Promoting and reporting diversity

Increasing diversity is a key initiative at many companies in 2020. This movement goes beyond social responsibility — it can lead to better-informed decision-making, improved productivity and enhanced value. Congress has also jumped on the diversity-and-inclusion bandwagon: Legislation is in the works that would require public companies to expand their disclosures about diversity.

Good for business

Even though it’s not reported on the balance sheet, an assembled workforce is one of your most valuable business assets. From the boardroom to the production line, people are essential to converting hard assets into revenue. However, the tone of any organization starts at the top, where key decisions are made.

Academic research has found that boards with diverse members have better financial reporting quality and are more likely to hold management accountable for poor financial performance. This concept also extends to private companies: Management teams with people from diverse backgrounds and functional areas expand the business’s abilities to respond to growth opportunities and potential threats.

Bills to expand disclosures

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) currently requires limited disclosures on boardroom diversity. Under current SEC rules, a public company must disclose whether and how it considers diversity in identifying board of director nominees. However, the rules don’t provide a definition of diversity.

In recent years, the SEC rules have been criticized for failing to provide useful information to investors. Critics want broader rules that provide more information about corporate board diversity.

In response, Congress is currently considering legislation to expand the SEC disclosure requirements. In November 2019, the House passed the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act. It would require public companies’ proxy materials to disclose additional diversity information on directors and board nominees.

The Senate introduced a similar bill in March 2020. In addition to expanding proxy statement disclosures, the Senate’s Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act would set up a diversity advisory group within the SEC to recommend ways to increase “gender, racial and ethnic diversity” on public company boards. The group would be tasked with studying strategies to improve diversity on boards of directors and would be required within nine months of its creation to report its findings and recommendations to the SEC, the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee.

In late July, a coalition of industry groups that included the American Bankers Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the Senate Banking Committee to pass the bill. “Our associations and members support efforts to increase gender, racial, and ethnic diversity on corporate boards of directors, as diversity has become increasingly important to institutional investors, pension funds, and other stakeholders,” the groups said.

Be a leader, not a follower

For now, Congressional legislation on diversity matters appears to have taken a backseat to more pressing matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, many companies are planning to voluntarily expand their disclosures for 2020. We can help assess your level of boardroom or management team diversity — and provide cutting-edge disclosures that showcase your commitment to race, gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace.

© 2020

Forecasting Financial Results For A Start-Up Business

There’s a bright side to today’s unprecedented market conditions: Agile people may discover opportunities to start new business ventures. Start-ups need a comprehensive business plan, including detailed financial forecasts, to drum up capital from investors and lenders. Entrepreneurs may also use forecasts as yardsticks for evaluating and improving performance over time.

However, forecasting can be challenging for a business with no track record, especially during today’s unprecedented conditions. Here’s an objective approach to developing forecasts based on realistic, market-based assumptions.

Starting point

Revenue is a critical line item in the forecast, because it drives many other accounts, such as direct costs, accounts receivable and inventory. To create a credible estimate of your start-up’s revenue-generating potential, consider the following questions:

  • What’s the size of the potential market?
  • How many competitors are vying for market share? What positioning strategies will the start-up use to compete?
  • How will the start-up price its products and services? Will its prices fall below, match or surpass those of competitors?
  • How will the start-up distribute products or services?
  • How many customers can the start-up support with its existing infrastructure? How will the start-up scale its operations to meet forecasted increases in demand?

It’s generally a good idea to develop multiple revenue scenarios — best, worst and most likely case. Then weight each scenario based on how likely it is to happen.

Costs and investments

Next, the costs directly attributable to producing revenue, such as materials, utilities and labor, need to be identified and quantified. These variable costs are typically stated as a percentage of forecasted revenue.

Some expenses — such as rent, insurance and administrative salaries — are fixed. That is, they remain constant over the short run, though they often have limited capacity. For example, you might need to add office space and headcount once a start-up grows beyond a certain level.

