A Comprehensive Analysis of Annual Financial Reporting

Executive summary

This report entails a comprehensive analysis of annual financial reporting. In a bid to understand the topic better, the paper has undertaken a comprehensive background study on the concept of annual financial reporting. The paper also outlines the essential elements for effective financial reporting, which include ensuring that the financial report is interesting, engaging in teamwork during the annual report preparation phase, ensuring a high level of transparency and quality of the report, effective stewardship, and accountability. The report outlines and discusses clearly the various contents of an annual financial report. These components include the financial section, the management discussion and analysis, and narratives. The financial section covers the balance sheet, the income stamen, and the statement of total recognised losses and gains. The management discussion and analysis include a report on satisfactoriness of the internal control measures implemented and a report on fairness of the financial statements. The narrative section outlines the directors’ report, notes to financial statements, and the auditor’s report. Finally, the report identifies and analyses the various users of the financial statement, before giving a conclusion on the topic.

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Introduction

Background information

Annual financial reports are an important component in the life of every organisation. Their objective is not only limited to ensuring accountability in organisations, but also play an important role in communication and promoting an organisation’s image (Ittelson, 1998). Traditionally, the relevance of annual reports was presumably relevant to technocrat only such as financial analysts, management, and financial accountants. Nevertheless, this belief is erroneous in the contemporary business environment. Currently, businesses are very conscious of the society within which they operate. As a result, firms’ management teams have become cognisant of the need to nurture their image and impression. In the 21st century, annual financial reports stand out as an important element in projecting an organisation’s image. Every year, organisations engage in the routine of preparing annual reports. Their commitment in preparing these reports emanates from the fact that it is a legal prerequisite. However, publishing the annual financial reports is not only necessitated by the need to be accountable and to comply with the legal requirement, but also the need to capture the organisation’s personality and spirit. Consequently, annual financial reports should establish an avenue for communicating the organisation’s corporate character (Stittle, 2003; Stanko & Zeller, 2003).

Fundamentally, annual financial reports comprise the financial elements and a narrative of an organisation’s operation for the previous 12 months. When preparing annual financial reports, organisations have to adhere to the laid down legal requirements. One of the most important components of an organisation’s annual financial reports is the accounts commonly referred to as the financial statements. The main financial statements include the balance sheets, cash flow statements, and profit and loss accounts and a declaration of the total recognised losses and gains. Annual reports enable organisations to provide a comprehensive version of the organisation’s operations for the past one year. Therefore, annual reports are an important component of an organisation’s communication, accountability, and stewardship processes. In an effort to understand annual financial reporting, this paper evaluates the various components associated with annual financial reporting. Some of the issues evaluated include the elements considered when preparing annual financial reports, contents of annual financial reports, and the various users of the annual reports.

Analysis

Elements to consider when preparing annual financial report

Interesting

Preparing annual financial report is a complex process. The report should be prepared in such a way that it interests the various stakeholders. Therefore, the report should create a reading interest even amongst laypersons either fully or partially. Sittle (2003) concurs with Stanko and Zeller (2003) that it is crucial for firms’ management teams to ensure that their annual financial reports are prepared and presented in a manner that promotes relationship with the various stakeholders. Therefore, firms have to ensure that their annual financial reports are characterised by a high degree of readability and quality. Despite the fact that some financial reporting aspects cannot be simplified for easier understanding, it is critical for organisations to ensure that some sections are easily understandable. This aspect is achievable through effective presentation, which further emphasises the communication role of financial reports, which should occur both implicitly and explicitly.

Teamwork

One of the main sources of complexity experienced when preparing annual reports arises the need to reflect the prevailing corporate world on a piece of paper. Therefore, to deal with this economic reality, firms have to seek for knowledge and skills from various individuals, professionals, and experts. Organisations’ accountants play an important role in the process of preparing annual financial reports. In addition to collecting the organisation’s financial data, their roles also entail selecting the accounting techniques and policies to be applied. However, selecting these aspects hinge on the need to attain objectivity. Therefore, there is a need to adhere to the laid down accounting rules, legal requirements, and requirements of the Financial Service Authority. Additionally, accountants have a responsibility to incorporate their personal opinions and judgment in the preparation of the annual reports. After depicting an organisation’s affairs, external independent auditors are sought to express whether the opinion presented by company accountants is true, fair, and comply with organisational requirement (Stittle, 2003, p. 6). Other parties that assist in the preparation of annual financial report include the Investors Relations Department.

