Category Archives for "Preparation, Compilation & Review"

Preparation of Financial Statements
Aug 11

Preparation of Financial Statements: The SSARS Guidance

By Charles Hall | Preparation, Compilation & Review

Are you aware of the option in the SSARS titled Preparation of Financial Statements (AR-C 70)? Many CPAs still believe the lowest level of service in the SSARS is a compilation, but this is not true. CPAs can and do issue financial statements without a compilation report. Today I provide an in-depth look at AR-70, Preparation of Financial Statements

Preparation of Financial Statements

Preparation of Financial Statements

Guidance

AR-C 70, Preparation of Financial Statements, is the guidance for the preparation of financial statements.

Applicability

AR-C 70, Preparation of Financial Statements, is applicable when a public accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements or prospective financial information.

This section can also be applied to the preparation of other historical financial information (e.g., schedule of rents).

AR-C 70 does not apply when the accountant prepares financial statements or prospective financial information: 

  • And is engaged to perform an audit, review, or compilation of financial statements
  • Solely for submission to taxing authorities
  • For inclusion in written personal financial plans
  • In conjunction with litigation services that involve pending or potential legal or regulatory proceedings, or 
  • In conjunction with business valuation services

Are there other times when AR-C 70 is not applicable? Yes. The preparation guidance does not apply when the accountant is merely assisting in the preparation of financial statements; such services are considered bookkeeping.

Examples of bookkeeping services include:

  • Preparing or proposing certain adjustments, such as those applicable to deferred income taxes or depreciation
  • Drafting financial statement notes
  • Entering general ledger transactions or processing payments in the client’s accounting software

When AR-C 70 is applicable, certain compliance actions—such as the creation of a signed engagement letter—are required. If the accountant is merely assisting with bookkeeping services, AR-C 70 is not triggered, and compliance with the standard is not necessary.

If the accountant is only entering transactions into a general ledger and making journal entries, he is merely assisting with bookkeeping. Such assistance is often provided in an online bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks. If this is the only service provided, AR-C 70 is not applicable.

If the accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements and performs any of the following, then AR-C 70 applies.

  • The accountant prepares financial statements that are provided to another accountant (another firm) for audit purposes
  • The accountant prepares financial statements separately from a tax return (e.g., the accountant might prepare a tax return that includes financial statements and then—at the client’s request—creates financial statements separately from the return)
  • The accountant uses the client’s general ledger information to prepare financial statements outside of the accounting software (e.g., the accountant places information from a Quickbooks general ledger into Excel and creates financial statements)

As you can see, the preparation standard makes a distinction between:

  • Preparing financial statements (which triggers AR-C 70) and 
  • Merely assisting (which does not trigger AR-C 70)

Are there any other situations where AR-C 70 does not apply? Yes. The AICPA’s Center for Plain English Accounting addressed this question in the following question and answer:

Q: If financial statements are prepared by the accountant as a by-product of another engagement (for example, an engagement to prepare a tax return), is the accountant required to follow section 70 of SSARS No. 21 and include any special disclaimer or “no assurance” statement on those financial statements? 

A: No. The accountant is only required to perform the preparation engagement in accordance with section 70 of SSARS No. 21 when engaged to prepare financial statements. Therefore, because the accountant was not engaged to prepare the financial statements, there is no requirement to include a statement on each page of the financial statements indicating that no assurance is provided on the financial statements.

The author requested that the AICPA define the word engaged. They responded that a client’s request for the preparation of financial statements service is the trigger for being “engaged.” In other words, a client’s request for the preparation of financial statements means we are “engaged,” provided we accept the work. Once the client makes the request, the accountant will create an engagement letter in compliance with AR-C 70.

If the client does not request the preparation of financial statements and the accountant creates the statements as a byproduct of another service (e.g., tax return), he is not subject to the requirements of AR-C 70. 

So when is AR-C 70 applicable? When a public accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements

Objective

The objective of the accountant is to prepare financial statements in accordance with the chosen reporting framework.

Reports

A compilation report from the accountant is not required (and should not be provided) when preparing financial statements under AR-C 70.

