Accounting is the language of business. So, to speak it can open many doors. However, it seems that most people know just enough to get by — but not enough to thrive. To help you better understand the world of accounting, we've compiled this guide to accountants and the various titles they can hold. It's not a clear-cut distinction, but understanding the differences between a Bookkeeper and an Accountant, or even a Controller or CFO, can come in handy when deciding who to hire for what kind of job - or when to outsource. So stick with us! Your understanding of accounting will be much more sound by the time you finish reading this article.

What is a Bookkeeper?

Bookkeepers are responsible for the day-to-day accounting activities of a company. They're the ones who record income and expenses, prepare financial statements, reconcile bank accounts and track receivables and payables.

Should I hire a bookkeeper? Yes, I would. When it comes to deciding what to do about the bookkeeping operations of your company, you should probably consider hiring a bookkeeper and not a person who is simply a skillful accountant.

Our previous post Why You Should Hire a Cloud-based Bookkeeper in 2021 is a great place to start.

What is an Accountant?

Accountants are often more experienced than bookkeepers. They're highly skilled at analyzing financial transactions, performing audits and interpreting tax laws. Accountants also provide more generalized accounting services, such as financial planning, management consulting and payroll management.

Should I hire an accountant? That depends on the size of your company and your accounting needs. As you may have guessed, the bigger your company is, the more complicated your needs and transactions become.

What is a Controller?

Controllers are the financial managers of a company. They oversee bookkeepers and accountants who are directly responsible for financial record-keeping. They also make sure that staff members follow policies and procedures, compile regular reports and generally help run the accounting department. Controllers usually have broad supervisory experience, including experience in accounting or business management. They may have responsibility for multiple departments — finance, sales and marketing, operations, IT or customer service — depending on the size of their organization.

What is a CFO?

The acronym CFO stands for Chief Financial Officer; this person is typically the highest ranking accountant within an organization. CFOs are responsible for preparing the annual budget, communicating with outside investors and determining the company's staffing needs. Like controllers, CFOs are also financial managers. However, their main focus is to provide strategic advice and financial guidance to the CEO and other senior management team members.

What's the bottom line?

We know that running a small business comes with wearing many hats. On a daily basis, businesses around Canada are managing cash flow, trying to plan ahead, and need legal and tax support - and often do not have the in-house resources to hire for that. So they look to outsource. But where to start? What if a company needs help with one or more of the following:

Virtualise the business model
Support International Expansion
Advice on diversification
Assessing impact on supply chain
Business operations
financial management
General business planning
Increase data integrity
Operational decision making

One answer is to hire a Cloud-Bookkeeper - someone who can help grow your business with right-fit solutions, is comfortable with most aspects of a finance role, and who works within the framework of a larger firm which would normally have more resources and fractional (part time) capacity to help better steer your business.

Yes, it is a new and exciting idea. But it's not a new idea at all. In fact, if you think about it from the perspective of a CFO, there are obvious advantages to using hiring an outsourced virtual accountant - namely:

#1 - Avoid the risk of stretched resources resulting in poor service delivery or lost knowledge and expertise.
#2 - Widen your search for the best accountant with the most appropriate experience.
#3 - Target an increasingly mature and professional talent pool, many of whom have international experience.
#4 - Match the skill-set and experience of your business with those of virtual accountants who use cloud software applications to support you in making informed business decisions.

The majority of Canadian companies outsource one or more of their accounting services. In most cases, the extent of outsourcing is determined by your own in-house resources. If you have a full-time accountant on staff, it may be more cost-effective for you to simply outsource bookkeeping activities and focus on your core accounting skills. However, if your company is small and cannot justify hiring a full-time accountant, consider hiring an outsourced virtual accountant.

Not sure where to start? Get in touch with Eric at eliebmann@welchllp.com for a free initial assessment of where you stand and what you need. The good news is that with today's technology and online resources, as well as the virtual outsourced work model, we are seeing a leveling of the playing field between SMBs and large corporations.

Accounting across borders can be challenging, but also full of opportunities. It’s especially true now with the increased globalization of commerce and the shifting financial landscape.