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Transparency and quality of reporting

Over the past few years, organisations have been increasing their annual financial report contents. Nevertheless, it is paramount for the firm’s management teams to ensure that the annual reports are of high quality and transparent. Failure to integrate high degree of quality and transparency in annual reporting can cost an organisation significantly. This assertion stands out conspicuously in the 2002 collapse of Enron Energy Corporation, which operates in the United States. The firm collapsed due to auditing and accounting irregularities and fraud. Allegedly, the company’s accountants had outlined all the off-balance sheet debts. Additionally, the accountants had destroyed critical working papers associated with the company’s accounting techniques. Most politicians were of the opinion that the firm’s annual reporting was not transparent. These concerns increased further after another corporation reported crisis, which involved WorldCom, the second largest telecommunication company in US. Substantial discrepancies were eminent in the company’s annual financial reports.

These failures led to most corporate leaders becoming more concerned about their publicity, which emanated after recognising that if the public becomes aware of the slightest discrepancy or failure to disclose information in an organisation’s annual financial reporting, then the likelihood of the firm receiving negative publicity would increase. The market would also react negatively to such claims. In an effort to deal with such incidences, most organisations resorted to producing voluminous and detailed annual financial reports. In 2002, General Electric Company increased the volume of its annual report by 33 per cent compared to the previous annual report in an effort to ensure transparency in the reporting process. However, voluminous annual report does not guarantee quality and transparency in the financial reporting process. If an organisation doubts whether the market will consider the information provided being transparent, the firm should ensure that the annual report is clear and light (Wilson, 2010).

Communication

Annual financial reports provide company directors with an opportunity to report and explain their decision and actions to creditors, investors such as debenture holders, and the public. As a result, the reporting process enhances the element of accountability amongst these stakeholders. Public limited companies have an obligation to publicise their annual reports. Despite the legal requirement to publicise their annual reports, public limited companies are not under any obligation to publicise all the information. However, they are required to present detailed financial statements and accompanying notes.

Stewardship and accountability

Annual financial reports have been ensuring that they adhere to the accountability and stewardship objective. The current growth of organisations has made it challenging for shareholders to be involved in the day to day operation of organisations. Consequently, most organisations have outsourced the services of agencies such as directors and managers. According to Stittle (2003), stewardship and accountability is strongly associated with agency theory. As a part of their stewardship and accountability role, managers and directors should ensure that, their activities focus on both the past performance and what the future holds for the firm.

At the end of every year, directors and managers are required to report to shareholders regarding their operations. The reporting process outlines the extent to which managers and directors have been responsible to the resources entrusted to them. The stewardship and accountability objective forms the basis upon which companies establish the platform for constructive communication between a firm’s management team and its investors. In line with their stewardship and accountability role, annual financial reports enable investors to determine whether their activities align with the shareholder’s objectives and whether the strategies under implementation aim at maximising the value of the company’s assets. Additionally, financial reporting enables firms’ management teams to determine whether the managers and directors are misappropriating the firm’s resources.

Contents of annual financial report

A comprehensive annual financial report should be composed of a number of contents. The main components of the report include basic financial statements section, narrative section, and management discussion and review.

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The financial statements section

This section covers various financial statements such as the balance sheet, profit and loss account, the cash flow statement, and the statement of total recognised gains and losses.

