Accounts receivable represents a major asset for many companies. But how do your company’s receivables compare to others? Here’s the skinny on receivables ratios, including how they’re computed and sources of potential benchmarking data.

Starting point

A logical starting point for evaluating the quality of receivables is the days sales outstanding (DSO) ratio. This represents the average number of days you take to collect money after booking sales. It can be computed by dividing the average accounts receivable balance by annual revenues and then multiplying the result by 365 days.

Companies that are diligent about managing receivables may be rewarded with lower DSO ratios. Those with relatively high DSO ratios may have “stale” receivables on the books. In some cases, these accounts may be overdue by 31 to 90 days — or longer. If more than 20% of receivables are stale, it may indicate lax collection habits, a poor-quality customer base or other serious issues.

The percentage of delinquent accounts is another critical number. You may decide to outsource these accounts to third-party collectors to eliminate the hassles of making collections calls and threatening legal actions to collect what you’re owed.

Potential risks

Accounts receivable also may be a convenient place to hide fraud because of the high volume of transactions involved. When receivables are targeted in a fraud scheme, it’s common for there to be an increase in stale receivables, a higher percentage of write-offs compared to previous periods, or an increase in receivables as a percentage of sales or total assets.

In addition to creating phony invoices or customers, a dishonest worker may engage in lapping scams. This happens when a receivables clerk assigns payments to incorrect accounts to conceal systematic embezzlement. For example, a fraudster might steal Company A’s payment and cover it up by subsequently applying Company B’s payment to Company A’s outstanding balance. Then Company C’s payment is later applied to Company B’s outstanding balance, and so on.

Alternatively, a fraudster may send the customer an inflated invoice and then “skim” the difference after applying the legitimate amount to the customer’s account. Using separate employees for invoicing and recording payments helps reduce the likelihood that skimming will occur, unless two or more employees work together to steal from their employer.

Call for help

Like any valuable asset, accounts receivable needs to be managed and safeguarded. Auditors evaluate receivables as part of their standard auditing procedures, including performing ratio analysis, sending confirmation letters and reconciling bank deposits with customer receipts.
Contact us if you have any concerns regarding receivables midyear or your financial statements aren’t audited. In addition to surprise audits, we can customize an agreed-upon-procedures engagement that zeroes in on receivables.

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