Financial Statements

The accountant can prepare financial statements as directed by management or those charged with governance. The financials should be prepared using an acceptable reporting framework such as the following:

  • Cash basis
  • Tax basis
  • Regulatory basis
  • Contractual basis
  • Other basis (as long as the basis uses reasonable, logical criteria that are applied to all material items) 
  • Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)

When preparing financial statements in accordance with a special purpose framework (e.g., tax basis), the accountant is required to include a description of the financial reporting framework either on the face of the financial statements or in a note. Here’s a sample disclosure in a financial statement title: Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Equity—Tax Basis.

Management determines the financial statements to be prepared. Financial statements normally include the following:

  • Balance sheet
  • Income statement
  • Cash flow statement

The accountant can, if so directed by management, create and issue just one financial statement (e.g., income statement). 

The financial statements can be for an annual period or for a shorter or longer period. So, financial statements can be for a fiscal year, quarterly, or monthly, for example.

The accountant should also obtain an understanding of the significant accounting policies to be used in the preparation of the financial statements.

In preparing the financial statement, the accountant may need to assist management with judgements regarding amounts or disclosures. The accountant should discuss these judgments with management. Why? So management can understand and accept responsibility for the financial statements.

Documentation Requirements

preparation of financial statements

The accountant should prepare and retain the following documentation:

  • Engagement letter (or contract)
  • The financial statements 

Documentation related to significant consultations or professional judgments are to be included in the engagement file. Also, if the accountant departs from a relevant presumptively mandatory requirement, he should document the justification for the departure and how the alternative procedures performed were sufficient to achieve the intent of the requirement. (The SSARSs use the word should to indicate a presumptively mandatory requirement.)

Engagement Letter

Is an engagement letter required for a preparation service? Yes. Moreover, the letter should be signed by the accountant or the firm and management or those charged with governance. A verbal understanding is not sufficient. Though AR-C 70 does not specify how often the engagement letter should be updated, it is best to do so annually. 

The engagement letter should specify:

  • The objectives of the engagement
  • The responsibilities of management
  • The responsibilities of the accountant
  • The limitations of the preparation engagement
  • Identification of the applicable financial reporting framework 
  • The agreement of management that: 
    • Each page of the financial statements will include a statement that no assurance is provided, or
    • The accountant will issue a disclaimer stating that no assurance is provided
  • Whether the financial statements will:
    • Contain known departures from the applicable reporting framework, and 
    • Whether substantially all disclosures will be omitted

No Report

As noted above, no compilation report will be issued for a preparation service. The preparation service is considered a nonattest, nonassurance service, and no compilation, review, or audit procedures are required.

The accountant will do one of the following:

  1. On each financial statement page (including the related notes), indicate, at a minimum, that “no assurance is provided,” or
  2. Provide a disclaimer (see example below)

If the accountant uses the first option, wording such as the following should be included on each page of the financial statements (including the related notes):

  • No assurance is provided on these financial statements
  • These financial statements have not been subjected to an audit or review or compilation engagement, and no assurance is provided on them, or
  • ABC CPAs prepared these financial statements in accordance with professional standards of the AICPA, and no assurance is provided

Other statements can be used to communicate that no assurance is provided, but the minimum wording must include “No assurance is provided.” The “no assurance” wording is made at management’s discretion, and the accountant’s firm name is not required to be included. The wording is normally placed at the bottom of each page. If the client does not allow the accountant to include such a statement on each page of the financial statements, the accountant should:

  • Issue a disclaimer (see below)
  • Perform a compilation in accordance with AR-C 80, or
  • Withdraw from the engagement

Disclaimer

If the disclaimer option is used, AR-C 70 provides the following language:

The accompanying financial statements of XYZ Company as of and for the year ended December 31, 20XX, were not subjected to an audit, review, or compilation engagement by me (us) and I (we) do not express an opinion, a conclusion, nor provide any assurance on them.

[Signature of accounting firm or accountant, as appropriate] 

[Accountant’s city and state]

[Date] 

Though not required, the disclaimer can be placed on firm letterhead. Notice that the disclaimer language above has no disclaimer title. While the standard is silent about providing a title, the accountant may add one. For example, Accountant’s Disclaimer. A salutation is not required, but may be added.

