Private companies: Are you on track to meet the 2022 deadline for the updated lease standard?

Updated accounting rules for long-term leases took effect in 2019 for public companies. Now, after several deferrals by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), private companies and private not-for-profit entities must follow suit, starting in fiscal year 2022. The updated guidance requires these organizations to report — for the first time — the full magnitude of their long-term lease obligations on the balance sheet. Here are the details.

Temporary reprieves

In 2019, the FASB deferred Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), to 2021 for private entities. Then, in 2020, the FASB granted another extension to the effective date of the updated leases standard for private firms, because of disruptions to normal business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, the changes for private entities will apply to annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021, and to interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2022. Early adoption is also permitted.

Most private organizations have welcomed these deferrals. Implementing the requisite changes to your organization’s accounting practices and systems can be time-consuming and costly, depending on its size, as well as the nature and volume of its leasing arrangements.

Changing rules

The accounting rules that currently apply to private entities require them to record lease obligations on their balance sheets only if the arrangements are considered financing transactions. Few arrangements are recorded, because accounting rules give lessees leeway to arrange the agreements in a way that they can be treated as simple rentals for financial reporting purposes. If an obligation isn’t recorded on a balance sheet, it makes a business look like it is less leveraged than it really is.

The updated guidance calls for major changes to current accounting practices for leases with terms of a year or longer. In a nutshell, ASU 2016-02 requires lessees to recognize on their balance sheets the assets and liabilities associated with all long-term rentals of machines, equipment, vehicles and real estate. The updated guidance also requires additional disclosures about the amount, timing and uncertainty of cash flows related to leases.

Most existing arrangements that currently are reported as leases will continue to be reported as leases under the updated guidance. In addition, the new definition is expected to encompass many more types of arrangements that aren’t reported as leases under current practice. Some of these arrangements may not be readily apparent, for example, if they’re embedded in service contracts or contracts with third-party manufacturers.

Act now

You can’t afford to wait until year end to adopt the updated guidance for long-term leases. Many public companies found that the implementation process took significantly more time and effort than they initially expected. Contact us to help evaluate which of your contracts must be reported as lease obligations under the new rules.

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Internal control questionnaires: How to see the complete picture

Businesses rely on internal controls to help ensure the accuracy and integrity of their financial statements, as well as prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Given their importance, internal controls are a key area of focus for internal and external auditors.

Many auditors use detailed internal control questionnaires to help evaluate the internal control environment — and ensure a comprehensive assessment. Although some audit teams still use paper-based questionnaires, many now prefer an electronic format. Here’s an overview of the types of questions that may be included and how the questionnaire may be used during an audit.

The basics

The contents of internal control questionnaires vary from one audit firm to the next. They also may be customized for a particular industry or business. Most include general questions pertaining to the company’s mission, control environment and compliance situation. There also may be sections dedicated to mission-critical or fraud-prone elements of the company’s operations, such as:

  • Accounts receivable,
  • Inventory,
  • Property, plant and equipment,
  • Intellectual property (such as patents, copyrights and customer lists),
  • Trade payables,
  • Related party transactions, and
  • Payroll.

Questionnaires usually don’t take long to complete, because most questions are closed-ended, requiring only yes-or-no answers. For example, a question might ask: Is a physical inventory count conducted annually? However, there also may be space for open-ended responses. For instance, a question might ask for a list of controls that limit physical access to the company’s inventory.

3 approaches

Internal control questionnaires are generally administered using one the following three approaches:

1. Completion by company personnel. Here, management completes the questionnaire independently. The audit team might request the company’s organization chart to ensure that the appropriate individuals are selected to participate. Auditors also might conduct preliminary interviews to confirm their selections before assigning the questionnaire.

2. Completion by the auditor based on inquiry. Under this approach, the auditor meets with company personnel to discuss a particular element of the internal control environment. Then the auditor completes the relevant section of the questionnaire and asks the people who were interviewed to review and validate the responses.

3. Completion by the auditor after testing. Here, the auditor completes the questionnaire after observing and testing the internal control environment. Once auditors complete the questionnaire, they typically ask management to review and validate the responses.

Enhanced understanding

The purpose of the internal control questionnaire is to help the audit team assess your company’s internal control system. Coupled with the audit team’s training, expertise and analysis, the questionnaire can help produce accurate, insightful audit reports. The insight gained from the questionnaire also can add value to your business by revealing holes in the control system that may need to be patched to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Contact us for more information.

