From the Nov. 2009 Issue
Small businesses turn to their public accountant for many different reasons. Some want their taxes done; others want business consulting, payroll services or countless other functions that your firm may provide. But almost never will a client ask for “write-up” because it’s a word used by professionals. It’s a term of art that you know really means, “cleaning up client mistakes and ensuring that their books are really in order.”
Write-up may seem like a thankless task at times, but without this core service, most of the other functions you provide to clients would be without a foundation. Without having confidence in a company’s financials, most accountants would be leery to complete tax engagements or provide advice on business management strategies. It would be similar to a physician advising surgery or attesting to a patient’s health without first performing a physical and perhaps advanced tests.
While the term doctoring the books is obviously worth avoiding, the medical analogy is appropriate, especially for small businesses without an experienced bookkeeper in-house, because the data is prone to error. And so, without periodic examination of a business’ financial health, it can be futile to even try to give clients the services they think they want and need. The results of write-up can also give accountants a better ability to perform more advanced analysis and identify potential sales, cashflow, inventory and other trends that the client should take steps to either take advantage of or avoid.
At the heart of write-up, however, is the occasionally grueling work of going through transactions, ensuring there are appropriate corresponding account postings and journal entries, and making corrections as necessary. Equally important to making sure the books are squared away is performing bank reconciliation to verify that disbursements and receipts match up with bank records. Fortunately, both of these processes have become much simpler over the years through better data import functions from client accounting systems and electronic bank statements.
Likewise, the leading client-side accounting systems have become more controllable, providing audit trails, advanced security features, and other ways to help minimize errors and intentional misuse by business users. Mistakes still happen, of course, but that is what leads to the need for write-up services.
At their most basic level, write-up packages are essentially just professional accountant versions of bookkeeping programs, providing GL, AP, AR, check writing, payroll and other traditional business accounting needs. But true write-up packages add to these core elements with modules specifically designed for analyzing transactions more quickly, streamlining reconciliation, and producing professional GAAP and IFRS compliant financial statements, with accompanying compilation or review letters.
The more advanced write-up programs provide greater flexibility in reporting and customization of user interfaces to allow for individual preferences, while also offering streamlined integration or import of client data, and corresponding export of corrected data back into the client’s bookkeeping system. Many also offer after-the-fact payroll, since the end product of payroll results in transactions that need to be appropriately managed in the clients’ books, and the professional accountant can use the data for wage reporting and compliance purposes.
All of the programs reviewed in this section offer professional-level capabilities
for managing virtually any number of client businesses. But just as a small
business accounting system can play a significant role in the operations of
a client, the selection of a professional write-up system that will assume an
integral position in the practice is a major decision. Firm management should
find a solution that meets the needs of the firm as it relates to integration
with their client’s bookkeeping systems, as well as one that can provide
the workflow tools and processes the professional practice needs for other client