Accounting and Audit briefs
Revenue recognition and leases: FASB gives certain entities more time
Private companies and most nonprofits were supposed to implement updated revenue recognition guidance in fiscal year 2019 and updated lease guidance in fiscal year 2021. In the midst of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has decided to give certain entities an extra year to make the changes, if they need it.
Expanded deferral option
On April 8, the FASB agreed to issue a proposal that would have postponed the effective dates for the revenue recognition guidance for franchisors only and the lease guidance for private companies and nonprofit organizations that haven’t already adopted them. In a surprise move, on May 20, the FASB voted to extend the delay for the revenue rules beyond franchisors to all privately owned companies and nonprofits that haven’t adopted the changes. FASB members affirmed a similar delay on the lease rules.
The optional “timeout” is designed to help resource-strapped private companies, the nation’s largest business demographic, better navigate reporting hurdles amid the COVID-19 crisis. A final standard will be issued in early June.
Under the changes, all private companies and nonprofits that haven’t yet filed financial statements applying the updated revenue recognition rules can opt to wait to apply them until annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2019, and interim reporting periods within annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2020. Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606), replaces hundreds of pieces of industry-specific rules with a principles-based five step model for reporting revenue.
FASB members extended the revenue deferral to more private companies and nonprofits to help those that were in the process of closing their books when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Private entities told the board that having to adopt the standards amid the work upheaval created by the pandemic layered on unforeseen challenges. In today’s conditions, compliance may need to take a backseat to operational issues.
Last year, the FASB deferred ASU No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), for private companies from 2020 to 2021. This standard requires companies to report — for the first time — the full magnitude of their long-term lease obligations on the balance sheet.
The FASB’s recent deferral will allow private companies and private nonprofits that haven’t already adopted the updated lease rules to wait to apply them until fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2021, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2022. Public nonprofits that haven’t yet filed financial statements applying the updated lease rules can opt to wait to apply the changes until fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019, including interim periods within those fiscal years.
The new revenue recognition and lease accounting rules will require major changes to your organization’s systems and procedures. If you haven’t yet adopted these rules, we can help facilitate the transition.
Benchmarking: Why normalizing adjustments are essential
Financial statements aren’t particularly meaningful without a relevant basis of comparison. There are two types of “benchmarks” that a company’s financials can be compared to — its own historical performance and the performance of other comparable businesses.
Before you conduct a benchmarking study, however, it’s important to make normalizing adjustments to avoid any misleading comparisons. This is especially important when looking at periods that include atypical financial results due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But there are a variety of factors that require normalizing adjustments.
Some normalizing adjustments are needed to distinguish between historical results that represent potential ongoing earning power and those that don’t. A one-time revenue (or expense) or gain (or loss) will temporarily distort the company’s results. To more accurately reflect the company’s future earnings potential, you would add back expenses and losses (or subtract the revenues and gains) that aren’t expected to recur.
For example, if a retailer temporarily closed its brick-and-mortar stores during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’d add back the temporary losses to get a clearer picture of operating performance under normal conditions. Likewise, if a company won a $10 million lawsuit, you’d subtract the gain. Other nonrecurring items might include discontinued product lines or expenses incurred in an acquisition.
Other normalizing adjustments compensate for the use of different accounting methods. Because companies’ accounting practices vary widely, comparing them without adjusting their financial statements is like comparing apples to oranges.
Even within the broad confines of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), it’s rare for two companies to follow exactly the same accounting practices. When comparing a company’s results to industry benchmarks, you need to understand how they report transactions.
A small firm, for example, might report earnings when cash is received (cash basis accounting), but its competitor might record a sale when it sends out the invoice (accrual basis accounting). Differences in inventory reporting, pension reserves, depreciation methods, tax accounting practices and cost capitalization vs. expensing policies also are common.
Another type of normalizing adjustment focuses on closely held businesses. They often pay owners based on the company’s cash flow or the owners’ personal needs, not on the market value of services the owners provide. Small businesses also may employ family members, conduct business with affiliates and extend loans to company insiders.
To get a clearer picture of the company’s performance, you’ll need to identify all related-party transactions and inquire whether they occur at “arm’s length.” Also consider reconciling for unusual perquisites provided to insiders, such as season tickets to sporting events, college tuition or company vehicles.
We can help
To complicate matters, normalizing adjustments can affect multiple accounts. While most normalizing adjustments are made to the income statement, some may flow through to the balance sheet. Our accounting professionals can help with these critical adjustments to a company’s financial statements, enabling you to make better-informed business decisions.
Going, going, gone: Going concern assessments in the midst of COVID-19
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has adversely affected the global economy. Companies of all sizes in all industries are faced with closures of specific locations or complete shutdowns; employee layoffs, furloughs or restrictions on work; liquidity issues; and disruptions to their supply chains and customers. These negative impacts have brought the “going concern” issue to the forefront.
One-year look-forward period
Financial statements are generally prepared under the assumption that the entity will remain a going concern. That is, it’s expected to continue to generate a positive return on its assets and meet its obligations in the ordinary course of business.
Under Accounting Standards Codification Topic 205, Presentation of Financial Statements — Going Concern, the continuation of an entity as a going concern is presumed as the basis for reporting unless liquidation becomes imminent. Even if liquidation isn’t imminent, conditions and events may exist that, in the aggregate, raise substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern.
Management is responsible for evaluating the going concern assumption. Going concern issues arise when it’s probable that the entity won’t be able to meet its obligations as they become due within one year after the date the financial statements are issued — or available to be issued. (The alternate date prevents financial statements from being held for several months after year end to see if the company survives.)
Making the call
The going concern assumption is evaluated when preparing annual and interim financial statements under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The evaluation is based on qualitative and quantitative information about relevant conditions and events that are known (or reasonably knowable) at the time the evaluation is made.
