MNCPA PERSPECTIVES

Choosing accountability

Apr. 17, 2017  |  Faye Hayhurst, CPA

It’s a familiar scenario: there’s a mess, something is broken or dessert is found half eaten before dinnertime. And the culprit is nowhere to be seen. When the call goes out, “Who is responsible for this?” all you get is silence.

Most parents can relate to some variation of this theme. Children, however, aren’t the only ones guilty of hiding when asked who is accountable. We all prefer to do what we want and not be questioned. It’s human nature.

Unless, we come to recognize the value of accountability. This should be a natural fit for CPAs, since “accounting” and “accountability” must have something in common.

Dictionary.com defines accountability as “the state of being accountable (subject to report, explain or justify something); liable, or answerable.” There are variations to the definition of accounting, but I like this one from Wikipedia: “Accounting is the measurement, processing and communication of financial information about economic entities. Accounting measures the results of an organization’s economic activities and conveys this information to a variety of users.”

In other words, accounting facilitates accountability for economic entities. No one can ask an organization to explain or justify its financial operations without having the financial information to do so. Third parties look favorably on organizations that provide good financial information. And even an organization that doesn’t value the integrity of its accounting will likely be held accountable all the same — through loss of bank, investor or donor funding, lower stock price, or fewer vendors willing to work with them.

But beyond that survival level reason for accountability, there’s much more to be gained. Procedures, processes and structures that support accountability create a culture of excellence and trust. Talented people want to work in a place where failure to meet standards is addressed. Employees feel pride working in an organization that lives out its values from the top of the organization on down, and they’ll strive to live up to that.

Accountability is one reason why the MNCPA chooses to have an annual audit, even though we’re not required to. It’s a healthy exercise to bring in an outside party to probe, ask and analyze. If we missed something, the audit is an opportunity to identify and correct it. And it sends a message to our employees, members and the public that we’re comfortable being held accountable.

Choosing accountability can also provide protection. The size of the MNCPA’s 401(k) plan doesn’t subject it to a mandatory audit. But we choose to have an agreed-upon procedures (AUP) engagement, which tests compliance with our plan document. As the internal plan administrator and a fiduciary to the plan, I have peace of mind knowing my work is double-checked. Anyone with knowledge of benefit plans is aware that fixing a mistake early is easy and less costly compared to correcting it years down the road. I would strongly recommend an AUP engagement for areas where compliance is critical.

It’s no coincidence that both examples involved the use of outside CPAs. The services CPAs provide can serve a vital role to any organization striving to be accountable.

Children don’t choose accountability, but we hope for the sake of society that they have adults in their lives to enforce it. As a professional, don’t wait for the enforcers. Choose accountability and reap the rewards.

Topics: Accounting and auditing

Faye Hayhurst, CPA

Faye Hayhurst is the MNCPA director of finance and administration. She is committed to using numbers to tell relevant stories, although she also employs words, charts and occasionally clothing to communicate a message. While some have questioned her about the pressures of being the CPA for the MNCPA, Faye considers presenting financial information to fellow CPAs a dream job. Outside of storytelling with numbers, Faye enjoys directing her church's handbell choir, visiting national parks and other scenic places, and checking out the chocolate products at Trader Joe's. Faye can be reached at 952-885-5540 or fhayhurst@mncpa.org.

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