Audits, Reviews and Compilations: A Summary
You will want to prepare your financial statements in accordance with an accounting framework that's appropriate for your business. Most of the time, you'll opt for a CPA to produce your financial statements. Getting an accountant's blessing is especially useful when you are applying for more credit from a bank.
Financial statements are intended to give you current information on your business's financial standing so you can make more informed decisions. There are three levels of overview you can choose to take — compilation, review or audit — and what you select will have a lot to do with what your objective is.
According to guidance from the American Institute of CPAs, a compilation is suitable for use by lenders and other outside parties who may appreciate the business's association with a CPA. There is no assurance here, but the CPA will read the financial statements in light of the financial reporting framework being used and consider whether the financial statements appear appropriate in form and are free from obvious material misstatements.
It may be appropriate when a company is seeking only relatively minor levels of financing and may have significant collateral.
The next level is a review. According to the AICPA, the review is designed to provide lenders and other outside parties with a basic level of assurance on the accuracy of financial statements. The CPA performs analytical procedures, inquiries and other procedures to obtain limited assurance on the financial statements and is intended to provide a user with a level of comfort on their accuracy.
A review might be the right move for companies seeking larger levels of financing and have more complex credit needs.
The highest level of assurance is an audit. The CPA performs procedures to obtain "reasonable assurance" (defined as a high but not absolute level of assurance) about whether the financial statements are free from material misstatement, according to the AICPA. The CPA is required to obtain an understanding of your business's internal control and to assess fraud risk. Your CPA is also required to corroborate the amounts and disclosures included in your financial statements by obtaining audit evidence through inquiry, physical inspection, observation, third-party confirmations, examination, analytical procedures and other procedures.
An audit is an annual requirement for publicly held companies and may be advisable for other companies seeking high levels of finance and opening themselves to outside investors.
How often will you want your CPA to peruse your finances? Overviews can be done in any frequency that is useful to you and your business — monthly, quarterly or annually. Some folks say that your financial statements are more than snapshots of your business but can be seen as resources to tell you where your risks and opportunities are. Financial statements can help you identify and solve potential problems before they compromise the health of your business.
Be sure to keep in touch with your accountant to decide which financial services are right for your company.