In this post we present twelve opportunities – and sevenchallenges too – for businesses of all sizes in today’s era of globalization. These range from growth to new business models to managing cash; there is something here for every organization, no matter where it operates or what the scale of its activities are.

More than ever, whether you are a global player or local business, boom or bust, in good times and bad you need to know how to manage the flows of money through your business. You can then focus on the real value-added things you do that make a difference – marketing, selling and making profits – and leave deciding how to account for your cash, assets and liabilities for someone else.

Top 12 Opportunities

#1 - Access to New Customers

For many companies, the ease of operating internationally is a prime opportunity. In this globalized economy, companies and individuals can find new customers almost anywhere in the world. As a result, many global companies are expanding into new markets, gaining access to markets they were previously unable to tap into.

For example, Canadian companies don’t have the same cost of entry into other countries as they used to in the past. Telecommuting and falling costs of technology mean that communication and collaboration with international partners can be conducted with much lower overhead costs. In fact, many companies are now choosing to expand outside their home country so they can reach new customers. In fact, many small and medium-sized Canadian companies are using social media and online marketplaces like Shopify to broaden their reach.

#2 - Cash Flow Opportunities

Global businesses have more options when it comes to how they manage their cash flow. This is especially true if they’re going global or taking greater advantage of foreign currency opportunities to having operations around the globe. There are also more opportunities to get paid in different currencies, which can help reduce interest expenses and boost cash flow from international business activities.

#3 - Profit Opportunities

Another opportunity for businesses of all sizes is to take advantage of the opportunities presented by global markets. Notably, a small company may have more global purchasing power than larger competitors. A smaller retailer might benefit from less stringent credit screening requirements in some countries than those imposed by larger companies. Or, perhaps a private label (PL) Amazon seller has access to niche products that larger retailers don’t. These are just a few examples of how businesses can leverage their small size and agility to provide new offerings in new markets.

#4 - Tax Opportunities

A global business will need to take advantage of the diverse set of tax rules in other countries to maximize profits and minimize tax liabilities. While this will require a commitment to learning about the tax laws and regulations in other countries, and being prepared to implement them, it can pay off over time. Most countries also have tax treaties with other countries that minimize double taxation.

Understanding your business and the transaction flows allows you to make tax-efficient choices to reduce your overall tax burden.   A global business will need to take advantage of the diverse set of tax rules in other countries to optimize tax efficiency and mitigate tax liabilities. 

Some important elements to consider is the use and mobilization of intellectual property (IP) and understanding how best to protect it while minimizing your overall corporate tax burden.

#5 - Growth Opportunities

Globalization also presents the opportunity for rapid growth. Whether it’s a new product, geographic expansion or simply doing business with companies overseas, there are numerous growth opportunities presented by globalization. For example, a small company could find new customers in other countries by promoting its products there or by offering to sell products using different currencies.

#6 - Lowering Costs

Going international or working with a global partner can help lower costs. Globalization allows for sourcing products or services from low-cost providers around the world. It also allows for businesses to be more flexible in the types of suppliers they use. Some companies have gone global by picking up freelance work from other countries or outsourcing it to other countries. for example, while some businesses have saved money by using their facilities in other countries, others have found it can often be more cost effective to set up new manufacturing operations.

#7 - Diversification of Business Risk

With the increased globalization of business, risk is spread among more entities. Companies can benefit by taking advantage of diversification, which may help reduce the risk that any one entity or country will negatively impact the company’s earnings.

For example, if a company has equity investments in more than one country, it makes it much harder for the company to suffer significant losses in one market and still maintain viability in another.

#8 - New Business Models

Accounting across borders is a good way to gain insights into the business model of the company, because you get to know how businesses operate in different countries and what strategies they use. It's also great because you develop new connections, learn a lot about foreign markets and experience all these things first hand. For example, in the past, some companies that were accustomed to selling products in their local markets, became more familiar with the world market. They saw new opportunities to sell their products abroad and export them to more distant regions.

