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What are the painful or time-consuming aspects of closing the books?

I’m in the planning phase of a feature for my startup, a feature intended to help accountants close the books for quarterly cutoff. I’d like to make sure we’re addressing the actual pain points. What’s the difficult or time-consuming part about closing the books?

Answers

Topic Expert
Kent Thomas
Title: Founder
Company: Advanced CFO Solutions
(Founder, Advanced CFO Solutions) |

Jeff,

The month end close process is an important part of producing timely and accurate financial statements and arguably the most important part of the month end close is to have all material balance sheet accounts reconciled and reviewed so that you make sure what is recorded there is accurate and appropriate to that account. In many cases, the reconciliation can occur in the accounting / ERP system itself, but in some cases, you may need a separate ledger set up to manage the reconciliation and accruals - most small businesses use MS Excel for this but I recommend using Excel only when the accounting system won't accommodate it.

In addition to the actual month end close process (which should be documented and reviewed each month), and equally important are: 1) having the right people handle your day to day accounting and bookkeeping (properly trained and supervised); 2) having documented and well designed procedures for what is to be done by whom and when; and 3) good internal controls in place, including proper segregation of duties and independent reviews of each person's work. In order to assure that you get good information, the accounting process must be designed and implemented holistically.

Good Luck!

Jeff Ferber
Title: founder software developer
Company: Wranggle (ProxV)
(founder software developer, Wranggle (ProxV)) |

I agree about its importance but am more trying to learn more about the difficulties. Why does it take so long to close the books? What data is hard to collect? Who gets angry at who? (anyone else sense a reality tv show opportunity? :)

When Accounting says, “I can’t help you with ___ now, I’m too busy closing the books” I wonder what can help make it go faster. My hope is to match our system’s capabilities with the problems, and I have some ideas on the subject but don’t want to be too leading.

If the big time sink is having to go on a treasure hunt to figure out the the reason or status of a bill, it leads me down one path. If the time sink relates more to massaging/calculating data, it points us down another path.

Thanks!

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Jeff,

I agree with Kent, but I think he didn't stress the fact that the Month-End close is done at month end; not Quarter-end.

Your cash should balance at month-end. If not, you only have 30 days in which to file a "claim" with your bank. Quarter end closes and you'll miss 2 of these periods.

In addition, you have a good chance that either A/R or A/P is incorrect because of a missed wire (in/out) or misapplied. 60 to 90 days late just doesn't cut it.

Financials - While Quarter-end financials present a smoothing effect and provide what possibly could be a better moving average, it's really important to have month-end to review for cash flow, ratio's and metrics.

Good luck!

Jeff Ferber
Title: founder software developer
Company: Wranggle (ProxV)
(founder software developer, Wranggle (ProxV)) |

I'm interested in the headaches mainly, not the time period, but your point is a good one. Focus on month-end close makes total sense, thanks.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Jeff,

Conceptually.....

1. The amount of time used to close the monthly statements depend on the systems in place and the quality of procedures followed during the entire process of CAPTURING and PROCESSING each and every transaction.

2. Ideally, my view is that the monthly close should be as automated as possible and should reflect all material financial information about the company.

3. Ideally, the amount of "additional" time to close the books should just be those transactions/information that are NOT in the usual process/course of capturing financial information/transaction...or at the very least a "timing difference" issue (in the case of bank recons...but with online statements/access, this should not be a problem either).

To answer your question.... if there are "pain points" at the end (month end closing), then there is something wrong or lacking in the process (transaction capture/processing).

ANY line item in the trial balance can be a "pain point" at the end of the month.

Jeff Ferber
Title: founder software developer
Company: Wranggle (ProxV)
(founder software developer, Wranggle (ProxV)) |

Helpful. Here it is flipped upside down:

Closing the books will be time consuming when:
1) the system you have in place misses transactions (not captured or processed as they occur)
2) you need to manually do spreadsheet work
3) there are too many exceptional timing-difference transactions (or related, blocked while waiting for an offline invoice)

Not much I can do to help with #3, and WhatWeOrder is already on top of #1. It seems I need to drill deeper into #2, when manual calculations are involved. Perhaps a scenario is when most of an order was received but one item was returned. That’s when you might hit the spreadsheet?

It might be getting too detailed for a Q&A format, I should probably sit down with some people while they’re working on it. (Unless they’re too stressed and busy closing the books, argh.)