Some accountants prefer to provide a disclaimer on letterhead. Why? Any third party reader can see that the accounting firm is involved in the preparation of the statements and that no assurance is provided. 

A third party may not know that an external accountant was involved in preparing the statements if the “no assurance is provided” legend is used and the firm’s name is not included. Remember, however, it is the client’s decision as to whether the “no assurance” legend is added or a disclaimer is provided.

Independence

Preparation of financial statements is a nonattest, nonassurance service. When an accountant performs only a preparation engagement, consideration of independence is not necessary. 

If an accountant signs client checks and performs bookkeeping services, independence is not required. Moreover, if the accountant prepares financial statements for the same client, independence is not required. Signing checks, bookkeeping, and the preparation of financial statements are all nonattest services.

But what happens if the accountant prepares financial statements and issues a compilation report?

Suppose an accountant issues monthly financial statements for January through November with no compilation report (using the preparation option), but in December issues financial statements with a compilation report. Providing the monthly preparation services and the December compilation service triggers a requirement to consider independence. 

Just remember this for now: Independence is not required for preparation engagements, and there are no requirements to disclose a lack of independence in a preparation engagement.

Omission of Substantially All Disclosures

Can the accountant omit all disclosures (notes to the financial statements) in a preparation engagement? Yes. Alternatively, the accountant can provide selected disclosures or if needed, full disclosure. In short, the accountant can do any of the following:

  1. Omit all disclosures
  2. Provide selected disclosures
  3. Provide full disclosure

Regardless, the engagement letter should describe the level of disclosure to be provided in the financial statements. Also, the omission of substantially all disclosures should be communicated either on the face of the financial statements or in a selected note. There is no provision in the preparation standard to report the omission of disclosures in the accountant’s disclaimer that precedes the financial statements. 

The accountant can communicate the omission of disclosures by including wording such as the following at the bottom of each financial statement page or in a note:

  • Substantially all disclosures required by accounting principles generally accepted in the United States are not included.
  • Substantially all disclosures ordinarily included in financial statements prepared in accordance with the tax-basis of accounting are not included.

The accountant can also communicate the omission of disclosures in the title of the financial statements. For example:

ABC Company

Statement of Income

Substantially All Disclosures Omitted

December 31, 2020

Information Provided is Incomplete or Inaccurate

Deficiencies in the information provided to the accountant should be communicated to management, and the inaccuracy or incompleteness of such information should be corrected. Deficiencies in the information include insufficient records, documents, explanations, and judgments.

Reporting Known Departures from the Applicable Financial Reporting Framework

How should a departure from the applicable financial reporting framework be reported? Discuss the departure with management to see if it can be corrected. If it is not corrected, disclose the departure. How?

A departure from the applicable financial reporting framework should be disclosed either on the face of the financial statements or in a note. If it takes more than a few words to describe the departure, note disclosure may be the better option—you’ll have more room there. There is no provision in the preparation standard to disclose departures in the accountant’s disclaimer that precedes the financial statements.

Other Historical or Financial Information

In addition to historical financial statements, AR-C 70 may be applied to the following:

  • Specified elements, accounts, or items of a financial statement, including schedules of:
    • Rents
    • Royalties
    • Profit participation, or
    • Income tax provisions
  • Supplementary information
  • Required supplementary information
  • Pro forma financial information

Prospective Financial Information

prospective financial statements

AR-C 70 can be applied to prospective information.

Prospective financial information is defined as any financial information about the future. 

Prospective financial information can be presented as:

  • A complete set of financial statements, or
  • One or more elements, items, or accounts

If you prepare prospective financial information, the summary of significant assumptions must be included Why? It is considered essential to the user’s understanding of such information.

If you prepare a financial projection, you should not exclude:

  • The identification of hypothetical assumptions, or
  • The description of the limitations on the usefulness of the presentation

AR-C 70 references the AICPA Guide Prospective Financial Information as suitable criteria for the preparation and presentation of prospective financial information.