#9 - Information to Make Better Decisions

Going global can help companies stay ahead of the competition by gaining information on competitors in other countries that they might not otherwise be able to access. Sales, for example, are likely higher in a country where the competition isn’t as strong. By recognizing when these trends appear, companies can be more proactive about obtaining information on competitors and using it to adapt their strategy accordingly.

#10 - Shareholder Value

Globalization creates opportunities for business growth and value creation for the shareholders. For example, a company may decide to open or enlarge its manufacturing operation overseas in order to gain access to new markets or because of the low costs of doing business there. If the company decides grow globally, they will need additional cash. This can be accomplished through the sale of stock and the use of equity financing.

#11 - Building Brand Awareness

Globalization has created new opportunities for companies to increase their brand awareness across borders. They can do this by franchising or outsourcing products to other countries where they may not have as strong of a presence as they do in their home country. Companies can also leverage their global presence by having a presence on social media across different countries, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

#12 - Data Opportunities

Globalization has also enabled more secure and efficient data management. Businesses located around the world can now share information among themselves much easier than they could before. This can help eliminate duplicate or redundant business processes, increase efficiency across the organization and reduce costs by reducing errors.

Global Businesses Face Challenges

In addition to opportunities there are 7 key challenges that will need to be addressed if business owners are going global or growing their business abroad. Some of these challenges, such as currency fluctuations and import/export rules, can be managed to some extent; others, such as managing cash flow and taxes, are more complicated.

Here are 7 challenges that come with assigning more value and importance to international business:

#1 - Laws and regulations.

When products cross borders, rules and regulations regarding intellectual property, taxation, licensing and other practices may differ. For example, the distribution of a pharmaceutical across different countries may require the company to develop new distribution methods.

Some local regulations may conflict with international regulations, which can result in additional compliance challenges when operating internationally. For instance, if you are operating as a retailer in one country and manufacturing goods under lock-and-key conditions for use in another, you should ensure that you understand your obligation to comply with national laws.

International operations can bring more government scrutiny, resulting in more regulatory compliance and reporting requirements at both levels of the company (domestic and foreign). This may require an increase in the number of people trained on the company’s specific international needs.

#2 - Problems with payments

Communication can be a challenge when making international payments. The speed and efficiency of payment processing is a critical element to ensuring that money flows as quickly and easily as possible from one country to another. Finding a partner that can provide payment options at competitive rates can help avoid losses due to cross-border payments.

For example: It is a challenge for a trader to make international payments when the exporter and importer bank are from different countries. It takes time (days or weeks) for the money to come into the bank, in part because of communication challenges. One way to ensure that payments can be made quickly is to use a partner bank for international payments that has arrangements with both parties’ banks and understands their payment rules and practices.

Another option is using a multi-currency account. What is a multi-currency account provider? It is a third-party financial institution that banks with both the exporter and importer and can move money across borders more quickly. For example, a foreign currency to CAD dollar account allows you to clear payments in one currency, such as CAD, and make transfers between currencies at an even better rate of exchange. In this way you are paying minimal FX fees for each currency movement, but you get the benefit of using the rest of your account balance in your local currency while the payments are in different currencies.

"A multi-currency account lets you pay and get paid in the foreign currencies that you do business in. For example, businesses can receive funds from international marketplaces, payment gateways and customer invoices like a local using the OFX Global Currency Account," says Alice Fu, she adds that "businesses can also pay overseas suppliers or pay taxes from their local account balances and avoid unnecessary conversion fees.”

#3 - Greater focus on risk management.

At any given time, companies will need to factor in the possibility of changes in key markets, economic conditions or business competitors. This means they must take a more proactive approach to risk management and safety. Companies that have operations in multiple countries will have to consider how changing conditions could affect their employees, customers and relationships.

For example, if you need to outsource some of your supply chain responsibilities in a new market, it could cause problems if an issue with production or delivery causes a stock shortage in your domestic market. What happens then? If you are using partners and suppliers that are located outside the country where your primary operation is located, it can be more difficult to manage the details of these relationships.