Besides expenses that are recorded on the income statement, start-ups may need working capital to ramp up operations. They may also need to invest in fixed assets, such as equipment, furniture and software. These expenditures are typically capitalized (reported) on the balance sheet and gradually depreciated their useful lives.

Finally, it’s time to focus on the missing puzzle piece: financing. You may need an initial round of capital to acquire (or produce) inventory, purchase essential assets and generate buzz about your new offering. Plus, start-ups often need ongoing access to capital — such as a revolving line of credit — to help fund the cash conversion cycle as the business grows.

Don’t let a competitor beat you to the punch!

Time is of the essence if you want to capitalize on emerging opportunities. So that you can focus on starting the business, we can help create an objective, defensible financial forecast for your start-up and benchmark your forecasted results against other successful businesses. This diligence will help impress prospective investors and lenders — and build value over the long run.

© 2020

Steps to a Successful Company Audit

While few companies will experience tax audits, all public and some closely held companies should undergo periodic company audits to stay on top of their businesses. This is an exercise that can fray nerves without preparation. But there are steps you can take to ensure audit success.

GROUNDWORK

Start by selecting your auditor. If your tax professional doesn’t offer this service, ask for a referral experienced with your business type and size. Next, pick your company liaison. This person could be an owner of a small, closely held business or a controller in a larger company.

Talk to your auditor to learn which documents, papers and files you’ll need for the review, and then compare any previous audit’s findings with actions taken. Learn where efficiencies increased and where they didn’t. Remember, an audit is only as good as the actions you undertake to correct identifiable deficiencies.

COMMUNICATION

An audit needs accurate information, so take your emotions out of the auditor relationship and be open and honest about your business. Communicate with your auditor each week to ensure deadlines are met, and expect a written report when the audit is completed.

You have a right to disagree with the audit in writing if you run a public company, and the freedom to take it or leave it if you own a privately held business. Ultimately, a properly conducted audit should help you limit risk, create efficiencies and even increase profits.

Adjusting your financial statements for COVID-19 tax relief measures

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, contains several tax-related provisions for businesses hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Those provisions will also have an impact on financial reporting.

Companies that issue financial statements under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are required to follow Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 740, Income Taxes. This complicated guidance requires companies to report the effects of new tax laws in the period they’re enacted. As a result, companies — especially those that issue quarterly financial statements or that have fiscal year ends in the coming months — are scrambling to interpret the business tax relief measures under the new law.

Overview of business tax law changes

The CARES Act suspends several revenue-generating provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). These changes aim to help improve operating cash flow for businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. Specifically, the new law temporarily scales back TCJA deduction limitations on:

  • Net operating losses (NOL),
  • Business tax losses sustained by individuals,
  • Business interest expense, and
  • Charitable contributions for corporations.

The CARES Act also accelerates the recovery of credits for prior-year corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And it fixes a TCJA drafting error for real estate qualified improvement property (QIP). The fix retroactively allows a 15-year depreciation period for QIP, making it eligible for first-year bonus depreciation in tax years after the TCJA took effect. The correction allows businesses to choose between first-year bonus depreciation for QIP expenditures and 15-year depreciation.

These changes are subject to numerous rules and restrictions. So, it’s not always clear whether a business will benefit from a particular change. In some cases, businesses may need to file amended federal income tax returns to take advantage of retroactive changes in the law. In addition, a company’s tax obligations may be impacted by relief measures provided in the states and countries where it operates.

Impact on financial reporting

Under ASC 740, companies must adjust deferred tax assets and liabilities for the effect of a change in tax laws or tax rates. On the income statement side, the adjustment is included in income from continuing operations.