Balance sheet

The balance sheet outlines the firm’s financial position at a particular point (Gibson, 2010). Therefore, it is a static presentation of the firm’s financial position. The balance sheet outlines a number of components with regard to the firm’s assets, liabilities, and equities. When preparing the balance sheet, accountants should ensure that the entire firm’s assets, liabilities, and sources of funds are clearly outlined. By subtracting the value of current liabilities from that of current assets, a firm can determine its working capital hence its ability to meet daily financial obligations (Khan & Jain, 2010, p. 4). The balance sheet should outline the company’s total assets. These include both the current and non-current assets. Current assets mainly entail cash, accounts receivables, short-term investments, and other current asset items for example pre-paid expenses and supplies (Rich, Jones, Mowen, & Hansen, 2012, p.13). The current assets should appear clearly on the balance sheet in accordance with their degree of liquidity. On the other hand, the non-current component of assets includes long-term investments, intangible assets, other noncurrent assets, plant, property, and equipment. The long-term investments cover assets such as land and buildings owned by the firm. On the other hand, the intangible assets include the firm’s goodwill, trademarks, copyrights, and patents (Rich et al, 2012).The current liabilities outline the obligations that the firm should meet within one operating cycle. Current liabilities should appear in accordance with their urgency of payment. They fall in various groups, which include accounts payable, salaries payable, income taxes payable, and unearned revenue.

The balance sheet should also outline the total long-term liabilities. These include the obligations that the firm does not expect to settle by liquidating its current liabilities. In most cases, long-term liabilities may exist for a number of years. Examples of long-term liabilities include capital lease obligations, accrued pensions, and mortgages payable (Nikolai, Bazley, & Jones, 2010, p. 144).The shareholders’ equity forms the final component of the balance sheet. Shareholders’ equity refers to the residual interest of the shareholders with regard to its assets. When constituting the stockholders’ equity, it is paramount for organisations to adhere to the laid down legal stipulations by subdividing the shareholders’ equity into the different constituent parts. The three main components of shareholders include the contributed capital, accumulated comprehensive income, and retained earnings (Nikolai, Bazley, & Jones, 2010, p. 144). The contributed capital is constituted of the total amount of money owned by shareholders. This amount is not available for distribution as dividends. The amount of capital contributed by preferred stock holders should also appear in the equity section. When preparing a balance sheet, firms are under a legal obligation requiring them to outline their retained earnings. A firm’s retained earnings play an important role in communicating to creditors on whether they can recover the credit facilities advanced (Gupta, 2009, p. 158).

Profit and loss account/income statement

The profit and loss statement outlines a summary of the firm’s revenue, expenses, and income for a particular financial period. The income statement aims at illustrating how profitably a particular organisation is. The income statement achieves this objective by evaluating a number of elements, which include sales revenue, cost of goods sold, operating expenses, financial costs, and tax payments (Nikolai, Bazley, & Jones, 2010, p. 144). The sales returns emanate from the sold products and services. To arrive at the net sales revenue, Ittelson posits, “The total sales discounts, allowances issued to customers, and sales returns are subtracted from the gross sales revenue” (1998, p.56). In an attempt to enrich users of financial statements with the firm’s financial performance, it is a requirement for managers to illustrate the volume of sales and the selling price. However, most organisations do not present this information in their financial reporting process (Nikolai, Bazley, & Jones, 2010, p. 144).The second element in preparing the income statement entails determination of the “cost of goods sold, which refers to the cost of inventory” (Ittelson, 1998, p.80). There are different methods of recording the cost of inventory that an organisation can use including perpetual and periodic recording. The cost of goods sold is illustrated by the net purchases, which are determined by adding freight costs to gross purchases and subtracting discounts and goods returned.

The operating expenses are constituted of the primary recurring costs that a firm incurs in an effort to generate sales revenue. Firm’s management teams should categorise the operating expenses incurred to ensure effectiveness in determining the total operating expenses. The main categories that a firm’s management team can consider include selling expenses, general, and administrative expenses. Selling expenses refer to the operating costs that firms incur directly in their effort to make sales. Other expenses that should be integrated when determining a firm’s operating expenses relate to amortisation, depreciation expense, and research and development expense. Alternatively, an organisation can classify operating expenses in accordance with the size or volume of their major operating activities. The financial costs incurred in the course of operation are also subtracted. One of the financial costs relates to the interest charged on loans and other debts that the firm has. The other expense item subtracted is the tax expense. By subtracting these expenses from the gross profit earned, an organisation determines its net income (Gallagher & Andrew, 2003, p. 64).

