Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: A Warning Sign

Dear Diary,

Betty Bookkeeper HeadshotToday sucked… and I mean, straight up sucked.

There I was, minding my own business, when in walks the boss with a receipt. On the receipt are stamped the letters C.O.D. It was from one of our vendors that apparently hasn’t been paid in so long, they’ve changed our account from credit to C.O.D.

“What is this, Betty?” the boss asked me. “Why has ABC Hardware turned our credit account into a Cash-on-Delivery account? I’ve been with them for five years, and they’re saying we’re three months behind in our payments. I told Bill – the boss over there – that it can’t be right. We’ve never missed a payment with them, but their bookkeeper swears we’re late. What’s going on?”

I looked at him as innocently as I could, and shrugged. “It has to be a mistake, Boss. I’m certain we’re current.”

“Can you call them and fix this, please?”

“Sure. No problem.”

Then, the boss practically tosses the bill at me and storms out of my office.

I picked up the phone line, figuring he’d probably be watching the extension from his office to make sure I called, but I didn’t bother dialing the number right away. I knew the truth – we were behind. I should have made that payment a while ago, but I knew if I sent it, the checking account would go in the hole. Since I wasn’t quite sure how far behind we were, I figured I’d better check.

Typing a few things into the computer, I saw that we were about $1,200 behind. That wasn’t too bad. So I did actually call the bookkeeper over at ABC Hardware. When she got on the phone, I said, “Hey, Jane. How’s it going?”

“Betty,” she said coldly.

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A few choice words ran through my head, but of course I kept them to myself. “Listen, Jane. I just got reamed by my boss about some notice he got from your company. He said you made our account a C.O.D. account. What’s up with that?”

“Well, Betty, you’re company’s late in paying us. And it’s not the first time.”

“Well, Jane… I just mailed a check for $1,200 a couple days ago. Have you checked your mail today?”

“’The check’s in the mail?’ Really, Betty? You’ve used that one before. And then we never got the check. So my boss decided to make your account C.O.D. from now on. Besides, you owe us $3,100 – not $1,200.”

No kidding. “Are you sure about that? I only have invoices for $1,200.”

“I’m sure. In fact, I emailed you and faxed you hard copies of the invoices several times over the last couple months.”

The temptation to hang up on her was irresistible, but I didn’t. “Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what happened to the invoices. And I did send you $1,200 just a couple days ago. So, what’s it going to take to forget this whole C.O.D. thing?”

“If you want the account to revert back to a credit account, you need to pay the balance in full immediately. That’s the only way.”

“Okay. I can do that. I’ll put a check in the mail today.”

“No, that’s alright. I’ll come and pick it up.”

Of course you will, you snotty… “Okie dokie. How about five o’ clock? I can have a check for you by then.” And the boss will be gone by four, so he’ll never see the real balance due.

“Fine, see you at five.” Then, she actually hung up on me.

Long story short, I had to scramble and figure out a way to pay $3,100 without letting the boss know what was going on. It took me a bit, but I finally figured out that I could write a balance transfer check from one of the new credit cards I opened in the company’s name…a credit card that goes to the Company P.O. Box the boss doesn’t know about.

I told the boss it was just a misunderstanding, and that Jane actually found our payment in the mail that day…so there should be no problem from now on. The boss went back to thinking I’m a genius, and Jane showed up at 4:45 – Eager twit.

All I have to say now is: Man, that was a close call!

*******************************************************************

Why This is a Warning Sign

superhero_edited_no_maskA lot of small business owners don’t realize it, but when a credit account is changed to a C.O.D. account, that’s usually a BIG warning sign that “the business is suffering”. (Notice, I’m NOT saying anyone’s embezzling…this is quite simply a sign that the business needs to handle their finances better, and possibly their cash better as well.) Most vendors that offer credit to their preferred clients are loathe to take that line of credit away if it means they might lose a business as a customer. Usually, the only reason a vendor would change a credit account is if there is a history of serious delinquency or bounced checks. So the minute any vendor demands a COD payment, realize that your company’s credit history is on shaky ground and become proactive.

How to Know for Sure

Should the above scenario happen to your company, don’t go running to your bookkeeper first. Instead, ask the bookkeeper at your vendor’s company to print up a Statement of at least 90 days to 6 months so that you have a record of EXACTLY how your bookkeeper has been paying them. Look it over and take note of how far apart the payments are. Are there any amounts that were subtracted and added back on? (That could be the sign of a bounced check.) Most credit accounts require a minimum of one payment a month, while some require more. Ask the other bookkeeper what the terms are for your company, and THEN approach your bookkeeper.

Before you make any accusations, however, there is one more thing you can do to double check your bookkeeper. When you have the Vendor’s Statement for your company in hand, ask your bookkeeper for the last three bank statements. Also, ask for a “Check Detail” listing all of the checks for the same three months. A good bookkeeper will know exactly where those bank statements are and will be able to give you both documents in less than 10 minutes. (The key is to ask for this information immediately and DO NOT let your bookkeeper put you off ‘til the end of the day…they can cover their tracks if given too much time.) Then, when you have the Vendor Statement, the Check Detail, and the Bank Statements in your hand, do a quick check for the following:

  • Highlight the check numbers listed on your Vendor Statement.
  • Find the corresponding check numbers on your Check Detail printout. From here, you will be able to tell exactly when the check was supposed to have been printed and then mailed. The dates should be a week apart if the vendor is in town…up to 10 days if the vendor. (Of course, the time it takes to cash a check also depends on how big the vendor is.)
  • Now check the bank statements for the same check numbers. Do the dollar amounts actually match, and when were the checks cashed? Sometimes, the other company may hold onto the check for any number of reasons, but it will give you a good idea of how long the check cashing process takes with THAT particular vendor…and how long your bookkeeper may be holding checks.

Your Bookkeeper May Be Embezzling if…

Now, before I tell you exactly what to look for as far as embezzling goes, let me just say one thing. This does NOT 100% mean that your bookkeeper is embezzling. There can be reasons for any discrepancies you find. However, if you do find the following discrepancies, don’t be stupid and sit on your hands either. Ask an accountant or an independent bookkeeping company for help immediately. Make a backup of your bookkeeping program without the bookkeeper’s knowledge, and put that aside…(you may need it later).

And whatever else you do… DO NOT…I repeat… DO NOT confront your bookkeeper with what you find. If your bookkeeper IS an embezzler, the MINUTE you accuse them of anything, they will WIPE their hard drive, and your bookkeeping program, and they will destroy any evidence of embezzlement you may have in your office. Be certain first, and then do a cold hard lockout. The minute you KNOW – without a doubt – that they’re embezzling, DO NOT let them back in the office, and disconnect the bookkeeping computer from the internet. (You don’t want them logging on remotely to destroy your bookkeeping program.)

  • To know if your bookkeeper might be embezzling, look at the Check Run and look at the Bank Statements. Do the check numbers and amounts match? Bookkeepers can always go in and change the check names and amounts later on (which they will do if they want to show the boss an inflated bank balance), but the Bank Statements will give them away every time.
  • Another thing to pay attention to…are the checks being cashed months after they were written? If they are, then your bookkeeper was sitting on them for some reason (probably to make sure they didn’t bounce)…but keep in mind, YOU may have told your bookkeeper to hold those checks. That happens a lot, so don’t make any accusations unless you’re sure you did NOT ask the checks to be held.

Again, this is just a warning sign, but it’s a good sign to look for. Do not ignore it.

 

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