Four steps for accounting to weather the 4IR

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will profoundly change the world of accounting. But agile companies stand to benefit from these changes.

Jodi Joseph, Divisional Executive, CaseWare Africa – Adapt IT – unpacks the different elements of the 4th Industrial Revolution and specifically what they mean for accounting professionals in terms of how they run their businesses and avail of the opportunities for growth that this latest technology era brings.

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Accounting, or accountancy, is thousands of years old and can be traced to ancient civilisations. Italian Luca de Pacioli – recognised as the father of accounting and bookkeeping – published his work on double-entry bookkeeping, as long ago as 1495.  The profession has weathered the challenges and opportunities of each of the first three industrial revolutions, but the changes looming in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) look set to take place faster than any that came before it.

Throughout the ages, the fundamental purpose of the profession has stayed consistent – to:

• provide reliable financial information,
• help businesses stay compliant with ever increasing regulations
• and take up the role of trusted advisor for people who want to run businesses and make money.

This purpose will remain true throughout the 4th industrial revolution. But how we will provide reliable financial information and what a trusted advisor will need to do and know, will change.

Driving these changes will be certain key 4IR technologies:

• Blockchain. In a world of fake news and a drive for total transparency, the Blockchain equals the Truth.
• As an incorruptible chain of blocks where each block contains data of value which is validated by all nodes in the network, information stored on the blockchain can never be deleted or altered.  This technology is viewed as the future of land registries due to the myriad of benefits it offers and its potential to greatly reduce property fraud. Blockchain technology underpins ‘smart contracts’, which are programmable contracts that self-execute when certain conditions are met, and offer the possibility that transactions could complete much more quickly when combined with a blockchain registry.
• Big data and cloud computing capabilities. As public expectations change and accountants and auditors must review all information of a company at scale, big data and cloud computing capabilities supports data acquisition. At the same time, data analytic tools are now smarter than ever before. Patterns that could never be detected before are now available at a click of a button.
• Internet of Things. IoT solutions support stock control and risk management for accounting clients across all sectors, enabling accounting efficiency and improving profitability.
• Artificial Intelligence. AI programmes are set to intelligently enhance process automation, reducing the risk of human error and improving efficiency and compliance.

In the short to medium term we see all 4th IR technologies significantly improving the efficiency of the profession – it should be far quicker and cheaper than ever before to process more information, and the quality of outputs to inform decisions should also vastly improve.

Four steps to adapting to the change

For the accounting profession, these new technologies bring with them sudden change, but also significant opportunities. To weather the change and enter the 4IR on a competitive footing, accounting should take the following four steps.

Step one – Focus on purpose

Throughout the ages the accounting profession has existed to help people, governments and economies make good decisions about the allocation of resources and to hold others to account for those decisions.

Better technologies will only enable the profession to deliver on its purpose better than ever before. Improvements will be on speed and quality of information for all participants in the ecosystem.

Step Two – Exploit powerful technologies

To fully exploit new technologies, we need to be clear about what they can do and how they can help. Be informed and get involved so that technologists help solve fundamental business problems in new ways. Clients will look to you to bring some of these answers.

In preparing to exploit 4IR technologies, accounting must focus on leveraging 3IR technologies, automating the practice and ensuring quality data exists today.

Step Three – Think radically

As a profession, we need to be open to more profound change. Research is showing that humans and computers working together produce better results than computers in isolation. We need to think about how we will use technology to leverage the truly human qualities that make the profession effective –  such as professional scepticism, leadership, empathy and creativity.

Step Four – Be adaptable

Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before, so it is impossible to predict how far it will get in replacing human decision making. Therefore, accounting professionals will need to take a flexible approach when thinking about the future. Skills will also have to adapt, with a concerted effort made to understand new technologies and data.

Accounting must also understand clients’ appetite to leverage technologies. Growing numbers of clients are using online cloud accounting packages – not to perform the accounting role, but to take up parts of the process that serve them, such as instant invoicing or chasing up their own collections. The impact of this is better cash flow for clients and better data for accounting to work with.

Most of all, the 4IR means accounting will have to move quickly, get with this change, and stay agile, as this revolution cannot be ignored.

Taking financial reporting into the digital era

5 measures to future proof reporting and preparing for a 4IR environment

By Christiaan Brink, Product Executive for CaseWare Africa, Adapt IT.

Managing the financial reporting process in a structured way that is easy to understand, is challenging in a fast-moving world fraught with regulatory and compliance complexities, with the volume of things to account for growing at an unprecedented rate.

 

 

The complexity of this environment is set to increase in the 4th Industrial Revolution. With more technology to empower financial professionals than ever before, this has not eliminated professional conduct that is void of ethics, good governance and sound judgement. The recent bout of South African corporate scandals, questionable audit practices, trading suspensions and financial reporting restatements, bear testament to that getting it right is about more than just embracing technology.

