Current Issues in Management Accounting
Accounting measures of performance have been the traditional mainstay of quantitative approaches to organizational performance measurement. However, over the past two decades, a great deal of attention has been paid to the development and use of non-financial measures of performance, which can be used both to motivate and report on the performance of business and other organizations. The impetus for such developments has come from both the bottom and the top of the organization. Much performance management at the operational level is carried out using specific indicators of performance, which are usually not measured in financial terms. At the most senior levels, although financial performance is inevitably a major consideration, there has been increasing recognition that other important factors in the effective running of the organization cannot be well captured by such measures (Neely 2002).
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Thus, non-financial performance measures have undergone significant development, to the relative neglect of the development of improved financial measures. However, the recent publicity surrounding the marketing of economic value added as an overall measure of company performance by management consultants can be seen as a sign of a new emphasis on the financial aspects of performance. It will be argued that there are three different major functions for financial performance measures, and that, although these functions overlap to some extent, major confusion can be caused by applying measures developed for one function to a different one (Neely 2002).
Any organization, whether public or private, has to live within financial constraints and to deliver perceived value for money to its stakeholders. The role of the finance function is to manage the financial resources of the organization, and to ensure that the financial constraints it faces are not breached. Failure to do this will lead to financial distress, and ultimately, for many organizations, to financial failure or bankruptcy. Establishment of precisely what the financial constraints are and how the proposed operating plans will impact upon them are a central part of the finance function. There are three main areas of focus for financial plans. Most basically, cash flow planning is required to ensure that the cash is available to meet the financial obligations of the organization. Failure to manage cash flows will result in technical insolvency. For business organizations, the second area requiring attention is profitability, or the need to acquire resources at a greater rate than using them. Although over the life of an enterprise, total net cash flow and total profit are essentially equal, this can mask the fact that in the short-term they can be very different (Neely 2002).
Indeed, one of the major causes of failure of new small business enterprises is not that they are unprofitable in the long term, but that growth in profitable activity has outstripped the cash necessary to resource it. The major difference between profit and cash flow is the time period between payments made for capital assets which will generate income in the future and the actual receipt of that income which is needed as working capital. This highlights the third area of focus, namely on assets and the provision of finance for their purchase (Neely 2002). Businesses need to know about their financial performance to access what are the things they are doing right. The paper takes a look at the two forms of accounting systems. The paper will also discuss on the concern towards the financial and management accounting’s linkage and such linkage drawing operating decision making into a short-term, narrow focus not supportive of the most effective operations.
ACCOUNTING AND ORGANIZATIONS
As instruments, financial statements can only provide representations of the phenomena that guide the decision-making processes of investors, creditors and other interested parties. The serviceability of these statements will be dependent on the extent to which they depict accurately the phenomena they purport to represent. This notion has been explained under a variety of guises in the accounting literature. Accounting is financial map-making. The better the map, the more completely it represents the complex phenomena that are being mapped. Financial statements may be viewed as descriptive accounts of the financial relationships between an entity and its environment from time to time, and changes in that relationship over time (West 2003).
Accordingly, a system of accounting may be viewed as a model of the system of financial relationships between an entity and its environment. The function of the accounting system is, therefore, to represent the financial consequences of an entity’s actions and the financial consequences of the endogenous and exogenous factors which determine an entity’s financial status in relation to all other entities. When the laws underlying the accounting model have the same syntactical structure as a corresponding set of laws which govern the phenomena of financial position and financial performance, financial statements may be considered syntactically isomorphic with the actual financial position and financial performance of firms (West 2003).