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Analytics software: A brave new world in auditing

Analytical software tools will never fully replace auditors, but they can help auditors do their work more efficiently and effectively. Here’s an overview of how data analytics — such as outlier detection, regression analysis and semantic modeling — can enhance the audit process.

Auditors bring experience and professional skepticism

When it’s appropriate, instead of manually testing a representative data sample, auditors can use analytical software tools to compare an entire data population against selected criteria. This process quickly identifies anomalies hidden in large amounts of data that can be tagged for further examination by auditors during fieldwork. Analytical software tools can test various kinds of data, including accounting, internal communications and documents, and external benchmarking data.

If unusual transactions or trends are found, auditors will investigate them further using the following procedures:

  • Interviewing management about what happened and why,
  • Conducting external research online and from industry publications to independently understand what happened or to verify management’s explanation, and
  • Performing additional manual testing procedures to determine the nature of the anomaly or exception.

In addition, confirmations and representation letters from attorneys, customers and other external parties may corroborate what management says and external research reveals.

Audit findings may require action

Often, auditors conclude that irregularities have reasonable explanations. For instance, they may be due to an unexpected change in the company’s operations or external market conditions. If a change is expected to continue, it may alter the auditor’s expectations about the company’s operations going forward. Sometimes, a change discovered while auditing one part of the financials may affect audit procedures (including analytics) that will be performed on other accounts.

Alternatively, auditors may attribute some irregularities to inadvertent mistakes or intentional fraud schemes. Auditors usually communicate with the audit committee or the company’s owners as soon as possible if they discover any material errors or fraud. These irregularities might require adjustments to the financial statements. The company also might need to take action to mitigate financial losses and prevent the problem from recurring.

For example, the controller may need additional training on recent changes to the tax and accounting rules. Or management may need to implement additional internal control procedures to safeguard against dishonest behaviors. Or the owner may need to contact the company’s attorney and hire a forensic accountant to perform a formal fraud investigation.

Audit smarter

Today, companies generate, process and store massive amounts of electronic data on their networks. Increasingly, auditors are using analytical tools on this data to conduct basic audit procedures, such as vouching transactions and comparing data to external benchmarks. This frees up auditors to focus their efforts on complex transactions, suspicious relationships and high-risk accounts. Contact us for more information about how our auditors use analytical software tools in the field.

Reporting profits interest awards

During the pandemic, cash has been tight for many small businesses, which may make it hard to attract and retain skilled workers. In lieu of providing cash bonuses or annual raises, some companies may decide to give valued employees a share of their future profits. While corporations generally issue stock options, limited liability companies (LLCs) use a relatively new form of equity compensation called “profits interests” to incentivize workers. Here’s a summary of the accounting rules that are used to account for these transactions.

Types of awards

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), profits interest awards may be classified as:

  • Share-based payments,
  • Profit-sharing,
  • Bonus arrangements, or
  • Deferred compensation.

Classification is determined by the specific terms and features of the profits interest. In most cases, the fair value of the award must be recorded as an expense on the income statement. Profits interest can also result in the recognition of a liability on the balance sheet and require footnote disclosures.

Valuation

Under GAAP, fair value is the price an entity would receive to sell an asset — or pay to transfer a liability — in a transaction that’s orderly, takes place between market participants and occurs at the acquisition date. If quoted market prices and other observable inputs aren’t available, unobservable inputs are used to estimate fair value.

One of the upsides to issuing profits interest awards is their flexibility. There’s no standard definition of a profits interest; the term “profits” can refer to whatever is agreed to by the LLC and the recipient of the award. In addition, profits interest units may be subject to various terms and conditions, such as:

  • Vesting requirements,
  • Time limitations,
  • Specific performance thresholds, and
  • Forfeiture provisions.

An LLC may offer multiple types of profits interests, allowing it to customize awards for various purposes. The varieties of terms and conditions that can be incorporated into a profits interest requires the use of customized valuation techniques.

Need for improvement

Many private companies struggle with how to report profits interests. In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has discussed ways to simplify the rules, including scaling back the disclosure requirements and providing a practical expedient to measure grant-date fair value of these awards. No changes have been made yet, however.

For more information

Accounting complexity has caused some private companies to shy away from profits interest arrangements. But they can be an effective tool for attracting and retaining workers under the right circumstances. Contact us for help reporting these transactions under existing GAAP or for an update on the latest developments from the FASB.

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Analytical procedures can help make your audit more efficient

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The use of audit analytics can help during the planning and review stages of the audit. But analytics can have an even bigger impact when these procedures are used to supplement substantive testing during fieldwork.