#4 - Managing cash flow (including payments and collections)

It may not be as simple as it sounds, especially since there are multiple currencies involved. Some companies get into trouble because they aren’t using the right tools to manage their cash. For example, if a global corporation uses an inaccurate forecast, it could fail to meet customer demand or may need to lay off employees during slow times. On the other hand, if it overproduces there can be negative repercussions in terms of labor costs for idle employees and unnecessary inventory carrying costs.

#5 - Compliance.

International compliance issues can create challenges for businesses seeking to operate across borders. Gaps in compliance can result in unexpected consequences or disputes if something goes wrong and the company needs to do some type of wholesale re-negotiation of its supply chain.

For example, a food producer in France that is trying to sell its products in Germany may be subject to higher food safety regulations than those found in France. A global business operating across borders must be aware of the potential gaps between the countries it does business with and understand how they could affect operations and profitability. These gaps are not necessarily insurmountable; they are simply issues that need to be addressed by the international business owner or a professional external services provider.

#6 - Non-payment

One of the most common challenges that businesses try to avoid is non-payment. Due to the complex nature of global relationships and the time and cost required in seeking resolution, unintended consequences can occur if not properly addressed. The good news is that non-payment doesn’t have to be a long-term, unmanageable problem. By providing information on all agreements, clearly identifying who should pay for services provided and the process in place to resolve disputes, you can avoid the problems that come with non-payment.

#7 - More complex accounting.

This is an especially big issue for Canadian firms with foreign subsidiaries. Accounting standards in Canada may different from most other countries, and using the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) may reduce the need for adjustments to overseas income statements. However, even with IFRS, companies will still struggle with differences in local tax codes and accounting requirements, which requires that they pay more attention to their accounting practices when operating outside of Canada.

4 Key Lessons

- Lesson #1: Managing cash flow is one of the most critical elements of international business.
- Lesson #2: Get to know your clients’ needs and expectations, and be open to new ideas.
- Lesson #3: Don’t underestimate the cost (in money or time) of managing international payment processes.
- Lesson #4: Working with a third-party partner to help manage your international business relationships can be the key to success.

Accounting across borders can be challenging, but also full of opportunities! The accounting profession has a role to play in helping companies manage all of these opportunities and challenges. Companies that find ways to benefit from global commerce are likely to gain market share or experience efficiency gains that will lead to better profit margins.

If a company gains experience from expanding internationally then they will be better prepared to operate efficiently worldwide helping them to stay ahead of their global competition while ultimately running a more profitable operation for their shareholders.

If you would like to learn more about how cloud-based bookkeeping and accounting services can help elevate your business across borders in 2021, contact Sean at sduffy@welchllp.com

Want to learn more on how a multi-currency account can do wonders for your business? Reach out to Alice Fu and her team at OFX alice.fu@ofx.com

About the authors:

"How bookkeeping works" is a common question asked by business owners and those who need to understand how accounting works. Double-entry bookkeeping is the most common form of bookkeeping because of the way it tracks money in an organization - and it essentially has remained unchanged for centuries. It is also the simplest form of bookkeeping, making it easier to master. You can start using double-entry bookkeeping as soon as you know what to do with debits and credits.

The early development of accounting dates to ancient Mesopotamia, and is closely related to developments in writing, counting and money and early auditing systems. By the time of the Roman Empire, the government had access to detailed financial information. In the Islamic world, ninth century commercial arithmetic and algebra was further standardized by Al-Khwarrzim.

Double-entry bookkeeping - Luca Pacioli

In the 1400s, Luca Pacioli published Summa, an illustrated guide to bookkeeping with double-entry accounting. This first book on financial accounting is seen as a major turning point in the history of accounting. Pacioli's work influenced merchants and modern accountants for centuries.