The consequences of faulty financial instrumentation may be severe. Where the decision-making processes of individual investors are misguided, economic inefficiencies with broader social repercussions are likely to ensue. To protect against these adversities, accounting, in common with other systems of instrumentation, needs to be subject to some form of governance or discipline. Consistent with this qualitative standards for accounting information have a long history. They appeared in early bookkeeping manuals and were written into the constitutive documents of commercial ventures and a variety of statutes in the United Kingdom during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Their purpose was to signify the duty to ensure that accounts were properly kept as a basis for representing the financial affairs of public bodies and business firms. rather than seeking to ensure that accounting information corresponds with the actual financial features of firms as at their date and that the function of accounting is therefore served there is evidence that the accounting profession has been, and continues to be, concerned only to ensure that financial statements have been prepared on the basis of prescribed technical accounting rules (West 2003).
Were these rules to prescribe an effective system of financial instrumentation, they would provide the means by which the function of accounting would be better served. Accountants of the highest abilities and reputations are willing to give their considered opinion, after due examination, that the financial statements fairly present the position of a company based upon accounts determined in accordance with accepted principles of accounting. It follows that these fundamental truths upon which such opinion is based, and which may be properly dignified with the term principles, are known to the accountant and are matters with respect to which there can be no general disagreement (West 2003). Businesses use accounting as a method to know how they are performing and to see if there is a balance between what the company acquires and what the company takes out. The balance should be maintained so that a firm operates for a longer time. Accounting systems are said to have different forms one is financial accounting and the other is management accounting. The next discussion focuses on Financial Accounting.
Financial accounting and reporting is essentially a means to provide information. If information is to be useful, there must be uncertainty that can possibly be resolved by such information. To understand why accounting is useful at all, analyzing accounting information in the context of certainty would be clearly inappropriate. An information system provides signals that alter the likelihood of the occurrence of future events or states of the world that are part of a decision problem. A decision problem is characterized by states of the world, their probabilities, actions the decision-maker can choose, results of state-action combinations, and the utilities the decision-maker receives from such results. The usefulness of information can only be assessed in the context of a particular decision problem. Thus, the same information system may be useful in one context but not in another. General-purpose financial accounting and reporting is designed primarily to provide information to people outside the firm, such as investors, creditors, and customers (Hopwood, Leuz & Pfaff 2004).
These parties are presumably interested in that information and rely on it for their own decision-making. The firm prepares the accounting information, and hence is better informed than the users. Further, some potential users of information have conflicts of interest with the firm. The information asymmetry generates concerns because it is not necessarily in the firm’s best interest to provide the information at all, or to provide it in an unbiased fashion. It is in such a context that disclosure and earnings management issues arise. Introducing an auditor as another player with asymmetric information and potential conflicting interests adds another layer of incentive issues to be considered. However, there are several features of financial accounting systems that make them peculiar information systems (Hopwood, Leuz & Pfaff 2004).
Accounting provides periodic information about the financial position of a firm. Accountants use accruals to provide information about transactions and events, not just cash flows. Accrual accounting allocates cash flows to particular periods under specific transformation rules. This information leads to the distinct accounting language, such as stocks and flows, assets and liabilities, and income. The transformation rules include the realization principle, which defines when revenue is recognized; the matching principle, which states that expenses follow the respective revenues; and conservatism, which introduces a bias in the reported income. Financial accounting and reporting is governed by standards or rules developed by standard-setters or legal bodies on a national or international level. The objective is to provide decision-useful information to the stakeholders of the firm (Hopwood, Leuz & Pfaff 2004).
Accounting information competes with other information sources, which are provided either directly by the firm or generated by intermediaries. To be valuable, the information must have a comparative advantage over other sources, or at least a complementary value. Indicators attesting that this is in fact the case are that investors and analysts usually generate earnings expectations and react to firms meeting or not meeting them, and that they also react to accounting scandals. Firms exert effort in managing earnings. These features make accounting reports a special and important information system. Useful models in financial accounting attempt to capture some of these features (Hopwood, Leuz & Pfaff 2004). Financial accounting is focused on the financial issues of the company and it provides financial related information to internal and external people concerned with the company. The main focus of financial accounting is making sure that the stakeholders are given positive financial information.
