors. Having this information more quickly helps us be even better at what we do.” Ongoing Return on Investment Perreault reports that obtaining funding for the software review and implementation of GAAP Financials was a simple matter. “Our Board recognizes the value of investing in technology,” she says. “We were able to communicate the benefits and CaseWare has delivered on those.”  She concludes, “I speak to local governments like ours about CaseWare. I’m always astounded when they say they still rely on spreadsheets and pivot tables. CaseWare is relatively inexpensive for the value it delivers, and the return on investment is rapid and ongoing. Frankly, I think it would be crazy not to use CaseWare.”
F.H. Black & Company performed a health check of the Sunshine Coast Regional District CaseWare implementation & optimized their CaseWare usage.
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Budget Book VS. Financial Statements: What's Worse?

Budget Book VS. Financial Statements: What's Worse?

  • Jamie Black
  • Automating Financial Reporting
  • minute(s)Finance professionals in government and education have several daunting (frustrating, annoying, I could go on..) reporting challenges to address each year: the Annual Audited Financial Report, the Budget Book and some special purpose reports like the FIR for governments in Alberta & Ontario or the CAUBO report for universities & colleges While automating the annual financial statements is generally recognized as a major win for your finance team, perhaps an even bigger win is automating the budget book. To an outsider, this might be a surprise. Isn't going through an audit the worst thing possible? Admittedly, it's not a lot of fun and yes it is incredibly time consuming; but the budget book is worse. Here's why.. 1) Much more content  How long are your annual financial statements? For many of our clients (governments, universities & colleges, large publicly traded companies) a typical set of statements include: a cover page a table of contents 4 statements 20 - 30 notes 4 - 6 schedules All told, the report is perhaps 30 pages.  For a regional district or a local government in the USA that must prepare a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report the page count is likely to increase to 200 + pages. In any case, there is a lot of complexity to these reports. A budget book (sometimes called the "financial plan") is almost always much larger. 200 or 300 pages is actually a small budget document. For those clients that participate in the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards program, their guidelines tend to result in very large budget books. Some even approach 1,000 pages! All of this content means more work. More tables, more text, and more numbers that must reconcile.   2) Considerable emphasis on non-financial data For the most part, financial statements are focused on financial data. There are text portions (the policies and notes), but even then they are either relatively static (e.g. your revenue recognition policy is not changing year-by-year) or primarily about details of the financial data. In contrast, it is very common for the budget book to contain hundreds of pages of narrative. Large narrative discussions of the following are required of GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program participants in a budget book: the budget process, entity-wide long-term financial policies, organizational charts and descriptions of the organization, its community, the population and background information related to the services provided. Why does this make the process harder? More content means more page breaks, larger table of contents, more pages to number etc. In short, it means more elements to have problems with. Secondly, much of this narrative changes year after year, necessitating a process of collecting, organizing and updating hundreds of pages of content.  3) Graphs & pictures Annual Financial Statements rarely include graphs & pictures. They tend to be very utilitarian documents, comprised almost exclusively of tables of data and a few pages of narrative in the notes section. Very few of our clients even add a logo or picture to the cover page!  Contrast this with the budget book. The vast majority of these documents contain many graphical elements including: organization charts graphs pictures of ongoing projects, the finance team, local wild life etc. A quick review of one of the budget book for one of our clients showed that in the 425 pages, there were nearly 300 graphical elements! Just like the challenges listed above in large narrative sections, graphical elements must be managed and updated year after year. To make matters worse, consider that many finance professionals are not expert in how to use graphical elements to maximize communication effectiveness.  4) A much broader collaboration In most organizations, assembling the annual financial statements is primarily the task of the core finance team. While dozens of folks may contribute reconciliations and supporting documents, perhaps only a handful of people contribute to the statements directly.  For the budget book, dozens or even hundreds of people contribute to that huge volume of text we mentioned earlier. It might only be a few paragraphs per person, but it seems like every Tom, Dick & Wendy contribute to the budget book content.  That means the team that assembles the book needs to track who is contributing to each section. Then they need to know if that individual provided their content yet, and when they do provide the content someone has to make sure that it gets reviewed, approved and finally correctly inserted into the end report. That is a lot of little steps which must be repeated potentially hundreds of times to arrive at the completed book. The End Result The end result of these four points is one absolute fact. If your budget document is hundreds of pages bigger than your financial statements, budget book automation will be an incredibly valuable accomplishment for your organization.
Budget book automation provides massive value for universities & governments by reducing time investment, eliminating errors & more. Here's why...
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Navigating PSAB: 6 quick steps to improve your knowledge

