Comparing Financial & Managerial Accounting

Managerial and financial accounting are used by every business, and there are important differences in their reporting functions. Those differences are detailed in the table below.

Comparing Reports between Financial and Managerial Accounting. By: Rice University OpenStax CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 
Users of reports External users: stockholders, creditors, regulators Internal users: managers, officers, and other employees
Types of reports Financial statements: balance sheet, income statement, cash­flow statement, etc. Internal reports: job cost sheet, cost of goods manufactured, production cost report, etc.
Frequency of reports Quarterly; annually As frequently as needed
Purpose of reports Helps those external users make decisions: credit terms, investment, and other decisions Assists the internal users in the planning and control decision­making process
Focus of reports Pertains to company as a whole Uses GAAP structure Composed from a multitude or combination of other more individual data Pertains to departments, sections of the business Very detailed reporting No GAAP constraints
Nature of reports Monetary Monetary and nonmonetary information
Verification of reports Audited by CPA No independent audits

Users of Reports

The information generated from the reports of financial accountants tends to be used primarily by external users, including the creditors, tax authorities and regulators, investors, customers, competitors, and others outside the company, who rely on the financial statements and annual reports to access information about a company in order to make more informed decisions. Since these external people do not have access to the documents and records used to produce the financial statements, they depend on Generally Applied Accounting Principles (GAAP). These outside users also depend greatly on the preparation of audits that are done by public accounting firms, under the guidelines and standards of either the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), or the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).

Managerial accounting information is gathered and reported for a more specific purpose for internal users, those inside the company or organization who are responsible for managing the company’s business interests and executing decisions. These internal users may include management at all levels in all departments, owners, and other employees. For example, in the budget development process, a company such as Tesla may want to project the costs of producing a new line of automobiles. The managerial accountants could create a budget to estimate the costs, such as parts and labor, and after the manufacturing process has begun, they can measure the actual costs, thus determining if they are over or under their budgeted amounts. Although outside parties might be interested in this information, companies like TeslaMicrosoft, and Boeing spend significant amounts of time and money to keep their proprietary information secret. Therefore, these internal budget reports are only available to the appropriate users. While you can find a cost of goods sold schedule in the financial statements of publicly traded companies, it is difficult for outside parties to break it down in order to identify the individual costs of products and services.

Types of Reports

Financial accounting information is communicated through reporting, such as the financial statements. The financial statements typically include a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, retained earnings statement, and footnotes. Managerial accounting information is communicated through reporting as well. However, the reports are more detailed and more specific and can be customized. One example of a managerial accounting report is a budget analysis (variance report) as shown in the table below. Other reports can include cost of goods manufactured, job order cost sheets, and production reports. Since managerial accounting is not governed by GAAP or other constraints, it is important for the creator of the reports to disclose all assumptions used to make the report. Since the reports are used internally, and not typically released to the general public, the presentation of any assumptions does not have to follow any industry-wide guidelines. Each organization is free to structure its reports in the format that organizes its information in the best way for it.


Example of a Budget (Variance) Analysis. By: Rice University OpenStax CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Categories Actual Budgeted Variance
Sales $ 500,000 $ 490,000 $ 10,000
Cost of Goods Sold (320,000) (290,000) (30,000)
Gross Margin 180,000 200,000 (20,000)
Selling & Administrative Expenses (75,000) (90,000) 15,000
Net Income 105,000 110,000 (5,000)

This type of analysis helps management to evaluate how effective they were at carrying out the plans and meeting the goals of the corporation. You will see many examples of reports and analyses that can be used as tools to help management make decisions.

Frequency of Reports

The financial statements are typically generated quarterly and annually, although some entities also require monthly statements. Much work is involved in creating the financial statements, and any adjustments to accounts must be made before the statements can be produced. A physical count inventory must be done to adjust the inventory and cost of goods sold accounts, depreciation must be calculated and entered, all prepaid asset accounts must be reviewed for adjustments, and so forth. The annual reports are not finalized for several weeks after the year-end, because they are based on historical data; for a company that is traded on one of the major or regional stock exchanges, it must have an audit of the financial statements conducted by an independent certified public accountant. This audit cannot be completed until after the end of the company’s fiscal year, because the auditors need access to all of the information for the company for that year. For companies that are privately held, an audit is not normally required. However, potential lenders might require an independent audit.

Conversely, managers can quickly attain managerial accounting information. No external, independent auditors are needed, and it is not necessary to wait until the year-end. Projections and estimates are adequate. Managers should understand that in order to obtain information quickly, they must accept less precision in the reporting. While there are several reports that are created on a regular basis (e.g., budgets and variance reports), many management reports are produced on an as-needed basis.

Purpose of Reports

The general purpose of financial statement reporting is to provide information about the results of operations, financial position, and cash flows of an organization. This data is useful to a wide range of users in order to make economic decisions. The purpose of the reporting done by management accountants is more specific to internal users. Management accountants make available the information that could assist companies in increasing their performance and profitability. Unlike financial reports, management reporting centers on components of the business. By dividing the business into smaller sections, a company is able to get into the details and analyze the smallest segments of the business.