Examples of warning signs that an entity’s long-term viability may be questionable include:
- A reduction in sales due to store closures,
- A shortage of products and supplies used in manufacturing operations,
- A decline in value of assets held by the company,
- Recurring operating losses or working capital deficiencies,
- Loan defaults and debt restructuring,
- Denial of credit from suppliers,
- Disposals of substantial assets,
- Work stoppages and other labor difficulties,
- Legal proceedings or legislation that jeopardizes ongoing operations,
- Loss of a key franchise, license or patent,
- Loss of a principal customer or supplier, and
- An uninsured or underinsured catastrophe.
If management concludes that there’s substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, it must consider whether mitigation plans can be effectively implemented within the one-year look-forward period to alleviate the going concern issues.
Reporting going concern issues
Few businesses will escape negative repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis. If your business is struggling, contact us to discuss the going concern assessment. Our auditors can help you understand how the evaluation will affect your balance sheet and disclosures.
Questions to ask when making COVID-19 risk disclosures
Efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have led to suspension of many economic activities, putting unprecedented strain on businesses. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued guidance to help public companies provide investors and other stakeholders with useful, accurate financial statement disclosures in today’s uncertain marketplace.
New disclosure guidance
On March 25, the SEC issued interpretive guidance, Coronavirus (COVID-19), CF Disclosure Guidance: Topic No. 9. It highlights best practices in disclosing the risks and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidance recommends using a principles-based disclosure system rooted on the concept of materiality. This means companies should disclose information that a reasonable person would find important in the total mix of information considered when making a decision to sell or buy a company’s stock.
The SEC guidance offers the following 10 questions for companies to consider when making COVID-19-related disclosures:
- How has COVID-19 impacted your company’s financial condition and results of operations — and how might it impact future operations?
- How has COVID-19 impacted your company’s liquidity position and its capital and financial resources? Do you expect to incur any material COVID-19-related contingencies?
- How will COVID-19 affect assets on your company’s balance sheet and its ability to account for those assets in a timely manner?
- Have there been (or do you anticipate) any material impairments (for example, related to goodwill, intangible assets, long-lived assets, right of use assets and investment securities), increases in allowances for credit losses, restructuring charges, other expenses or changes in accounting judgments?
- Have remote working arrangements and other COVID-19-related circumstances adversely affected your company’s ability to maintain operations, including financial reporting systems, internal control over financial reporting, and disclosure controls and procedures? If so, what changes in controls have occurred during the current period?
- Have you experienced challenges or resource constraints in implementing your company’s business continuity plans, or do you foresee requiring material expenditures to do so?
- Do you expect COVID-19 to affect demand for your company’s products or services?
- Will COVID-19 have a material adverse impact on your company’s supply chain or the methods used to distribute products or services?
- Will your company’s operations be materially impacted by any constraints or other impacts on its human capital resources and productivity?
- Are travel restrictions and border closures expected to have a material impact on your company’s ability to operate and achieve its strategic goals?
This list of open-ended questions isn’t intended to be exhaustive. Each company will need to customize COVID-19-related disclosures using forward-looking information that’s based on assumptions about what may or may not happen in the future. In many situations, the impact will depend on factors beyond management’s control and knowledge.
We can help
The SEC has separately provided 45-day relief for certain reports that need to be filed by public companies. This will give management extra breathing room to assess the evolving situation and estimate the probable effects of the pandemic. Contact us for assistance crafting COVID-19 disclosures in these unprecedented conditions.
CARES Act provides option to delay CECL reporting
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27. Among other economic relief measures, the new law allows large public banks to temporarily postpone the controversial current expected credit loss (CECL) standard. Here are the details.
Updated accounting rules
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Accounting Standards Update No. 2016-13, Financial Instruments — Credit Losses (Topic 326): Measurement of Credit Losses on Financial Instruments, in response to the financial crisis of 2007–2008. The updated CECL standard relies on estimates of probable future losses. By contrast, existing guidance relies on an incurred-loss model to recognize losses.
In general, the updated standard will require entities to recognize losses on bad loans earlier than under current U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). It’s scheduled to go into effect for most public companies in 2020. In October 2019, the deadline for smaller reporting companies was extended from 2021 to 2023, and, for private entities and nonprofits, it was extended from 2022 to 2023.
Option to delay
Under the CARES Act, large public insured depository institutions (including credit unions), bank holding companies, and their affiliates have the option of postponing implementation of the CECL standard until the earlier of:
- The end of the national emergency declaration related to the COVID-19 crisis, or
- December 31, 2020.
Many public banks have made significant investments in systems and processes to comply with the CECL standard, and they’ve communicated with investors about the changes. So, some may decide to stay the course. But many large banks are expected to take advantage of the option to delay implementation.
Congress decided to provide a temporary reprieve from implementing the changes for a variety of reasons. Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a volatile, uncertain lending environment that may result in significant credit losses for some banks.
To measure those losses, banks must forecast into the foreseeable future to predict losses over the life of a loan and immediately book those losses. But making estimates could prove challenging in today’s unprecedented market conditions. And, once a credit loss has been recognized, it generally can’t be recouped on the financial statements. Plus, there’s some concern that the CECL model would cause banks to needlessly hold more capital and curb lending when borrowers need it most.
So far, the FASB hasn’t delayed the CECL standard. But the COVID-19 crisis has front-loaded concerns about the CECL standard, prompting critics in both the House and Senate to step up their efforts to block the standard. Contact us for the latest developments on this issue.
How to use visual aids in financial reporting
Thanks to the Internet and social media, we’re bombarded daily with all kinds of information. As a result, most people prefer clear, concise snippets of data over lengthy text. Have your financial statements kept up with today’s data-consumption trends?
Show and tell
Humans are visual learners. In business, the use of so-called “infographics” started with product marketing. Combining images with written text, these data visualizations can draw readers in and evoke emotion. They can breathe life into content that could otherwise be considered boring or dry.
Annual reports are traditionally lengthy and text heavy. So, businesses are now using visual aids to present critical financial information to investors and other stakeholders. In this context, infographics help stakeholders digest complex information and retain key points.