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At the same time, technology is the key enabler to empower finance professionals and provide them with the tools necessary to drive higher standards and the speed of execution that modern business demands. It is paramount for these professionals to automate core business processes and repetitive tasks, not only to weather the changes the 4IR will ultimately bring, but to shift focus to expertise and skills that cannot be emulated by machines.

5 key measures to future-proof financial reporting are:

1. Automate absolutely everything

In financial reporting, manual inputs, amendments and calculations are prone to error, particularly when teams are working to tight deadlines. As the pressure mounts, teams are forced to take shortcuts, skip steps and make assumptions.

At CaseWare, we are continuously surprised at how many large corporate firms still consolidate using Excel. Aside from risking macros and formulas that may go wrong, managing this understanding and complexity over time is extremely tedious. To avoid this, organisations need to connect all business processes directly with systems and platforms to allow them to process, calculate and store data automatically, centrally, securely and – as far as possible – in real time. They can then deploy reporting tools on top of this to set up all the insights they need, and enable automated financial reporting.

This empowers teams with more time to apply the much needed value-added qualities that are uniquely human, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, innovation, relationship building, judgement and advice.

2. Standardise reporting and KPIs

Centralising and automating all data creates an ecosystem the business can continuously supplement and enrich. This then empowers the organisation to define and implement all the standardised reporting they need, in a consistent way, automated end-to-end and on an ongoing basis.

In the case of IFRS 9 for example, the challenge is not specifically what must be disclosed, but how to arrive at what the disclosure requires, as the datasets needed are not always readily available and might be difficult to work with. Therefore, business needs to look wider than just financial reporting data and treat all data as a strategic asset that must be well measured, collected fluidly, stored on a large scale and combined in a strategic fashion. Big data and running complex calculations are becoming a reality that more and more businesses will have to come to grips with, and build strong capabilities for.

Achieving all of this is highly powerful, as businesses are then able to define, measure and report KPIs on insights that drive their success in ways they have never before been able to do.

3. Simplify understanding

From a regulatory and legal perspective, financial reporting must adhere to very specific disclosure and compliance standards. However, in most organisations, the majority of employees are not financial professionals and they may have limited ability to readily understand this information.

By centralising data and standardising reporting, it becomes possible to institute organisation-wide management and operational reporting that empowers employees at all levels with metrics and KPIs they can easily understand. It also gives them a clear view into how they are able to influence them. This is immensely powerful in creating the right incentives across a business.

4. Drive an environment of transparency

Obfuscation, disinformation and fake news thrive in a setting where perception is disconnected from reality and facts. With modern technology at their disposal, companies are now better placed than ever before to create an environment of transparency. And with blockchain ledgers increasingly being implemented within transactional system back-ends, organisations are better equipped to validate the integrity of who did what, and in which order.

5. Surface problems immediately

In a world where data is a strategic asset, we are now able to make greater sense of all our transactional data and process insights – for example from our general and subsidiary ledgers. We can connect these datasets to processes that catch outliers and questionable activities instantly, and set up exception reporting which can be surfaced from the executive level, down through the organisation to a level of detail which everyone can act on immediately. These systems are already starting to incorporate machine learning and AI capabilities to spot problems and take action faster than ever before. However, it is very difficult to take advantage of these technologies if data is not centralised.

It is now more important than ever not to wait for audit findings, but instead to empower every employee to be their own compliance officers and create an environment where problems are surfaced quickly with data, and dealt with decisively.

As organisations brace themselves for the impact of the 4IR, they should take advantage of the platforms, systems and automation at their disposal already today and work to build the appropriate technical capabilities and skills within their finance teams. Those that invest and continually increment in their technology foundation, will be well placed to take advantage of 4IR technologies as they mature.

Christiaan Brink, Product Executive, CaseWare Africa, a division of Adapt IT.

Christiaan holds a degree in Computer Engineering and has extensive product development experience and a passion for technology. He has spent the last 12 years based in the UK creating software solutions for the investment data industry across EMEA. Christiaan recently joined the Adapt IT group where he currently leads the product group for the CaseWare Africa division.

CaseWare Africa launches mSCOA template

CaseWare Africa has launched its mSCOA template which will automate the process of complying with the National Treasury’s directive for municipalities to align their annual financial statements with the Municipal Standard Chart of Accounts.

 

 

National Treasury’s initiative is aimed at ensuring that municipal annual financial statements are standardised in order to facilitate seamless planning, budgeting and reporting using the same datasets, and that all the data complies with the Municipal Budget and Reporting Regulations (MBRR) and Generally Recognised Accounting Principles (GRAP).

