This is a guest blog post from our partner BlackLine, explaining why intercompany accounting is killing your close.
It’s a fact of life that if you can’t reconcile your intercompany accounts, you can’t close your books. The goal of intercompany accounting is netting to zero across the entire company. However, as multinational companies know, that is easier said than done—especially when it comes to billing services.
Deficient processes anywhere in the intercompany chain cause delays in controllership and impact a company’s monthly, quarterly, or annual close.
The Challenges of Intercompany
Without standardized intercompany processes, the risk of problems and delays that “kill your close” is high.
Poorly executed intercompany agreements
Intercompany accounting starts with an agreement between parties acting as either a seller and/or buyer to other entities in the multinational corporation. An intercompany agreement specifies what type of products will be delivered or services will be billed. It will also include details such as who is to be invoiced, what indirect taxes apply, and may even note restrictions around getting money out of the country where the buyer entity operates. If no actual agreement is in place, or if the agreement is poorly executed, mistakes must be undone and disagreements resolved. This takes extra time.
Incorrectly booked invoices
Problems progress from there as some invoices are simply not booked correctly. Perhaps a lower-level employee new to their position inadvertently books an invoice incorrectly or in a way that is inconsistent with the intercompany agreement. When it comes time to roll up the accounting, there is a disconnect between how the entities involved in the transaction accounted for that invoice. Ultimately, late in the game, the accounting team discovers these inconsistencies and must investigate where the disconnect occurred and effect a correction. This problem is further compounded as a multitude of inconsistencies roll up through the organization increasing by both number and associated value. If these issues cannot be rectified by the end of the month or quarter, they will become costly to plug.
Lack of communication
A lack of communication and standardized processes creates problems on both sides of intercompany transactions. For example, if a seller sends an invoice to the wrong distribution list or responsible person, the invoice never gets booked. Without proof of a counterparty confirmation, of a person saying, “I agree to book this,” the risk of a delay is high.
Problems on the buyer’s side arise when invoices are not processed properly. The buyer needs to book whatever service or product they receive to the right function, to the right department. This must be done in a timely manner to minimize disruptions.
Inquiries and disputes
The expedient management of inquiries and disputes presents a final challenge. Even when intercompany invoice trafficking is efficient, the person receiving the invoice may disagree with the charges. In some cases, buyers don’t communicate that they have a dispute until an invoice is overdue, putting additional time pressure on the resolution process.
Considering how many invoice disputes happen throughout the year, it’s easy to see how a poorly executed inquiry and dispute management process can critically slow a company’s close. This is further frustrated when buyers or sellers are organized in silos managing their own entity’s books while working to keep their costs down. With this perspective, if they don’t agree to pay an invoice, it doesn’t affect their margins, targets, or KPIs. They are not concerned with how an outstanding intercompany invoice impacts the larger organization.
Is a Shared Services Team the Answer?
These intercompany challenges often drive the creation of shared service centers or centers of excellence which are tapped to manage intercompany invoicing across the enterprise. When well-formulated, these organizations can streamline intercompany invoice management and, seeing the larger picture, should increase accuracy and timeliness. However, these teams must be more than dedicated personnel assigned to intercompany tasks. Without thoughtful process design and automation and separated from the sourcing decisions by continents and time zones, a shared services team may actually increase errors. A poorly run, poorly trained shared services team also suffers from staff turnover—exacerbating mistakes.
Pressure On the Accounting Team
For the accounting team, trying to tie up the intercompany accounts at the corporate level can be extra challenging. They must track down knowledgeable parties at the entity level that may be operating in different time zones and with different work rules and holiday schedules. They face additional stress when the accounting close deadline looms, often having to spend days and nights trying to source information and resolve issues. Often, they are forced to make unfortunate write downs when time is up. The pressure becomes worse at the end of the year when issues cannot be carried over to be resolved in the next quarter.
How to Address These Intercompany Challenges
It is important to get your intercompany process right from the start. Make it well-defined and executed so that you’re not wasting time, money, and resources. Intercompany should be a net-zero game so a good policy ensures that information is right on both sides of the transaction at every stage of the process.
To prevent intercompany from killing your close, you need to establish a global intercompany standard. It should:
- Eliminate the silos and outline how to get things done
- Make sure invoices are booked into the right accounts and in a timely manner
- Specify timing—for example, dictate the last day in the month/quarter that intercompany charges must be billed
- Improve training for the shared service center team, especially new members
- Make entity-level staff or shared services teams tie up outstanding intercompany transactions early enough so that the business unit and corporation are completed in a timely manner
- Give you time to reconcile
How BlackLine Can Help
BlackLine helps companies centralize the management of intercompany processes, technology, and master data to create improved tax and resource efficiency while reducing operating costs. Our solution automates intercompany accounting by translating relevant data into compliant invoices and documentation to support intercompany transactions, real-time audits, and improved transaction transparency while reducing operational costs.
The art of establishing company-wide process uniformity requires experienced intercompany pros. BlackLine has guided consistency across customer organizations improving compliance and reducing risk at some of the world’s largest corporations. Uniformity and consistency are important defense lines in any transfer pricing audit as they communicate a sense of control and defend against disorder.