Estimates, Resiliency & Controls: What’s Changing for Accounting

We’ve been adapting to the changes in both work and life due to COVID-19 for almost three months.

And every day, we experience new challenges and must find creative ways to conquer them.

In this blog, we’ll discuss three initial challenges that Accounting and Finance are facing as a result of their distributed workforce and need to close the books virtually.

Estimates

In addition to the logistical challenges, like communicating effectively and accessing data and files, one of the more technical challenges facing F&A is the sudden need to more thoroughly revisit management judgements and estimates.

Key assumptions used to derive estimates now must take the impacts of the global pandemic into account—which are often unknown.

For example, preparing an allowance for bad debt may have previously been a simple process based on historical write-off trends. But with the pandemic putting unprecedented financial stress on many organizations, and threatening their solvency, the process of reserving for bad debt might need to consider the financial viability of individual customers with open invoices.

As an accountant, your primary responsibility is to produce accurate financial statements, and the unknowns and disruption created by a global crisis are likely to have a significant impact.

A Solution

Accounting teams should look for ways to focus more time and attention on complex areas like judgments and estimates. Re-evaluating materiality thresholds, risk-ranking accounts, and looking for opportunities to automate certifications or repetitive tasks are common ways to find quick wins.

You might not be able to tie out every penny, and that’s okay. While managing risk is important, re-visiting materiality and making modest updates may be one of those areas where the organization can quickly save time.

In addition, auditors will be focused on changes to judgments and estimates, so using technology to document key considerations, assumptions, and steps used to update calculations and models is a great way to avoid unexpected audit inefficiencies.  

Controls

Many companies have a heavy reliance on detective controls—checking, double-checking, and performing detailed individual tasks on a monthly or quarterly basis.

From a controls perspective, companies are relying more heavily on mitigating controls like analyses and reviews, rather than detailed work steps, as their underlying processes and controls are disrupted during the pandemic. 

A Solution

While mitigating controls may be sufficient in the short-term or to overcome control deficiencies, one long-term solution to addressing disrupted, manual controls is to automate underlying processes and identify new, preventive controls.  

Automated solutions like BlackLine are essential to building effective controls and accessing accurate, real-time data, according to Kelly Harper, Senior Manager, Advisory for Ernst & Young.

“Automation has a direct impact on controls,” says Harper. “Manual processes bring inherent risk because they rely on humans. As for data access, near-real-time financial information simply wouldn’t be possible without automation.

“If automation isn’t part of the process, the numbers will always be reported with a delay. Analysis will take longer, and the results would be stale by the time they made it into the hands of an investor.”

Resiliency

From both a strategic and practical perspective, maintaining continuity in month-end close processes is a challenge for many accounting teams in today’s business environment.

From monitoring status to identifying errors, from signing off on tasks to facilitating remote audits, it’s important for F&A to have access to the information and documentation they need to report accurately and on time.

A Solution

BlackLine Task Management is flexible and makes it easy for companies to turn tasks on and off, or update or add new tasks to their close checklists. It’s a relatively low-risk way for companies to manage checklists in a central location, which becomes even more important in a distributed work environment.

Tasks help document policies and procedures, which might be changing quickly in this unusual time. Making sure everyone on the team is working from a single source of truth is more important than ever before.

This provides visibility and enables better communication, with the ability to assign tasks, manage timelines, and iterate as things evolve and change, without having to go back and reimplement or completely redo something.

Whether you’re using BlackLine or have other means of managing close activities, this is an opportunity for companies to rely more heavily on things like analytics and other stress tests that help gauge where risks may be.

Visit our Virtual Close hub for more resources to help you adapt to working with a distributed workforce in these uncertain times.