Financial statements are intended to meet the needs of decision-makers as well as providing useful information to shareholders. As a result, the timely preparation of these reports is essential. Financial statements must be available in time to inform decision-making. Therefore, it is important that financial reports/financial statements should be published as soon as possible after the end of the reporting period.
However, we should note here that timely financial reporting should not be reduced to a well-managed busy financial statement drafting season. Rather, it requires careful, yearlong planning and monitoring. Of course, the need for timeliness has to be balanced against the need for reliability, which in addition to timeliness is also an essential characteristic of financial statements.
Requirement of the Companies Act:
In terms of the Companies Act, Section 30, Companies are required to produce annual financial statements within 6 months of their financial year-end or within any shorter period as may be appropriate to provide the required notice of an annual general meeting in terms of section 61(7). For example, if one’s year-end of Feb 2018, they should have a set of financial statements by end of August 2018.
I would like to make the following recommendations about ways to improve the timeliness and reliability of financial reports. These recommendations are based on my personal experiences and cannot be viewed as an exhaustive list.
Do not leave it until the last time:
It is never a good idea to start the preparation of your financial statements late on in the year. As mentioned in my introduction, the process requires careful yearlong planning and monitoring. Start with clients whose books are updated and are in order on a monthly basis. For me, these are the client I have monthly management meeting with and at each management meeting, we ensure that the accounts for that month are in order. Once we close off the accounts, we do not come back to these to make any changes. You will find that by the year-end, there is little left to do to produce the financial statements because all books are in order. For me, I find that this process ensures the ongoing completeness and accuracy of financial data.
Reid Hoffman once said, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” I cannot stress enough the importance of working as a team and ensuring that the communications among the team are good and maintained. In my firm, as an example, we have three teams that work closely together to produce financial statements; the tax team, the financial statements drafting team and the financial management team. The financial management team is responsible for day-to-day accounting and the production of the Trial balance. The tax team helps with all complex tax matters. The drafting team takes the Trial balances and produces the financial statements. What makes the teamwork together well is communication, each member communicating whatever changes or processes that take place at any stage of the process. The biggest advantage of all this is that the reliability of the financial statements is greatly improved. The application of tax and financial reporting laws is also improved.
Systems and processes:
I also find that it helps to have proper systems and processes in place for the production of financial statements. Companies should have a financial system that they use to draft financial statements. These should be able to produce financial statements acceptable for submission with SARS and the CIPC. Also, there should be a well-defined process for the production of financial statements. It could be a well-defined checklist, which has all elements that must be checked before a trial balance is imported into the financial statements software. The presence of such a process will also go a long way in producing a reliable set of financial statements.
Closing and financial statement preparation processing:
The annual closing process. To avoid delays, aim to have your annual close within a month from the end of the financial period. Communicate these deadlines to all people involved in the process so that everyone is aware of the deadlines and the deliverables that each should meet.
Unforeseen circumstances. The financial report preparation process may identify items that could affect the amounts reported in the financial statements, such as legal disputes, contractual obligations e.t.c. In most cases, a reasonable amount of time may be needed to resolve such items. To avoid delays, it may be better to proceed with the issuance of the financial statements based upon reasonable estimates, rather than to delay their issuance.
There is that old saying that says if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is important to carefully when for when the production of financial statements should start, and by whom the financial statements should be prepared. As mentioned earlier, do not leave the drafting to the busy drafting periods. After the year ends, aim to have at least one set of financial statements done per week. Start with those where not too much cleaning is required going to those where late adjustments and more cleaning is done. Also, you may want to aim to submit these financial statements by the time the tax season opens in July. So, plan in a way that will make this possible.