Introduction to Managerial Accounting
Regardless of your major or intended career path, most of you will become managers one day. A
manager has responsibility and control of selected parts of a company’s operations, or in some cases,
multiple aspects of operations. Only those of you that happen to stay at the ‘bottom’ of a company,
prefer never to get promoted, or never accept any responsibility for some aspect of a business, will
miss the ‘management’ opportunity. Fortunately, none of you will likely fall into this persona given
that you have taken the initiative to attend college. Understanding managerial accounting will help you
move up the ladder more quickly, regardless of your chosen career path.
How Can Managerial Accounting Help You?
In any responsible business capacity, your boss and all other management levels above you will want
to know how well you handle your responsibilities. To do so requires that they measure your
performance. The evaluation process is similar to your perceptions in each college course in which
you enroll. During your first class meeting in each course, one of your initial goals is to find out how
your performance will be evaluated. In a business environment, you want to know what they expect,
i.e., how they will measure your performance. While you won’t be earning letter grades in the business
world, your performance will ultimately translate into promotions, bonuses, raises, reprimands, or
perhaps dreaded walking papers.
Tools of Performance Measurement
Managers use a number of tools to measure performance. The approach to measurement depends on
what will be measured and against what benchmark the performance will be measured. A benchmark
can be viewed as a goal to meet, or a standard that management expects its employees to achieve. A
significant management component involves planning, which is accomplished through the use of
budgets. Recall from financial accounting that the primary purposes of being in business are to make a
profit and to add value to a company. Budgets are forecasts of how the profits and value-added aspects
will be achieved, in other words, a company’s financial plan. For example, as a manager you may be
given a budget that tells you how much to spend, how many units to produce, or how many customers
to process. These items will become benchmarks that management will use as measurement tools. At
the end of the period, your actual performance will be compared the budget amounts to see how well
you have performed. You must understand what the numbers in budgets represent and how the
managers that prepare budgets determined the amounts. Why? You will certainly want to know how
to maximize your performance evaluation. For example, if a large portion of your grade in this course
was based on attendance, you would maximize performance by attending class every day. You may
strive to process customers promptly in a business operation if that is the basis on which your
performance evaluation is based. That’s where managerial accounting comes in. It will provide you
with an understanding of what goes into the benchmarks by which you will be evaluated.
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What is Managerial Accounting?
Managerial accounting is often referred to as management accounting. The Institute of Management
Accountants describes management accounting as “the internal business-building role of accounting
and finance professionals who design, implement, and manage internal systems that support effective
decisions, and support, plan, and control the organization's value-creating operations.”1 In short,
managerial accounting supports the decision making process through planning and controlling
operations. Planning primarily appears in the budgeting process. Controlling occurs when managers
compare actual performance with budgeted amounts to identify differences and then act upon
differences that appear to be significant.
Comparing Managerial and Financial Accounting
So how does managerial accounting differ from financial accounting? Both provide information to
users to make decisions. One difference between the two concerns which users for which the
information is provided. Financial accounting provides information to stockholders, creditors and
others who are external to the company. Managerial accounting focuses on users inside the company.
This internal group includes all levels of management, and sometimes various employee groups.
A number of distinctions between financial and managerial accounting can be made which appear in
Compared to financial accounting, managerial accounting:
• Is more flexible
• Does not focus on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)
• Has a future rather than past focus
• Is more timely
• Emphasizes parts of a company (the details), rather than the whole company
• Emphasizes both qualitative and quantitative information
Figure 1-1 Comparison of Financial and Managerial Accounting
While a few reports are standardized, many are ‘off the cuff’ or spontaneous ideas converted into an
analysis that might be helpful for decision making. A manager might decide to compare administrative
costs at the east and west divisions, or determine the cost difference if a new type of plastic is used to
manufacture rulers, or any number of other non-standard analyses that may help with decision making.
Because managerial accounting information is used solely for internal purposes, it does not have to
comply with GAAP. Outside agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the
Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provide
reporting rules and guidelines for external reports. These agencies are concerned whether a company’s
external reports are in compliance with GAAP because users outside the company rely on the
information. External users want to know what actually happened, not what is being planned or how a
company analyzes its costs. No rules or specific formats exist for a company’s internal reports, so
management free-forms many to meet the decision at hand.
Managerial accounting emphasizes the future while the past is the emphasis with financial accounting.
What appears in financial accounting reports is historical in nature, representing results of transactions
1 1 What is Management Accounting?. Institute of Management Accountants, <http://www.imanet.org/about_management.asp>
Chapter 1 – Introduction to Managerial Accounting
that have already occurred. Managerial accounting is often considered forward-looking in that much of
it represents expectations for the future. While the latter often uses past results as a basis for estimating
future results, financial accounting specifically avoids any forecasting or predictions for the future to
avoid misleading external users.
Managerial accounting is more timely than financial accounting in that analyses are created as needed,
rather than periodically at the end of accounting periods as occurs with financial accounting. This
often forces the use of estimated amounts which may not be as accurate as actual results. This sacrifice
of accuracy is given up in order to get information more quickly so decisions can be made as quick as
Emphasis on parts and details
Managerial accounting focuses on segments and products of an organization, while financial
accounting focuses on the company as a whole. For example, for external reporting purposes, General
Electric reports gross profit on its income statement which reflects the gross profit of its entire product
line. While a potential investor or customer may prefer to know how much profit is associated with a
particular model of dishwasher, General Electric prefers to keep such detailed information
confidential. On the other hand, an internal report made available to management would certainly
contain profit information related to individual products and product lines. From a managerial
accounting perspective, General Electric focuses on individual products and services or the parts of a
company’s operations with lots of detail. From the financial accounting perspective, General Electric
focuses on the company as a whole.
