Understanding and applying accounting guidance are some of the best ways to enhance mobility and continued career success in the accounting profession. It can also be said that applying relevant guidance to unique and complex transactions and events, as well as understanding resulting financial and operational impacts, can be very crucial.
These events can include a company’s acquisition of a new business, restructuring of its business units, an Initial Public Offering (IPO), bringing the company public, or even new types of stock compensation.
In the current regulatory atmosphere, there are demands for the transparency of accounting information by the standard setters or governmental bodies. This has resulted in changes to existing accounting guidance itself. Recently, for example, new accounting guidance has evolved regarding changes to Revenue Recognition under Accounting Standards Codification 606 (ASC 606) and Lease Accounting (ASC 842).
In any scenario, it’s important for accounting professionals to not only understand this guidance, but to apply it to the unique transaction or events in their world.
Check out my 3 Ways to Understand & Seek Accounting Guidance below.
1. Understand the company’s “Control Environment” and its relationship to the Regulatory environment.
Understanding the role of not only the CEO and CFO, but the Board of Directors (BOD) and its Audit Committee (AC) is imperative to understanding the overall company environment – especially in large public companies.
For example, the AC oversees the company’s financial reporting and internal control environment, as well as internal and external audit functions. The AC is also on-the-hook to the BOD and consequently the shareholders. They manage their responsibilities by overseeing the financial reporting process through internal and external audits executed by qualified professionals, such as external audit firms. Fortunately, there’s plenty of AC guidance out there, along with Internal Control guidance.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) focuses on specific issues that the users of public company financial statements consider relevant in a given period of time. With this in mind, regulations and relevant standards can shift based on the variety of guidance and trends in the market. Hence, along with pure technical accounting guidance, there is certain regulatory guidance prescribed by the SEC as well.
Knowing that this landscape of guidance exists will allow you to cross-reference issues to different types of guidance pertaining to different stakeholders. For example, It’s not only important to understand technical accounting for revenue recognition, its impact on the control environment, and audit committee communication but also to understand the SEC guidance on disclosures that will be viewed by the public, hence drawing higher scrutiny. Some of this guidance is not authoritative, rather it’s prescriptive and can be garnered through examples provided by other companies.
2. Get comfortable with verbal discussion.
As a junior accounting professional, it’s difficult to get on the same page as professionals who have more knowledge or experience in certain standards – or even a deeper understanding of certain concepts. This being said, when faced with hesitance or confusion, remember that it’s OK to ask questions. Without asking questions, you’ll prevent yourself from new perspectives and meaningful discussions with other professionals. As a result, the hindrance to your career progression can be tremendous.
Another way to get ahead is to hold yourself accountable. Ask your manager for permission to participate in meetings with higher-level individuals, such as directors or controllers. This will build your ability to defend your position fully and give you the practice you need to grow. When you practice for a meeting with a peer or manager, your defense skills become sharper as your confidence rises. This practice also allows you to focus in on only relevant pieces of guidance that are important to professionals and avoid those that have a nominal effect. Connecting verbal conversations with written research can create long lasting bridges in your understanding of our profession. Keep in mind that in this profession, persuasion is key to enhancing your career. This persuasion is as much verbal as it is written.
3. Know how to write technical accounting memorandums.
Let’s be honest… it’s impossible to remember everything about a unique or complex accounting issue. So, it is imperative to lay out your related thoughts in a memorandum or memo and let your colleagues review these to understand your thought process. The structure of a memo doesn’t need to be complex. However, the contexts of it may come from various complex data points.
For example, if the purpose of the memo is to convince the auditors or external parties that you properly account for completeness of your revenue, you will need to demonstrate your understanding of the contract management process and furthermore, understand the full population of your company’s revenue contracts. You will also, of course, need to demonstrate accounting impacts which relate to technical accounting guidance. At some level, since the SEC appears to place higher focus on additional disclosures in the current environment, you may even want to conduct research on what amount of disclosures are sufficient so you can balance the company’s need for confidentiality with the SEC’s need for transparency. Finally, you may need an executive summary which can be utilized to create a more simplified narrative, especially in cases where the issues are extremely complex. Your reference to specific reliable financial information and accounting guidance in a memo is crucial. You may be asked questions much later after the memo is prepared and the audit is complete, and if the memo is clear and concise – you will be better able to defend your position than the scenario in which such a written document does not exist.
These are only a few ways to managing accounting research. Do you have any other suggestions? Comment below!