An understanding of managerial accounting will assist anyone in the business world in determining and understanding product costs, analyzing break-even points, and budgeting for expenses and future growth (which will be covered in other parts of this course). As a manager, chief executive officer, or owner, you need to have information available at hand to answer these types of questions:

  • Are my profits higher this quarter over last quarter?
  • Do I have enough cash flow to pay my employees?
  • Are my jobs priced correctly?
  • Are my products priced correctly in order for me to make the profit I need to make?
  • Who are my most productive and least productive employees?

In the world of business, information is power; stated simply, the more you know, typically, the better your decisions can be. Managerial accounting delivers data-driven feedback for these decisions that can assist in improving decision-making over the long term. Business managers can leverage this powerful tool in order to make their businesses more successful, because management accounting adds value to common business decision-making. All of this readily available information can lead to great improvements for any business.

Focus of Reports

Because financial accounting typically focuses on the company as a whole, external users of this information choose to invest or loan money to the entire company, not to a department or division within the company. Therefore, the global focus of financial accounting is understandable.

However, the focus of management accounting is typically different. Managerial reporting is more focused on divisions, departments, or any component of a business, down to individuals. The mid-level and lower-level managers are typically responsible for smaller subsets within the company.

Managers need accounting reports that deal specifically with their division and their specific activities. For instance, production managers are responsible for their specific area and the results within their division. Accordingly, these production managers need information about results achieved in their division, as well as individual results of departments within the division. The company can be broken into segments based on what managers need—for example, geographic location, product line, customer demographics (e.g., gender, age, race), or any of a variety of other divisions.

Nature of Reports

Both financial reports and managerial reports use monetary accounting information, or information relating to money or currency. Financial reports use data from the accounting system that is gathered from the reporting of transactions in the form of journal entries and then aggregated into financial statements. This information is monetary in nature. Managerial accounting uses some of the same financial information as financial accounting, but much of that information will be broken down to a more detailed level. For example, in financial reporting, net sales are needed for the income statement. In managerial accounting, the quantity and dollar value of the sales of each product are likely more useful. In addition, managerial accounting uses a significant amount of nonmonetary accounting information, such as quantity of material, number of employees, number of hours worked, and so forth, which does not relate to money or currency.

Verification of Reports

Financial reports rely on structure. They are generated using accepted principles that are enforced through a vast set of rules and guidelines, also known as GAAP. As mentioned previously, companies that are publicly traded are required to have their financial statements audited on an annual basis, and companies that are not publicly traded also may be required to have their financial statements audited by their creditors. The information generated by the management accountants is intended for internal use by the company’s divisions, departments, or both. There are no rules, guidelines, or principles to follow. Managerial accounting is much more flexible, so the design of the managerial accounting system is difficult to standardize, and standardization is unnecessary. It depends on the nature of the industry. Different companies (even different managers within the same company) require different information. The most important issue is whether the reporting is useful for the planning, controlling, and evaluation purposes.



Daryn’s Dairy

A photograph shows different colors and flavors of ice cream.
Assorted Ice Cream Flavors By jeshoots. Pexels CCO

Suppose you have been hired by Daryn’s Dairy as a market analyst. Your first assignment is to evaluate the sales of various standard and specialty ice creams within the Midwest region where Daryn’s Dairy operates. You also need to determine the best-selling flavors of ice cream in other regions of the United States as well as the selling patterns of the flavors. For example, do some flavors sell better than others at different times of the year, or are some top sellers sold as limited-edition flavors? Remember that one of the strategic goals of the company is to increase market share, and the first step in meeting this goal is to sell their product in 10 percent more stores within their current market, so your research will help upper-level management carry out the company’s goals. Where would you gather the information? What type of information would you need? Where would you find this information? How would the company determine the impact of this type of change on the business? If implemented, what information would you need to assess the success of the plan?


Answers will vary. Sample answer:

Where would you gather the information? Where would you find this information?

  • Current company sales information would be obtained from internal company reports and records that detail the sale of each type of ice cream including volume, cost, price, and profit per flavor.
  • Sales of ice cream from other companies may be more difficult to obtain, but the footnotes and supplemental information to the annual reports of those companies being analyzed, as well as industry trade journals, would likely be good sources of information.

What types of information would you need?

  • Some of the types of information that would be needed would be the volume of sales of each flavor (number of gallons), how long each flavor has been sold, whether seasonal or limited-edition flavors are produced and sold only once or are on a rotating basis, the size of the market being examined (number of households), whether the other companies sell similar products (organic, all natural, etc.), the median income of consumers or other information to assess the consumers’ willingness to pay for organic products, and so forth.

How would Daryn’s Dairy determine the impact of this type of change on the business?

  • Management would evaluate the cost to expand into new stores in their current market compared to the potential revenues from selling their products in those stores in order to assess the ability of the potential expansion to generate a profit for the company.

If implemented, what information would Daryn’s Dairy need to assess the success of the plan?

  • Management would measure the profitability of selling any new products, expanding into new stores in their current market, or both to determine if the implementation of the plan was a success. If the plan is a success and the company is generating profits, the company will continue to figure out ways to improve efficiency and profitability. If the plan is not a success, the company will determine the reasons (cost to produce too high, sales price too high, volume too low, etc.) and make a new plan.


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