In financial reporting
Examples of data visualizations that might be appropriate in financial reporting include:
Time-series line graphs. These visual aids can be used to show financial metrics, such as revenue and cost of sales, over time. They can help stakeholders identify trends, like seasonality and rates of growth (or decline), that can be used to interrupt historical performance and project it into the future.
Bar graphs. Here, data is grouped into rectangular bars in lengths proportionate to the values they represent so data can be compared and contrasted. A company might use this type of infographic to show revenue by product line or geographic region to determine what (or who) is selling the most.
Pie charts. These circular models show parts of a whole, dividing data into slices like a pizza. They might be used in financial reporting to show the composition of a company’s operating expenses to use in budgeting or cost-cutting projects.
Effective visualizations avoid “chart junk.” That is, unnecessary elements — such as excessive use of color, icons or text — that detract from the value of the data presentation. Ideally, each infographic should present one or two ideas, simply and concisely. The information also should be timely and relevant. Too many infographics can become just as overwhelming to a reader as too much text.
Beyond annual reports
In addition to using infographics in financial statements, management may decide to create data visualizations for other financial purposes, such as:
- Obtaining bank loans or equity financing from private investors,
- Identifying value-drivers and risk factors in mergers and acquisitions,
- Presenting data to the management team for strategic decision-making, and
- Creating demonstrative exhibits for mediation or court.
Nonprofits can also use infographics to create an emotional connection with donors. If effective, this outreach may encourage additional contributions for the nonprofit’s cause.
Let’s get visual
Infographics can’t completely replace text in financial statements, but they can be used to supplement the financials by highlighting key issues and accomplishments. Certain entities, such as nonprofits and private businesses, generally have more flexibility in how they present their financial data than public ones do. Contact us to help decide on the optimal visual aids to drive home key points in an effective, organized manner.
Lease or buy? Changes to accounting rules may change your mind
The rules for reporting leasing transactions are changing. Though these changes have been delayed until 2021 for private companies (and nonprofits), it’s important to know the possible effects on your financial statements as you renew leases or enter into new lease contracts. In some cases, you might decide to modify lease terms to avoid having to report leasing liabilities on your balance sheet. Or you might opt to buy (rather than lease) property to sidestep being subject to the complex disclosure requirements.
In 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-02, Leases. The effective date for calendar year-end public companies was January 1, 2019. Last fall, the FASB deferred the effective date for private companies and not-for-profit organizations from 2020 to 2021.
The updated guidance requires companies to report long-term leased assets and leased liabilities on their balance sheets, as well as to provide expanded footnote disclosures. Increases in debt could, in turn, cause some companies to trip their loan covenants.
Updated lease terms
The updated standard applies only to leases of more than 12 months. To avoid having to apply the new guidance, some companies are switching over to short-term leases.
Others are incorporating evergreen clauses into their leases, where either party can cancel at any time after 30 days. An evergreen lease wouldn’t technically be considered a lease under the accounting rules — even if the lessee renewed on a monthly basis for 20 years. This might not be the best approach from a financial perspective, however, because the lessor would likely charge a higher price for the transaction. There’s also a risk that short-term and evergreen leases won’t be renewed at some point.
Lease vs. buy
The updated standard is also causing organizations to reevaluate their decisions about whether to lease or buy equipment and real estate. Under the previous accounting rules, a major upside to leasing was how the transactions were reported under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Essentially, operating leases were reported as a business expense that was omitted from the balance sheet. This was a major upside for organizations with substantial debt. Under the updated guidance, lease obligations will show up as liabilities, similar to purchased assets that are financed with traditional bank loans. Reporting leases also will require expanded footnote disclosures.
The changes in the lease accounting rules might persuade you to buy property instead of lease it. Before switching over, consider the other benefits leasing has to offer. Notably, leases don’t require a large down payment or excess borrowing capacity. In addition, leases provide significant flexibility in case there’s an economic downturn or technological advances render an asset obsolete.
When deciding whether to lease or buy a fixed asset, there are a multitude of factors to consider, with no universal “right” choice. Contact us to discuss the pros and cons of leasing in light of the updated accounting guidance. We can help you take the approach that best suits your circumstances.
When to write off stale receivables
Accounts receivables are classified under current assets on the balance sheet if you expect to collect them within a year or within the operating cycle, whichever is longer. However, unless your company sells goods or services exclusively for cash, some of its receivables inevitably will be uncollectible. That’s why it’s important to record an allowance for doubtful accounts (also known as “bad debts”). These allowances are subjective, especially in uncertain economic times.
Estimating the allowance
When it comes to writing off bad debts for financial reporting purposes, companies generally use one of these two methods:
1. The direct write-off method. Some companies record write-offs only when a specific account has been deemed uncollectible, which is called the direct write-off method. Although it’s easy and convenient, this method fails to match bad debt expense to the period’s sales. It may also overstate the value of accounts receivable on the balance sheet.
2. The allowance method. Many companies turn to the allowance method to properly match revenues and expenses. Here the company estimates uncollectible accounts as a percentage of sales or total outstanding receivables. The allowance shows up as a contra-asset to offset receivables on the balance sheet and as bad debt expense to offset sales on the income statement.
The allowance is based on factors such as the amount of bad debts in prior periods, general economic conditions and receivables aging. Some companies also include allowances for returns, unearned discounts and finance charges.
Comparing estimates to collections
How do you assess whether your allowance seems reasonable? An obvious place to begin is the company’s aging schedule. The older a receivable is, the harder it is to collect. If you have a significant percentage of receivables that are older than three months, you might need to consider increasing your allowance.
In addition, auditing standards recommend comparing prior estimates for doubtful accounts with actual write-offs. Each accounting period, the ratio of bad debts expense to actual write-offs should be close to 1. If a business has several periods in which the ratio is lower than 1, the company may be low-balling its estimate and overvaluing receivables.
Exhaustion rate is another metric to consider. This is how long the beginning-of-year allowance will cover actual write-offs. Assume that a company reported an allowance for doubtful accounts of $50,000 as of January 1, 2019, and subsequently writes off $30,000 in 2019 and $40,000 in 2020. The exhaustion rate would be 1.5 years ($50,000 - $30,000 = $20,000 left for 2020; $20,000/$40,000 = 0.5 years).