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This common dataset can then also be used when municipalities report to National Treasury and indirectly to Parliament.

“This initiative by National Treasury is to be welcomed because it will help ensure that there is ‘one version of the truth’ when it comes to municipal finances, and also that Treasury (and thus Parliament) is receiving audited figures drawn from the annual financial statements,” says Stephan van der Merwe CA (SA), Product Manager, CaseWare Africa, an AdaptIT company.

Mr Van der Merwe says that CaseWare Africa’s mSCOA template is based on the same technology used in our GRAP template which is currently in use by a wide range of users, including public entities, TVET colleges, trading accounts, traditional authorities, municipal entities and municipalities. The new mSCOA template will use the data derived from the reporting entity’s ERP system to populate the template, and then automate the production of annual financial statements that comply with the illustrative specimen issued by National Treasury on 29 July 2019.

The CaseWare mSCOA template will ensure that only the portions of the template applicable to the entity will be populated, and the software will automatically adjust pagination and references accordingly.

“Even more important, automation supports greater data integrity because the data values are drawn directly from the financial system, and cannot easily be adjusted. This greatly reduces risk both for the reporting entity and the National Treasury, which can now rely on getting audited figures that accurately reflect the reality on the ground,” he explains. “In true CaseWare style, mSCOA is taking a hugely complex process and making it both simple and user-friendly,” he concludes.

“By using CaseWare Africa’s mSCOA template, municipalities can comply much more easily with National Treasury’s directive and greatly improve their financial management, while reducing impact on their hard-pressed financial staff.”

About CaseWare Africa

CaseWare Africa, a division of Adapt IT, is the global leader in auditing and financial reporting software and is used in over 130 countries worldwide. Our 20 000 users across Africa, consist of audit and accounting firms, government entities, municipalities as well as large blue-chip companies.

Audit Quality – a Strategic Imperative

“Audit quality and independence needs to be aligned”

Edwin Selbst, Owner SARE Consulting, Assurance and Quality Specialist, lifts the lid on the production of Quality Audits.

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Co-Dependence of Quality and Ethics

Recent audit scandals and failures, both locally and internationally, have served to highlight the crucial need for quality and ethics – both need to be positioned front and centre of every: audit firm; regulatory body; shareholders; business leaders and the greater investment community’s, agenda. Audit quality and independence needs to be aligned to ensure that the expectation gap in the market is narrowed and to ensure investor confidence is restored.

What is the backdrop to this?

“Audit quality is directly linked to ethics”

The International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) revised the International Code of Ethics in 2018 and audit regulators around the world responded with local amendments to their ethical codes. As audit quality is directly linked to ethics and specifically independence, this necessitated audit firms to respond to incorporate the additional requirements in their audit quality systems. A system of quality control sits at the forefront of audit quality maintenance as it focuses on: the independence of audit teams; the servicing of clients with competence plus due professional care; providing skills that will deliver audit quality whilst ensuring familiarity threats do not prevent the achievement of quality.

Audit Quality and Independence

“The managing partner of a firm is responsible for overall quality”

While audit quality is a collective effort, responsibility rests on leadership. Organisation’s quality control manuals incorporate the policies and procedures required to effectively carry out a quality audit. In the audit context, this means the managing partner of a firm is responsible for overall quality. On an audit engagement, an engagement partner is responsible for the audit quality for audit opinions which he issues.

“Independence is crucial”

Independence in the assurance market is crucial. The greatest challenge is how the auditor is perceived by other stakeholders. It is in this context that regulators around the world have focused on the independence aspect of ethics. As audit quality is directly linked to an auditor’s perceived independence, numerous improvements to quality control systems have been implemented to enhance independence. Enhancements include: clarification of roles such as key audit partners, external quality control reviewers as well as those that provide technical knowledge. Cooling off periods have been increased in order to further reduce the familiarity threat – this is where members of an assurance team either rotate; move off an engagement, or change roles while still involved. Increased levels of protection have also been introduced for clients where an audit firm has custody of client money or assets.

Focus of Audit Quality

“It’s a winning formula”

Enhancements to audit quality implemented as a result of international changes include:

    • Clarification of roles and responsibilities of key players as part of the assurance model.
    • Additional guidance around inducements received by the auditor, including gifts and hospitality.
    • The management of self-interest threats and the appropriate use of safeguards.
    • Alternative courses of action to be followed where a safeguard is not deemed an adequate response to reduce a threat to an acceptable level.

Are you compliant?

“You need to get with the programme”

The changes to the International Code of Ethics were effective from 15 June 2019, mandating all audit firms to implement same as part of their system of quality control. In this way they will ensure that they have responded to international and local compliance requirement and updated their systems of quality control to provide stakeholders with the enhanced independence and audit quality upgrades which are now effective.

