Financial accounting is how accounting professionals document, compile and outline how a business performs financially over a discrete period of time. Unlike cost accounting, which is used primarily for internal short and long-term strategic planning, financial accounting focuses primarily on producing relevant documentation for outside parties interested in short- and long-term financial performance.
Small businesses, large corporations and nonprofits use the following financial statements produced for relevant parties: the Balance Sheet, the Cash Flow Statement and the Income Statement. When it comes to publicly traded companies, their financial accounting standards are overseen by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). It’s one way to provide a standardized means to communicate the business’s monetary details to potential and current shareholders, lenders, government oversight and tax enforcement agencies.
As the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) explains, the balance sheet is a financial statement that informs readers about a business’s assets, financial obligations and shareholders’ equity. It’s how a business documents its asset valuation, its financial obligations and cash holdings. It provides owners, lending institutions and investors a way to analyze a business. The current ratio shows the ratio of current assets to current liabilities. This is a way to evaluate a business’ ability to manage financial obligations over the next year. Shareholders’ equity represents how much cash would remain if the business satisfied all creditors and all assets were liquidated; whatever remains would be the property of the shareholders.
Released once a month, every quarter or once per year, an income statement reports revenue, expenses, and net earnings or losses of a company for a given period. A company’s net revenue is calculated by subtracting allowances for uncollectable accounts, discounts, etc. from a business’s gross sales or revenues. From there, subtract the cost of sales, or how much the lot of products or services cost to make for the accounting period, from the net revenues figure. This results in gross profit or gross margin. Depreciation, along with amortization, or the cost of machinery and equipment losing life over time, is subtracted from the gross profit figure.
From there, operating expenses, which aren’t directly attributable to product or service production but are running day-to-day operations, are deducted from the resulting gross profit figure. This number is now called income from operations or operating profit before interest and income expense. Depending on the number, the interest income or interest expense is either added or subtracted from operating profits to arrive at the operating profit before income tax. Finally, income tax is deducted, resulting in net profit (net income or net earnings) or net losses. For publicly traded companies, it gives investors insight as to how much the company is making per share, so-called “earnings per share” (EPS).
Per the SEC, a statement of cash flow features three sections that detail sources and utilization of the business’ operating, financing and investing cash flows. It paints a picture of inflows and outflows of the business’s cash levels. At the end of the day, it helps anyone interested in the company’s financials, especially potential and current investors, see the latest status and trends of cash flow.
One way to calculate cash flow, according to the SEC, is to look at a company’s free cash flow (FCF). This is calculated as follows:
Free Cash Flow = Operating Cash Flow – Capital Expenditures
Free Cash Flow = $50 million – $20 million = $30 million
This information is helpful because free cash flow can help determine a company’s financial health, how well (or not) the business model is performing, and its overall likelihood of success moving forward. Additionally, understanding the difference in accounting methods is another helpful piece of financial accounting analysis.
Accrual Method vs. Cash Method
When it comes to the accrual method, according to the Congressional Research Service, when a business is paid for services or products to be rendered in the future, the payment is permitted to be recognized as revenue only when the product or service has been rendered. When it comes to accounting for expenses that are presumably deductible, under the accrual method, the expense can be recorded when it’s experienced by the business, not when payment has been made to the utility, raw material supplier, etc.
If a consultant gets payment immediately but isn’t expected to do said job until the following month, this approach requires revenue to be recognized when the cash has been received. Similarly, when expenses are paid is when expenses are recorded.
For any business that handles inventory or sells to customers on credit, accrual accounting is required by the Internal Revenue Service. Similarly, for companies with average gross receipts of revenues greater than $25 million for the past 36 months, the IRS mandates accrual accounting. For companies with average gross receipt of revenues of less than $25 million, depending on the exact circumstances of the company’s business nature, cash or accrual may be used.
Financial accounting provides investors, business owners, and those providing businesses with legal and accountability a way to monitor performance and compliance.