Accounting discrepancies are unintentional mistakes in the delivery of financial statements.
Recognize the various reasons a discrepancy may occur, and how to prevent them
- Mistakes happen. Being aware of common pitfalls is the best way to avoid accounting discrepancies, though.
- Discrepancies shouldn’t be confused with irregularities, which are generally assumed to be intentional mistakes to misrepresent data.
- Data errors, software issues, late payments, and shrinkage may all contribute to potential discrepancies in the tracking of organizational finances.
- Preventing discrepancies is best, but if a mistake occurs, it is best to address it as soon as possible (as opposed to waiting for an audit to catch it).
- discrepancies: Accidental misrepresentations of accounting data.
- accounting irregularity: An intentional misrepresentation of accounting data.
Nobody’s perfect, including accountants. From time to time, discrepancies will arise on financial statements, for a wide variety of reasons. Accounting errors that are not intentional are described as discrepancies (as opposed to an accounting irregularity, which is distinguished from a discrepancy by an intention to defraud). Accounting requires meticulous eye for detail and a strong sense of accuracy and accountability, and financial professionals and internal stakeholders must be careful of errors which could be mistaken for intentional fraud.
All accounting relies heavily on input data from various sources, including accurate inventory counts, revenue reports, sales figures, asset valuations, and a wide variety of other relevant aspects of income statements, balance sheets, and statements of cash flows. Any error from input data points will thus be reflected in the final financial statements, for public companies these are released externally. Catching these errors through careful confirmation of all receipts and cash flows is a central responsibility of both management and the accounting and finance teams.
If a large client is late in providing capital for a service or product provided, this can impact the accuracy of a financial release. Accounts receivable, by their nature, are timed payments with specific deadlines. If an accountant assumes a receivable will be timely, they may potentially create a discrepancy. As a result, all reporting should be done on what actually is, rather than what’s expected to be.
Particularly relevant for retail outlets is the concept of shrinkage. Shrinkage is the lost inventory/sales that occurs over an operational period. This can be due to petty theft, mismanaged inventory, perishable goods going unrecorded, and a wide variety of other factors. Ensuring that inventory is carefully managed and shrinkage is built into any current financial calculations is important to maintain accuracy and avoid discrepancy.
While rarely an issue in the long term, bank transfer and capital movements sometimes take time. Taking into account bank reconciliation when viewing the amount shown in a current account and the amount that should be shown is an occasionally cause of temporary discrepancy.
Modern accounting is largely a software endeavor. Utilizing complex software incurs the potential for complex, hard to catch errors. Having a strong IT team, and accountants familiar with the world of software coding are important assets in modern financial reporting.
While perhaps common sense, amending a discrepancy as soon as it is identified is important. Waiting to be audited is not a good tactic, as this will likely result in fees or penalties for inaccurate reporting. Double and triple checking financial statements inputs before building them into public releases is particularly important for this field of work.