Definition of “analytics”

Auditors use analytical procedures to evaluate financial information by assessing relationships among financial and nonfinancial data. Examples of analytical tests include:

  • Trend analysis,
  • Ratio analysis,
  • Reasonableness testing, and
  • Regression analysis.

Significant fluctuations or relationships that are materially inconsistent with other relevant information or that differ from expected values require additional investigation.

4 steps

Auditors generally follow this four-step process when performing analytical procedures:

1. Form an independent expectation. The auditor develops an expectation of an account balance or financial relationship. Expectations are based on the auditor’s understanding of the company and its industry. Examples of data used to develop expectations include prior-period information (adjusted for expected changes), management’s budgets or forecasts, and ratios published in trade journals.

2. Identify differences between expected and reported amounts. The auditor must compare his or her expectation with the amount recorded in the company’s accounting system. Then, any difference is compared to the auditor’s threshold for analytical testing. If the difference is less than the threshold, the auditor generally accepts the recorded amount without further investigation and the analytical procedure is complete. If not, the auditor moves to the next step.

3. Investigate the reason. The auditor brainstorms all possible causes and then determines the most probable cause(s) for the discrepancy. Sometimes, the analytical test or the data itself is problematic, and the auditor needs to apply additional analytical procedures with more precise data. Other times, the discrepancy has a “plausible” explanation, usually related to unusual transactions or events, or accounting or business changes.

4. Evaluate differences. The auditor evaluates the likelihood of material misstatement and then determines the nature and extent of any additional auditing procedures. Plausible explanations require corroborating audit evidence.

For differences that are due to misstatement (rather than a plausible explanation), the auditor must decide whether the misstatement is material (individually or in the aggregate). Material misstatements typically require adjustments to the amounts reported and may also necessitate additional audit procedures to determine the scope of a misstatement.

A win-win for everyone

Done right, analytical procedures can help make your audit less time-consuming, less expensive and more effective at detecting errors and omissions. Analytics also may be easier to perform remotely than traditional, manual audit testing procedures — a major upside during the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid surprises in the coming audit season, notify us about any major changes to your operations, accounting methods or market conditions that occurred during the reporting period.

© 2021

Footnote disclosures: The story behind the numbers

The footnotes to your company’s financial statements give investors and lenders insight into account balances, accounting practices and potential risk factors — knowledge that’s vital to making well-informed business and investment decisions. Here are four important issues that you should cover in your footnote disclosures.

1. Unreported or contingent liabilities

A company’s balance sheet might not reflect all future obligations. Detailed footnotes may reveal, for example, a potentially damaging lawsuit, an IRS inquiry or an environmental claim.

Footnotes also spell out the details of loan terms, warranties, contingent liabilities and leases. Unscrupulous managers may attempt to downplay liabilities to avoid violating loan agreements or admitting financial problems to stakeholders.

2. Related-party transactions

Companies may employ friends and relatives — or give preferential treatment to, or receive it from, related parties. It’s important that footnotes disclose all related parties with whom the company and its management team conduct business.

For example, say, a dress boutique rents retail space from the owner’s uncle at below-market rents, saving roughly $120,000 each year. If the retailer doesn’t disclose that this favorable related-party deal exists, its lenders may mistakenly believe that the business is more profitable than it really is. When the owner’s uncle unexpectedly dies — and the owner’s cousin, who inherits the real estate, raises the rent — the retailer could fall on hard times and the stakeholders could be blindsided by the undisclosed related-party risk.

3. Accounting changes

Footnotes disclose the nature and justification for a change in accounting principle, as well as how that change affects the financial statements. Valid reasons exist to change an accounting method, such as a regulatory mandate. But dishonest managers also can use accounting changes in, say, depreciation or inventory reporting methods to manipulate financial results.

4. Significant events

Disclosures may forewarn stakeholders that a company recently lost a major customer or will be subject to stricter regulatory oversight in the coming year. Footnotes disclose significant events that could materially impact future earnings or impair business value. But dishonest managers may overlook or downplay significant events to preserve the company’s credit standing.

Too much, too little or just right?

In recent years, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has been eliminating and simplifying footnote disclosures. While disclosure “overload” can be burdensome, it’s important that companies don’t cut back too much. Transparency is key to effective corporate governance.

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Cutoffs: What counts in 2020 vs. 2021

As year end approaches, it’s a good idea for calendar-year entities to review the guidelines for recognizing revenue and expenses. There are specific rules regarding accounting cutoffs under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Strict observance of these rules is generally the safest game plan.