Prescribed Forms

Is it permissible to perform a preparation of financial statement engagement with regard to prescribed forms?

Yes. There is nothing in AR-C 70 that prohibits the accountant from performing a preparation engagement with regard to prescribed forms (e.g., bank personal financial statement). However, the accountant is required to follow all of the preparation guidance. Clients may not want to add wording to the prescribed forms such as “no assurance is provided” or “substantially all disclosures are omitted.” As an alternative to adding such wording, the accountant can provide a disclaimer before the prescribed form. 

Selected notes can follow the form if needed. If this option is used, the order of the deliverable is as follows:

  • Disclaimer 
  • Prescribed form 
  • Selected notes

When a bank, credit union, regulatory or governmental agency, or other similar entity designs a prescribed form to meet its needs, there is a presumption that the required information is sufficient. What should be done if the prescribed form conflicts with the applicable basis of accounting? For example, what if the prescribed form requires all numbers to be in compliance with GAAP with the exception of receivables? Follow the form. In effect, the prescribed form is the reporting framework. Report departures from the prescribed form and its related instructions on the face of the financial statements (the form) or in a note. 

Draft Financial Statements

The client may request a draft copy of the financial statements prior to final issuance. To avoid confusion, mark statements with words like:

  • Draft Financial Statements
  • Working Draft
  • Draft - Subject to Change

Preparation of Financial Statements - A Simple Summary

  • AR-C 70 is applicable when the accountant is engaged to prepare financial statements and is not applicable when the accountant is engaged to perform a compilation or if the accountant is merely assisting with bookkeeping
  • The objective of the accountant is to prepare financial statements in accordance with the chosen reporting framework
  • The financial statements can be prepared in accordance with GAAP or a special purpose reporting framework
  • The financial statements can be distributed to third parties (and not just management)
  • The accountant must either:
    • State on each financial statement page that “no assurance is provided,” or
    • Provide a disclaimer
  • Documentation requirements include:
    • The engagement letter, and 
    • The financial statements  
  • An engagement letter must be signed by:
    • The accountant or the accountant’s firm, and
    • Management or those charged with governance
  • No report (e.g., compilation report) is attached to the financial statements
  • Consideration of independence is not required
  • Substantially all disclosures can be omitted 
  • The omission of substantially all disclosures should be:
    • Disclosed on the face of the financial statements, or
    • In a note
  • Selected disclosures can be provided 
  • Departures from the applicable financial reporting framework should be:
    • Disclosed on the face of the financial statements, or
    • In a note
  • A preparation engagement can be applied to historical financial statements and historical information (e.g., specified items of a financial statement).
  • A preparation engagement can be applied to prospective financial information. The summary of significant assumptions must be included.
  • A preparation engagement can be performed in relation to prescribed forms (e.g., bank personal financial statements)
  • Mark draft financial statements with appropriate wording (e.g., Draft Financial Statements)
peer reviewers focus on independence
Aug 05

Peer Reviewers Focus on Independence Documentation

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Preparation, Compilation & Review

Peer reviewers focus on independence documentation. Today I’ll provide you with examples of what peer reviewers are looking for and guidance to keep you out of hot water.

peer reviewers focus on independence

Documentation of Nonattest Services

Peer reviews focus upon nonattest services provided to attest clients. How do we know? Well, see the peer review checklist question below (for an attest engagement).

nonattest services

The big “no-no” is to assume management responsibilities and then perform an attest service. Why? Performing management responsibilities impairs your independence. 

Preparing Financial Statements

Below is another question from the peer review checklists. Notice the first item below: Accepting responsibility for the preparation and fair presentation of the client’s financial statements. The client (not the auditor) must assume responsibility for the financial statements

nonattest1

If the client can’t–or is unwilling to–assume responsibility for the financial statements, then we are not independent, and we cannot perform an audit or a review. This assumption of responsibility does not mean the client has the ability to create financial statements, but it does mean that:

  • that the client will oversee the nonattest service,
  • the client will evaluate the adequacy and results of the nonattest service, and
  • the client will accept responsibility for the nonattest service

If we prepare financial statements and perform an audit, review, or compilation, we have performed a nonattest service and an attest service. Why is this important? Because if we perform a nonattest service and an attest service for the same client, we must assess our independence. And if we are not independent, then we can’t perform an audit or review engagement. (It is permissible to perform the compilation engagement when independence is impaired, but the accountant must say–in the compilation report–that he is not independent.)