“All the creditors must appear in the ledger at the right-hand side, and all the debtors at the left. All entries made in the ledger have to be double entries—that is, if you make one creditor, you must make someone debtor." - Luca Pacioli

Pacioli's time is seen as a period of transition from the medieval economy to one governed by merchants and bankers. In the Middle Ages, Italian merchants had been the most influential group of bankers in Europe. The concept of double-entry bookkeeping is more closely associated with medieval accounting practices than with modern accounting standards. However, Pacioli's Summa was influential in establishing the double-entry method as a standard for financial transactions and for later historians to use as a frame of reference.

The Joint-Stock Company & The Birth of the Limited Liability Entity

Moving on from Pacioli, a history of accounting would not be complete without mention of the advent of the predecessor of the modern corporation: the joint stock company. A joint-stock company is a business that has ownership divided between multiple investors, who each take delivery of a share in the company. The public issues shares so that more people can buy them and thus become shareholders. These shareholders then have a vote on how the company should be run, with different numbers of votes attaching to different sizes of shares owned by an individual shareholder.

Although joint stock companies had existed before 1600 across Europe, it was in England at this time that these businesses began to develop into what we would now recognize as a modern day limited liability entity; where one person could own shares without fear of being responsible for the debts or liabilities of other shareholders if the company failed.

When do we see the birth of modern professional accounting?

The birth of modern professional accounting can be traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century. The period from 1850–1880 was a time of considerable change in both accounting practice and education, where the concepts of specialization and professionalism were introduced.

Today, it’s regulated and standardized by the various international accounting standards that provide exclusive frameworks for internal accounting policies. The strict regulation imposed by these guidelines ensures the reliability and comparability of financial statements worldwide.

2021: To Automate, or Not to Automate?

In 2021, we are often asked "Will bookkeeping be automated". Answer: To some extent it will, and to some extent it will not. Historically, bookkeeping has been done manually, with paper and pencil. The birth of the modern computer has created a demand for accounting software. Accounting software can automate some data entry tasks and help accountants - and their clients - in many ways. In other ways, software is making manual accounting obsolete.

The bookkeeping industry - as has occurred in every recent accounting revolution - will be affected by some aspects of the technology revolution. The theoretical basis of accounting - double-entry bookkeeping - is well established and remains a common thread throughout time. As long as we have written records, double-entry bookkeeping has existed. Relatively new concepts of automated accounting are changing how we think about accounting, and our financial system, which in turn will affect how we go about keeping record of it.

And how would Luca Pacioli feel about the pace of innovation happening right now in cloud-bookkeeping? it is our strong opinion that even if Pacioli had started the modern era of accountancy - in the 21st century - he would be surprised by what is happening today. Cloud-accounting is now a reality, and companies are realizing all the benefits.

Equally, Pacioli would be excited by the advent of automation in bookkeeping. He would have seen the benefits of technology and would have been eager to take advantage of it in an age where bookkeeping was manual. And like the many different approaches to double-entry he has seen, there will be a number of ways that people approach business solutions and record-keeping.

What we can say with confidence though, is that he would have loved the convenience of cloud-bookkeeping, something that should not be underestimated. The benefits of automation and cloud-bookkeeping are clear; they are extremely valuable.

The main takeaway from this article is that how we track money in organizations - whether through double-entry bookkeeping or otherwise - will always change and adapt. The accounting industry is a fast-moving one, and Luca Pacioli would have been surprised by it all. Whether he would have embraced the changes is another matter altogether.

Stay tuned to this series for information on some recent technological changes which are underway. Curious about innovation in accounting? Ask one of our Cloud-Bookkeepers how their careers have evolved over the last few years.

If you would like to learn more about how cloud-based bookkeeping and accounting services can help elevate your business in 2021, contact Chris at cmeyers@welchllp.com

More from the Bookkeeping & Accounting series

Keep an eye out for the paper airplane taking off from the green runway for our next piece in the series.

In this series of posts, we will explore core bookkeeping and accounting concepts. Have you ever wondered who invented the double-entry system of bookkeeping? Do you want to know how to keep track of your finances and expenses? How to set up your bookkeeping system? You'll be glad to know that you can learn how in this series.

Where to start?

The first step is always the same: register for a reputable bookkeeping software. Though they vary in price, features, and style, they all provide more or less the same things: they help keep track of your transactions and make managing them easier.