Thank you.

alfred minnaar
Title: ceo
Company: Smart-It Accounting Software
(ceo, Smart-It Accounting Software) |

In Smart-It accounting there is no month end, everything is date driven. Reconciliations (cash up's etc.) is not suppose to be a monthly exercise but daily. Bank reconciliations do it at least once a week. Sending out customer statements is a monthly activity but again in most good accounting programs this entails the press of a single button. Supplier payments, also monthly but again if you do your recons regularly then this is also easy and something that must be kept up to date.
So month ends is not suppose to be a hassle in any good accounting system.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

Alfred, this has been my approach solely due to our business structure.. I do little things often throughout the month, our accounting assistant checks off daily bank transactions so that by the time I am ready to "close the month" it's a matter of a couple final journal entries and I'm exporting them for my external analysis. It keeps the stress down and I can catch mistakes or issues immediately.. Great approach to finance.

Andrei Medvedev
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Ozon.ru
(Director of Finance, Ozon.ru) |

The answer to you question "hard-wired" to two key points: 1/ what is your accounting policy? 2/ what books are you closing (i.e. tax, IFRS/GAAP, operational reporting)?

Some difficulties could be avoided by carefully assessing (legally) available options. For example, in some jurisdictions for tax purposes you MUST have original documents signed by you counterparts. On the other hand, IFRS/GAAP allows you to use accruals. In addition IFRS/GAAP has quite loose requirement to monthly reporting (opposite to year-end reporting).

Generally, the most frustrating part would be the one with many external parties and transactions. Some time it would be revenue (many small customers). Another time it would be some expense lines (with mane vendors). If you have very complicated compensation system (even it was automated) you can straggle with salary computation.

Chiers!
- A.

Anonymous
(Tax Accountant) |

When you prepare for M/E close, you want to be sure that all expenses and revenue for the month have been recorded or accrued. So start with your revenues - will you have people in the field who made a sale but haven't communicated all the information to the home office? You want to be sure all sales that took place during the month are recorded so if you are providing a service (non-tangible), have all clients been billed? If you are selling something, look at the process of how those sales are recorded, and what is needed to capture any information on returns.

Expenses are the same way: think about what expenses need to be recorded and if the process you have for capturing those expenses is efficient. The pain point is gathering all the data and having the time to reconcile the bank account and review the income statement accounts. IFor a streamlined operation where almost everything is automated you can reasonably close in a few days. The pressure to close quickly is driven by your internal needs. If your financers want to see financials every month you will want to have this done quickly to keep them happy. But if it's just for yourself, you can set a closing date according to what suits you.
Hope this helps.

Topic Expert
Bob Stenz
Title: Controller
Company: Silicon Valley start-up
(Controller, Silicon Valley start-up) |

I've found that the pain point for monthly close is partly self induced (i.e. waiting until the month end to reconcile accounts and book adjustments). This issue can be addressed by reconciling more frequently (i.e. weekly cash recons) and performing a preliminary close before month end. That said, accruals (estimated liabilities where there are no vendor invoices or open purchase orders) can remain a pain point not to mention revenue recognition for companies with complicated sales (i.e. percentage of completion, software rev rec, etc.).

Rachel Miller
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Larimer Humane Society
(Director of Finance, Larimer Humane Society) |

The main issues that I have found in closing the books are the following:

1) There is not a detail report available that ties out to the Balance Sheet, so you have to manually review the G/L accounts and/or do some sort of variance analysis (this is the case with smaller businesses and older/less advanced ERP systems)

2) There is a detail report available, but it does not tie out to the Balance Sheet because transactions posted incorrectly (again, the only remedy is to investigate the G/L account, and this takes time - even advanced ERPs can have errors in these reports due to system or human error)

3) It is difficult to get the whole company on board with the need to properly close the books each month (and I agree with the previous commentators - it HAS to be done monthly). Things like revenue and expense recognition are significantly harder when people in your company who aren't accountants are making decisions around month end. I don't know that any ERP can truly address this issue, but training should be ongoing and SOPs are a HUGE help!

4) I agree with Bob - self-induced pain is a big problem. Some accounts can and should be reconciled daily or weekly to save time at month end. Most companies have a deadline to close the books within a few days or less, and that seems reasonable from my experience.

In summary, bulletproof reporting is necessary, but human behavior is just as important. Theoretically, if the reports tie out and everything is posting correctly, the process should be easy. In practice, those months are beautiful but rare. Good luck!