Other Peer Review Questions

The peer review checklists also ask for:

  • The name and title of the client personnel overseeing the nonattest service and
  • A description of the accountant’s “assessment and factors leading to your satisfaction that the client personnel overseeing the service had sufficient skills, knowledge and experience.”

Separate Form to Document Independence

So do we need a separate form in our file to document independence?

It certainly would not hurt, and I suggest that you do. PPC and CCH offer such forms (and I am sure other work paper providers do the same). These forms provide a place to document all nonattest services and to assess and document our client’s ability to assume responsibility for the nonattest services.

The PPC and CCH forms also address the cumulative effect of performing multiple nonattest services. The AICPA has stated that the performance of multiple nonattest services can impair independence. So you should document your consideration of whether the cumulative nonattest services create a problem. Peer review checklists ask if we documented this consideration.

Additionally, if significant threats are present, the accountant should document the safeguard(s) used to mitigate the risk. This documentation is particularly crucial in Yellow Book engagements. The PPC and CCH independence forms will assist you with this documentation. Below are peer review checklist questions:

Alignment in Independence Documentation

We should–in the engagement letter–specify the nonattest services and the responsibilities of management. If you are performing an audit or a review engagement, add additional language to the representation letter regarding the nonattest services performed and the client’s responsibility for those services.

So I am suggesting you document the nonattest services in three places:

  • Engagement letter,
  • Independence form, and
  • Representation letter (when relevant)

And when you do, please make sure the nonattest services listed in each document are the same. 

going concern
Mar 27

Going Concern in Compilation and Review Engagements

By Charles Hall | Preparation, Compilation & Review

Do you need to concern yourself with going concern in compilation and review engagements? Yes, if the financial statements are prepared in accordance with the FASB Codification. But is going concern relevant to special purpose frameworks such as the cash basis or tax basis financial statements. Yes, going concern is in play even with special purpose frameworks. This post provides an overview of what you need to know about going concern as it relates to compilation and review engagements.

going concern in compilation and review engagements

A while back I wrote a post about ASU 2014-15, Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, which was effective for years ending after December 15, 2016. This standard requires companies to include certain disclosures when substantial doubt is present. So, we know that financial statements prepared in accordance with GAAP must include these disclosures. Otherwise, there is a GAAP departure. And in an audit, we modify our opinion when there is a departure.

Going Concern in Compilation Engagements

But what about financial statements subject to a compilation engagement, especially when substantially all disclosures are omitted? Is it permissible for the CPA to ignore the going concern standard since it just requires disclosures? Yes, but be careful. Ask yourself whether the financial statements would be misleading (without the going concern disclosure). If they are misleading, then include a selected disclosure regarding going concern. Also, consider adding an emphasis-of-matter paragraph (regarding going concern) to your compilation report.

Consider the following scenario. Your client (who has significant going concern issues) takes your compilation report (which has no emphasis of a matter paragraph) and their financial statements (that has no disclosures) to a local bank. It’s obvious that the company is not doing well. But the bank makes a large loan anyway, and later, the company defaults on the loan. Then the bank files suit against you (the CPA) asserting that you issued the compilation report without the emphasis-of-matter paragraph and that you knew the financial statements had no going concern disclosure. The bank says the financial statements were misleading.

While the emphasis-of-matter paragraph is not required, consider adding one anyway.

Going Concern in Review Engagements

Since review engagements require full disclosure, going concern disclosures are not optional when substantial doubt exists in GAAP financial statements. They must be provided. If they are not, a GAAP departure exists.

So what going concern procedures should you perform in a review engagement?

