While it isn’t the most glamorous process, financial reconciliation plays an integral role in ensuring the accuracy and reliability of a company’s financial records. Your tax compliance, reporting, and forecast accuracy depend entirely on your financial data. It’s critical to understand and implement this process correctly.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about financial reconciliation, including its definition, importance, and step-by-step instructions for executing the process.
What is financial reconciliation?
Financial reconciliation is a process businesses go through to ensure the money leaving an account matches the actual money spent. It’s used to verify the accuracy of financial records and statements in order to prevent mistakes, unauthorized activities, and fraud.
Investors also reconcile financial data to plan and monitor their investments. For example, a stock trader may compare financial data from multiple companies to determine the best investment opportunities.
It involves comparing internal financial records with monthly statements issued by external sources, like banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions. If these two sets of records are consistent, the account is reconciled. If not, the discrepancies need to be identified and corrected.
Why is financial reconciliation important?
Most of the time, businesses reconcile financial data using software. In modern accounting operations, financial reconciliation is mostly automated to reduce errors and save time. However, there’s still a human element to it; there’s no way for software to identify the reason for discrepancies or resolve them without human input. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of the process and regularly review the results for accuracy. Here’s a closer look at why reconciliation is so critical:
- Accuracy: Financial reconciliation ensures that your financial records are accurate. By comparing internal and external data, you can identify and correct discrepancies, ensuring the integrity of your financial statements.
- Fraud detection: Reconciliation is an important tool in detecting fraudulent activities. Regular review of accounts and identifying unauthorized charges or inconsistencies can prevent significant losses for a company.
- Revenue leakage: Leakage is a serious problem for an estimated 42% of companies. When a company loses too much money through errors and inefficiencies, they’re often unaware it’s happening. Reconciliation helps identify and fix these issues before they become a significant problem.
- Tax compliance: Government agencies, auditors, and stakeholders all rely on accurate financial records for compliance purposes. Reconciliation ensures that your records are accurate and up-to-date, making the audit process smoother and more transparent.
- Forecast accuracy: Accurate financial records are crucial for making informed business decisions and creating realistic forecasts. Small mistakes here and there add up to big numerical differences in financial documents, which means completely inaccurate forecasting and misguided high-level decision-making.
How different departments use financial reconciliation
Depending on your line of business or department you work in, you’ll use reconciliation differently. Here’s a look at the most essential use cases for financial reconciliation.
Consulting and advisory firms providing financial services on behalf of their clients need to provide accurate reports of their clients’ financial activities (in addition to their own). Financial reconciliation helps them verify the accuracy and completeness of their records, ensuring they’re providing reliable information to their clients.
They’ll also reconcile financial data for prospective investments they’ll present to their clients. For instance, a wealth manager will compare data from multiple investment opportunities using reconciliation software to determine the best options for their clients.
Operations and procurement
Reconciliation helps businesses manage their cash flows more effectively. It provides a clear view of accounts payable and receivable, enabling them to identify discrepancies and errors in invoices, payments, and inventory. It also ensures timely payments to vendors based on agreed-upon terms, reducing the risk of late fees or penalties.
Accounting and finance departments use reconciliation to verify the accuracy of their financial records. Through process orchestration, they’ll reconcile data from various sources, like bank statements, credit card statements, and accounting software, to ensure all transactions are accurately recorded in the general ledger. There are a few main focuses of financial reconciliation:
- Cash account reconciliation compares bank statements and internal records of cash transactions
- Balance sheet account reconciliation verifies the accuracy of balance sheet accounts, such as assets, liabilities, and equity
- Expense reconciliation confirms that all expenses have been recorded accurately and completely
- Payment reconciliation analyzes payment records, such as invoices and receipts, to ensure proper payment processing
- Revenue reconciliation verifies the accuracy of revenue recognized and the period it was recognized in.
Compliance and risk management
Compliance and risk management teams are tasked with the back-office components of financial reconciliation. They’ll review internal records and audit external statements to ensure all transactions comply with company/local/national laws and regulations. They will look for ways to minimize the risk of fraud, errors, and non-compliance.
At an investment bank, for instance, compliance officers will review trades and transactions to ensure they comply with industry regulations, like anti-money laundering laws. They’ll also reconcile financial records to identify any risks or trends that may pose a threat to the company’s financial health.
IT and data management
Reconciliation is also an essential tool for IT departments, as they’re responsible for managing the company’s data. They’ll reconcile data from various systems and sources to ensure it’s accurate, complete, and consistent. Reconciliation is also crucial for identifying any gaps or errors in data collection processes.
Most companies have dozens of different revenue sources and investment opportunities, making it challenging to keep track of all the data. Usually, it’s located in disparate systems. Data teams use software to manage and organize all that information effectively. It also ensures that the data is secure and compliant.
How to reconcile your financial data
Now that we’ve established the importance of financial reconciliation, let’s look at the process step-by-step:
- Gather all your financial records: This could be bank statements, credit card statements, invoices, receipts, earnings reports, or any other financial documents.
- Compare the records against each other: Look for discrepancies, errors, and missing information.
- Flag any issues or discrepancies and investigate their root cause. This could be as simple as a data entry error or a more complex issue like fraud.
- Document your findings and determine the necessary adjustments to make in your records.
- Make the appropriate adjustments: This could involve correcting errors, updating records, or adding missing information.
- Document your final results: Note how you resolved errors uncovered in reconciliation.
- Implement a regular reconciliation process: This way, you can ensure ongoing accuracy and compliance.
Financial reconciliation is an essential part of managing a successful business. It ensures accuracy, transparency, and compliance in your financial records, which are crucial for making informed decisions and maintaining trust with clients and stakeholders. By understanding the different use cases for reconciliation and following a thorough process, you can confidently manage your financial data and make well-informed decisions for your business.