Navigating PSAB: 6 quick steps to improve your knowledge

  • Tricia Fraser
  • PSAB
  • minute(s)When does the Public Sector Accounting Board ("PSAB") matter to you? It is a good question to ask ourselves. As professional accountants our plates are full. In fact, they are heaping with deadlines for operational and project work, never mind the stuff that gets thrown over the fence. Many of us only begin caring about a particular PSAB topic based on the Effective Date for Adoption. The equation becomes: [Effective Date] - [# of staff hours to implement the change] = [Date I will start thinking about it] The biggest problem with this approach (only being concerned with the Effective Dates) is that government finance departments are always rushing to respond to the latest crisis. You are missing the opportunity to have input into how the standards are modified or introduced for adoption. Considering the impact that our ever changing standards have on how we report out and operate our organization, you would think we would prioritize participation. For example, consider the potential impact of the changes that could come out of the proposed Financial Statement Presentation, Section PS 1202. So why don't we give PSAB updates the proactive attention they deserve? Undoubtedly, the most significant factor is time. Finance professionals never have enough of it, and they often only hear about PSAB's Active Projects at a Conference or a blurb in a magazine.  The fantastic thing about the public sector accounting community is that not only does PSAB ask for your feedback; but in our experience, they really consider your submissions. Take a look at the Feedback Statements that are published; it is evident that there is a real review and careful thought put into the comments gathered from the community.  So even though we do not have a lot of spare time, prioritizing review and feedback of PSAB's current projects will prepare you for the coming implementation project and relax the tight deadline that might otherwise be in your future. Even better, you have an opportunity to help steer the ship and perhaps come up with a more efficient, effective, and reliable standard that will avoid worse implementation issues. Here are six quick steps to get involved and stay in the loop:  Visit the site! The Public Sector Accounting Board has a great site summarizing all their Current, Completed, and Deferred Projects. Follow the Public Sector Accounting Standards Board on LinkedIn here. Get involved. Take a perusal through the Open for Comment documents and try your hand at filling one out and submitting it. Remember, you can spend as much or as little time as you desire on your responses depending on other time commitments. Attend the one-hour webinars offered and archived on the Financial Reporting & Assurance Standards website. Watch for Update Seminars and courses offered locally through CPA Canada or your provincial body, as well as taking advantage of PSAB seminars offered at any Conferences you may be attending. Sign up for our blog as we regularly report on PSAB topics.
Are you, the actual professional accountants in the field missing the opportunity for input into how PSAB standards are introduced for adoption?
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Learn how the City of Saint John Modernized Its Financial Reporting

