You ever go into a client or into the office and wonder if people understand what segregation of duties means? You’d think in the post-Enron era that at least large companies would want to avoid an appearance of impropriety at all costs.
I can’t say for certain if this is true across the board, but there is one particular segregation of duties scenario where people sometimes forget that doing the right thing doesn’t mean doing the easiest thing. That situation is when FP&A starts getting involved in booking financial transactions in the system.
Does the “A” in FP&A not stand for “accounting”?
For those who don’t know FP&A stands for financial planning and analysis, in most cases means this group of people owns the task for forecasting a business’ results. These people usually have some portion of their compensation tied to how well they forecast, so they should NEVER EVER have access to record journal entries to modify actual results…yet I’ve seen it more than a few times over the course of my career
Why Should FP&A and accounting be treated differently?
The issue I have doesn’t stem from the fact that FP&A has the ability book entries because many CPAs who understand accounting exceptionally well go into FP&A roles if they want to move away from the retrospective world of accounting and toward the prospective world of finance (At least, this is how the functions historically have been divided). My problem goes beyond the superficial labels of these two groups of people. The fact that FPA title tends to get more respect for some reason as perceived value creators as opposed to back office cost centers like accounting operations is a topic I’ll save for another day.
My problem, and yours should too if you come across this, relates to segregation of duties. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it just means you (should) have a system of checks and balances in place to prevent fiscal misconduct within a firm. Thinking about it that way, the conflict is obvious. First, most FP&A organizations, at least at large corporations receive a bonus based on forecast accuracy. Now, if your wallet’s health depends on minimizing the gap between actual results and forecasted results, of course you should only have access to change one of these variables. Otherwise, the temptation to create transactions to help boost your bonus may be a burden too heavy to bare over the long term.
The bottom line is if you work in or with a company where everyone wears many hats, you need to ensure the compensation structure matches that organizational structure and incents the desired behavior or you/your client eventually will end up chasing explanations for transactions that never existed.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
When I first started writing this blog, I thought I would be spending equal time posting about issues in the accounting and consulting professions, but I’ve found myself enjoying focusing more on topics related to business school, so I intend to continue doing that until it makes sense to do something different, but first, I’d like to take a moment to talk about my first love professionally – accounting. To this day, passing the CPA exam (on the first attempt) is still one of my top personal accomplishments. For reasons I can’t explain, not everyone values the CPA designation as much as I do. Believe it or not, there myths about CPAs/accountants that couldn’t be further from the truth, and I am now taking on the task of laying these myths to rest once and for all…may they rest in peace.
1. CPAs Have to Be Good at Math
Just because numbers are involved, doesn’t mean you have to be good at math. 99.9% of the time, the most complicated math you do as an accountant is addition and subtraction, not to mention you do this in a spreadsheet or with a calculator. I’ll let you in on a little secret…I’ve worked with many accountants that were horrible at math. I’m talking about glazed over eyes when the word “algebra” is mentioned bad. That’s not to say that accounting is easy, but it’s not a test of mathematical prowess.
2. CPAs Working For Companies Can Only Have Accounting Jobs
Wrong again. The truth is anyone who’s worked within a finance and accounting organization knows that the accountants are the black sheep and FP&A is the favorite son. Case in point, I worked at a company that produced various tasty treats all over the globe. At said company’s office building, if you went on the accounting floor, it was a wasteland. I mean you were lucky if you could even find a binder. On the other hand, when you went onto any of the FP&A floors, there was free product everywhere. I referred to these as lands of milk and honey. Fortunately for the would-be financial analysts, there is hope. I’ve personally seen accountants make the transition to FP&A on many occasions, and the truth is it’s not that difficult to do. The key is to make this transition internally at one company. Leaving your company as an accountant and applying for an FP&A role elsewhere generally is more difficult to do.
3. CPAs Are Only Qualified for Audit/Tax Careers in Professional Services
I work in professional services and while I do some tax work on the side, my primary job is not in audit or tax; it is in management consulting. That’s right. I interact with real people everyday, not just sit in a closet somewhere wearing a green visor and playing with my abacus.
4. CPAs Are Not Strategic Thinkers
This is related to the point above, but I specifically wanted to let you know that organizations everywhere are looking to finance to help drive the strategic visions. And oddly enough, (good) finance teams are just filled with CPAs. It makes perfect sense because nobody really understands the ins and outs of a business better than its CPA. They don’t call accounting the language of business for nothing. I’m working on a project right now for a client that is all about defining the strategy for managing ENTERPRISE performance, not just finance.
5. CPAs Aren’t Tough
You might be thinking, there is no way he can disprove this one with facts. You’re right. I can’t…but the FBI can.
“FBI Special Agents are responsible for conducting sensitive national security investigations and for enforcing over 300 federal statutes. As an FBI Special Agent you may work on matters including terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, cyber crime, organized crime, white-collar crime, public corruption, civil rights violations, financial crime, bribery, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, air piracy, interstate criminal activity, fugitive and drug-trafficking matters, and other violations of federal statutes.
Looks pretty tough to me and guess what happens to be one of the critical skills for this position…accounting. Take a look for yourself. I rest my case.
6. CPAs Are Boring
This might be the most unfounded of all CPA myths. People just get carried away with this one. I just read a terrible joke online today which I had heard before but this is probably what prompted the writing of this post: “What do accountants use for birth control? Their personalities.” Now is that really necessary? What did any accountant do to deserve that? Many of us CPAs are quite charming if I do say so myself. We’re also quite funny.
I’m sure there are more out there so let me know what I missed and we can make this a complete list to stomp out all of these CPA myths once and for all!