Anonymous
(CFO/Board Advisor) |

In my experience theses are the primary pain points:

First, is not having an integrated Purchase Order, Accounts Payable, Inventory, Invoicing, A/R and G/L system. If your A/P Invoicing, and A/R systems aren't integrated with your Inventory system, you are stuck with the time consuming task of reconciling what was received into, and shipped out of, the perpetual Inventory system, and what was received into A/P and billed by A/R and recorded in the G/L. My experience is that non-integrated systems create the biggest time consuming and reconciliation issues at close.

Second, is the initial G/L account coding assigned A/P invoices. Unfortunately, while not a glamorous aspect of our jobs, a lot of time is consumed reviewing G/L account details and needing to reclassify expenses to prepaids; prepaids to expenses; fixed assets to expenses; expenses to fixed assets, etc. The Accounting Manager, Assistant Controller, or even Controller should sign-off on all Account Number assignments PRIOR to the invoice being recorded. Now of course there are certain routine invoices that will not require this, e.g. rent, payroll, utilities, etc.

Third, invoices which are sent to other Departments for approval. The amount of time spent chasing down invoices in other departments is a waste. You need to have a system where every invoice is FIRST sent to Accounting. Accounting can make a copy of the invoice and send it along to the appropriate person for approval before recording. If the invoice isn't returned prior to month end, then the Accounting department can make an accrual by simply summarizing the received and unapproved invoices in its "Pending Approval" file.

Lastly, is "Financial Engineering" being dictated by the Founder, Chairman, CEO, et al to "produce results" that they want to see. All of us hate this! All of us fight this! But unfortunately, it is a fact of life. Unfortunately, when results don't reflect what is expected by these folks, often the first reaction is that somehow, someway Accounting must have recorded something incorrectly. As the Founder you need to control this reaction inside your Company. While Accounting certainly makes mistakes at times, and a critical review of the financial statements is welcomed, fight the urge to blame Accounting when results aren't what you expect.

Tom Rabil
Title: VP, Finance
Company: Hoerbiger Corp of America
(VP, Finance, Hoerbiger Corp of America) |

1. Recons: if you have a good, integrated system (we have SAP) your subledgers will always agree with the GL, and recons become a non-issue. Tie out cash frequently, and the bank rec is not a problem at closing.
2. Accruals and manual entries: do the footwork ahead of time.
3. Planning and system automation: take the time to plan the close (involving all the Accountants), and spend the money/effort to automate recurring tasks and data loads. You're helping the future version of yourself.

That being said, every company seems to have its own problem schedule or report (e.g., royalties, bonus calcs, inventory writedowns, warranty...), so ask the department directly. Then work on automating it :)

We did June in 2 1/2 days, and now we're spending another 3-4 days reporting.

Christine Wilfer
Title: Financial Manager/Human Resource Manager
Company: XDS Holdings, Inc.
(Financial Manager/Human Resource Manager, XDS Holdings, Inc.) |

Jeff,

The specific pain points may depend on your business, but in general terms, I think the two biggest pain points are:
1. getting the information to make sure that all the appropriate transactions are properly recorded in the period being closed. For example, we are a manufacturer of custom-made equipment shipped all over the world and chasing down the freight invoices from international forwarders can be a real problem.
2. reconciling the balance sheet accounts, as Kent mentioned, can take time. I would add a caveat to Kent's comments regarding hiring staff who are properly trained and supervised; the reconciliation process will be significantly easier if you also hire staff with good attention to detail whose focus is on accuracy rather than speed.

Good luck in your new adventure!

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Jeff,

What is your background? Have you had experience doing M/E closing of the books? As a former tax/accounting software developer I find that it is much easier to develop for pain points if you have gone through the process yourself. If you are not involved in the close process is there someone you could shadow for a couple of closings? Is there someone who will be a consultant for a copy of your software? This also lends itself to being able to support your included features with actual examples which gives you more credibility. Good luck and have fun!

Jeff Ferber
Title: founder software developer
Company: Wranggle (ProxV)
(founder software developer, Wranggle (ProxV)) |

We started out building a productivity and collaboration tool for an often chaotic process (purchasing) and our focus was on automation and efficiency. Through feature requests, our customers have been transforming WhatWeOrder into an accounting tool. :) Following feature requests got us far, but we also need to get ahead of them sometimes. So yes, I definitely need to learn more, to spend time shadowing people, and to get expert help.