Brief Bio:

Edwin Selbst, Owner SARE Consulting, Assurance and Quality Specialist
Edwin is a Registered Auditor and Chartered Accountant South Africa. He has in excess of 20 years in the assurance market, previously Head of Assurance at W.consulting and prior to that was the audit technical partner at a medium-sized audit firm with a focus on both listed and family owned businesses. Edwin is the past chairman of SAICA’s Assurance Guidance Committee and still an active participant at the IRBA’s Committee for Assurance Standards.

Technology is Driving the Accounting Value Proposition

By Christiaan Brink, Product Executive, CaseWare Africa.

Technologies such as automation, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud are changing accounting practice business models and advancing the entire sector value chain.

 

 

The enabling of new business models for accounting practices is a key change being brought about by new technologies. Instead of allocating up to 50% of the working day to repetitive tasks, those accounting professionals successfully harnessing automation are able to dedicate more time to offer additional services, such as consulting and support in strategic financial planning.

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The widespread adoption of cloud-based solutions is enabling more flexibility and mobility for accounting practitioners, and intelligent software is enabling seamless integration between various systems and financial packages, which eliminates the need to manually export and collate inputs for reporting purposes, for example.

These advances support the changing business model the market is increasingly demanding – whereby clients want predictable and managed cash flows, so they want to pay for an outcome, not a billable hour. By introducing greater efficiencies, reducing resources needed, and speeding up the time taken to deliver an outcome, accounting practitioners are able to meet this growing demand and simultaneously scale up the practice.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Accountability

AI is being deployed to support process automation in the accounting sector, and we can expect to see it being harnessed more in years to come. However, it should be noted that accounting is a highly regulated sector, and therefore the fundamental issue when introducing AI into this environment is accountability. The legal responsibility still rests with the individual or the function, and while AI can certainly support accounting, it cannot take over the function.

Automation and advanced new software solutions are widely in use to support the accounting function today, helping to reduce resources allocated to repetitive processes, streamline operational functions and enhance communications with clients, says Brink.

Accounting practices are employing systems to automate and enhance invoicing, payment and reconciliation; to integrate disparate systems quickly and easily; to support batch functions; and to support compliance, for example. They may also opt to harness instant messaging to send clients reminders or update them on progress, and social media for marketing and information.

Is Automation set to Replace the accountant?

Hardly, but automation will change the practitioner’s role to a more consultative and strategic one – which is a positive move. Beyond the accounting practice, automation supports efficiencies for the entire value chain – from the regulator or other authority, through to the accounting practice’s end client, all of whom benefit from faster, simpler, more efficient accounting processes.

Over time we can expect to transform from desktop-based work to a completely cloud-based environment, with automation helping practitioners to produce outcomes more efficiently. As market leaders in financial reporting and auditing software, CaseWare Africa is constantly embedding more automation and more advanced features into our solutions to address both high-level functions and real-world challenges. Our current focus areas include more efficient integration between systems, intelligent solutions to underpin compliance, and products to ensure quality results, increased effectiveness, and improved profitability for audit, tax and secretarial operations.

Christiaan Brink, Product Executive, CaseWare Africa, a division of Adapt IT.
Christiaan holds a degree in Computer Engineering and has extensive product development experience and a passion for technology. He has spent the last 12 years based in the UK creating software solutions for the investment data industry across EMEA. Christiaan recently joined the Adapt IT group where he currently leads the product group for the CaseWare Africa division.

Fast-tracking reporting for optimal public sector resource deployment

Fast-tracking reporting for optimal public sector resource deployment

By Stephan van der Merwe Product Manager – Public Sector at CaseWare Africa, a division of AdaptIT

Well I think you would all agree that South Africa has seldom had a greater need for compliance in reporting, fiscal responsibility and transparency than it does at present. But compliance with National Treasury reporting processes and requirements may not be making optimal use of your public sector resources at hand.

 

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As our country strives to transition to more efficient government processes in an Industry 4.0 environment, automation, and a range of next generation technologies, present solutions to the reporting challenges currently facing provincial and national government departments.

The cumbersome process of preparing financial statements is a key challenge especially in the case where this is done manually – which is quite common.  Doing it this way requires extensive time and effort: it also presents the very real risk of human error creeping in. Should an error occur, skills resources across the relevant departments and National Treasury itself have to be deployed to identify the error and investigate whether it represents mismanagement or fraud.   This results in a time devouring exercise involving the valuable resource of  senior skills  that must focus on drafting and checking reports and investigating errors, leaving virtually no time for them to apply their expertise to analysing, probing and understanding the reports.

