Also known as a financial audit, an accounting audit is a term describing a thorough review and examination of a company's accounting and financial records. The purpose of such audits is to verify the reliability and accuracy of accounting records, correct any errors and test internal controls. The methods of large corporations are also valid for small organizations. Small businesses are vulnerable to internal theft and fraud. Auditing serves as a method to confirm an accounting department is functioning normally and make recommendations for improvement.


The first step in an audit is designation of the auditor or audit team. Many small business owners will elect to personally direct or assist the auditor selected. A business owner may simply select someone regarded as beyond reproach from inside the organization who is qualified to conduct an audit. Having an "insider" and someone independent provides a balance in perspectives. The audit team must familiarize themselves with relevant policies, procedures and internal controls.

Department Review

Confirm that accounting policies exist in writing. Business owners should conduct a self-assessment of their management tone toward ethics and honesty. Build integrity from the top down. Review controls that restrict access to accounting applications. Assess the duties of accounting personnel. Verify that incompatible duties are segregated. As an example, persons who collect cash should not also count it and prepare deposits. Evaluate hiring standards for trusted employees and establish pre-employment background screening if not in place. Confirm that training on policies and procedures regarding transactions is documented. Make sure a zero-tolerance policy toward employee theft is communicated.

Source Documentation

Accounting audits will include a review of most aspects of procurement and purchasing; shipping and receiving; inventory control; sales records; accounts receivable, accounts payable and payroll accounts; cash accounts and any other designated areas. Auditors are aware that a paper trail must exist for journal entries to be valid. Purchases require purchase orders or authorizations, delivery records, invoices and billing statements from suppliers. This "trail" must be preserved and available for inspection as a basis for auditors. Cash sales must have invoices, receipts or cash terminal records to support them. Customers purchasing on credit also should have source documentation, records of payments on account and any record of credit and returns. Payroll must verify the identity of a real employee with an approved time card prior to payment. These examples illustrate that numbers in journals or automated accounting applications must conform to source documents.


The audit process involves verification to confirm the validity of source documentation. Verification is the process of reviewing invoices, billing statements and other documents such as purchasing records to verify the document in question is genuine. Auditors typically call or contact a sampling of vendors to verify the invoices and amounts listed on sales documents. In the same way, auditors will contact customers to confirm the balances showing on the account or contact customers whose balances show as overdue or written off to bad debt. It is advisable for auditors to observe physical inventories to compare against company records.