In regard to going concern when the financial reporting framework includes going concern requirements (e.g. GAAP), AR-C 90.65 states:

If the applicable financial reporting framework includes requirements for management to evaluate the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time in preparing financial statements, the accountant should perform review procedures related to the following: 

    1. Whether the going concern basis of accounting is appropriate
    2. Management’s evaluation of whether there are conditions or events that raised substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern
    3. If there are conditions or events that raised substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, management’s plans to mitigate those matters
    4. The adequacy of the related disclosures in the financial statements

In regard to going concern when the applicable financial reporting framework does not address going concern (e.g., tax basis), AR-C 90.66 states:

If the applicable financial reporting framework does not include a requirement for management to evaluate the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time in preparing financial statements and conditions or events that raise substantial doubt about an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time existed at the date of the prior period financial statements (regardless of whether the substantial doubt was alleviated by the accountant’s consideration of management’s plans) or, in the course of performing review procedures on the current period financial statements, the accountant becomes aware of conditions or events that raise substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, the accountant should do the following: 

    1. Inquire of management whether the going concern basis of accounting is appropriate.
    2. Inquire of management about its plans for dealing with the adverse effects of the conditions and events. 
    3. Consider the adequacy of the disclosure about such matters in the financial statements. 

SSARS 24 does say that the nature and extent of procedures performed regarding going concern are a matter of professional judgment. If the audited entity has a history of profitable operations and access to financing, inquiry alone might be sufficient in a review engagement.

Going Concern Paragraph in a Review Report

If the accountant concludes that substantial doubt will remain for a reasonable period of time, an emphasis-of-matter paragraph is required in the review report. (Some reporting frameworks specify a “reasonable period of time.” For GAAP, it is one year from the date the financial statements are issued or are available to be issued.)

AR-C 90.A123 provides the following example of a going concern paragraph in a review engagement when (1) substantial doubt exists for a reasonable period of time, (2) management’s plans don’t alleviate the substantial doubt, and (3) the reporting framework requires a note disclosure.

Emphasis of Matter

The accompanying financial statements have been prepared assuming that the Company will continue as a going concern. As discussed in Note X to the financial statements, the Company has suffered recurring losses from operations, has a net capital deficiency, and has stated that substantial doubt exists about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. Management’s evaluation of the events and conditions and management’s plans regarding these matters are also described in Note X. The financial statements do not include any adjustments that might result from the outcome of this uncertainty. Our conclusion is not modified with respect to this matter. 
 
Representation Letter in Review Engagements
 
Be sure to update your representation letter when performing review engagements. SSARS 24 tweaked some language in the letter and added additional wording such as the following:
 
  • Management has disclosed to the accountant all information relevant to use of the going concern assumption in the financial statements.

Special Purpose Frameworks and Going Concern

While the cash, modified cash, or tax bases of accounting do not address going concern, accountants still need to consider the effects of negative financial conditions and trends. Why? When using a special purpose framework (like the tax basis), the accountant should follow the guidance in GAAP. No, that doesn’t mean your disclosures are just like GAAP, but it does mean they are similar to GAAP.

Since GAAP tells the financial statement preparer to consider whether substantial doubt exists, then persons creating cash basis, modified cash basis or tax basis financial statements should do the same. If substantial doubt is present, going concern disclosures are necessary. 

So, what is substantial doubt? The FASB Codification defines it this way:

Substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern is considered to exist when aggregate conditions and events indicate that it is probable that the entity will be unable to meet obligations when due within one year of the date that the financial statements are issued or are available to be issued.

If substantial doubt is present and going concern disclosures are not included in full disclosure compilations or reviews, then modify your accountant’s report (for the departure). 

Perform compilation engagement
Oct 29

How to Perform Compilation Engagements

By Charles Hall | Preparation, Compilation & Review

Knowing how to perform compilation engagements is important for CPAs. Below I provide an overview of the salient points of AR-C 80, Compilation Engagements.

Perform compilation engagement

Guidance

The guidance for compilations is located in AR-C 80, Compilation Engagements.

Applicability

The accountant should perform a compilation engagement when he is engaged to do so.

A compilation engagement letter should be prepared and signed by the accountant or the accountant’s firm and management or those charged with governance. An engagement letter to only prepare financial statements is not a trigger for the performance of a compilation engagement.