“Automation presents an immediate solution to the challenge of maximising high-level financial skills resources, while at the same time supporting compliance and transparency”

 

It is incredible that this still happens when one word solves the entire problem – Automation!

This presents an immediate solution to the challenge of maximising high-level financial skills resources, while at the same time supporting compliance and transparency. Departments can provide National Treasury with reports in the required formats with minimal resources and effort, while still supporting the drive towards more efficient, transparent management of taxpayers’ money. Not only can automation slash the time you take to import data to the necessary formats; it also eliminates the risk of human error in reporting.  The result is that investigations are limited to those cases that legitimately require investigation. In addition, automation supports reporting throughout the financial year, enhancing your decision-making processes through the availability of up to date information.

CaseWare Africa has launched and refined an efficient template for the Modified Cash standard developed by the Office of the Accountant General in National Treasury to mandate the principles by which national and provincial departments should present their financial accounts. CaseWare’s templates automate the onerous process of compiling financial statements in a prescribed format, allowing national and provincial departments to produce statements that comply with the guidelines issued by National Treasury with the minimum of extra work, and with increased accuracy.

“CaseWare’s templates are an excellent example of private sector innovation to support public sector efficiencies and transparency.”

The Modified Cash template can be set up to draw the necessary data from the state’s central accounting system, Basic Accounting System (BAS), as well as the management information system, Vulindlela. This information is used to populate Microsoft Word and Excel reports automatically from a single basic data source, eliminating the challenge of version control. If trial balances are updated during the process of creating the financial statements, it is easy to re-import the data into the Excel or Word reports.

Now available to South African national and provincial departments, CaseWare’s templates are an excellent example of private sector innovation to support public sector efficiencies and transparency.

Brief Bio: Stephan van der Merwe, Product Manager, Public Sector, CaseWare Africa – a division of AdaptIT division

Stephan is an immensely experienced executive in the financial services industry. He was an audit manager at the Auditor General where he served large public entities. His tenure there was the catalyst that developed his passion for auditing in the public sector.

He joined CaseWare Africa in 2008 (at that time the company was CQS Holdings and renamed in 2017 to CaseWare Africa following its acquisition by Adapt IT).  Stephan’s personal industry experience has helped him to apply his knowledge to CaseWare’s products and add value that is not only technically sound but also industry relevant.

Use data intelligently to refine your business

Valerie Wiggett, Operations Manager, CaseWare  Africa, reveals the three laws of data

“Data—or rather the ability to use it intelligently—is redefining business, and the financial services sector is no exception.”

 

 

The ultimate winners in the data economy will be those companies that know what data they are collecting, and can use it to differentiate themselves. Business is undergoing a data revolution. Increasing digitalisation of everything from business processes to social life is creating a tsunami of data. Whereas once the challenge was where to store it, the question now is who can use it effectively to differentiate themselves and show competitors a clean pair of heels?

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The winners will those who understand the three laws of data:

1.Use data responsibly

It must be used responsibly in line with the law. Perhaps the most valuable data pertains to customers themselves: names, addresses, credit and buying history, preferences and so on. Much of this information is, however, highly personal and is increasingly protected by law—the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act is the main legal framework in this country.

The key principle here is that consumers must know why their data is being collected, and it can only be used for that purpose. Using data irregularly is punishable with heavy fines in many jurisdictions, and will be here just as soon as the Information Regulator publishes the necessary regulations under PoPI. We have already seen huge fines imposed for data breaches in Europe and the United States.

2. Clean and accurate!

It must be clean and accurate. It’s obviously important that this customer data should be accurate. The old axiom garbage in, garbage out has never been more relevant. Technology is helping here because, increasingly, manual inputting of data is steadily being replaced as business processes are automated, reducing errors and creating information stores that can be used across the entire business.

Automation is transforming the financial services sector by ensuring not only that manual data input (and associated errors) are all but eliminated, and data can be shared across systems.

3. Use Intelligently

It must be used intelligently. Unsurprisingly, this is the most difficult to get right. There are two parts to this, perhaps they could be categorised as the front end and the back end. At the front end, the company uses customers’ personal data to create accurate marketing, and highly personalised customer experiences that result in a sale and ongoing loyalty. But at the back end, it has to use the full data set to improve its business processes and to deliver the front end.

At the back end, effective data use can impact a business’s ability to outperform competitors and thus ultimately its profitability. In the financial services sector, for example, XBRL business reporting and the new IFRS standards are all dependent on digitalisation and data. Initiatives like this include forecasting accuracy and better cash projections which are based on facts rather than intuition, as well predictions on customer and operational performance. Accurate financial modelling, as well analysis of payment behaviour, support better planning.