Learn how the City of Saint John Modernized Its Financial Reporting

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Saint John is the largest city in the province of New Brunswick, but it is even more notable as the oldest incorporated city in all of Canada. The city is home to 70,000 residents, with a nearly equal number in the surrounding metropolitan area. Its location on the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the St. John River gives the city a rich maritime history. Today’s Saint John is also well-known for its research and technology sectors, its large arts and culture community, and broad tourism base. The City of Saint John, with an operating and capital budget of $226 million, is charged with administering city services, including police and public safety, parks and recreation, roads and transportation, fire and rescue, water and sewage, and many more. To meet its complex municipal, provincial, and federal reporting requirements the City of Saint John relies on CaseWare Working Papers and Financials. Change In Accounting Standards Assistant Controller, Hilary Nguyen, CGA, MBA, took on the financial reporting responsibilities for the City just as it was facing new reporting requirements for the upcoming year. “We had to begin reporting under the Public Sector Accounting Standards (PSAS),” she recalls. “This represented a huge change from our previous fund-based reporting format.” Up until this point, the City of Saint John was producing its financial statements using Excel® and Word®. It was a cumbersome process, but doable. With the new requirements, though, continuing without a purpose-built reporting tool would have been tremendously difficult. “We have well over one hundred different city functions and 17 separate entities that have to be consolidated and integrated,” explains Nguyen. “It would have been challenging, if not impossible, to accomplish in Excel.” Meeting a Tight Timetable Nguyen’s predecessor had already identified CaseWare Working Papers and Financials as the ideal solution for the municipality. F.H. Black & Company Incorporated, an Authorized CaseWare Consultant, was initially engaged to duplicate the City’s existing financial statements using CaseWare, satisfying the current year’s reporting requirements. “They are recognized experts in both CaseWare and municipal reporting requirements,” notes Nguyen. “We value that experience and look to them for assistance developing best practices for our reporting cycles going forward. Our province has additional unique requirements. F.H. Black was familiar with these requirements and could help us meet them using CaseWare.” Consultants’ Help Adds Value F.H. Black first helped the City of Saint John build fund-based reporting templates in CaseWare that matched the existing reporting format. The City next engaged F.H. Black to help it meet the new Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) required statements for the upcoming year. “We initially planned to have F.H. Black create the templates and we’d take it from there. Due to our short timeline and our small staff, though, we engaged F.H. Black to build both the financial statement templates and assemble the actual financial statements,” says Nguyen. “It was a good decision for us. F.H. Black met our deadlines and our statements are precisely how we need them to be.” Once the rush of the reporting cycle was complete, F.H. Black gave Nguyen and her staff more extensive training in CaseWare, empowering them to take over the task in the coming years. “The people at F.H. Black make a tremendous difference,” says Nguyen. “They are responsive and efficient and always provide us with a very high level of service.” Reporting Success Using CaseWare, the City of Saint John successfully generated their annual PSAB-compliant financial statements. With the templates in place, Nguyen expects to substantially reduce the time spent on the process in coming years. “We can roll the numbers forward and easily import the new year’s figures,” she says. “CaseWare is a highly efficient tool. If we need to make a change, that change automatically flows to the appropriate sections of the report. With Excel, we had to be extra cautious to ensure we updated every reference.” Leveraging CaseWare’s Capabilities for Financial Reporting Automation  The successful project of converting its financial statements to the PSAB format with CaseWare prompted the City of Saint John to consult with F.H. Black about other ways to leverage the software within the municipality. “They’ve since built additional templates for some of our distinct entities that file separately,” says Nguyen. “And we’re speaking with them now about how to use CaseWare to produce our quarterly and annual reports.” She concludes, “CaseWare represents a huge improvement over our old reporting process. It allows us to be more efficient, minimizing the manual data entry and the opportunity for errors that come with manual processes. I would definitely recommend CaseWare to other municipalities - it’s an easy decision.”  
Learn how the City of Saint John successfully tackled financial reporting automation and PSAB with CaseWare & F.H. Black & Company Incorporated.
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3 questions to answer before report design