Emphasizes on both quantitative and qualitative considerations
Managerial reporting is unique in that qualitative considerations receive a fair amount of attention in
decision making. Qualitative aspects are those items that cannot be quantified into amounts. They
include ‘touchy-feely’ considerations such as employee morale, community and environmental effects,
and the company’s public image. Because qualitative items cannot be easily converted into dollars,
they do not appear in external financial reports.
Goals of Managerial Accounting
The goal of managerial accounting is to provide information for internal decision making, primarily
for planning and control purposes. The types of decisions made by managers rely substantially on
accounting information. Because financial accounting information does not provide enough detail for
internal decisions, it must be broken into more detail of the individual products or services provided
by a company. Not only do managers need to know the cost of a product or service, they need the
costs broken into smaller components so they are able to perform ‘what-if’ analyses and forecasts for
the future. Some types of decisions that managers often make include pricing products, dropping a
product or product line, buying new equipment to replace old, evaluating the performance of managers
or divisions of a company, or making rather than buying a part or product. The two primary functions
of managerial accounting are planning and controlling. Both of these help managers accomplish
A Management Function: Planning
From an accounting perspective, planning is the communication of a company’s goals. Because
ultimately a company’s results are translated into dollars, planning is achieved through the budgeting
process as a basis for decisions made by managers. Budgets are the financial plans of a company.
They identify the sources or inflows of economic resources, and the uses or outflows of economic
resources of a company. Recall from financial accounting that assets are economic resources that
provide future benefits. Budgets identify where assets will come from and where they will be used.
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They ultimately create benchmarks of profits, cash flows, and financial position that the company
expects to achieve.
Another Management Function: Controlling
The controlling function is achieved through measuring performance, comparing the actual
performance with budgets, and taking action when needed. Managers use different approaches to
analyze performance, a number of which are covered in this text. Both the performance of managers
and the performance of a segment, product, or other unit of company are measured.
To illustrate, suppose the Jacksonville Jaguars make it to the Super Bowl this season. To do so, they
must perform well. In the case of football, performing well equates to winning football games.
Determining who performed well is a bit more challenging. Was it the ‘manager’ of the football
team—the coach? Or was it the team itself? If we credit the coach, we are evaluating the manager. If
we credit the team, we are evaluating the team as a whole. The same concepts apply to most business
operations. We can evaluate managers or the company segments for which they are responsible. What
action might be taken as a result of exemplary performance? The coach may be offered an extended
contract. For a poor performance (a number of lost football games), the head coach may be fired. In
these two cases, the manager, i.e., the coach, is being evaluated. Is it really the coach who wins or
loses the games, or is the performance of the entire team responsible? The key is to be sure you know
what you are evaluating (controlling)—the manager, or the department, segment, or unit for which the
manager is responsible.
Effects of Technology on Manager Decisions
Recent escalations of technology impact a number of management decisions. Most notably, the
Internet has broadened competition due to the increase of access to suppliers and customers. Not only
has the Internet enhanced a company’s ability to obtain materials and services needed, it has enabled a
company to market its own products and services worldwide. Within a company, technology has
automated many processes that had been formally performed by manual labor. As a result, companies
have eliminated employees and acquired more plant assets such as equipment. Because computers
capture data automatically, managers are desiring more information for decision making. They are no
longer satisfied with knowing how much one unit of product will cost. Instead, they want to know the
cost of each activity that goes into creating a product or service. Technology’s impact on multiple
activities has caused managers to focus on all aspects of a company’s value chain.
What is the Value Chain?
A value chain includes all the activities of a company which ‘add value’ to the company’s goods or
services. To add value means to contribute something to make it worth more. The concept of a value
chain was made popular in 1985 by Micheal Porter.2 A value chain includes all the steps a company
goes through in order to get it product or service to a customer. Porter calls these the ‘value-adding’
activities of a company. For our purposes, they include
• Acquiring materials, supplies, and services
• The production process
• Selling and marketing
• Delivery to customers and the related service or maintenance of those customers
• Related "support activities" including: all those activities that support the production of
goods or services, such as administration, human resources, R&D, accounting, payroll,
facilities cleaning, etc.
Every company has a value chain, although components may vary somewhat among companies.
Because the activities in the chain involve costs, managerial accounting involves planning and
2 Michael Porter. Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance, New York, NY. The Free Press.
Chapter 1 – Introduction to Managerial Accounting
controlling all the value chain activities. As you continue through this text, you will see how many of
these activities are analyzed, how their costs are determined, and how they are used in the decision
Management Accounting Responsibility
The controller is responsible for performing managerial accounting activities, i.e., the planning and
controlling activities necessary for decision making. He or she is considered the top managerial
accountant and is responsible for not only the topics we will cover in this text, but also the external
financial and tax reporting aspects of a company’s financial system. More recently as a result of the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), companies must assess and document their internal control
structure. This Act added more responsibility to the corporate controller. The controller’s areas of
responsibility appear in Figure 1-2.
Figure 1-2 Controller’s Areas of Responsibility
Most of you will be relieved to know that the content of the managerial accounting course will seem
more practical than financial accounting. There is more emphasis on making decisions and learning
how accounting information is modified to enhance the decision making process. You will focus more
on products and services and the related profit aspects, rather than the company as a whole. You will
notice considerably fewer journal entries because you already understand how transactions impact
financial statements. (Do I hear cheering?!)
With that in mind, don’t let your guard down. The first few chapters introduce a number of new
categories and classifications for costs. Understanding the classifications really, really well is crucial
to understanding the concepts that follow since cost categories are the basis of almost every topic
throughout the course.