If your allowance takes several years to deplete, it’s probably too high. But if you burn through your allowance in just a couple of months, you might consider increasing the allowance — or taking proactive measures to improve collections.
Contact your CPA if your company’s bad debts are on the rise or if your allowance for doubtful accounts seems out of whack. Armed with years of experience and knowledge of industry best practices, he or she can help assess the situation.
4 steps to a stronger balance sheet
Roughly half of CFOs believe an economic recession will hit by the end of 2020, and about three-quarters expect a recession by mid-2021, according to the 2019 year-end Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey. In light of these bearish predictions, many businesses are currently planning for the next recession. Are you? Here are four steps to help your company strengthen its balance sheet against a possible downturn.
1. Identify what’s most important
The balance sheet shows your company’s financial condition — its assets vs. liabilities — at a specific point in time. Some line items are more critical to your success than others. For example, inventory is a top priority for retailers, and accounts receivable is important to professional service firms.
A “common-sized” balance sheet can help you determine what’s most relevant. This type of statement presents each account as a percentage of total assets. Items that represent the highest percentages are generally the ones that warrant the most attention.
2. Analyze ratios
Ratios compare line items on your company’s financial statements. They may be grouped into four categories: 1) profitability, 2) solvency, 3) asset management, and 4) leverage. While profitability ratios focus on the income statement, the others assess items on the balance sheet.
For example, the current ratio (current assets ÷ current liabilities) is a solvency measure that helps assess whether your company has enough current assets to meet current obligations over the short run. Conversely, the days-in-receivables ratio (accounts receivable ÷ annual sales × 365 days) is an asset management ratio that gauges how efficiently you’re collecting receivables. And the debt-to-equity ratio (interest-bearing debt ÷ equity) focuses on your company’s use of debt vs. equity to finance growth.
3. Set goals
The common-sized balance sheet and ratios can be used to create “goals” for each key line item. What’s right depends on the nature of your business and industry benchmarks.
For example, you may strive to meet the following goals over the next year:
- Increase cash as a percentage of total assets from 5% to 15%,
- Improve the current ratio from 1.1 to 1.2,
- Decrease the days-in-receivable ratio from 40 to 35 days, and
- Lower the debt-to-equity ratios from 5.6 to 4.
4. Forecast the impact
Once you’ve set goals, devise a plan to achieve them. For example, you might cut fixed costs or forgo buying equipment to build up your cash reserves. In turn, stockpiling cash — along with improving collections — might help boost your current ratio.
Part of your plan should be forecasting how the changes will filter through the financial statements. This exercise can help you determine whether your goals are realistic. For example, if you decide to build up cash reserves, it might be difficult to simultaneously pay down debt. You can generate only a limited amount of incremental cash in a year. Forecasting can help pinpoint the shortcomings of your plans.
We can help
Markets are cyclical. So, it’s only a matter of time before another downturn happens. We can help you take steps to position your organization to weather the next storm — whenever it arrives.
FAQs about audit confirmations
Auditors use various procedures to verify the amounts reported on your financial statements. In addition to reviewing original source documents and comparing trends from prior years, they may reach out to third parties — such as customers and lenders — to confirm that outstanding balances and estimates agree with their records. Here are answers to questions you may have about audit confirmations.
When are they used?
External confirmations received directly by the auditor from third parties are generally considered to be more reliable than audit evidence generated internally by your company. Auditors may, for example, send paper or electronic confirmations to customers to verify accounts receivable and to financial institutions to confirm notes payable. They also may choose to substantiate cash, inventory, consigned merchandise, long-term contracts, accounts payable, contingent liabilities, and related-party and unusual transactions.
Before wrapping up audit procedures, a letter also will be sent to your attorney, asking whether the information provided about any pending litigation is accurate and complete. Your attorney’s response can help determine whether a legal situation has a material impact on the company’s financial statements.
What are the options?
The types of confirmations used vary depending on the situation and the nature of your company’s operations. Three forms of confirmations include:
1. Positive. This type asks recipients to reply directly to the auditor and make a positive statement about whether they agree or disagree with the information included.
2. Negative. This type asks recipients to reply directly to the auditor only if they disagree with the information presented on the confirmation.
3. Blank. This type doesn’t state the amount (or other information) on the request. Instead, recipients are asked to complete the confirmation form and return it to the auditor.
Some banks no longer respond to confirmation letters mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. Instead, they respond only to electronic requests. These may be in the form of an email submitted directly to the respondent by the auditor or a request submitted through a designated third-party provider.
How can you help?
You can facilitate the confirmation process by approving your auditor’s requests in a timely manner. However, there may be situations when you object to the use of confirmation procedures. When this happens, discuss the matter with your auditor and provide corroborating evidence to support your reasoning. If the reason for the refusal is considered valid, your auditor will apply alternative procedures and possibly ask for a special representation in the management representation letter regarding the reasons for not confirming.
Auditors also might ask your staff about confirmation recipients who aren’t responding to requests or exceptions found during the confirmation process. This may include discrepancies over the information provided in the request, as well as responses received indirectly, oral responses and restrictive language contained in a response. Your staff can help the audit team determine whether a misstatement has occurred — and adjust the financial statements accordingly.
Simple but effective
Audit confirmations can be a powerful tool, enhancing audit quality and efficiency. Let’s work together to ensure the confirmation process goes smoothly.
4 key traits to look for when hiring a CFO
Finding the right person to head up your company’s finance and accounting department can be challenging in today’s tight labor market. While it may be tempting to simply promote an existing employee, external candidates may offer fresh ideas and skills that take your financial reporting to the next level. Here are four traits to put on your wish list.
1. Leadership and strategy experience
The finance and accounting department provides critical feedback on how your company is performing and is expected to perform in the future. That information helps the rest of the management team make critical business decisions.
