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Do people bother with tidy working paper files anymore?

I trained and worked for many years in medium sized practices, and had my own practice up until a few years ago - I now do a bit of subcontract work for a few local small practices. What I am seeing more and more is a lack of tidy working paper files and I wonder if I'm a bit old fashioned now?

I was always taught to keep tidy files with an index, referenced working papers ,which were crossed referenced as well, with file notes etc and used to insist my staff did the same. But practices now just seem to have a bundle of papers with a few notes here and there - is this the norm now?

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Times have changed

I too remember taking great pride in producing lovely working papers.  However, times have now changed.  My practice only produces working papers in Excel nowadays (never on paper).

My view is that even this approach will soon begin to die off, as we start to see the client's online accounting records as the working papers and make all of our adjustments directly in those records - the "one ledger" approach.

What we will then need are tools to help us evidence the checks we have done on the client records and help us to assimilate and review the data quickly.  I have something up my sleeve for that ...

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By Anonymous
05th Mar 2010 13:16

Excel

Using Excel sheets, without printing and collating them, do you still have some structure to your working papers?

Your views on future developments are interesting - maybe a long way off still for the small traders who havent yet grasped the most basic of record keeping?

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05th Mar 2010 14:51

Been there, done that

I've been complete circle on this one. I too trained at a good-size firm more years ago than I care to remember and their mantra with WPs was "neat, complete, cross-referenced and headed up." Sounds a bit anally-retentive but it did work well and was essential on large audit files; I'm sure all larger firms were like that.

After qualifying, I joined a small, rural practice and their files (or lack of them) really had to be seen to be believed. So, "no" I don't think this is a particularly new problem.

Once I went on my own, my files have gradually improved and with a push from Practice Assurance are probably back to where I was 20 odd years ago. But with the increasing volume of clients where the starting point is a Sage or similar TB, I really do feel that this "traditional" approach is OTT and I too have been looking for a way of integrating my WPs better / generating my WPs from the client TB. I'll await developments with interest!

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By ChrisDL
05th Mar 2010 16:35

No excuse for untidy working papers

Having trained under a partner who would reject schedules where the name of the client had not been underlined (and sometimes for underlining in the wrong colour), I do get annoyed at sloppy working papers and increasingly Excel schedules are worse than the paper ones.

I moved to Excel schedules pretty early on as my handwriting is not the best, but I still stick to the principles and try to pass them on. Sensible layout and cross referencing are not too much to ask

On the point of structure, named tabs are great for that!

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By Anonymous
05th Mar 2010 16:56

Working papers

As I do most accounts on excel or sage I store my working papers in my computer (and backup automatically every night). If I print out the accounts I have to file them which is a pain. Easier to shred and have a copy on computer.

I have decided this year to have better working papers so anyone can follow them but I don't want to print them and file them if I can help it.

My office is full of clients books which I tidy from time to time. I dont want to spend time tidying every night. My clients always comment that it looks like a typical accountants office. I look busy if the work is piled up.

 

 

 

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05th Mar 2010 22:43

Throw the files out ......
No excuse for untidy working papers

Having trained under a partner who would reject schedules where the name of the client had not been underlined (and sometimes for underlining in the wrong colour), I do get annoyed at sloppy working papers and increasingly Excel schedules are worse than the paper ones.

 

Posted by ChrisDL on Fri, 05/03/2010 - 16:35

 

The partner you trained under didnt use a quill pen too did he? 

Rejecting papers because a name wasnt underlined - its a pity he didnt have something better to do with his time. 

We're fully computerised - we keep nothing on paper, even letters received are scanned into the clients file and the paper copy shredded.  

The upside is we can work from anywhere, the office, home, the client's premises, so long as there is internet access there is no problem.  It's not rare on a nice day to see one or two staff on their laptops in the office garden working while they top up their tans.

The only downside is that if there's a power cut, and being in a rural location we get a few, then the only thing we can do is make a cup of tea on the gas ring, and organise an impromptu game of football in the garden behind the office.

