What are Accounting Controls?
Accounting Controls are the measures and controls adopted by an organization that leads to increased efficiency and compliance across the organization and ensures that financial statements are accurate when presented to auditors, bankers, investors and other stakeholders.
There are various types of control applied within an organization. Also, there is no straight forward control policy which applies to every organization. The application of controls for each organization is designed and applied to suit its needs, type of business, aspirations, goals and other guidelines.
Types of Accounting Controls
There are three major categories of accounting internal controls.
#1 – Detective Controls
As the name suggests these controls are the controls in place to detect any discrepancy and deviation from the policies in place. It also serves the purpose of the integrity check.
For example – a surprise check of actual cash balance in hand with cashier and cash balance as per accounts will ensure if the cashier is doing his job accurately or not. It might also reflect any accounting posting error. In a computerized environment where the numbers are huge in volume and end to end processing of accounts is done by the system, in those cases, we might want to put a test invoice and track it till accounts finalization to see if it gives the desired result and it is compliant to regulations.
Same way comparing actual physical stock in the warehouse and closing stock as per books will show if there is an issue in the Inventory processing, any pilferage or normal loss. Also checking that all the assets appearing in the books are physically present ensures the safety of assets.
Now by examples, we have understood that Detective Controls are applied irregularly and are more of audit nature to identify errors or discrepancies.
#2 – Preventive Controls
The controls are applied on a daily basis within the organization to stop the errors or discrepancies for happening in the first place. We can say these are the rules which everyone within the organization has to abide by in their day to day job.
For example – in an accounting environment when a person books an invoice it goes to another person for peer review and approval. Once the invoice is accounted, the payment is done by another team. This is called segregation of duties and it ensures that on a daily basis one person does not have control to book and pay invoices.
Job rotation is a classic example of preventive control. In a big organization or at a critical place the personnel is transferred on a regular interval to ensure that any person does not have access to any data or asset for a long period which ensures that the person does not get involved in thefts or illegal activities.
In a computerized environment backing up of data on a daily basis on cloud is also a Preventive control to avoid any data loss.
#3 – Corrective Controls
These are the controls which come to rescue when preventive and detective both the controls have failed to avoid an error. In accounting environment posting an adjustment or rectification entry is an example of corrective controls. Once the books are closed after the financial year and auditors find an issue which needs to be addressed. Reopening the financial yearbooks and making the adjustments asked by an auditor is also a part of a corrective control.
For example – While posting a journal entry the accountant has debited Mr. Tom instead of Mr. Robert for $ 500. In this case, the trial balance still agrees and later on verification of ledgers, this error was identified. The rectification entry here is to debit Mr. Robert and credit Mr. Tom, each by $500. This is called corrective control.
Accounting Internal Control Examples
Below given are the examples of accounting controls.
- Segregation of duties – processor and approver should be two different people.
- A user id and passwords for all the employees.
- Physical verification of Inventory and Assets.
- Bank reconciliation and other Trial balance reconciliations.
- Standard Operating Procedure documents regarding process flow.
- Surprise check of petty cash and cash book balances.
Advantages of Accounting Internal Controls
Below are some of the advantages of accounting controls.
- Action log identifies the person responsible for any error
- Accuracy of financial statements and funds application
- Efficient use of the resources for the intended purpose
- Helpful in audit facilitation
- A strong foundation for a bigger growth
- Identification and rectification of any discrepancy identified
- Saving of cost and resources
Disadvantages of Accounting Internal Controls
Below are some of the disadvantages of accounting controls.
- Sometimes irritating and time-consuming for employees
- The high cost of maintaining controls and standards
- Overdependent for financial statements and audit
- Duplication of work
Important Points to Note about Change in Accounting Control
- Any change in one process impacts the other.
- The change should not be made in the middle of an accounting period, as it will affect the transaction flow.
- Any changes should be informed to auditors.
- Any change should also be documented and communicated well with all the stakeholders.
- It should be cost effective.
Accounting internal controls are not a recent development, these have been in place for a long time. The most significant advantage of accounting controls in that it restores the faith of the general public in the public listed companies. In the wake of high-value scandals in the United States by companies like Tyco and Enron literally shook the faith of the general public in the accounting system.
SOX is also known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted by the United States Congress to protect the stakeholders from any corporate accounting scandals. This also makes it a compulsion for organizations to follow corporate disclosure guidelines and other requirements. The point here is that accounting controls are nowadays integrated part of any organization, without which the accounting system is like a car without brakes and no one wants to take a ride in such a car. So it is imperative that any organization which aspires to grow big and better must have a robust accounting control in place.
This has been a guide to what are Accounting Controls and its definition. Here we discuss the top 3 types of accounting internal controls along with examples, advantages & disadvantages. You may learn more about accounting from the following articles –