Think back to the last attest engagement you and your team prepared for and how you felt about the process overall. Were you relaxed, well-prepared and organized? Did you know the expectations of your role during on-site fieldwork? If the answer is no, then you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are a couple of strategies you can use to make the attest procedures less daunting and overwhelming for your team.
After the prior-year attest on-site testing process is complete, when is the next time you should communicate with your attest team? Some would say that you should reach out when you’re preparing for your next attest engagement — however, having various touchpoints with your attest team throughout the year (especially during periods when something significant is occurring) will make the engagement more efficient. You should discuss notable transactions or events with your attest team as they’re occurring versus trying to remember a transaction that occurred many months prior. Your attest team can ask questions and even provide insight on what documentation they would like to see for support so you can have all of the relevant information on-hand, while it’s fresh in your mind and easily accessible.
Treat the Prepared-By-Client List Like Butter — Spread It out Evenly
As you approach your fiscal year-end, make sure to contact your attest team and ask what documentation they will request for the engagement; this is commonly referred to as the prepared-by-client (PBC) list. Having the PBC list prior to preparing your year-end will make it easier to gather the data as you are preparing it for the attest engagement. If you can knock out two or three items per week, the PBC list will be much less daunting than if you try to tackle it all at once while you’re busy closing out your year-end financials. To better prioritize the timeline of the items your attest team will be requesting, ask them to indicate which documents should be uploaded electronically prior to the start of the engagement, and which ones they don’t need until they’re ready to start on-site fieldwork.
In addition, if you call a report by a different name than what is reflected on the attest team’s list, or if they request another item during fieldwork that was not on the list, ask the attest team to update the list or revise it to reflect your company’s preferred terminology so that you and your team members can easily recognize the request. If there is a request item listed and you don’t understand why it is listed or being requested, first have a discussion with your attest team, especially if the requested item will take you a significant amount of time to generate. There could be an alternative that is better for both parties.
Two Birds With One Stone: Streamline Document-Sharing
Many of the documents you prepare during your year-end close process are ones the attest team will also want copies of, right? So instead of going back through your files and digging for those reports, consider sharing them with your attest team during the preparation process. While your team is preparing for year-end close and on-site attest fieldwork, remember to reference the PBC list to ensure you’re compiling all of the appropriate documentation. Ask your attest team to periodically send you the outstanding PBC list and cross-reference it with your notes to make sure everyone is on the same page with the status of requests and what items need to be prepared.
Another pre-planning item you could cover at year-end is scheduling a phone call with your attest team to make sure everyone is up to speed on key dates like inventory observation, audit fieldwork and any reporting deadlines.
If you’ve done all your homework, had your pre-planning meeting and are ready to bring your attest team on-site, you should be as prepared and organized as possible — that means knowing your level of involvement in fieldwork and which of your staff members will need to be available to assist with questions. While the attest team is on-site, schedule a daily touchpoint to communicate any outstanding questions or items so all parties know what you need to keep the process running smoothly. With all the emphasis on being prepared and communicating proactively, we often remind our clients to budget some time for the unknown as well. Expect the unexpected!
Once you’ve received final reports from your attest engagement, take some time to reflect. To accurately grade yourself and your team, you need to determine key measures for success.
A few different measurements include: the number of days the process takes from start to finish; the number of journal entries and other unexpected communications you receive from the attest team; the number of days it takes for the attest team to deliver your final reports, after they’ve left your facility; or simply your employees’ morale or level of satisfaction with the process. Make notes for next year and use your calendar to automatically “remind” you of any key changes you can implement to ensure the attest engagement goes as smoothly as possible.