The basics

Companies that follow GAAP must use the accrual method of accounting, not the cash method. That means revenues and expenses must be matched to the periods in which they were earned or incurred. The end of the period serves as a “cutoff” for recognizing revenue and expenses. For a calendar-year business, the cutoff is December 31.

However, some companies may be tempted to play timing games to lower taxes or boost financial results. The temptation might be especially high in 2020, as many companies struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now or later

Test your understanding of the cutoff rules with these two hypothetical situations:

  1. As of December 31, a calendar-year, accrual-basis auto dealership has verbally negotiated a deal on an SUV. But the customer hasn’t yet signed all the paperwork. Should the sale be reported in 2020 or 2021?
  2. On December 30, a calendar-year, accrual-basis retailer pays its rent bill for January. Rent is due on the first day of the month. Can the store deduct the extra month’s rent in 2020 to help lower its tax bill?

In both examples, the transactions should be reported in 2021, not 2020. In the first example, even if the customer takes the car home for the weekend, it doesn’t matter; there’s still the possibility the customer could back out of the deal. The dealership can’t report the transaction in 2020 revenue until the customer has signed the paperwork and paid for the vehicle with cash or financing.

Audit procedures

If your financial statements are audited, your CPA will enforce strict cutoff rules — and likely reverse any items that were reported inaccurately. Audit procedures may include reviewing customer contracts and returns reported near year end. Auditors also may compare expenses as a percentage of revenues from period to period to identify timing errors. And they may vouch expenses to invoices and contracts for accuracy.

It never reflects favorably — in the eyes of investor or lenders — when auditors adjust year-end financial statements for inaccurate observation of cutoffs. Don’t give cause for others to wonder about your operations.

Timing is critical

Contact us if you need help understanding the rules on when to record revenue or expenses. We can help you comply with the rules and minimize financial statement adjustments during your audit.

© 2020

Put your company’s financial statements to work for you

1. Benchmarking

Historical financial statements can be used to evaluate the company’s current performance vs. past performance or industry norms. A comprehensive benchmarking study includes the following elements:

Size. This is usually in terms of annual revenue, total assets or market share.

Growth. This shows how much the company’s size has changed from previous periods.

Liquidity. Working capital ratios help assess how easily assets can be converted into cash and whether current assets are sufficient to cover current liabilities.

Profitability. This section evaluates whether the business is making money from operations — before considering changes in working capital accounts, investments in capital expenditures and financing activities.

Turnover. Such ratios as total asset turnover (revenue divided by total assets) or inventory turnover (cost of sales divided by inventory) show how effectively the company manages its assets.

Leverage. This refers to how the company finances its operations — through debt or equity. Each has pros and cons.

No universal benchmarks apply to all types of businesses. So, it’s important to seek data sorted by industry, size and geographic location, if possible. To understand what’s normal for businesses like yours, consider such sources as trade journals, conventions or local roundtable meetings. Your accountant can also provide access to benchmarking studies they use during audits, reviews and consulting engagements.

2. Forecasting

Historical financial statements also may serve as the starting point for forecasting, which is a critical part of strategic planning. Comprehensive business plans include forecasted balance sheets, income statements and statements of cash flows.

Many items in your forecasts will be derived from revenue. For example, variable expenses and working capital accounts are often assumed to grow in tandem with revenue. Other items, such as rent and management salaries, are fixed over the short run. These items may need to increase in steps over the long run. For example, if a company is currently at (or near) full capacity, it may eventually need to expand its factory or purchase equipment to grow.

By tracking sources and uses of cash on the forecasted statement of cash flows, management can identify when cash shortfalls might happen and plan how to make up the difference. For example, the company might need to draw on its line of credit, lay off workers, reduce inventory levels or improve its collections. In turn, these changes will flow through to the company’s forecasted balance sheet.

For more information

Let’s take your financial statements to the next level! We can help you benchmark your company’s performance and create forecasts from your year-end financial statements.

© 2020

Preparing for the possibility of a remote audit

The coming audit season might be much different than seasons of yore. As many companies continue to operate remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, audit procedures are being adjusted accordingly. Here’s what might change as auditors work on your company’s 2020 year-end financial statements.