The CFO must provide timely, relevant financial data to other departments — including information technology, operations, sales and supply chain logistics — to help improve how the business operates. He or she also must be able to drum up cross-departmental support for major initiatives. If you operate overseas or plan to expand there soon, experience operating and reporting in a global context would be a bonus.
2. Command of the basics
Your CFO must have a working knowledge of finance and accounting fundamentals, such as:
- U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and, if applicable, international accounting standards,
- Federal and state tax law,
- Budgeting and forecasting, and
- Financial planning and benchmarking.
Accounting rules and tax law have undergone major changes in recent years. Candidates should understand the business provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as well as the impact of updated accounting standards on reporting revenue, leases and credit losses. It’s also helpful to have experience with managerial accounting and cost-cutting initiatives.
3. Previous employment in public accounting
Many CFOs start off their careers in public accounting for good reason: They learn about a broad range of accounting, tax and consulting projects in many different industries.
This experience positions candidates for leadership roles in the private sector. Former CPAs know how the auditing process works and can implement procedures to support that process within your organization. They’ve also seen the best (and worst) business practices in the real world. This insight can help your company seize opportunities — and avoid potential pitfalls.
4. Forensic and technology skills
CFOs sometimes need to examine the business from a forensic perspective. That could include overseeing a fraud investigation, evaluating compliance with new or updated government regulations, or remediating a data breach.
In turn, the prevalence of cyberattacks has made technology skills increasingly important for CFOs. Candidates should know how to protect against loss of sensitive data, including customer credit card numbers and company financial data and intangible assets. Candidates also must have a working knowledge of accounting systems and how they operate in the cloud.
As your business evolves, so too must the role of the CFO. We can help you evaluate candidates to find the right mix of skills and experience for your finance and accounting department.
Accounting for indirect job costs the right way
Construction contractors, professional service firms, specialty manufacturers and other companies that work on large projects often struggle with job costing. Full cost allocations are essential to gauging whether you’re making money on each job. But some companies simply lump indirect job costs into overhead or fail to use meaningful cost drivers, thereby skewing their profit reports. Here’s what you should know to avoid this pitfall and get a clearer picture of your company’s profitability.
Indirect job costs vs. overhead costs
The Financial Accounting Standards Board defines job costs as “the sum of the applicable expenditures and charges directly or indirectly incurred in bringing [a job] to its existing condition and location.” These may include direct costs, such as labor and materials, and indirect costs. The latter can be divided into two groups:
Costs identified with more than one job. These typically consist of benefits for frontline workers, workers’ compensation insurance and insurance to minimize the company’s liability risks. This category also may include company vehicle costs, such as gasoline, maintenance and repair expenses, and equipment depreciation.
Costs that are only indirectly related to jobs. Common examples of these indirect costs include project manager salaries and benefits, cell phone bills, payroll service fees, and vehicle tracking and monitoring systems.
Indirect costs and overhead are often confused. The term “overhead” refers to costs related to running your company that you can’t attribute directly or indirectly to a project. They tend to be consistent over time. It’s important to not include overhead costs, such as office rent, when identifying indirect costs.
Using a cost driver
You can systematically allocate indirect job costs using a “cost driver.” Two common cost drivers are labor hours and dollars.
For example, suppose liability insurance for an engineering firm costs $100,000 annually. That amount divided by 12 months is $8,333 a month. To follow the allocation process through to completion, you would tabulate the billable hours for each job on a monthly schedule. Then, perhaps with your accountant’s help, you could divvy up that $8,333 each month to put those dollars onto that month’s active jobs pro rata. Now that $100,000 is no longer overhead — those dollars are indirect job costs.
Once indirect costs are allocated and included in the reports given to managers tracking the progress of cash outflows to their jobs, your company’s management team can discuss how to avert upcoming cash flow problems. This can buy you some time to make corrections.
Monitoring the bottom line
We can find meaningful methods of allocating job costs to help evaluate your company’s profitability. Contact us for more information.
Benchmarking financial performance
You already may have reviewed a preliminary draft of your company’s year-end financial statements. But without a frame of reference, they don’t mean much. That’s why it’s important to compare your company’s performance over time and against competitors.
Conduct a well-rounded evaluation
A comprehensive benchmarking study requires calculating ratios that gauge the following five elements:
1. Growth. Business size is usually stated in terms of annual revenue, total assets or market share. Is your company expanding or contracting? An example of a ratio that targets changes in your company’s size would be its year-over-year increase in market share. Companies generally want to grow, but there may be strategic reasons to downsize and refocus on core operations.
2. Liquidity. Working capital ratios help assess how easily assets can be converted into cash and whether current assets are sufficient to cover current liabilities. For example, the acid-test ratio compares the most liquid current assets (cash and receivables) to current obligations (such as payables, accrued expenses, short-term loans and current portions of long-term debt).
3. Profitability. This evaluates whether the business is making money from operations — before considering changes in working capital accounts, investments in capital expenditures and financing activities. Public companies tend to focus on earnings per share. But smaller ones tend to be more interested in ratios that evaluate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. EBITDA ratios allow for comparisons between companies with different capital structures, tax strategies and business types.
4. Turnover. Such ratios as total asset turnover (revenue divided by total assets) or inventory turnover (cost of sales divided by inventory) show how well the company manages its assets. These ratios also can be stated in terms of average days outstanding.
5. Leverage. Identify how the company finances its operations — through debt or equity. There are pros and cons of both. For example, within limits, debt financing is generally less expensive and interest on debt may be tax deductible. Equity financing, however, can help preserve cash flow for growing the business because equity investors often don’t require an annual return on investment.
Seek input from the pros
Most companies use an outside accounting firm to compile, review or audit their preliminary year-end financial results. This is a prime opportunity to conduct a comprehensive benchmarking study. We can help take your historical financial statements to the next level by identifying comparable companies, providing access to industry benchmarking data and recommending ways to improve performance in 2020 and beyond.
Reasons why cash is king
In financial reporting, investors and business owners tend to focus on four key metrics: 1) revenue, 2) net income, 3) total assets and 4) net worth. But, when it comes to gauging short-term financial performance and creditworthiness, the trump card is cash flow.
