Guest Author - Consuelo Herrera, CAMS, CFE
Financial Information for Decision Making
The ASIS , defines Financial Literacy saying that is all about people’s capacity to make informed judgements and to take effective decisions about the use and management of money. I further clarifies that it’s about making the right choices with the money and avoiding expensive mistakes. Finally it states that Financial Literacy is a vital skill in today’s world of increasingly complex financial decisions characterized by such things as easy access to credit , a bewildering array of savings and investment products and compulsory supeannuation. Their goal is to promote the confident and informed participation of investors and consumers in the financial system. These statements also are aligned with the Mission and Vision of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: The mission of the SEC is to protect investors; maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets; and facilitate capital formation. The SEC's vision is to strengthen the integrity and soundness of U.S. securities markets for the benefit of investors and other market participants, and to conduct its work in a manner that is as sophisticated, flexible, and dynamic as the securities markets it regulates.
If investors were aware of the importance of financial information, there would not be situations such as the one described in a recent SEC action where it obtained an asset freeze against an investment firm, alleging that they had misappropriated more than $50 million in investor assets.
According to the SEC, the aforementioned firm, which is not registered with the SEC, has misappropriated investor assets and misused two hedge funds they manage for Ponzi-like activity in which they used new investor money to pay off earlier investors. Nothing new here, a Ponzi Scheme, but it gets worse because the SEC’s investigation found out that the firm attempted to hide the fact that his hedge funds were missing assets. How? by providing the SEC staff with a false letter from an accountant from overseas that purported to verify the existence of close to $300 million in assets held by one of the funds. Those assets do not exist. The morale here is that investors must be diligent when the make their investment and spread their wealth.
So, what are the sources of financial information available to investors, government agencies, and tax authorities?. This fall under the following categories:
• Financial statements
• Notes to the financial statements
• Supplementary information
• Other means of financial reporting
• Other information.
Examples of financial statements are the Statement of financial Position, Statement of Earnings and Comprehensive Income, Statement of cash flows and statement of investments by and distributions to owners. The Notes to the financial statements relevant for decision making are: accounting policies disclosures, oil and gas reserve information, etc. Other means of financial reporting are, for example, newsletter and press releases, communication from management to stockholders, proposed marketing strategy, etc. Examples of Other Information include Discussion the SEC Form 10-K, Analysts reports, economic statistics and other information about the organization. The annual report on Form 10-K provides a comprehensive overview of the company's business and financial condition and includes audited financial statements. Although similarly named, the annual report on Form 10-K is distinct from the “annual report to shareholders,” which a company must send to its shareholders when it holds an annual meeting to elect directors.
One of the major matters that concerns investors and regulators the same is Manipulation. The SEC defines Manipulation as: Manipulation is intentional conduct designed to deceive investors by controlling or artificially affecting the market for a security. Manipulation can involve a number of techniques to affect the supply of, or demand for, a stock. They include: spreading false or misleading information about a company; improperly limiting the number of publicly-available shares; or rigging quotes, prices or trades to create a false or deceptive picture of the demand for a security. Those who engage in manipulation are subject to various civil and criminal sanctions. Never underestimate the importance of financial information when making decisions. Preventing manipulation is a responsibility that accountants undertake by properly assessing information and providing advice to their clients.