 

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By Anonymous
06th Mar 2010 09:21

In my time

I have come across the following scenario more than once from taking over clients from older sole practitioners:

One sheet of A3 paper with ALL the information/schedules hand written - cash book summary, fixed assets, bank rec, the lot.

The latest one was for a y/e 30.4.07, so not an issue of predating computerisation.

But I guess if you work for yourself, you have only your own requirements to satisfy.

For my part, I don't tend to reference, but I can understand the relevance.

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10th Mar 2010 10:51

PAPERLESS SYSTEM
The way forward has to be paperless, (massive groan from our older viewers!!!)
Replying to one of the previous posts the paperless system still has a file structure e.g. completion section, planning, tax ,
debtors, creditors etc
It makes it much easier to review as a manager as all files look the same, the firms you are subcontracting for must be quite small
as any decent size firm would surely subscribe to a file structure such as Mercia?
It would be interesting to hear how big these firms are?
Practice assurance, QAD visits would all require proper file structures.

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By Anonymous
10th Mar 2010 10:53

Real life and Practice Assurance

<strong>Once I went on my own, my files have gradually improved and with a push from Practice Assurance are probably back to where I was 20 odd years ago</strong>

On my practice assurance visit the person could not understand how to take accounts from Sage TB to Iris final accounts using only spreadsheets to extract, analyse, schedule and record the workings.

They wanted it all printed out including printouts of the Excel speadsheets and then filed.

In the end I was asked to sign 'improvement' points that I didn't agree with, but I was told that to do so would mean no more visits for many a long year.

 Utterly useless, but a nice jolly for the QA (sic) staff.

 I'll stick to this century and spreadsheets, and say bye-bye to a useless Institute.

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By Anonymous
10th Mar 2010 10:59

file structure such as Mercia?

I would be grateful for a response of what this file structure is?  Where can I find out more about this.

Thanks

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10th Mar 2010 11:04

Mercia File Structure
Please find attched the link to their website:-

http://www.mercia-group.co.uk/technical_manuals/specialist_assignments.htm

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10th Mar 2010 11:23

Is Paperless really the answer?

"The only downside is that if there's a power cut, and being in a rural location we get a few, then the only thing we can do is make a cup of tea on the gas ring, and organise an impromptu game of football in the garden behind the office." - I would like to work for this firm please!

Having implemented INVU in our practice recently I am all for the paperless way of working, however, our team felt that working papers should be kept manually.

Getting a partner to review files is difficult at the best of times, I think people feel that getting them to review things electronically would be more of a struggle than putting a hard copy file in front of them.

They also feel it is extremely important for our trainees to learn how to compose a file in the traditional way.

Our plan is to scan the previous year's file into INVU but to keep the current year manually.

I'd be interested to know people's thoughts . . . .

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10th Mar 2010 11:32

PAPERLESS SYSTEM
It is a massive change going paperless, but you need to get people to get used to reviewing on screen etc.

Once they get over this culture shock it is definitely more efficient

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By ChrisDL
10th Mar 2010 12:16

Sounds like my kind of firm!

Got any vacancies cymraeg_draig ?

Seriously though, this has to be the way to go. The days of carrying around or trying to find multiple files have to come to an end.

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10th Mar 2010 12:53

Proper Working Papers

I trained in industry, and now have moved to practice. I absolutely agree that working papers should be tidy, clearly labelled and cross-referenced. It saves time, money and effort. When I first started my working life (and not as an accountant) I was told that filing is every bit as important as any other duty. The advice I was given was that "to be able to lay one's hands on the very piece of information a senior manager is asking for in a matter of seconds would always be sure to make a good impression". Always has done for me. As for paper -v- electronic - I prefer electronic, but the principle remains the same as to tidiness.

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10th Mar 2010 15:17

working papers

-- RICARDO PALACIOS BAZZANI

I am a former external auditor and worked for many years in Colombia and USA for one of the big accounting firms, in my mind working papers ought to be arranged neatly and in order with perfect cross reference, that is part of the General Accepted Auditing Standards which demand for traceability and correct evidence. People must not  misunderstand paperless with  inappropriate documentation. Working papers could be maintaing in electronic formats and paperless.