Many companies have turned to their management accounting systems to bypass the limitations of financial accounting. Some of them have developed best practices that give them a firm foundation for true accountability. However, many companies have not gotten beyond the crisis in management accounting that crept into place early in the century. That is, they use management accounting as not much more than a data-gathering device for determining product costs and compiling external financial accounts. Management accounts are driven by the cycle and procedures of financial accounting. The information is most useful for tasks like valuing inventory and aggregating costs across the company (Birchard & Epstein 2000).
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It is an incomplete basis for measuring performance. Any company that has not radically changed its management accounting risks finding it produces problems similar to those created by financial accounting. The two most critical problems are prodding managers into, first, an incessant financial focus and, second, a near total reliance on historical, or lagging, indicators for decision making. The product and service costs that managers receive, the meat and potatoes of managerial accounting, often reveal little about the non financial factors of performance that create costs, like complex product designs or defective customer service. The cost data help managers keep the financial score but not necessarily how to improve their long-term batting average companies that depend on financial accounting and traditional management accounting systems are in crisis because they are missing the first element for making the accountable organization which is relevant and comprehensive measures of performance. Without systems that extend beyond the financials to non financials and that accurately tally product costs, few managers or executives can deliver a maximum of value to shareholders, customers, or anyone else (Birchard & Epstein 2000).
Managers widely recognize the problem today. In a study 45 percent of companies said that their performance measurement system had a neutral to negative impact on long-term management. What’s more, respondents who reported the least satisfaction with their performance measurement systems used financials more intensely and used fewer non financials than did respondents who reported more satisfaction. Little surprise that 65 percent said most of their measures came from the current-year financial results. Measures have great power, almost like genetic code, to shape action and performance. Whether at the equivalent of the cell level, the organ level, or the systems level, measures become the directional device that influences or even dictates the shape of the enterprise. Change the measures, and you change the organism. Measures have always had the power to shape a corporation’s destiny, but the focus on financial figures alone limited their utility (Birchard & Epstein 2000).
Management accounting of the past forced managers to build world-class organizations and it is build with a truncated set of chromosomes. Today, though, with the help of revitalized cost accounting and non financial measurement, managers can develop a full set of instructions financial, operational, and social for the enterprise. Those instructions give them the capability to create accountability they never had before. The mark of the financially accountable organization has changed. Once upon a time, standard accounting measures like earnings per share were the gold standards of performance measurement. Traditional measures today, if used in isolation, raise a red flag. They signal to investors that managers may be reporting their performance reflexively as slaves to tradition, rather than as leaders of a well-wrought financial and business strategy (Birchard & Epstein 2000). As a complement to financial accounting, companies make use of management accounting to check its performance and know which operating part of the firm they are not doing well.
IMPROVEMENTS IN MANAGEMENT AND FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING
There is mounting evidence that the deployment of digital technologies by organizations not only affects the economics of operational and managerial processes but also mobilizes extensive social and organizational effects. Digitization impacts the form, substance, and provenance of internal accounting information with attendant consequences on the behavior and actions of organizational participants and on the functioning of enterprises more widely. Knowledge about the influence of the deployment of digital technologies on management accounting thinking, processes, and practices is starting to take shape. As enterprises become increasingly concerned with the generation and the processing of digitized information relating to the production and delivery of physical and digital products and services, the challenge will be to sustain sufficient credence in the monitoring, measurement, and assessment of these altering organizational activities (Bhimani 2003).
Trust is core in this regard. If it can be claimed that trust is becoming the most important asset in the digital economy then what comprises trust in internal accountings will likely see transformations. Novel accounting concerns centering on faith in numbers will once again emerge and contemporary control systems will no doubt continue to face calls for reforms. Accounting measures will seek to endanger trust in contexts where what is bought, sold, or produced never assumes physical form. Although service products have always evidenced such characterization, the means by which they are delivered have not ordinarily defied desired transparency or the potential for observation in the same way as digital processes. Counting based on observation or observations enabling evaluations to be made are not always amenable to operationalization in contexts where digital rather than physical transactions underpin enterprise activities (Bhimani 2003).