Eye on technology

Fortunately, when the pandemic hit, many accounting firms already had invested in staff training and technology to work remotely. For example, they were using cloud computing, remote access, videoconferencing software and drones with cameras. These technologies were intended to reduce business disruptions and costs during normal operating conditions. But they’ve also helped firms adapt while businesses are limiting face-to-face contact to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When social distancing measures went into effect in the United States around mid-March, many calendar-year audits for 2019 were already done. As we head into the next audit season, be prepared for the possibility that most procedures — from year-end inventory observations to management inquiries and audit testing — to be performed remotely. Before the start of next year’s audit, discuss which technologies your audit team will be using to conduct inquiries, access and verify data, and perform testing procedures.

Emphasis on high-risk areas

During a remote audit, expect your accountant to target three critical areas to help minimize the risk of material misstatement:

1. Internal controls. Historically, auditors have relied on the effectiveness of a client’s controls and testing of controls. Now, they must evaluate how transactions are being processed by employees who work remotely, rather than on-site as in prior periods. Specifically, your auditor will need to consider whether modified controls have been adequately designed and put into place and whether they’re operating effectively.

2. Fraud and financial misstatement. During fieldwork, auditors interview key managers and those charged with governance about fraud risks. These inquiries are most effective when done in person, because auditors can read body language and, if more than one person is present during an interview, judge the dynamics in a room. Auditors may request video conferences to help overcome the shortcomings of inquiries done over the phone or via email.

3. Physical inventory counts. Normally, auditors go where inventory is located and observe the counting process. They also perform independent test counts and check them against the inventory records. Depending on the COVID-19 situation at the time of an audit, auditors may be unable to travel to the company’s facilities, and employees might not be there physically to perform the counts. Drones, videoconferencing and live video feeds from a warehouse’s security cameras may be suitable alternatives to on-site observations.

Modified reports

In some cases, audit firms may be unable to perform certain procedures remotely, due to technology limitations or insufficient access to data needed to comply with all the requirements of the auditing standards. In those situations, your auditor might decide to issue a modified audit report with scope restrictions and limitations. Contact your CPA for more information about remote auditing and possible modifications to your company’s audit report.

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Avoiding conflicts of interest with auditors

Hand drawing two blank arrows diagram with copy space with black marker on transparent wipe board isolated on white.

A conflict of interest could impair your auditor’s objectivity and integrity and potentially compromise you company’s financial statements. That’s why it’s important to identify and manage potential conflicts of interest.

What is a conflict of interest?

According to the America Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), “A conflict of interest may occur if a member performs a professional service for a client and the member or his or her firm has a relationship with another person, entity, product or service that could, in the member’s professional judgment, be viewed by the client or other appropriate parties as impairing the member’s objectivity.” Companies should be on the lookout for potential conflicts when:

  • Hiring an external auditor,
  • Upgrading the level of assurance from a compilation or review to an audit, and
  • Using the auditor for a non-audit purposes, such as investment advisory services and human resource consulting.

Determining whether a conflict of interest exists requires an analysis of facts. Some conflicts may be obvious, while others may require in-depth scrutiny.

For example, if an auditor recommends an accounting software to an audit client and receives a commission from the software provider, a conflict of interest likely exists. Why? While the software may suit the company’s needs, the payment of a commission calls into question the auditor’s motivation in making the recommendation. That’s why the AICPA prohibits an audit firm from accepting commissions from a third party when it involves a company the firm audits.

Now consider a situation in which a company approaches an audit firm to provide assistance in a legal dispute with another company that’s an existing audit client. Here, given the inside knowledge the audit firm possesses of the company it audits, a conflict of interest likely exists. The audit firm can’t serve both parties to the lawsuit and comply with the AICPA’s ethical and professional standards.

How can auditors prevent potential conflicts?

AICPA standards require audit firms to be vigilant about avoiding potential conflicts. If a potential conflict is unearthed, audit firms have the following options:

  • Seek guidance from legal counsel or a professional body on the best path forward,
  • Disclose the conflict and secure consent from all parties to proceed,
  • Segregate responsibilities within the firm to avoid the potential for conflict, and/or
  • Decline or withdraw from the engagement that’s the source of the conflict.

Ask your auditors about the mechanisms the firm has put in place to identify and manage potential conflicts of interest before and during an engagement. For example, partners and staff members are usually required to complete annual compliance-related questionnaires and participate in education programs that cover conflicts of interest. Firms should monitor conflicts regularly, because circumstances may change over time, for example, due to employee turnover or M&A activity.

For more information

Conflicts of interest are one of the gray areas in auditing. But it’s an issue our firm takes seriously and proactively safeguards against. If you suspect that a conflict exists, contact us to discuss the matter and determine the most appropriate way to handle it.

© 2020