If a business doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay payroll, rent and other bills, it can spell disaster — no matter how profitable the company is or how fast it’s growing. That’s why you can’t afford to cast aside the statement of cash flows and the important insight it can provide.
The statement of cash flows reveals clues about a company’s ability to manage cash. It shows changes in balance sheet items from one accounting period to the next. Special attention should be given to significant balance changes.
For example, if accounts receivable were $1 million in 2018 and $2 million in 2019, the change would be reported as a cash outflow of $1 million. That’s because more money was tied up in receivables in 2019 than in 2018. An increase in receivables is common for growing businesses, because receivables generally grow in proportion to revenue. But a mounting receivables balance also might signal cash management inefficiencies. Additional financial information — such as an aging schedule — might reveal significant write-offs.
Continually reporting negative cash flows from operations can also signal danger. There’s a limit to how much money a company can get from selling off its assets, issuing new stock or taking on more debt. A red flag should go up when operating cash outflows consistently outpace operating inflows. It can signal weaknesses, such as out-of-control growth, poor inventory management, mounting costs and weak customer demand.
Categorizing cash flows
The statement of cash flows typically consists of three sections:
1. Cash flows from operations. This section converts accrual net income to cash provided or used by operations. All income-related items flow through this part of the cash flow statement, such as net income; gains (or losses) on asset sales; depreciation and amortization; and net changes in accounts receivable, inventory, prepaid assets, accrued expenses and payables.
2. Cash flows from investing activities. If a company buys or sells property, equipment or marketable securities, the transaction shows up here. This section could reveal whether a company is divesting assets for emergency funds or whether it’s reinvesting in future operations.
3. Cash flows from financing activities. This shows transactions with investors and lenders. Examples include Treasury stock purchases, additional capital contributions, debt issuances and payoffs, and dividend payments.
Below these three categories is the schedule of noncash investing and financing transactions. This portion of the cash flow statement summarizes significant transactions in which cash did not directly change hands: for example, like-kind exchanges or assets purchased directly with loan proceeds.
Keep a watchful eye
Effective cash management can be the difference between staying afloat and filing for bankruptcy — especially in an unpredictable economy. Contact us to help identify potential problems and find solutions to shore up inefficiencies and shortfalls.
Risk assessment: A critical part of the audit process
Audit season is right around the corner for calendar-year entities. Here’s what your auditor is doing behind the scenes to prepare — and how you can help facilitate the audit planning process.
The big picture
Every audit starts with assessing “audit risk.” This refers to the likelihood that the auditor will issue an adverse opinion when the financial statements are actually in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or (more likely) an unqualified opinion when the opinion should be either modified or adverse.
Auditors can’t test every single transaction, recalculate every estimate or examine every external document. Instead, they tailor their audit procedures and assign audit personnel to keep audit risk as low as possible.
Inherent risk vs. control risk
Auditors evaluate two types of risk:
1. Inherent risk. This is the risk that material departures could occur in the financial statements. Examples of inherent-risk factors include complexity, volume of transactions, competence of the accounting personnel, company size and use of estimates.
2. Control risk. This is the risk that the entity’s internal controls won’t prevent or correct material misstatements in the financial statements.
Separate risk assessments are done at the financial statement level and then for each major account — such as cash, receivables, inventory, fixed assets, other assets, payables, accrued expenses, long-term debt, equity, and revenue and expenses. A high-risk account (say, inventory) might warrant more extensive audit procedures and be assigned to more experienced audit team members than one with lower risk (say, equity).
How auditors assess risk
New risk assessments must be done each year, even if the company has had the same auditor for many years. That’s because internal and external factors may change over time. For example, new government or accounting regulations may be implemented, and company personnel or accounting software may change, causing the company’s risk assessment to change. As a result, audit procedures may vary from year to year or from one audit firm to the next.
The risk assessment process starts with an auditing checklist and, for existing audit clients, last year’s workpapers. But auditors must dig deeper to determine current risk levels. In addition to researching public sources of information, including your company’s website, your auditor may call you with a list of open-ended questions (inquiries) and request a walk-through to evaluate whether your internal controls are operating as designed. Timely responses can help auditors plan their procedures to minimize audit risk.
Audit fieldwork is only as effective as the risk assessment. Evidence obtained from further audit procedures may be ineffective if it’s not properly linked to the assessed risks. So, it’s important for you to help the audit team understand the risks your business is currently facing and the challenges you’ve experienced reporting financial performance, especially as companies implement updated accounting rules in the coming years.
Reporting discontinued operations
Financial reporting generally focuses on the results of continuing operations. But sometimes businesses sell (or retire) a product line, asset group or another component. In certain situations, such a disposal should be reported as a discontinued operation under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Starting in 2015, the rules changed, limiting the scope of transactions that must comply with the complex rules for discontinued operations.
A component comprises operations and cash flows that can be clearly distinguished, both operationally and for financial reporting purposes, from the rest of the company. It can be a reportable segment or an operating segment, a reporting unit, a subsidiary or an asset group. Under previous guidance, three requirements were needed for a transaction to be classified as discontinued operations:
- The component had been disposed of or was classified as “held for sale.”
- The operations and cash flows of the component had been (or would have been) eliminated from the ongoing operations of the entity as a result of the disposal transaction.
- The entity didn’t have any significant continuing involvement in the operations of the component after the disposal transaction.
Some stakeholders felt that too many disposals, including routine disposals of small groups of assets, qualified for discontinued operations presentation under the previous guidance. They also found the definition of discontinued operations to be unnecessarily complex and difficult to apply.
So, the Financial Accounting Standards Board updated the rules. Accounting Standards Update No. 2014-08 eliminated the second and third conditions. Instead, disposal of a component (including business activities) must be reported in discontinued operations only if the disposal represents a “strategic shift” that has or will have a major effect on the company’s operations and financial results. Examples of a qualifying strategic major shift include disposal of a major geographic area, a line of business or an equity method investment.
