Bookkeeping, Preparations, Compilations, and Review Engagements: Questions and Answers

This Q&A covers common questions about bookkeeping and SSARS 21 engagements

Today, we’ll answer various questions regarding bookkeeping, preparations, compilations, and review engagement.

Bookkeeping, preparations, compilations

Picture from AdobeStock.com

Q: Should I issue management letters for preparation, compilation, or review engagements?

A: While not required, it is advisable to provide management letters when performing SSARS 21 services. Why? Two reasons: (1) It’s a way to add value to the engagement, and (2) it’s a way to protect yourself from potential litigation. Clients do–sometimes–sue CPAs in these so-called “lower risk” engagements. If we see control weaknesses (while performing a compilation for example), we should communicate those–even though standards don’t require it. Then, if theft occurs in that area and you are later sued regarding the fraud, you have a defense. If you don’t issue a management letter, at least send an email regarding the issues noted and retain a copy.

Q: Why obtain an engagement letter for nonattest services such as bookkeeping and tax (standards don’t require it)?

A: In all engagements, we want to state exactly what we are doing. Why? So, it is obvious what the client has hired us to do–and what they have not hired us to do. If a client says, “I told you to do my monthly bookkeeping and to file my property tax returns,” but you have no recollection of being asked to perform the latter, you need an engagement letter that specifies monthly bookkeeping (and nothing else).

Q: Should I say–in a bookkeeping engagement letter–the service is not designed to prevent fraud?

A: We should obtain a signed engagement letter for bookkeeping services, even though not required by standards. And yes, by all means, include a statement that the bookkeeping service is not designed to detect or prevent fraud.

Q: If I note fraud while performing a bookkeeping, preparation, compilation, or review engagement, should I report it to the appropriate levels of management?

A: Standards require this communication for review engagements. I would do likewise for the other services (though not required in SSARS 21).

Q: Am I required to be independent if I perform bookkeeping and preparation services?

A: No, since both are nonattest services.

Q: If I create financial statements as a byproduct of an 1120 tax return, am I subject to AR-C 70 Preparation of Financial Statements?

A: No, you are only subject to AR-C 70 if you are engaged to prepare financial statements.

Q: If I perform bookkeeping services in a cloud-based accounting package such as QuickBooks, am I subject to AR-C 70 (SSARS 21)?

A: It depends. Yes, if you are engaged to prepare financial statements. No, if you were not engaged to prepare financial statements. Who “pushes the button” to print the financial statements has no bearing on the applicability of AR-C 70.

Q: Am I required to have a signed engagement letter for all preparation, compilation and review engagements?

A: Yes.

Q: Can I act as a controller-for-hire and perform a compilation engagement?

A: Yes, but you need to state that you are not independent in the compilation report.

Q: Can I act as the controller-for-hire and perform a review engagement?

A: No. Independence is required for review engagements.

Q: If I prepare financial statements and perform a compilation, am I performing one service (as I did under SSARS 19) or are these considered two separate services?

A: They are two separate services. The preparation is a nonattest service, and the compilation is an attest engagement. Both can be specified in one engagement letter.

Bookkeeping or Preparation of Financial Statements: Being Clear About the Intended Service

When performing bookkeeping, communicate whether financial statements are a part of the engagement

Many accountants have asked, “When am I subject to SSARS 21?” This question often arises when a CPA provides bookkeeping services using a cloud-based accounting package such as Quickbooks. Bookkeeping or preparation of financial statements–which is it? Why the confusion? Well, once the bookkeeping is complete, the CPA or the client can print the financial statements–and we know that SSARS 21 is triggered when we are engaged to prepare financial statements.

Bookkeeping or Preparation of Financial Statements

Picture from AdobeStock.com

Bookkeeping or Preparation of Financial Statements

Suppose you enter the client’s monthly transactions in QuickBooks, and you reconcile the bank statements. Now you or the client can print the financial statements. Have you unintentionally wandered into a requirement to follow SSARS 21? Let me answer this question with another question.

Has your client engaged you to prepare financial statements? If yes, then SSARS 21 is in play. If not, then compliance is not required. The AICPA says, “the accountant has only been engaged to prepare financial statements when the client has ‘hired’ the accountant to do so.”

Using QuickBooks to provide bookkeeping services does not–necessarily–mean you have been engaged to prepare financial statements. But how can you be clear? When in doubt spell it out–in an engagement letter. Use an engagement letter for all client services–even nonattest work such as bookkeeping. When you provide bookkeeping services, and the customer has not “hired” you to prepare financial statements, make it clear that you are not engaged to provide financial statements. The AICPA’s 2016/17 Audit Risk Alert–regarding Preparation services–advises that you might include this sentence when you are not engaged to prepare financial statements: This engagement does not contemplate us preparing financial statements.

More Information About Preparation Services

For more a fuller explanation regarding whether the use of QuickBooks triggers SSARS 21, click here.

For a deep dive into Preparation services, see my book on Amazon: Preparation of Financial Statements and Compilation Engagements.