In auditing also, automation and efficient use of data enables the identification of anomalous transactions in real time, greatly reducing the burden on auditors while enhancing the service they offer to clients.

One of the biggest challenges is the sheer volume of data. Firms hold huge and increasing amounts of data, but typically only use between 3 and 5 percent of it. Clearly, those that are able to identify the best and most useful data will be at a huge advantage. Data scientists are becoming some of the most sought-after employees, and are in short supply. Ambitious companies with an eye on the future will be making plans now to ensure they have access to specialised data skills.

“Differentiate your business in a crowded marketplace”

Where the data revolution will take us nobody can be quite sure, but one thing is certain: you need to be thinking hard about what data you are collecting and how you are using it to differentiate your company.

Valerie joined CaseWare Africa in 2014. She is an MBA graduate with over twenty years’ experience in multiple industries, including manufacturing, construction and technology.  Valerie’s roles have been mostly in sales operations and administration and she has worked   in South Africa and internationally in the UK, UAE and Japan.  She was appointed as Divisional Operations Manager for CaseWare in July 2018.

Implement XBRL and open the door to business opportunity!

Jodi Joseph, Divisional Executive, CaseWare Africa, highlights the business opportunities waiting for you when you implement the XBRL standard.

South Africa’s journey towards the widespread implementation of the XBRL standard is well under way but are you taking the time to look beyond compliance and rather understand how the adoption of XBRL can benefit your business?

In 2018 one hundred and twenty one JSE listed organisations were invited by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) to participate in the pilot phase of XBRL roll out. The results were very positive with one hundred and fourteen successful filings of financial accounts being received during this pilot phase.  Sixty companies from this invited list successfully submitted multiple sets of accounts – a great achievement.

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The purpose of the pilot phase was to test the functionality of both the CIPC’s upload-portal as well as the client-side software used by the invited companies.  This initial phase was also used to identify technical development issues and possible taxonomy issues as well as the understanding of XBRL requirements by the pilot companies.

The plan was to finalise the standard by July in order that companies could meet the minimum criteria – as mandated by CIPC, and produce their annual financial statements using XBRL, commencing with the latest set of signed off financial accounts.

The targeted 1 July 2018 go live date was achieved by CIPC and thousands of submissions have been successfully submitted since 1 July 2018. CIPC anticipates 100 000 submissions in the first year of implementation.

The motive behind the implementation of XBRL

The CIPC’s vision for mandating XBRL is to build efficiencies in organisations in order to speed up the process of reviewing financials, improve accuracy and build capacity for people to focus on tasks that require insights and analytical review. Receiving data in this format will enable CIPC to fulfil its mandate in a far more efficient way.  Additionally, the standardisation of the submission format will also enable sharing of financial information across regulators.

A successful move to this standard will also ensure that South Africa remains aligned to global reporting trends. However, it is important to note that it would be a mistake to see XBRL simply as an additional regulatory burden.  On the contrary it has gained worldwide traction because it offers many benefits to numerous stakeholders across the entire financial spectrum.

Let’s recap – what is XBRL?

XBRL, or Extensible Business Reporting Language, is a global standard for exchanging business information, based on XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) that is used to encode financial documents. iXBRL (Inline XBRL) is a development of XBRL that both people and computers are able to read and analyse. Globally many countries are mandating for the XBRL standard with the numbers of implementations growing rapidly.

Prior to XBRL most companies transmitted their financial information in one or other digital format; for example, PDF – which facilitates easy distribution and storage. However, anyone wishing to analyse data, or to aggregate it with financial, or non-financial data from their own or other companies, would have to transfer the data manually into their own, or third party systems. This process is laborious, technically challenging and introduces the possibility of errors.

The beauty of XBRL is that tags can be read by any XBRL-enabled software and the tagged information (financial and non-financial) is extracted automatically. This means that the data can be passed between computer systems with human intervention only being needed in the case of exceptions. This process reduces the cost of communicating and maintaining data improves: the usability; integrity and compliance of the data. Additionally, if XBRL is used as the standard, data can be retransmitted without having to transform it to other formats or languages – which may be required by further recipients. 

Where does Big Data fit into the picture?

The benefits of XBRL can best be summed up under one heading – Big Data. XBRL for an organisation’s financial data can be compared to an older retail technology -specifically barcodes. There is so much more to be learned from viewing a barcode than just price – companies are able to discern consumers buying habits, identify products that sell well together, and so much more. XBRL tagging will create a standardised financial view of company’s financial data. Investors, regulators, revenue services and companies themselves will be able to pick up on revenue trends, plus identify gaps and strategies to exploit in the future.

As data volumes multiply, the ability to create high quality, accurate analysis, requires that the data input is standardised. XBRL tagging provides a format that can be easily used in analytical programmes. XBRL enables standardised line items to be tagged, facilitating the comparison of company data quickly regardless of industry, country or even the language of the company report.