Cash flow statement

This statement illustrates the “movement of money in and out of an organisation within a specific period” (Ittelson, 1998, p.44). As a result, it is similar to a budget (Pinson, 2008, p. 84). Alternatively, the income statement can be considered as a pro-forma statement, which is applicable when determining the amount of money that will flow in or out of the firm (Pinson, 2008, p. 84). It illustrates the cash payments and receipts of a firm. The cash flow statement is prepared by adjusting the profit and loss statement. The objective of the adjustment is to distinguish between cash flows and income and compare the changes in the balance sheet between two consecutive years. From the balance sheet, a firm’s management team can determine the changes in its working capital, which is attained by evaluating the changes that have occurred with specific reference to current assets such as account receivables and inventories. Changes in the firm’s current liabilities are also evaluated (Brigham, Garpensnki, & Daves, 2010). By preparing the cash flow statement, an organisation can determine the cash flow emanating from different activities such as investing, financing, and operating activities.

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Operating activities are composed of all the activities that result in revenue generation or the direct costs incurred in the production process. Some of the operating activities that contribute to revenue generation include cash received from customers, dividends, and interest received and operating cash receipts. On the other hand, operating activities that result to cash outflows include payments made to employees, suppliers, income tax, and interest payments. From the operating activities, a firm can determine the amount of cash it generates from its daily operating activities. Financing activities entail undertakings such as loan repayments, dividend payment, and issuance of stock. In addition, purchase or sale of short-term financial securities, bonds, stocks, and fixed assets result in cash flow or outflow. By preparing the cash flow statement, a firm’s management determines the increase or decrease in its cash and cash equivalent (Brigham, Garpensnki, & Daves, 2010).

Statement of total recognised losses and gains

The objective of this statement is to offer additional information to the various users’ annual financial report. The statement focuses on the firm’s financial performance and is provided alongside other financial statements such as cash flow statement, income statement, and the balance sheet (Pendleburry, Fannings, & Groves, 2004, p. 87). Preparation of this statement arises from the appreciation of the fact that the income statement aims at illustrating the profit or loss realised in the firms’ course of operation. According to Pendleburry, Fannings, and Groves (p.87), there are unrealised losses and gains as there is increase in liabilities and assets, which are not captured by the profit realised. By preparing this statement, an organisation can illustrate all the gains and losses that it has incurred in the course of its operation. Consequently, firms can assess their financial performance effectively. Through the statement, organisations’ investors can assess the degree of accountability and stewardship of the firm’s management team (Pendleburry, Fannings, & Groves, p.87).

Management discussion and analysis

In addition to the financial statements section, annual financial reports should also be accompanied by other reports, which include management discussion and analysis, report on fairness of the financial statements presented, and a report on satisfactoriness of the internal control measures implemented. According to Downes and Goodman (2003), management discussion and analysis entails a narrative presentation that aims at illustrating the firm’s management team candid position with regard to the information presented in the financial statements. Some of the areas that the discussion and analysis should touch on include the firm’s results of operation, liquidity, and its capital resources. The discussion and analysis should focus on the various material developments that are likely to affect the firm’s future operations. When undertaking the discussion, it is paramount for the firm’s management to focus on both favourable and unfavourable effects such as inflation. Results of operation should entail the various operating and unusual events that directly or indirectly affected the firm during the financial year under consideration.

Additionally, an evaluation of future uncertainties and events likely to influence the firms operation are also analysed. On the other hand, the capital resources section should entail an evaluation of diverse issues associated with fixed assets, bonds, and lease arrangement. A discussion on the firm’s liquidity should also be undertaken. Some of the issues, which should feature when evaluating the liquidity of the company include the ease of convertibility of the accounts receivables and inventory into cash.

