Accounting Department Red Flags: Is It Poor Training, Incompetence or Theft?

April 3, 2018


When things go wrong in your accounting department, you’re sure to feel the pain — especially if errors are common. Problems and irregularities can crop up for several reasons. For instance, your accounting staff might be inadequately trained, or they’re just not suited for the job.

But the cause could also be much worse: someone is stealing from your company.

Let’s take a closer look at both scenarios.

Innocent Mistakes

Everything from inadequate training to incompetence could be the cause of repeated but unintentional errors. It’s important to find out why these mistakes keep happening in order to institute changes that will make a real difference, whether by upgrading your hiring practices, your policies and procedures or your training regimen.

Here are a few clues indicating you might have an accounting department that is not up to par for one reason or another:

  • You have a large number of voided checks.
  • There are a number of uncleared checks in the bank reconciliation that are aged over six months.
  • There are balances in ambiguous accounts such as Ask My Accountant, Unreconciled Difference, Clearing Account, Uncategorized Assets and Expenses and Miscellaneous.
  • There’s an absence of a credit card general ledger account on the balance sheet, and payments get coded to one account rather than to individual transactions.
  • Basic accounting practices such as obtaining W9s from vendors, filing 1099s, closing the books and performing reconciliations in a timely manner are neglected.
  • Accounts receivable regularly age into the 90-day bucket and older.
  • Credit memos are not appropriately applied to the correct invoices in A/R.

Not-so-Innocent Behavior

Unfortunately, your accounting department missteps could be due to more nefarious causes. It might be that your company has one or more staffers who are taking advantage of their access to the company books and funds.

Here are a few red flags pointing to possible deliberate acts, or an environment where such problems could easily occur:

  • A key accounting staffer is hesitant to cross-train others or to share his or her knowledge with co-workers.
  • The staffer rarely takes a vacation day, prefers working late and alone and rarely delegates their work responsibilities.
  • There are minimal controls in place and no segregation of duties.
  • There is inadequate or no support provided for payments made. Before any payment is signed, proper support (e.g. invoice, inventory receipt) should be attached.
  • Cash flow projections are regularly off by a material amount and there are large balances in non-descriptive accounts such as “Other.”

All potential red flags could have innocent explanations or point to inadequate training or capabilities. Nevertheless, you should make sure your department operates in a way that reduces temptation or brings deliberate acts quickly into the light.

For instance, make sure that all accounting tasks are cross-checked by others in the department. And keep to a minimum the number of people who have access to the company’s books and bill-paying authority.

At Wiss & Company, we can help you assess your accounting department, get answers and put policies and procedures in place that will help boost the level of professionalism, increase efficiency, reduce common mistakes and help protect against malfeasance.

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