When such a strategic shift occurs, a company must present, for each comparative period, the assets and liabilities of a disposal group that includes a discontinued operation separately in the asset and liability sections of the balance sheet.
Although fewer transactions qualify as discontinued operations than qualified under the previous rules, those that do qualify require expanded disclosures for the periods in which the operating results of the discontinued operation are presented in the income statement. For example, companies must disclose the major classes of line items constituting the pretax profit or loss of the discontinued operation. Examples of major line-item classes include revenue, cost of sales, depreciation and amortization, and interest expense.
In addition, companies must disclose either 1) the total operating and investing cash flows of the discontinued operation, or 2) the depreciation, amortization, capital expenditures, and significant operating and investing noncash items of the discontinued operation. And, if the discontinued operation includes a noncontrolling interest, the company must provide the pretax profit or loss attributable to the parent.
Management also must provide various disclosures and reconciliations of items held for sale for the period in which the discontinued operation is so classified and for all prior periods presented in the statement of financial position. Additional disclosures may be required if the company plans significant continuing involvement with a discontinued operation — or if a disposal doesn’t qualify for discontinued operations reporting.
Most companies don’t report discontinued operations every year, so you might not have experience applying the current guidance for reporting these transactions. But we do. Our staff can help determine the appropriate treatment for your disposal and compose the requisite footnote disclosures. Contact us for more information.
Attention: Accounting rule delays in the works
On July 17, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) voted to issue a proposal that would delay several landmark accounting rules for certain companies. If finalized, the deferral would apply to new guidance for reporting leases, hedging transactions, credit losses and long-term insurance contracts.
Summary of the changes
The following table summarizes key implementation date changes that the FASB unanimously voted to propose:
|Accounting Standards Update (ASU)||Types of entities affected by the proposed date changes||Current effective date for calendar-year entities||Proposed effective date for calendar-year entities|
|No. 2016-02, Leases||Private companies and not-for-profits||2020||2021|
|No. 2017-12, Derivatives and Hedging||Private companies and not-for-profits||2020||2021|
|No. 2016-13, Financial Instruments — Credit Losses||Smaller reporting companies||2021||2023|
|Private companies and not-for-profits||2022||2023|
|No. 2018-12, Financial Services — Insurance||Public companies||2021||2022|
|Smaller reporting companies, private companies and not-for-profits||2022||2024|
The term “smaller reporting companies” refers to those that have either 1) a public float of less than $250 million, or 2) annual revenue of less than $100 million and no public float or a public float of less than $700 million.
Private companies and nonprofits often receive an extra year to implement major accounting standards updates, compared to the effective dates that apply to public companies. In a shift in its philosophy for setting reporting dates on major new accounting standards, the FASB wants to give certain entities even longer to implement the changes.
Why are these delays needed? Many entities continue to struggle with implementing the new revenue recognition guidance that went into effect in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for other entities. A possible deferral of other new rules would also allow smaller entities to learn from public companies how to implement the changes — and it would give accounting software providers extra time to update their packages to support the new reporting models.
Proposal is coming soon
The FASB is expected to issue its proposal as soon as possible. Then it will be subject to a 30-day comment period.
These deferrals, if finalized, would be welcome news for many organizations. But they’re not an excuse to procrastinate. Depending on your industry and the nature of your transactions, implementing the changes and educating stakeholders could take significant resources. Contact us before the implementation deadline to come up with a realistic game plan.
Let’s find a better way to manage your receivables
Failure to collect accounts receivable (AR) in a timely manner can lead to myriad financial problems for your company, including poor cash flow and the inability to pay its own bills. Here are five effective ideas to facilitate more timely collections:
1. Create an AR aging report. This report lets you see at a glance the current payment status of all your customers and how much money they owe. Aging reports typically track the payment status of customers by time periods, such as 0–30 days, 31–60 days, 61–90 days and 91+ days past due.
Armed with this information, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your efforts. For example, you can concentrate on collecting the largest receivables that are the furthest past due. Or you can zero in on collecting receivables that are between 31 and 60 days outstanding before they become any further behind.
2. Assign collection responsibility to a sole accounting employee. Giving one employee the responsibility for AR collections ensures that the “collection buck” stops with someone. Otherwise, the task of collections could fall by the wayside as accounting employees pick up on other tasks that might seem more urgent.
3. Re-examine your invoices. Your customers prefer bills that are clear, accurate and easy to understand. Sending out invoices that are sloppy, vague or inaccurate will slow down the payment process as customers try to contact you for clarification. Essentially you’re inviting your customers to not pay your invoices promptly.
4. Offer customers multiple ways to pay. The more payment options customers have, the easier it is for them to pay your invoices promptly. These include payment by check, Automated Clearing House, credit or debit card, PayPal or even text message.
5. Be proactive in your billing and collection efforts. Many of your customers may have specific procedures that must be followed by vendors for invoice formatting and submission. Learn these procedures and follow them carefully to avoid payment delays. Also, consider contacting customers a couple of days before payment is due (especially for large payments) to make sure everything is on track.
Lax working capital practices can be a costly mistake. Contact us to help implement these and other strategies to improve collections and boost your revenue and cash flow. We can also help you with strategies for dealing with situations where it’s become clear that a past-due customer won’t (or can’t) pay an invoice.
Private companies: Beware of SEC scrutiny
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) doesn’t monitor just publicly traded companies. It also looks at the dealings of some private companies, often to the surprise of their owners and executives.
Reasons for SEC scrutiny
The SEC’s mission is to protect the public as well as the integrity of the financial markets. That mission extends to not only public companies but also private ones that may be acquired by a public company or that are large enough to consider an initial public offering (IPO).
Ultimately, whether a private company attracts regulatory scrutiny depends on its disclosures regarding current and projected financial performance. Therefore, private companies must walk a fine line between 1) enticing would-be investors with attractive financial projections, and 2) painting an overly optimistic picture that’s unhinged from reality.
Interest in private company activities
Increasingly, the SEC has unleashed enforcement actions and investors have filed lawsuits related to allegedly misleading or erroneous statements made by private (or formerly private) companies. So, companies contemplating an IPO or a merger with a public company should begin developing their approach to SEC compliance as soon as possible.