How can a company use this data?

Firstly, it can be used to identify financial trends in its own accounts over the years; it can also compare its own figures with those of peers, locally and internationally. This could be of huge value in pinpointing risks and opportunities.

In the European Union, the first wave of XBRL was implemented 15 years ago. Currently they are using XBRL to develop an array of cross-border applications including the creation of the European Financial Transparency Gateway (EFTG). Using Blockchain technology, the EFTG will provide a way to publicly share standardised financial information for companies across the Union. Another application of XBRL by the Single Resolution board in Europe is to use XBRL data to identify banks at risk of defaulting, in advance.

Big Data will enable companies to reflect a standardised view of their data that serves to put a spotlight on financials that are out of sync with those of peers. This kind of information can assist boards of directors, investors and regulators, with early identification of potential problems.

Is the right data being used?

The move to XBRL will also have benefits in the Social Media Age. Activists of various persuasions are starting to use social media to comment on the financial performance of organisations. While there is little businesses can do to control this, at least if companies apply a common data standard in the format they publish and share data externally, it will create a level of transparency, ensuring that comparisons being made are using the right data with less scope for data interpretation.

The significance of implementing XBRL in South Africa is that we could begin to lead fellow members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) towards the same path of digitising financial data. This will empower African countries with the ability to apply learnings from other XBRL regions and adopt best practices relating to taxonomies and application benefits of big data.  All of this will serve to drive better policies, build stronger companies and encourage global investment in the region.

The bottom line is that when it comes to XBRL it is crucial to look beyond compliance. Dig deeper and you will see the incredible analytical power that you can derive from standardising financial reports across industries and within your own financial reporting systems.

Brief Biography:

Jodi Joseph, Divisional Executive, CaseWare Africa, a division of Adapt IT.

Jodi is a Chartered Accountant (CA) SA with incomparable experience as a financial professional. She completed her articles at Grant Thornton – Kessel Feinstein and thereafter joined Investec in various roles including Divisional Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer. In 2013 she was appointed Chief Operating Officer of CQS Technology Holdings (Pty) Ltd – which was subsequently acquired by Adapt IT.

Technology offers tax professionals a powerful tool that will improve their services to clients

The power of automation and visualisation and how it empowers you – the tax practitioner!

Charl Geldenhuys explains why technology can simplify life for tax practitioners—and make you more effective into the bargain.

The onward march of technology can be a challenge all of us. Technology can open up a previously settled market to newcomers and disrupt established practices where, in extreme cases, previously profitable companies could find themselves irrelevant.

At an individual level, professionals can also feel threatened as increasingly sophisticated technologies—think artificial intelligence and machine learning—appear to be encroaching on their competencies.

 

Whilst they are real – these threats are also significantly hyped up by a media that thrives on sensational headlines. In reality, technology offers tax professionals a powerful tool that will improve their services to clients while significantly enhancing the efficiency of their own working practices.  This is achieved by reducing the need for manual, time-consuming and tedious processes and freeing up time for more value added offerings.

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One example is the growing sophistication of cloud-based solutions to help you manage your client base much more easily and effectively. Harnessing the power of automation and visualisation streamlines the difficult and time-consuming administrative task of managing a large number of tax returns from inception through to submission to SARS.

It seems deceptively simple, but it’s always been something of a nightmare for tax practitioners: how do you keep track of where each one of your clients’ tax returns is in the process, year after year?

There’s a lot riding on this, as tax authorities are very ready to impose penalties, and clients’ trust you to handle their entire affairs. You need a way not only to see where each return is in the process, but also to obtain a bird’s eye view of all the returns allowing problem areas to be flagged and omissions identified before they become material.

The dreaded spreadsheet

Until fairly recently, the best option was the spreadsheet, which over the years has been forced into a number of roles for which it was never designed. In this instance, it has to be admitted that spreadsheets are not ideal tracking tools. Firstly, a great deal of manual input is required and subsequent maintenance of changes to data has to be meticulously and manually logged. This is also a very time-consuming process, manual data capturing and maintenance, combined with inevitable user error are notoriously risky processes and almost guarantee the introduction of mistakes into data sets.

Another huge disadvantage of a spreadsheet is that it remains tabular, and thus a less-than-ideal way to get a handle on the elusive “big picture”.

So what’s the answer?

Modern, cloud-based technology! It enables you to see all clients with the status of their return shown graphically, through an interactive dashboard. CaseWare’s CloudTax product is an example of an application that allows tax practitioners to view: all active taxpayers; client status; returns due, as well as missing information.  What is even better is the fact that this application then allows you to drill down into each of the categories to see the detail and take the appropriate remedial action. These visualisations – and there many different kinds you could use – are very useful in allowing a tax practitioner to toggle between a comprehensive big-picture view and the detail of a particular client’s tax file.

