Art of Accounting: Cash, minutes and internal control

Register now

When I was a junior accountant eons ago, my boss would always give me the cash to reconcile or audit, the minutes to “abstract,” and the internal control questionnaire to go over with the controller or bookkeeper.

Then when I became a manager I continued this practice of having lower-level staff perform these procedures. I now consult with many accounting firms and find it is still being done that way. I stopped it many years ago and wonder why it’s still widespread.

When I started my practice, my skill level did not miraculously grow to where I became a super accountant. But what did change was the level of responsibility I had and certainly felt. Any errors, mistakes, missed steps, penalties and overlooked defalcations would be my responsibility and my bad. That made me nervous and caused me to think in ways I never had to previously. And then one day I had a revelation. If any employee theft happened at a client on my watch, it would be with the cash or because of inadequate internal controls. I also realized that some of a small company’s minutes were done to justify something that might not have been completely on the up and up. Yet, these were the things I looked at the least and had the least experienced staff people working on the most. That scared me to no end and also made me wonder how I could be so stupid.

From that time on, this was assigned to my highest-level staff and then I carefully reviewed what they did. Before I had higher-level people working for me, these three functions became my job. I enjoyed this work, found out the most information from it than from any other work I could do at the client, and I was on top of the most sensitive and error-prone areas in a client’s accounting system. It also provided information I could discuss with the client, adding to my knowledge base and impressing clients with my insight and interest in their business. I also never had to confront a client asking me, “How could you let this happen?”

Just because something has always been a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Look at what you do and how you assign staff and get it done the best way possible — not just the way it has always been done.

A related column was posted in 2014 (see Art of Accounting: Start with the cash).

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Cash accounting Practice structure Small business Internal controls