When undertaking the management discussion and analysis, it is paramount for the firm’s management team to compare how the firm’s financial current year performed with performance of the previous year (Warren & Reeve, 2009, p. 681). The analysis should illustrate the changes that have occurred with regard to income from operations, sales, and changes in operational expenses. A comparison of the firm’s balance sheet with specific reference to successive years should also be undertaken, for it aids in determining the changes that have occurred with regard to the firm’s capital resources and liquidity. It is also paramount for the discussion and analysis section to illustrate the degree of risk exposure that the firm faces (Warren & Reeve, 2009, p. 681).

Report on satisfactoriness of the internal control measures implemented

Firms’ management teams are required to illustrate the internal control measures that the firm has instituted. Internal control measures include the various procedures that a firm uses in its effort to protect its assets and ensure that the accounting information represented is accurate (Ingram & Albright, 2007, p. 234).

Report on fairness of the financial statements

In addition to the report on the firm’s adequacy of internal control mechanisms, managers should also include a report showing the extent to which the financial statements are fair. This process is achievable by conducting an internal independent audit. The auditor should then give his or her opinion regarding the fairness of the financial statement presented (Warrenn & Reeve, p. 681).

Director’s report

This report outlines a number of issues associated with the management of the organisation. Firstly, it outlines the company directors in office during the financial year in question. In addition, the number of meetings held by the committee of directors such as the board of directors, audit committee, and the remuneration committee are outlined, together with the name of each participant. The report should also illustrate the principal activities undertaken by the organisation. The director’s report should also outline the recommended dividend and the employees’ statistics. Provision of director information is paramount for investors are mainly concerned with knowing the directors affiliated with the firm they intend to invest in before making any move. If the annual report does not include the directors affiliated with the firms’ management, investors may tend to develop a perception that the firm is not responsive to shareholders’ issues (Downes & Goodman, 2003).

Notes to the financial accounts

Notes accompany the various financial statements such as balance sheet, cash flow statements, and income statement. The objective of the notes is to provide additional information, for example with regard to the accounting policies used. This section also analyses any deviations from the normal accounting standards.

The auditor’s report

This report illustrates the formal opinion of the auditor. The auditor may be either from the internal auditor or from an independent external auditor. The auditor’s report is an important component of an organisation’s annual financial report. This aspect arises from the fact that the opinion of the auditor forms a basis upon which investors determine the credibility of the information presented. Credit financiers also evaluate the opinion of the auditor in the process of determining whether to extend credit facilities to a particular organisation. Consequently, the auditor’s opinion can greatly affect the publicity of the firm. Some consumers of the information provided in the annual financial reports consider the information as worthless in the absence of the auditor’s report (Robinson, 2012).

Some of the elements that auditors consider when reviewing the annual report include whether the report has been prepared in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and whether the financial statements align with the various relevant legal and statutory requirements. The auditor also evaluates whether the annual financial report has sufficiently disclosed the relevant materials and pieces of info that investors may need, when determining where to put their money. The auditor’s report should also illustrate possible changes in financial accounting principles in the process of preparing the report and the corresponding effect on the various financial statements.

Accounting policies

When preparing annual financial statements, organisations are under an obligation to outline the accounting policies used. Organisations can use numerous accounting policies with regard to stocks, sales, and goodwill. The obligation to outline the accounting guidelines used arises from the fact that unlike accounting guidelines lead to dissimilar figures. By stating the policies used, investors can make informed decision with regard to the firm’s financial performance (Warren, Reeve & Duchac, 2009).

Users of annual financial reports

The information presented in the annual financial reports serves diverse purposes to different parties. Some of the users of annual reports include:

Investors

When making investment decisions, one of the factors that investors take into account is the risk associated with the identified investment destination or vehicle. This element arises from the fact that their investment decision revolves on the need to maximise their wealth. However, risk occurrences would tend to diminish attainment of such an objective. The information provided in the financial statement provides an opportunity for shareholders to assess whether their company’s operations are geared towards wealth maximisation. One of the elements that the present and potential investors evaluate is the dividend offered. Such an analysis assists investors to assess the degree of risk exposure.

