5 Tips on How to Answer Complex Accounting Controls Questions

Posted by Nancy Johnson on May 10, 2011

In the bad old days, it took a few phone calls to your auditor and maybe lunch with one of your finance colleagues to get answers to your toughest questions about internal controls, compliance, and risk management.

Today’s technology allows us to ask a question at 2:30 a.m. and receive a credible answer at 2:31–from  a bunch of people we know, even more we don’t know, and hundreds or thousands of sources worldwide. The internet especially is a great way to leverage technology to find fast, reliable answers on complex finance topics, such as ASC Codification codes or SAS guidance.  

When using the internet, it’s important to understand the difference between primary sources (for example, the IRS, COSO, AICPA, SEC websites) and secondary sources (for example, Wikipedia, blog postings, or online media outlets). Go to a primary source for definitive answers and the exact wording of policies and regulations – in other words, something that will hold up in court.  Go to a secondary source to jumpstart your thinking process or get an unofficial opinion on your topic – and keep in mind that some secondary sources are more credible than others.   

We invite you to read about some of our favorite resources (below), and then take a moment to tell us us your two favorite ways to find answers!

1. Search Engine
A question pops into your mind -- what is the first thing you do? If you’re like most people today, you type the question (or part of it) into a search engine and check out the results for more information.

Leveraging search engines is a big part of researching business problems and solutions, both as a way to learn more about how others are addressing them, and what trends may be influencing how to approach them. Search engines will allow you to obtain real-time international information at the push of a button. This can be great for debunking rumors and finding assistance with complex accounting topics.

2. Tap Your Network – The “New” Way
We favor LinkedIn Groups for knowledge sharing. For example, you will often find Vibato posts within Sarbanes-Oxley and internal control forums.  By posting a simple or complex question to specific groups (for free), you can instantly obtain an oftentimes international perspective that may have cost you thousands of dollars had you sought out the answer with a local CPA firm. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can also be effective for getting in touch with likeminded people on topics you enjoy.

3. Tap Your Network – The “Old” Way
Calling or sending email still work remarkably well for generating answers, particularly when the recipients are true experts in a field or there is a close relationship (a client or partner, for example) that’s being fostered.  

4. Google Alerts and Blog Posts
We stay in touch with what’s happening in the finance world and with daily announcements from our clients through Google Alerts (which provide up-to-the minute information on everything from changing regulatory issues to 10K filings) and via blogs (which provide insight on the topics popping up in Google Alerts and elsewhere). Our Google Alerts are set for keywords like “internal controls” and “SOX 404”. Blog posts from some of the premier financial sites on the web can be valuable resources for researching information, and pursuing sources. We include ITBusinessEdge, FEI, AccountingToday, reTheAuditors, and FCPA among our favorite blogs.

5. Search within Websites – Media, Associations, and Government

There are many content portals that you can try for free. CFO.com, for example, offers whitepapers and a vast amount of insight on a wide range of financial topics. Legal websites are also good places to research legislative updates, as they often write them in a comprehensive format. For very specific industry information, we'll go directly to the primary source associations and government agencies in the know - including the SEC, AICPA, and PCAOB.

Tags: Internal Controls, cost-effective, internal control