There’s often a natural tension between accounting needs (controls plus data capture) versus process overhead and compliance. I’m trying to not sound overly promotional for my product, but I’m proud of how we strike this balance. (If you’re curious, I think our 2-minute overview video shows how the roots of productivity/efficiency/speed run strong in the product.)

Thank you!

Jeff Ferber
Title: founder software developer
Company: Wranggle (ProxV)
(founder software developer, Wranggle (ProxV)) |

> “Is there someone who will be a consultant for a copy of your software?”

I never really considered it but am open to the idea. Is that something you’d be interested in? (Or have someone in mind?)

Topic Expert
Alan Hart
Title: Consultant
Company: Pacific Shine Group
(Consultant, Pacific Shine Group) |

Closing the books, (preferably monthly) can be painful for the following reasons:
1) Key account reconciliations are time consuming and errors and exceptions have to be researched and resolved. Those who don’t reconcile certain accounts daily (e.g., cash, inventory receipts liability, etc.) find it more difficult to do it at month end.
2) Vendor billing for goods and services must be properly processed, following review and approval for data input. Exceptions must be researched and resolved.
3) Accruals of certain expenses can be difficult in some businesses, especially with a small accounting staff.
4) Customer billing must be completed and in certain situation, revenue recognition issues must be properly handled.
5) Financial statements (usually internal at month-end) may take additional time to prepare, especially when complex consolidations are performed.

What can somewhat ease this pain is performing some of these “monthly” activities more frequently. An example would be reconciling the cash accounts daily. It only takes a relatively short period of time to do this, and exceptions are much easier to detect and correct. At month end you are only left with one day worth of activities. This is also true for inventory receipts, and several other key accounts.

Additional automation in the accounting or ERP software can greatly contribute to shortening the period-end process. Account reconciliations can be done within the software database; consolidations can automatically be performed (with all the elimination logic built into the software). If formal and structured internal control exists, it can also be performed within the software with all required evidence of performance automatically recorded. Analysis of actual performance against planned (budget) performance can take place immediately after period-end close, especially if a dedicated planning and business intelligence solution is in place.

It takes a certain amount of vision and determination to make the period-end close process painless, but the existence of tools to help in completing the process can certainly make it easier.

Anonymous
(Accounting Manager) |

Tracking the tasks and their status of the Close Process is probably the most consistent headache - what tasks need completed, due date, how long, who doing it, who reviewing/approving it, upstream and downstream dependencies (if late, who impacted). Currently, our task list in managed in Excel but only has tasks, person assigned and due dates. No dependencies or time allocated to complete.

Knowing this allows for better workload balancing. You can better allocate staff time to be productive, shift work from overworked staff to underworked staff, and let them go home when can't be productive because information not available.

It isn't the individual tasks that are a pain since we assign (what we think) is the most appropriate, knowledgeable, experienced person to complete the task. It is knowing where in the Close Process we are and the bottlenecks to be proactive to correct situations before impact reporting deadlines.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Closing the books takes lots of time because:
- the accountants have to reconcile the GL accounts, have to research and investigate the discrepancies, have to make adjusting entries to clear the books. For example, the accountant find that the GL account called 'accounts receivable' shows a credit balance instead of debit or zero balance. This means that something is not right in the books. Either the customer overpaid or an invoice was not recorded in the books. To analyze the 'AR' account will take hours or even days, depends on the number of transactions for that account. And so on.
A difference in the books means not just simple increasing/decreasing a transaction with few Dollars or few cents, to balance the books. A discrepancy must be investigated in order to clear and close the books.
Why they are stressed with the quarterly books closing? The answer is: the tax reporting deadlines.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

It differs all the time. Inventories and related adjustments always seems to be a biggie.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Just curious; a few comments have mentioned a system automating reconciliations. This may mean that A = B but it does not mean that what is in A is correct surely? Only a human being can do that, and some none too well.

In the past, I've had accountants tell me that an account is "reconciled" and all they've done is list what transactions have posted to the account and shown that the sum of those transactions agrees to the trial balance. Upon review of the details, I would then question what some of the items were and identify the need to post adjustments.

The pain point for me is having to point out what should be evident to a trained accountant. With time and further training (or a new hire), this gets resolved of course but when I hear "automated reconciliations" it gives me pause.

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