A financial statement is a formal report of the financial activities of a business, person, or other entity. Financial statements are a key component of accounting; they represent the process of communicating information about a financial entity. Financial statements are presented in a structured manner with conventions accepted by accounting and regulatory personnel. An entity’s financial statement typically includes four basic components: a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, and statement of changes in equity:
|Balance Sheet||Reports on a company’s assets, liabilities and ownership equity. A balance sheet is often described as a “snapshot of a company’s financial condition” at a single point in time. Balance sheets are usually presented with assets in one section and liabilities and net worth in the other.|
|Income Statement||Reports on a company’s expenses and profits to show whether the company made or lost money. It also displays the revenues of a specific period, and the cost and expenses charged against these revenues. In contrast with the balance sheet, which represents a single moment in time, the income statement represents a period of time|
|Cash Flow Statement||Shows how changes in income affect cash and cash equivalents, breaking the analysis down to operating, investing and financing. Essentially, the cash flow statement is concerned with the flow of cash in and out of the business. As an analytical tool, a cash flow statement is useful in determining the short-term viability of a company.|
|Statement of Changes in Equity||Explains the company’s equity throughout the reporting period. The statement breaks down changes in the owners’ interest in the organization and in the application of retained profit or surplus from one accounting period to the next. Line items typically include profits or losses, dividends paid, redemption of stock, and any other items credited to retained earnings.|
For complex entities, financial statements often include an extensive set of notes as an explanation of financial policies. The notes typically describe each item in detail. For example, the notes may explain financial figures or the accounting methods used to prepare the statement.
Readers of a financial statement are seeking to understand key facts about the performance and disposition of a business. They make decisions about the business based on their reading of the statements. Because financial statements are widely relied upon, they must be straightforward to read and understand.
For large corporations, these statements are often complex and may include an extensive set of notes to the financial statements and explanation of financial policies and management discussion and analysis. The notes typically describe each item on the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement in further detail. Notes to financial statements are considered an integral part of the financial statements.
Owners and managers frequently use financial statements to make important business decisions, for example:
Other individuals and entities use financial statements, for instance:
The limitations of financial statements include inaccuracies due to intentional manipulation of figures; cross-time or cross-company comparison difficulties if statements are prepared with different accounting methods; and an incomplete record of a firm’s economic prospects, some argue, due to a sole focus on financial measures.
One limitation of financial statements is that they are open to human interpretation and error, in some cases even intentional manipulation of figures. Due to the events that transpired in the Enron scandal, there has been some mistrust regarding the validity of the content of financial statements. High-profile cases in which management manipulated figures in financial statements to indicate inflated economic performance highlighted the need to review the effectiveness of accounting standards, auditing regulations, and corporate governance principles.
As a result, there has been renewed focus on the objectivity and independence of auditing firms. An audit of the financial statements of a public company is usually required for investment, financing, and tax purposes, and these are usually performed by independent accountants or auditing firms and included in the annual report. Additionally, in terms of corporate governance, managing officials like the CEO and CFO are personally liable for attesting that financial statements are not untrue or misleading, and making or certifying misleading financial statements exposes the people involved to substantial civil and criminal liability.
Another set of limitations of financial statements arises from different ways of accounting for activities across time periods and across companies. This can make it difficult to compare a company’s finances across time or to compare finances across companies. Different countries have developed their own accounting principles, making international comparisons of companies difficult. However, the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), a set of guidelines and rules, are one means by which uniformity and comparability between financial statements is improved. Recently there has been a push toward standardizing accounting rules made by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).
Another limit to financial statements as a window into the creditworthiness or investment attractiveness of an entity is that financial statements focus solely on financial measures of health. Even traditional investment analysis incorporates information outside of the financial statements to make organizational assessments. However, other methods such as full cost accounting (FCA) or true cost accounting (TCA) argue that an organization’s health cannot just be determined by its economic characteristics. Therefore, one needs to collect and present information about environmental, social, and economic costs and benefits (collectively known as the “triple bottom line”) to make an accurate evaluation.
Source: THIS CONTENT HAS BEEN ADAPTED FROM LUMEN LEARNING'S "INTRODUCING FINANCIAL STATEMENTS" TUTORIAL.