The next step is to start using the software. This requires studying the documentation, spending some time reading blogs about bookkeeping and even typing the transactions you already have committed to memory a couple of times.

Then, your final step is to create your accounting system. Write down all your purchases/sales and all your expenses in a notebook/document where you can always refer back to them, should you need to. This may seem tedious at first but it actually helps save time later on, as knowledge of past transactions develops speed and efficiency. Understanding your system will take time, most bookkeepers say it takes an average of 2–3 months to fully get the hang of it. You may even have to consult one of the experts who have already done all the tedious and labor-intensive work for you: accountants and bookkeepers.

Most importantly, focus on building your knowledge about accounting and keep doing that daily. You can never know enough and you will always need to refresh your memory.

This blog series is written especially with the beginner in mind. It doesn't mean that experts won't find it useful; on the contrary, expert bookkeepers often find it hard to understand why someone would want to take on bookkeeping without first learning a few things about it.

The 5 most important tips for beginners

#1 - Understand the importance of using a bookkeeping software

Many people make the mistake of starting to manage their finances without setting up a functional and organized system which will help them keep track of everything, as well as organize their financial processes. You wouldn't try to build a giant house without blueprints, would you?

#2 - Take your time with it

The idea that bookkeeping can be learned very quickly is quite common. But truth is it takes time and dedication to learn. A good bookkeeper or accountant can be hired to do all the grunt work for you, unless you have a special interest in the subject like many people do.

#3 - Focus on building your knowledge about accounting and keep doing that daily

You can never know enough about bookkeeping and there are always new things to learn, so build an effective learning routine that works for you.

#4 - Don't forget to read other blogs about bookkeeping

They are an excellent source of information and tutorials, as well as a place where you can ask questions about your financial process, which is very useful if you want to improve your skills.

#5 - Not for you?

This may be the most important tip of all: leave it to the pros. Reach out to us and let us know how we can help. Let us focus on your finances so you can focus on what you do best: running a successful business.

After all, we can't do what you do. But we can definitely take care of what you don't want to do or don't have the time for. Bookkeeping and accounting are essential parts of any financial system and as such should be taken seriously.

Never underestimate the importance of bookkeeping in the success of your business, no matter how big or small it is. Build a plan that works for you, keep your focus and go after it.

Stay tuned to this series for information on some recent technological changes which are underway. Curious about innovation in accounting? Ask one of our Cloud-Bookkeepers how their careers have evolved over the last few years.

If you would like to learn more about how cloud-based bookkeeping and accounting services can help elevate your business in 2021, contact Sean at sduffy@elevatebywelchllp.com

More from the Bookkeeping & Accounting series

Keep an eye out for the paper airplane taking off from the green runway for our next piece in the series.

Change is constant in our ever-evolving world, but one thing is for sure: women around the world are making their voices heard, stepping up, and leading the change. Caroline Proulx, Onboarding Manager at Elevate by Welch, is one of these outstanding women.

Chosen as a Top 50 #WomeninAccounting for 2020, it’s obvious why Caroline was a top choice. This list celebrates all the amazing women who are driving advocacy and creating opportunities in the Accounting and Bookkeeping industry. Caroline hits all of those points:

  1. Dedicates and promotes inclusivity and diversity in the workplace and beyond;
  2. Invests in the next generation and the future leaders of accounting;
  3. Advocates for the accounting industry and support of the wider community.

“I am truly committed to making this happen because I believe in the path that Welch and I are carving out for me and others. My hope is to showcase Elevate and Welch as a fantastic place for women to work and thrive, and give us something to be proud of

"The profession is becoming more diverse, thanks to the increased number of female students and graduates. However, we have yet to see a greater representation of women in senior accounting positions."

Professionals were included on the list based on their written submissions, promotion of inclusivity and change in the profession, investment in future accounting professionals, and their involvement with causes both inside and outside the profession.

For the full list, visit Practice Ignition’s site here:

https://www.practiceignition.com/blog/top-50-women-in-accounting-2020

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