Intercompany accounts are accounts in a business’s General Ledger that maintain a balance of payments due to, or from, organizations connected through common ownership or control. For example, If company “A” manufactures widgets and sells them for $100 to a sister-company, company “B”, an intercompany association exists, or should exist, in the General Ledger where Organization “B” has an Intercompany Payable to Organization “A” and, conversely, Company “A” has an Intercompany Receivable from Company “B”.
At the end of each month, the consolidated Intercompany Accounts Receivable and Intercompany Accounts Payable must have the corresponding account balances, a debit in the Intercompany A/R and a credit for Intercompany A/P.
Many businesses endure reconciliation problems related to intercompany accounts. For many, this problem can lead to the books to be kept open for days or weeks longer than necessary. We are familliar with an organization where it was not unusual to have the intercompany accounts out of balance by several million dollars every month. Unless a company implements the correct controls to keep the balances in check, the problem will continue growing and as it multiplies, it will become thoroughly unmanageable.
The causes for these out-of-balance conditions usually begin very small – If Company “A” from the prior section sells widgets to Company “B” for $100 and charges $10 shipping, but the Purchasing Dept for Company “B” tells their Accounts Payable Dept that it’s not on the Purchase Order, so we are not paying it, the organization will have an out-of-balance condition if the issue is not remedied by the end of the month. Many businesses also pass an intercompany charge to their subsidiaries based on their Working Capital as an encouragement to keep Working Capital as low as possible to avoid excessive intercompany charges. If there is a disagreement in the computation, this might also trigger an discrepancy in the Intercompany Accounts. Any lack of clarity on the part of the entity passing the charge, or a absence of acceptance on the part of the entity receiving the charge, has the capability to lead to an out-of-balance condition.
Our experience ranges from companies with only a few entities and massive problems with balancing the accounts, to large companies with thousands of entities that have few issues in getting the accounts to balance.
There are seven principal reasons for out-of-balance conditions with Intercompany Accounts:
Lack of clarity in what the charges are for Absence of clarity in the calculation of an intercompany charge Lack of communication by the entity passing on an intercompany charge Lack of communication by the entity receiving the intercompany charge Absence of consideration by the entity passing the intercompany charge Ineffective policies and/or procedures for handling intercompany charges Lack of effective course for settlement of disagreements
You can obviously reorganize these into four categories:
Lack of clarity Lack of communication Absence of consideration Lack of guidance from Corporate
however I wished to show that the responsibility for both communication and clarity sits with both the receiving entity and the passing entity; and Corporate can fail to support the reconciliation process in many ways, of which, policies, procedures and dispute resolution are the most common.
In researching this issue, we have seen numerous technology-related solutions proposed and, no offence to the programmers, tend to be significantly more cumbersome than the processes they replaced. Such solutions will not cause your accounts to balance, they provide you with the cabability to enforce the process from a higher level. Enforcing the process without addressing clarity, communications, and additional corporate support, is only going to yield minimal, if any, success and cause an even greater level of frustration because of the investment in systems without the envisioned Return on Investment.
By definition, the responsibility for making certain that Intercompany Accounts (or any accounts, for that matter) rests firmly with the Controller of the firm. Many firms may not have a person with the title of Controller, but it is generally evident who the person is who performs the controllership functions. In almost all organizations, the Controller must have ownership of the Balance Sheet of the organization and be the guardian of the financial policies and procedures. By extension, as the Controller must have ownership of the Balance Sheet and support the reconciliation process, senior management i.e. CFO, CEO, Vice Presidents, etc.. must support the Controllers’ authority to enforce the timely reconciliation of the Intercompany Accounts.
The majority of companies that develop intercompany issues have a matrix or semi-matrixed reporting structure. This situation comes with the nasty habit of splitting allegiances. It must be clear that the Corporate Controller with the parent company is the final arbiter in the reconciliation of Intercompany Account disputes with and between subsidiaries, unless the resolution is in violation of a law.
In the same manner that the Corporate Controller has ownership of the Balance Sheet of the organization, Division Controllers have similar responsibilities within their divisions and must be accountable to the Controller at the next level up in the organization. This responsibility chain proceeds down to the Plant Controllers (or equivalent), who must also be accountable to the Controller(s) above them in the corporate food chain.
Setting up an environment containing an effective intercompany reconciliation process depends on education. The training, however, has to be preceded by top-down policies. These must include, but not limited to:
Responsibility for internal control Responsibility for reconciliation General process for reconciliation Specific format for reconciliation Transfer pricing policies Foreign currency policies Intercompany cut-off policies Formal confirmation policy & procedure Dispute resolution policy & procedure
After policies are established (and controlled), the appropriate staff members will need training, from the top of the Accounting hierarchy to the bottom. Especially when first put in place, the policies and procedures ought to be assessed frequently to ensure that they deal with typical company-specific issues that arise during the first few months of implementation. Great care should be used, however, to ensure that policies aren’t changed simply to ensure compliance. Every time the policies are evaluated due to an issue, the question should be asked as to whether the problem lies in the policy, the procedures or the process. After effective policies are established and rolled-out through the organization, the issues that develop will usually deal with process or procedure issues. Keep in mind, the policies are in place as a shield for the organization and the basis for processes and procedures that comply with the policy.
What if you’re already down the road and have a large reconciliation mess to deal with? The same laws of intercompany reconciliation still hold true. Policies, education, procedures and processes must be established and implemented to stop the hemorrhaging and the existing mess must be cleaned up. This should be attempted first with current staff members with the explicit assertion that if the accounts do not balance per company policy by a specified date, that a “fire team” will be assembled to assist the entities in the reconciliation process. This will generally be adequate encouragement to get the accounts in order for the majority of entities, because no one wants Corporate to show up and begin helping – that is probably second only to the IRS showing up to help.
Early in this paper, it was noted that many of the technology-based solutions could be more cumbersome than a company’s present processes. We aren’t saying that technology can not help, technology can help or enhance if you have effective policies, but the policies must be set up, must be effective, and have to be enforced or the technology solution will just be more ingredients added to a rotten soup.
Frequently, in this lean world, Corporate doesn’t really have the time to spare to tackle these reconciliation issues among the operating entities. In this circumstance, a third party can help in the reconciliation process or in troubleshooting the policies, procedures and processes to make sure a reliable process for intercompany reconciliation is successfully established and implemented.
For additional help on reconciling intercompany or other accounts in the general ledger, check out the article by John Leonard on getting your interco accounts balanced or visit Instant Controller. This article, How to Get Your Intercompany Accounts Reconciled is available for free reprint.