But the cherry on the cake is to link this visualisation capability with automation. In our example, this means linking the tax management application into the SARS e-filing system. This will show: all the submissions not yet sent to SARS; queries and requests already submitted to SARS; returns that have been successfully filed; all the correspondence with SARS, and more. The integration is controlled by a sync function that assimilates the details of the tax practitioner’s clients with SARS e-filing.

Automation and visualisation—a winning combination that will enable you to manage multiple client returns more effectively while freeing up time to provide a more strategic advisory and planning function to clients on their respective tax affairs.

Now you have to agree that’s progress!

Digital technology lighting the way through dismal accounting ethics tunnels

SA should look to harnessing digital technology to improve transparency and underpin ethical practices in accounting and auditing.
By Christiaan Steyn, CaseWare Africa

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2018 proved to be another year laden with ethics-related challenges emerging across both state-owned enterprises and private sector organisations. These issues raised concerns about the state of ethics and professionalism in our sector, but also served to illustrate that the time has come for organisations to embed new technologies, standards and models into processes to underpin transparency and ethical practices. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the gloomy ethics tunnel, with the emergence of new standards and multiple advanced digital accounting and auditing solutions to support ethical practices.

So what’s to be done?

IAASB Framework for Audit Quality International Standard on Quality Control 1 (ISQC 1) and International Standard on Auditing 220 (ISA 220) are welcome measures for the auditing sector to address challenges facing the profession. These standards, facing their first refresh in around a decade, will go a long way to addressing accounting issues in a vastly changed environment. In addition, updates to SAICA’s own Code of Professional Conduct in line with the IESBA Code, also add impetus to efforts to ensure professionalism, accountability and ethics in the sector.

Cooling down the debate on ethics lapses

The reasons for lapses in ethical behaviour have been hotly debated. They may have arisen due to an increasingly flexible understanding of what constitutes ethics, professionalism and quality. But they may also have occurred because of the sheer volumes of data and transactions now requiring monitoring and processing.  Another contributing factor is the pressure on businesses to perform in a declining economy; and also to adapt to a fast-changing technological, political and socio-economic environment.

Many local accounting and audit firms still rest heavily on manual and spreadsheet based solutions. As pressure increases to generate more revenue, and as the amount of data and number of transactions in question increase exponentially, it becomes increasingly difficult for senior personnel to interrogate every ledger and every transaction. This opens the door to fraud and simple, old-fashioned human error. Automation uses the information already being generated by the company’s ERP and other systems to perform an audit, reduces repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks, supports integrated reporting as recommended by the various King Reports, and ensures greater integrity of the data. This data can then be used to analyse patterns in near real time to identify suspicious activity, predict risk and ensure compliance.

Fresh new approach due to Analytics

Traditional methods of assessing a small sample of transactions are not effective when dealing with millions of transactions a day. However, with advanced analytics, auditors can not only interrogate all the transactions, but they can also spot anomalies and suspicious behaviour – for example, a single account manager regularly processing a particular’s client’s transactions on weekends, and always just under the authorisation limit. Real-time analysis could also be applied to the activities and holdings of directors, to highlight conflicts of interest or worrisome expenditure.

Predictive analytics can add impact to the analytics arsenal, by helping organisations identify and predict emerging risks and opportunities.

Real-time auditing

Digitally-enabled real-time auditing is another advance likely to emerge to overcome the challenge of fraud that escalates throughout a financial year and is only discovered at year-end. By implementing real-time audit tools, auditing becomes a continuous process and auditors gain the ability to spot suspicious transactions or activities virtually as they happen.

Are you compliant?

Digital reporting tools also support compliance with new accounting standards such as IFRS 9, IFRS 15 and IFRS 16, which bring with them significant changes in reporting, which demands extensive preparation that could potentially divert focus from risk and fraud taking place.

By embracing new standards designed to improve transparency and ethical behaviour, and by harnessing automation, analytics and other digital advances that take error- and fraud-prone processes out of the equation, the accounting sector is positioned to build ethical practices into the heart of all processes.

Brief Bio:

Christiaan Steyn, Assurance Product Manager, CaseWare Africa, a division of Adapt IT.

Christiaan is an Associate General Accountant (SA), with extensive technical knowledge and a passion for technology.  He completed his articles at a medium sized auditing firm where he gained experience in various industries.  He was later appointed Template Developer and then moved to the role of Product Manager at CQS Holdings – which was subsequently acquired by Adapt IT and renamed to CaseWare Africa.

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