3 questions to answer before report design

  • Jamie Black
  • Style & Substance
  • minute(s)When finance is asked to prepare a new report or redesign an existing report (financial statements, budget book, quarterly forecast, MD&A, etc) the decisions made can dramatically impact understanding.   In our experience, formally dealing with these decisions (the design stage) is rare. As we have discussed in Style & Substance before, there seems to be little formal direction on how to design reports. Combine this lack of direction with an abbreviated, overlooked design process, and you run the risk of having some fundamentally flawed reports; reports that confuse, distract and obfuscate the data.  When tackling a new report or re-developing an old one, these three questions need to be asked during the design phase: Who will use the report, What must be reported, and How should it be presented This article examines the best practice for communicating financial information and why adhering to it is essential to improve your financial reporting.  Question 1 - "Who" Knowing who the likely user of the report is, should make a critical difference in report design decisions. For example, if the likely user is the senior management team, perhaps very general introductions and explanations are unnecessary as you can be certain they have great knowledge about the organization.   On the other hand, if the users are likely to be non-finance experts, new to the organization (newly elected council members for example), or external to the organization, then the use of jargon or omitting general introductions or explanations may well be unwise. Are the users technologically adept? If so, providing the report electronically may be the best option. Electronic distribution is especially powerful if the board/council will want to make & share notes, and create action items based on the report.  On the other hand, if the user is not comfortable with technology, a well crafted, printed document is likely a superior choice.  Why does technology matter when designing a new report? If the destination is paper & ink, then you are bound to designing a report to fit on 8.5" x 11" paper, printed in portrait orientation. If the ultimate destination is an iPad or a computer screen, you may be able to abandon these constraints.  Question 2 - "What" The first, most fundamental "What" question is "What answers are readers trying to get with this report?" This is an absolute prerequisite before creating the report.  Consider some examples - If finance is reasonably confident that users of the report are looking to understand profitability, they will tailor the "What" to show the variables that are most explicitly tied to profit. In many cases, this is where finance's expertise comes in. Likely their experience means they have a very clear understanding of the relationships that affect profit. Now is finance's opportunity to leverage the report to communicate their knowledge to the user(s) of the report.  If you are in the automotive sales industry, you might know that region, and product category most directly affects profit. You would then omit or summarize data if it confused the topic. Thus the design must allow the user to see the relationship clearly. Do they need to know how much budget is available for a specific department, fund or program? If so, this information should be displayed with priority. Too often reports are generated without first establishing very clearly what answers the user needs. If this failure occurs, end users of the report are often left to dump a report out to Excel to manipulate the data to find the answers they seek themselves.  The next step in report design is asking, "What data should be included in this report to answer the readers' questions?" In our experience, these sorts of questions are fairly straightforward and easily answered by the finance team. Examples include: What type of data should be presented? Actuals, Budget, Forecast or all three? Revenues, Expenses, Operating, Capital What date range will this report cover? Current Year to Date, Current Period, Prior Year(s) What level of detail must be presented? Individual GL accounts? Or should the accounts be grouped on some basis? Question 3 - "How" For finance professionals, the "How" can be more challenging. This is because formal training on how to present the data and how presentation choices can affect interpretation is not commonplace. Consequently the answer to "How?" is often "Let's throw the data in a table with several columns and rows. That'll satisfy them!" As a means of helping our would-be report creators, here are some guideposts (at a high level) for how best to present our data. There are 3 different devices we might use to communicate our message: Tables: A table encodes quantitative data as text. Table are the right choice when: the exact value is important. For example, budget officers might need to know that Public Works is precisely $101,985 over budget. comparison of exact values is important. there are multiple units of measure to be displayed together. For example, the quantity of 911 calls, dollars of expense for the Policing department and variance against budget as a percentage.  Graphs: A graph encodes quantitative data visually. They are best used when: the message you wish to communicate is best understood in patterns, relationships among and between quantitative values & exceptions.  there is no need for precise numbers or to compare individual values. For example, budget officers only need to know that Public Works is approximately $100k over budget. there is a need to show much more complex relationships. vary large data sets must be presented. Narrative/Text: Complements graphs and tables. Consider using narrative text to: Introduce a topic, a problem, a business process or other item the reader might not be fully conversant on.  Explain the graph or the table so the reader does not miss any nuances. Highlight or calling out a particular point in a table or graph. Label a particular data point in a graph, or columns or rows in a table. Recommend appropriate next steps or actions. In subsequent articles, we will delve deeply into Tables, Graphs, and Text to layout their use and how they fit into the best practices in financial reporting. If you are interested in further reading on these topics we strongly recommend a couple of authors who have fundamentally informed & challenged our opinion over the years. Stephen Few & Edward Tufte are both incredibly insightful and helpful on all topics associated with communicating complicated information. As an added bonus, the hardcover versions of their books are very close to works of art!
When finance is tasked with creating a new report, best practice for financial reporting says there are 3 essential questions to answer before you begin.
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