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Hammering the Last Screw on the Balance Sheet
by Gopinath Rao
Ramphal Singh is one of my old friends. He is an interior decorator by profession and firmly believed that everything could be covered up by some good workmanship- including the financial statements. He was the one who suggested that the outer cover of the financials we give does not match with the white paper inside.
He called me. "Our bankers are scheduled to meet me, give me some hints to explain my financial position. I am having some good jobs on hand this year and I need bank facilities to complete them" he said.
I had suggested him a few years back to have a proper accountant. "Keep every thing in order. That will facilitate my work" I had told him. He had agreed.
I went to his office next day. He had made one extra room and up there it was written "Accounts Dept". He had a few cupboards and a few files inside. Two computers and a printer appeared on the table. "See, everything looks proper" he told me. I opened some of the files - all were empty. I asked him which program he bought.
"Windows" came in the reply.
"No. For accounting " I asked again.
"Excel" he replied.
I thought talking to him like this is useless. "Where is the accountant I sent?" I asked.
He looked around. "Must be here only. He does odd jobs like cutting plywood, painting the boards etc when ever he is free" came in the reply. "..But he is useless" he added.
"Why. What happened?" I asked him.
"He says final invoice must be close to the estimate given " he went on saying "does not know that we should put as big an amount as possible in the final invoice"
He got a call and started talking on the phone. I thought about making a round tour of his workshop and took off. To my surprise, I saw the accountant in the workshop. He was hammering a screw into a box. I was stunned. Upon seeing me, he stopped and smiled. "It is a screw, supposed to be screwed in" I told. "No problem sir it goes, I know that. But this is easy". Pat came the reply. Laughing loudly he continued. " An accountant need not know this. Does he?"
I asked him to come along with me.
We came back to the office. My friend ordered for tea.
I wanted to start the process.
"OK where are the invoices? I asked looking at the accountant.
He rotated his head redirecting me to the owner.
"All are given to the customers" he explained.
"OK OK. Where are the copies?' I asked looking at the accountant.
The accountant redirected me again to the owner.
"Some are given in duplicate to the customers, some are probably with the delivery boys and some may be here", he pulled out the drawer and started searching.
"But how can you keep track of the payments received if you do not have the copies filed properly? I raised my voice and questioned the accountant.
As usual, he redirected me to the owner.
"I have noted them down here" said Ramphal. He took out an old diary. The front and back covers are partly torn and bandaged at some places. I remembered seeing the same when I had visited him a few years back. The owner took the gum tape and started sincerely sticking together a few pages that had given away.
He will not improve, I thought for myself.
"Don't look into all these. Give me a balance sheet and the bank Manager has agreed to arrange for the facility. They will come for discussion and that day we will show them the contracts we have signed and submit them the balance sheet. That's it". He explained in the simplest way.
"But balance sheet on what basis and on which papers?" I asked.
He looked as if to indicate how silly I am and answered "not on the usual white paper, get some executive bond, don't worry, I will pay for it"
There is a saying "be a Roman in Rome. No point in taking accountancy classes just because I know it. I might as well forget accounting and deal with him!" I thought
'Now tell me why exactly you need bank facilities?' I queried.
He felt at home on this sensible question. He took out a file and patting on it he said" we got this big project- we are the interior decorators for this hotel project coming up at Sheikh Zayed Road" he told proudly. This is a USD 2.4 million project. We need funds to import the raw material" he was tense
" OK" I said. I felt I could convince the bankers to fund this as "one off "transaction. May be they will ask for direct payment to bank and an engineer's certificate on percentage of completed work. No need for financials.
"I will join you tomorrow. We will explain things to them" I told and started off
"Wait. Wait. Tell me something that I should talk to them when they are here. I will get those lines by heart. They should not feel that I am a dumb fellow" he begged.
" See, you are good at interior decoration. Tell them that. Tell them how would you plan the interiors at the hotel. Leave financials to me. I will handle it" I told him.
"I need a minimum of USD one million for material" he showed his concern. "And some overdraft for salaries. I need to get 50 carpenters from Punjab. All of them need to be paid. I am likely to start getting payments only after 30% of the work is complete" he told all that was bothering him.
"Leave it to me, I will handle" I told him again.
Do you think I should say "I am strong financially or weak? The Manager told he would decide on the balance sheet. Are you making it strong or weak?" he had all the curiosity in the world.
I smiled. He was more worried
'The manager was telling me I should be financially strong. Why the hell I need bank finance if I am financially strong? I am in fact weak. I need bank finance but the manager says if my balance sheet is weak, he cant help it" I could see the tension on his face.
The tea arrived. Good strong tea. That's why I have always liked the tea here.
"See like this strong tea. Make a strong balance sheet. The bank manager should like it" he commented sipping his cup of tea. 'But I do not know why they want to finance me if I am already strong" he was still wondering.
I smiled and went on sipping my cup of tea.
"Now do not sit here smile all along. I am depending on you. I need the bank to finance me'at any cost" he begged
"Ramphal, do not worry. I will get you bank finance. Now let me go" I started off
"Wait. Wait I have something for you "said Ramphal and started searching. In the meantime he saw the accountant standing there. 'Come on Dayanand, where is it?' He shouted
Dayanand also hurried and started searching.
"What are you searching for?" I asked Dayanand, the accountant.
"I am not sure. But just trying to help him" A perfect assistant in deed!
"I had borrowed the copy of balance sheet of Excellent Interiors. I kept it somewhere here. They had succeeded in getting bank facilities of USD 500,000. You could have copied the design with double measurements and USD 1 million would have been easy" quipped Ramphal
"No need". I told Ramphal "I can manage without a sample"
He still searched for a good five minutes but without success. "It was a good twelve pages with a lot of figures" he started explaining " and Sadiq (he is the owner Excellent Interiors) told me that the bank gave facilities just like this" he said producing a sound using his thumb his middle finger.
'Forget it, I am seasoned enough to manage without that. Do you have confidence in me?" I asked - to instil confidence in him.
"Of course, I know it very well. Your knowledge in these matters is beyond doubt. My problem is if anybody tries to question me, I am not comfortable" he showed all his apprehension.
'Don't worry, I will come before they come, be with you all along till such time they are here and leave only after they leave" I consoled him and told him about my other commitments and started off.
When I was almost near my car, the accountant appeared. I felt sorry for him. I had sent him here with all recommendation as a good, neat accountant but he is doing all odd jobs here!
As he came near, I told him" I am sorry. Don't worry, let me try for you an accountants' job somewhere else " I patted him on the back
"Not necessary sir. I am happy here. I am learning a lot of things here and I am getting salary on time" told the accountant.
"Learning new things? Like what?" I was amused.
"Now I know to fully decorate coffin and it is the best paid job. People do not mind spending a lot on the coffin specially when the one who died leaves behind a lot of property!!" he laughed and took out a thin paper box.
"Here it is sir, the copy of the balance sheet my boss was referring to," said the accountant. "I have changed the company name, year and doubled the figures everywhere. They predominantly use cardboard, plastic sheets, screws and nails sir, but we use plywood, laminating sheets and gum.. I could not find where and how to make this change sir" he expressed his inability.
I was not too sure what to say. In such circumstances, I always flash a broad smile.
'I am sure you will be able to find and change it too sir, I was shocked when you told me that the screw is to be screwed in, not to be hammered in as a nail.. you were here for only half an hour and you understood things pretty well" he was all praise for me as I smiled and drove off.
As I was driving, I looked at the file; all the twelve pages were all firmly and neatly filed and put in a box' and the box incidentally resembled a mini coffin!
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