Is your accounting department helping you spot the iceberg?

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Is your accounting department helping you spot the iceberg?

By Anna MaskerIn standard18th March, 2012

Are you beginning to view your accounting department as a cost center full of overhead expense?

Are you not sure what they do all day but know that they seem very busy and often overwhelmed?

If one critical person in the accounting department left, would business continue on without missing a beat?

If these questions make you uneasy– you aren’t alone.

When we talk to many CEOs we hear the same thing: “When it comes to the financials, we don’t know what we don’t know.” That includes what their accounting department does on a day-to-day basis—and what information they should be getting from them.

For many companies the amount of information that the leadership team gets from their accounting departments is minimal, dated and not easy to understand. Not wanting to know the intricacies of the accounting function, many owners blindly trust their accounting staffs, and figure if the tax accountant isn’t complaining too much at year-end,  their accounting department is getting by just fine.

But are they? Could they be delivering more, more efficiently and with greater accuracy?

Here are some signs that your accounting department may need an overhaul:

Timing is everything. What would have happened to the Titanic if they knew about the size of the iceberg before they hit it? If you aren’t getting financials from your accounting department within 10 days after month-end, you are in the same situation. By the time you discover an issue 20, 30 or 60 days after the month ends you may find that a small issue last month has snowballed into a serious problem (“iceberg”) and you didn’t see it until it was too late.

Flat financials. So you are getting information from your accounting department, but can you use it? You should be getting real information from your staff– details such as which customers are driving your profits, what product lines are doing well, what is the productivity of your staff and your assets, as well as projections of where you are headed. If you aren’t, you may not see—or be headed directly for– that “iceberg.”

Business growth outpaced the skill set of the staff. Most companies have them—the bookkeeper or staff accountant who has been with the company from inception—who knows every nut and bolt of the business. But now that person is the “CFO.” Sometimes that person can grow into the role—sometimes not. It might be time to take a hard look at the skill set of your staff and get the right help in place to continue the business’s growth.

Busy-ness doesn’t equal good business. When was the last time your accounting department stopped and asked why they do things the way they do? Often times we find manual entry of accounting transactions when they could be automated, re-entry of the same data in multiple systems, and a LOT of unnecessary paper shuffling.

Old technology. Face it, when it comes to investment in IT, the accounting department gets the short end of the stick. There is nothing sexy about an accounting package (unless you are an accountant!) and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the fancy CRM systems that often are upgraded before the accounting systems. However, when used wisely, an investment in accounting system upgrades may just improve the efficiency of the staff, give you better information in less time and cost you less over all.

Your accounting department’s main function, beyond just record-keeping for the IRS is to provide you, the owner, with the best springboard for growth—information.

We often get called in to companies when the owner/CEO isn’t getting the information they need, when they need it and in the format that makes the most sense to them. Either the business has hit an “iceberg” or they are trying to avoid one.

How does your accounting department help you “spot the icebergs” in your business and how do they help you course-correct?

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