Let’s look at some of the issues that an audit or review can bring to light for business owners and how it helps owners make better business decisions.
Keep in mind that experienced external audit teams conduct multiple engagements each year. The best teams stay up to date on changes in audit or review standards through their profession and the industries they serve. They also get a sense of best practices from seeing the best and the not-so-great examples of financial management.
For example, the team may notice that the size or level of experience in the accounting department has not kept pace with the growth of the company. Timing may be right to hire a controller or CFO or to consolidate accounting departments in multiple locations to one central location. Perhaps key financial measures that are typical of the industry are not in place to properly forecast…or A/R is consistently dated 120 days or more.
These issues will be brought to light by an experienced external audit team… issues that internal management may not notice or want to change. We find sometimes that aversion to change or personality conflicts can inhibit improvements in an accounting department — issues that an independent audit can recognize and communicate to owners for objective, third-party validation.
Experienced auditors will take notes on these improvements and also provide insight to the owners and staff as they go through the audit process. Some of their notations may not be required in the official opinion to satisfy compliance, while others are specific to the company culture and goals.
Auditing and Independence
The guise of independence stops some auditors from consulting during an audit and sticking to a checklist. In reality, independence has four parts: (1) auditors can’t function in management and make improvements for the company; (2) they can’t perform the accounting work they are auditing; (3) they can’t advise for personal benefit only; and (4) they can’t act as an advocate for the client to a third-party. However, providing suggestions for improvements is acceptable as long as the audit team steps back and lets the business owners make decisions and implement them.
It’s not an easy role to bridge the gap between compliance and business advisory. It takes a skilled auditor to see the forest for the trees — that is, interpreting the processes and accounting into actionable business steps.
Because a team may be on site for one or two weeks depending on the scope of the engagement, the following are additional areas they may note for later discussions from a tax or advisory services perspective.
- Improvements to internal controls, company reports and disclosures
- Reviewing how transactions are processed
- Accounting department structure and capabilities
- Accounting software or hardware recommendations
- Consulting on entity structures or planned entity structures
- Consulting on expansion plans in other states
- Methods to improve cash flow
- Debt and financing structures
- Industry thought leadership and research
Building rapport and a relationship with the business owner, staff and audit committee members can bring these needs to light. The audit team is on site to do the job efficiently, but that doesn’t mean they have to be impersonal.
Continue Reading: What can business owners expect for follow-up after an audit or review?
Mike Rizkal, CPA, is a Partner in Cornwell Jackson’s Audit and Attest Service Group. He provides a variety of services to privately held, middle-market businesses with a focus in the construction, real estate, manufacturing, distribution, professional services and technology industries. He also oversees the firm’s ERISA practice, which includes the audits of approximately 75 employee benefit plans.