Employees

In the course of executing their duties, employees are greatly concerned with the ability of their company to reward them. Despite the fact that there are different forms of rewards that employees can receive, monetary rewards are of great essence to workers. Consequently, employees tend to evaluate a company’s profitability in order to determine whether their employer can remunerate them fairly. Additionally, the profitability of the company enables employees to determine the ability of their employer to support them through other non-financial and financial benefits such as retirement schemes, provision of unhindered growth, and attainment of their career growth objectives.

Credit financiers

Companies use different avenues to source for financial capital required for their operation. One of the main sources is the financial capital includes loans from financial institutions. Credit financiers evaluate the company’s annual financial report in order to determine its ability to pay the principal amount and the associated interests. Lenders also evaluate the annual report to establish the firm’s degree of long-term solvency.

Suppliers

They also requires the annual report in order to determine whether the firm will be in a position to make timely payment for the amount owed. Trade creditors are mainly concerned with the firm’s short-term liquidity.

Government and other regulatory agencies

The annual financial report prepared is also useful to the government and other agencies. From the annual report, the government can formulate taxation policies that can be applicable to the company. Additionally, the regulatory agencies can assess the firm’s commitment in complying with the laid stipulations. The report also provides the basis upon which the government and other agencies formulate policies that aim at strengthening effective norm in firms operation.

Public

The public also needs annual financial report to evaluate whether firms are in a position to continue with their social responsibility initiatives.

Management

Firms’ management teams use annual reports to assess their performance. As a result, they can make decisions and formulate plans that contribute towards their firm’s future growth. For example, from the financial statement, the management team can make decisions associated with sourcing long-term financial capital by undertaking Initial Public Offer (IPOs). Other decisions that the firm can undertake relate to goodwill and brand valuation. Additionally, mergers and acquisition decisions are also greatly based on the information provided in the annual financial statements.

Conclusion

From the analysis above, it is evident that annual financial reports are an important component of an organisation’s operation. However, preparing an annual report is a complex process. As a result, the annual financial report should be interesting for this element will significantly enhance reading even amongst the laypersons. Preparation of the annual report should also be a teamwork process. Therefore, it should integrate various stakeholders such as accountants and the corporate affairs department. In a bid to improve the credibility of the annual reports, the firms’ management teams should ensure adherence to a high degree of transparency and quality. Transparency is realisable via disclosing all the information that is relevance to various users. Failure to disclose accounting information or identification of the slightest discrepancy in the reporting process can result into the firm’s failure for such a discrepancy can result in significant decline in the firm’s public reputation. The analysis has also shown that annual financial reporting plays an important role in communicating to various stakeholders. For example, the shareholders can determine the degree of stewardship and accountability amongst the shareholders and director. For organisations to be effective in their annual financial reporting, they should have a clear framework. The framework should include the financial section, narrative section, and management analysis and discussion. The financial section is composed of various financial statements such as “the balance sheet, profit and loss account, cash flow statement, and a statement of total recognised losses and gains” (Ittelson, 1998, p.70). The financial information presented in the balance sheet enables investors and other stakeholders to gain knowledge regarding the firm’s financial position. One the other hand, the income statement enables investors to determine the firm’s profitability. From the cash flow statement, an investor can determine movement of cash in and out of the organisation.

The narrative section is constituted of a number of issues. The management discussion and analysis touches on a number of reports such as a report on satisfactoriness of the internal control measures implemented and a report on fairness of the financial statements. The discussion should also include a director’s report, which outlines a number of issues associated with the preparation of the annual report coupled with outlining the names of the directors present during the financial period. Additionally, the directors’ report also outlines the recommended dividends. It is also important for firms’ management teams to ensure that the relevant notes accompany the annual reports. Additionally, the report should outline the accounting policies used in the preparation of the financial statement. The accounting policies will form a basis upon which potential investors will make a decision regarding the firm’s performance. The auditor’s report enhances the fairness of the financial report presented. By following the above framework, the annual report will be relevant to diverse stakeholders such as the employees, current and present investors, the government and other regulatory agencies, suppliers, management, and credit financiers. Through effective preparation and preparation of annual financial reports, organisations can determine the probability of their future financial success. Additionally, the annual reports can contribute towards the firms attaining higher competitive advantage through improvement in their public image and reputation.

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