Previously (in the SSARS 19 days), the preparation and submission of financial statements to a client triggered the performance of a compilation engagement. Now, compilation engagement guidance is applicable only when the accountant is engaged to (requested to) perform a compilation. 

Objectives

The objectives of the accountant in a compilation engagement are to:

  • Assist management in the presentation of financial statements 
  • Report on the financial statements in accordance with the compilation engagement section of the SSARSs
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10 Steps to Make Work Papers Sparkle
May 22

10 Steps to Make Work Papers Sparkle

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Preparation, Compilation & Review

In this post, I provide ten steps to make work papers sparkle.

Have you ever been insulted by a work paper review note?

Your tickmarks look like something created by my child.

Rather than providing guidance, the comment feels like an assault.

Or maybe you are the reviewer–you stare at a work paper for several minutes–and you’re thinking, “what the heck is this?” Your stomach tightens and you say out loud, “I don’t have time for this.”

There are ways to create greater clarity in your work papers.

Make Work Papers Sparkle

Make Work Papers Sparkle

Here are ten steps to make your work papers sparkle.

  1. Timely review work papers. The longer the in-charge waits to review work papers, the harder it is for the staff person to remember what they did and, if needed, to make corrections. Also, consider that the staff person may be reassigned to another job. Therefore, he may not be available to clear the review notes.
  2. Communicate the work paper’s purpose.

a.  An unclear work paper is like a stone wall. It blocks communication.

b.  State the purpose of the work paper; for example:

Purpose of Work Paper – To search for unrecorded liabilities as of December 31, 2018. Payments greater than $30,000 made from January 1, 2019, through March 5, 2019, were examined for potential inclusion in accounts payable.

Or:

Purpose of Work Paper – To provide a detail of accounts receivable that agrees with the trial balance; all amounts greater than $20,000 agreed to subsequent receipt.

If the person creating the work paper can’t state the purpose, then maybe there is none. It’s possible that the staff person is trying to copy a work paper from the prior year that (also) had no purpose.

Click Purpose Notation Explanation for brief audio comment.

c.  All work papers should satisfy a part of the audit program (plan). No corresponding audit program step? Then the audit program should be updated to include the step—or maybe the work paper isn’t needed at all.

3.  The preparer should sign off on each work paper  (so it’s clear who created it).

4. Audit program steps should be signed off as the work is performed (not at the end of the audit–just before review). The audit program should drive the audit process—not the prior year work papers.

5.  Define tickmarks.

6.  Reference work papers. (If you are paperless, use electronic links.)

7.  Communicate the reason for each journal entry.

The following explanation would not be appropriate:

To adjust to actual.

A better explanation:

To reverse client-prepared journal entry 63 that was made to accrue the September 10, 2018, Carter Hardware invoice for $10,233.

8.   When in doubt, leave it out.

Far too many documents are placed in the audit file simply because the client provided them. Moreover, once the work paper makes its way into the file, auditors get “remove-a-phobia“–that dreaded sense that if the auditor removes the work paper, he may need it later.

If you place those unneeded documents in your audit file and do nothing with them, they may create potential legal issues. I can hear the attorney saying, “Mr. Hall, here is an invoice from your audit file that reflects fraud.”

Again, does the work paper have a purpose?

My suggestion for those in-limbo work papers: Place them in a “file 13” stack until you are completely done. Then–once done–destroy them. I place these work papers in a recycle bin at the bottom of my work paper tree. 

9.  Complete forms. Blanks should not appear in completed forms (use N/A where necessary).

10. Always be respectful in providing feedback to staff. It’s too easy to get frustrated and say or write things we shouldn’t. For instance, your audit team is more receptive to:

Consider providing additional detail for your tickmark: For instance–Agreed invoice to cleared check payee and dollar amount.

This goes over better than:

You failed to define your tickmark–again?

Last Remarks

What other ways do you make your work papers sparkle? Comment below.

You may also be interested in a related post: 7 Steps to Effectively Review Financial Statements. Also, see If It’s Not Documented, It’s Not Done.

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