Digital processes often evade physical verification, and established modes of enumeration and evaluation will therefore likely come under question. How far accounting information can be trusted is not subject merely to the development of more rational forms of capturing the economic consequences of organizational activities resting on digital processes. Human interpretations of the significance of deploying digital technologies and their representation in economic terms are also a relevant issue. Alterations in the capture and reporting of information as well as the changing nature of the product that is to be reported upon within digitized organizational contexts will likely have behavioral implications worthy of study. Behavioral accounting research which has traditionally documented similarities and variations in the uses and impacts of accounting information on individuals will raise new concerns, questions, and issues (Bhimani 2003).
At the individual level, digitization will affect the type of accounting information being reported as well as the manner in which it is used and the resulting consequences. The rise of digitization which may in part occlude the transparency of organizational affairs, will impact on pressures to portray management accounting work as being technically and internally legitimate. This will prove particularly pertinent in the near future given that, in the recent past, the accountant’s credibility in public accounting functions has been tarnished. Just as consumers rely on brands to guide their choices as product diversity and complexity grow, and as barriers to entry in many markets drop, so the linkage between the managerial task and the know-how of internal accountants will be shaped by the credibility which management accounting can engender within enterprises. The management accountant will need to project not simply traditional professionalism but the constitution of a digitally cognizant person. This person must have an appeal to digital spaces in representation of managerial tasks and which combine simulation with traditional reality as well as corporate legitimacy (Bhimani 2003). Just like any other concepts accounting has developed and it became adaptable to the changes in the environment. The digitization of accounting creates a better chance for more accurate information that will prove to be vital for organizations.
CONCERN TOWARDS THE LINKAGE
Fry, Steele, and Saladin 1998, stated that accounting systems take two forms, management accounting and financial accounting, and can be tightly linked. However, the functions of these two forms of accounting are quite different: management accounting is focused on monitoring and analyzing the effect of management decisions, financial accounting is focused on short-term, external reporting. The concern is that this linkage is drawing operating decision making into a short-term, narrow focus not supportive of the most effective operations. For Fry, Steele and Saladin they have doubts that the two forms of accounting are not used together by companies and decisions are focused only on one form of accounting. In the previous discussions it mentioned that companies use both forms of accounting to make decisions and create strategies. Companies cannot completely disregard the information that are acquired by using the financial and management accounting. The information acquired has a relation and are useful in determining the next actions for the company. The linkage between the two forms of accounting does not create a short term focus and it does not create a situation wherein there is no support for effective operations. The linkage between the two creates a better outlook on how a certain problem can be solved and it helps in discerning the effective actions a company should take.
Businesses need to know about their financial performance to access what are the things they are doing right. Businesses use accounting as a method to know how they are performing and to see if there is a balance between what the company acquires and what the company takes out. Financial accounting is focused on the financial issues of the company and it provides financial related information to internal and external people concerned with the company. As a complement to financial accounting, companies make use of management accounting to check its performance and know which operating part of the firm they are not doing well. There is said to be a linkage between the financial and management forms of accounting. This linkage is also said to create a short term, narrow focus that is not supportive of effective operations. The linkage between the two forms of accounting does not create a short term focus and it does not create a situation wherein there is no support for effective operation, it provides better decisions to be done and a better focus for a firm.
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- Bhimani, A 2003, Management accounting in the digital economy, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Black, T & Gallagher, L 2004, ‘Are physical capacity constraints relevant? : applying Finance-Economics theory to a management accounting misconception’, Australian Journal of Management, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 143.
- Birchard, B & Epstein, MJ 2000, Counting what counts: turning corporate accountability to competitive advantage, Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA.
- Fry, TD, Steele, DC & Saladin, BA 1998, ‘The use of management accounting systems in manufacturing’, International Journal of Production Research, vol. 36, no. 2, p.503-525.
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- Neely, A (ed.) 2002, Business performance measurement: theory and practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.
- West, BP 2003, Professionalism and accounting rules, Routledge, New York.
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