Kindly regards

 

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10th Mar 2010 15:48

Working papers a dinasour?

 I also had a practice and I insisted on proper work papers and filing system for quick and easy access. Clients did not appreciate the time this took so looked at alternatives (Had a full suite of Excel based ones but that is the same as paper in terms of time and we printed out anyway as in 6 years time the file would probably be unreadable on the then new software)

Found a super package which allowed import of TB or detail direct from off the shelf accounting software and then automatically produced all the required work schedules. So import, cehck, do adjusting journals and print financial statements out and if you wanted all the work papers.

We attached (facility existed) spreadsheet files to it with workings e.g. stock take calcs and sorted. Back to profits.

Program not expensive and you could customise statements to USA, UK, EU and South Africa norms/requirements.

 

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By Anonymous
10th Mar 2010 17:29

Would you be happy to name that programme/package ?

The above package sounds great, would you be in a position to share the name of it ?

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11th Mar 2010 08:13

Caseware probably
It's probably CAseware he is talking about?

Great programme

http://www.caseware.co.uk/web/index.php

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11th Mar 2010 08:32

Reminds me of the time when......

I was an auditor and, by the end of the week, the audit was way behind. Back on track by Monday with one of the most perfectly presented Fixed Asset sections I have ever seen. Perfectly cross referenced, neat backing papers and all completely invented - the staff member had not been near the client and had created it using the TB and some rudimentary information he had gleaned.

So perfect working papers are not the panacea for all evils. :-)

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By Anonymous
11th Mar 2010 09:45

Real world here

I find it amusing to see posts referring to accounting software used by clients. I have 120 clients and of those, four use Sage properly, two use it to list invoices and the rest of the clients would never dream of using software.

There must be hundreds of accountants in practice who read the posts on here and wonder what on earth they are talking about. 

Also, when preparing accounts, I have about 20 A4 sheets on my desk at once, all being used, together with the client's books. I would like to see exactly how someone would make entries and temporary notes on a computer screen with twenty windows open at once.

And as for paperless offices...pull the other one.

 

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11th Mar 2010 10:38

I suppose..

it just comes down to the way we each work.

"Also, when preparing accounts, I have about 20 A4 sheets on my desk at once, all being used, together with the client's books. I would like to see exactly how someone would make entries and temporary notes on a computer screen with twenty windows open at once.

And as for paperless offices...pull the other one."

I have a very different client base but I find all I need on my desk is a to do list and a piece of paper for making notes which I scrap once the points are cleared or documented. Everything else is on computer. I am not deliberately movng to a paperless office but I find it happening naturally. The files are getting thinner and thinner, my stationery bill has plummeted - there is a long way to go and I doubt if I will ever be paperless. There are still times when it is easier to use paper and I always print complex letters/emails on scrap as I find the review process more effective when using paper.

But just to be out and about with every single piece of client documentation available in a small drive is very liberating.

 

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By Optegra
25th Mar 2010 08:26

Paperless Working Papers

Hi

I believe the working paper file should stand up in its own right and be easily followed by anyone.

if you are interested in a standardised working papers system which can link with Sage 50 create a 'perfect' file and then integrate with SAPA, IRIS Etc then send me an email - [email protected]

I have developed a system which can be completely paperless or if you want you can print it out..

Can be personalised to specific referencing systems and has analytical charts and detailed analysis options.

The system is working in numerous firms so far, the standards and efficiencies maintained are noticeable.

Thanks

Jeremy

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By Anonymous
25th Mar 2010 10:28

Paperless working 'paper' files

We used to have proper working paper files that were fully referenced. We used the PCAS file structure as we were using the PCAS audit system. PCAS became very cumbersome with the introduction of ISAs and we took that opportunity to carry out a full review of what we should be doing and how. The result was we adopted the Mercia audit system and file structure on Caseware and now have paperless working paper files. This has been expensive to implement in the first year but the efficiency savings that are coming through now are great, and the quality of working papers has also improved.

Document management systems like Invu are great for making your correspondence and tax files paperless but they do not work well for working paper files.

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