The risk of attracting the attention of the SEC is particularly concerning if there’s a secondary market for your company’s pre-IPO shares. These are known as “security-based swaps” for purposes of SEC regulation. If the swaps are available to retail investors who don’t meet the criteria of an “eligible contract participant” under the Dodd-Frank Act, the securities must follow specific rules, including the existence of a registration statement and the ability to trade on a national securities exchange.
Additionally, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) recently proposed Accounting Standards Update No. 2019-600, Disclosure Improvements — Codification Amendments in Response to the SEC’s Disclosure Update and Simplification Initiative. The updated FASB guidance — which would apply to both public and private entities — would better sync U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) with the SEC’s updated disclosure requirements.
It takes time to create and deploy an effective corporate governance program that complies with the SEC rules. Start the process by determining whether retail investors participate in trading that raises your company’s compliance risk. Pay close attention to every financial disclosure and the publicly available information that may affect trading. This effort should also include keeping track of material, nonpublic information available to insiders who may sell shares in the secondary market.
Next, create and deploy policies regarding how your company compiles its financial reports. Implement tools and procedures designed to prevent financial crime — such as internal fraud, bribery and corruption — and ensure compliance with SEC regulations. For example, you might consider setting up an anonymous whistleblower hotline for employees to report concerns regarding the company’s activities.
We can help
Companies on their way to becoming public represent a small, but growing, segment of the SEC’s enforcement activity. Protect your company against unwanted scrutiny by learning and complying with the SEC’s financial reporting rules and regulations.
Contact us to get a comprehensive assessment of your private company’s corporate governance practices. Now’s the time to shore them up, rather than waiting for an IPO or a merger with a public company.
The pros and cons of interim reporting
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires certain public companies to publish quarterly financial statements to give investors insight into midyear performance. Though interim reporting generally isn’t required for private companies, stakeholders in smaller entities can benefit even more than those of public companies from this type of information. But it’s also important to understand the potential shortcomings.
Interim financial statements cover periods of less than a year. They show how a company is doing each month or quarter.
If you think of annual financial statements as report cards for a business, interim reports would be like progress reports that may forewarn of troubles ahead — or reassure you that everything is going well. A lender or investor might request interim financial statements if a company:
- Has implemented a turnaround plan to avert bankruptcy,
- Has previously reported a major impairment loss,
- Is in an industry that is experiencing a downturn, or
- Is seeking new investors or applying for a loan.
These reports may provide peace of mind. Or they might signal impending financial turmoil due to, say, the loss of a major customer, significant uncollectible accounts receivable or pilfered inventory.
Early detection of such problems is critical for smaller businesses. While large public companies can often recover from a bad quarter or year, waiting until year end to discover these issues can be disastrous to a smaller business.
Interim reports also have certain drawbacks and limitations. Unlike annual financial statements, interim financial statements are usually unaudited and condensed. So, when reviewing interim reports, revisiting last year’s complete annual financial statements may be helpful. Also check that accounting practices are consistent between the interim and year-end financial statements.
Specifically, interim numbers may omit estimates for bad-debt write-offs, accrued expenses, prepaid items, management bonuses or income taxes. And sometimes tedious bookkeeping procedures, such as physical inventory counts, updating depreciation schedules and composing detailed footnote disclosures, aren’t completed until year end. Instead, interim account balances often reflect last year’s amounts or may be based on historic gross margins.
For seasonal businesses, there are operating peaks and troughs. So you can’t multiply quarterly profits by four to reliably predict year end performance. Instead, you may need to benchmark current year-to-date numbers against last year’s monthly (or quarterly) results.
For more information
If interim statements reveal irregularities, you should consider digging deeper to find out what’s happening. Our accounting and auditing pros can help you address unresolved issues and determine an appropriate course of action.
In pursuit of global tax transparency
In today’s global economy, multinational corporations engage in numerous cross-border transactions. But how they report those transactions is often vague. To help minimize stakeholders’ exposure to potential hidden risks, the Financial Accountability & Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition wants multinationals to disclose more information about corporate taxes.
A global movement
The FACT Coalition is a nonpartisan group of more than 100 state, national and international organizations working toward a fair global tax system and curbing corrupt financial practices. Its website reports that, until the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the 500 largest U.S. companies had $2.6 trillion stashed offshore, costing taxpayers over $750 billion in unpaid taxes. But tax reform didn’t completely stop the problem. Under the TCJA, offshore tax avoidance is expected to cost an additional $14 billion in lost tax revenue over the next decade.
As of March 2019, the United States and 77 countries require multinationals to file country-by-country reports privately to tax authorities, according to a standard set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But few countries require public disclosures of such information, except by certain banks and oil, gas and mining companies.
What inquiring minds want to know
The FACT Coalition recently issued a report titled Trending Toward Transparency: The Rise of Public Country-by-Country Reporting. It urges Congress, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to up the ante.
Specifically, the FACT Coalition wants multinational corporations to publicly disclose, on an annual, country-by-country basis:
- The number of entities,
- The names of principal entities,
- Primary activities of these entities,
- The number of employees,
- Total revenues broken out by third-party sales and intragroup transactions of the tax jurisdiction and other tax jurisdictions,
- Profit/loss before tax,
- Tangible assets other than cash and cash equivalents,
- Corporate tax paid on a cash basis,
- Corporate tax accrued on the profit or loss (including reasons for any discrepancies), and
- Significant tax incentives.
The FACT Coalition believes that “these enhanced disclosures are essential for investors to effectively value and assess the risks related to the public companies in which they have invested.”
Some multinationals, such as Vodafone and Unilever, voluntarily provide country-by-country tax disclosures. Should your company report similar information? Companies that are upfront about their tax strategies may engender trust and goodwill with stakeholders.
Contact us to discuss whether the benefits of expanded global tax disclosures outweigh the costs. We can help you collect this information and report it to your investors to a user friendly format.