If your business follows U.S. GAAP, you’ll need to account for the effect of the CARES Act on deferred tax assets and liabilities for interim and annual reporting periods that include March 27, 2020 (the date the law was signed by President Trump). Also, certain provisions, such as the modified NOL and business interest deduction rules, may impact a company’s current taxes payable. Unfortunately, some companies may have difficulty accurately forecasting income or loss in the current period due to the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Stay tuned

In the coming months, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) plans to focus on supporting businesses as they navigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and providing guidance to clarify financial reporting issues as they arise. We are atop the latest developments and can help guide you through your tax and financial reporting challenges.

© 2020

Beware: Coronavirus may affect financial reporting

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak — officially a pandemic as of March 11 — has prompted global health concerns. But you also may be worried about how it will affect your business and its financial statements for 2019 and beyond.

Close up on financial reporting

The duration and full effects of the COVID-19 outbreak are yet unknown, but the financial impacts are already widespread. When preparing financial statements, consider whether this outbreak will have a material effect on your company’s:

  • Supply chain, including potential effects on inventory and inventory valuation,
  • Revenue recognition, in particular if your contracts include variable consideration,
  • Fair value measurements in a time of high market volatility,
  • Financial assets, potential impairments and hedging strategies,
  • Measurement of goodwill and other intangible assets (including those held by subsidiaries) in areas affected severely by COVID-19,
  • Measurement and funded status of pension and other postretirement plans,
  • Tax strategies and consideration of valuation allowances on deferred tax assets, and
  • Liquidity and cash flow risks.

Also monitor your customers’ credit standing. A decline may affect a customer’s ability to pay its outstanding balance, and, in turn, require you to reevaluate the adequacy of your allowance for bad debts.

Additionally, risks related to the COVID-19 may be reported as critical audit matters (CAMs) in the auditor’s report. If your company has an audit committee, this is an excellent time to engage in a dialog with them.

Disclosure requirements and best practices

How should your company report the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on its financial statements? Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), companies must differentiate between two types of subsequent events:

1. Recognized subsequent events. These events provide additional evidence about conditions, such as bankruptcy or pending litigation, that existed at the balance sheet date. The effects of these events generally need to be recorded directly in the financial statements.

2. Nonrecognized subsequent events. These provide evidence about conditions, such as a natural disaster, that didn’t exist at the balance sheet. Rather, they arose after that date but before the financial statements are issued (or available to be issued). Such events should be disclosed in the footnotes to prevent the financial statements from being misleading. Disclosures should include the nature of the event and an estimate of its financial effect (or disclosure that such an estimate can’t be made).

The World Health Organization didn’t declare the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency until January 30, 2020. However, events that caused the outbreak had occurred before the end of 2019. So, the COVID-19 risk was present in China on December 31, 2019. Accordingly, calendar-year entities may need to recognize the effects in their financial statements for 2019 and, if applicable, the first quarter of 2020.

Need help?

There are many unknowns about the spread and severity of the COVID-19 outbreak. We can help navigate this potential crisis and evaluate its effects on your financial statements. Contact us for the latest developments.

© 2020

What are the responsibilities of an audit committee?

Before you jump headfirst into the year-end financial reporting process, review the role independent audit committees play in providing investors and markets with high-quality, reliable financial information.

Recent SEC statement

Under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations, all public companies must have an independent audit committee or have the full board of directors act as the audit committee. Likewise, many not-for-profit entities and large private companies have assembled audit committees to oversee the financial reporting process and help reduce the risk of financial misstatement.

SEC leadership recently issued a joint statement. It highlights the following key areas of focus for audit committees:

Tone at the top. Audit committees set the tone for the company’s financial reporting and the relationship with the independent auditor. The SEC statement encourages audit committees to proactively communicate with auditors and understand how they resolve issues.

Auditor independence. This is a shared responsibility of the audit firm, the issuer and its audit committee. The SEC statement suggests that audit committees consider corporate changes or other events that could affect independence.

U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The audit committee is charged with helping management comply with existing GAAP. The SEC statement reminds audit committees to consider major new accounting standards that have been adopted in recent years, including the new revenue recognition, lease and credit loss rules.

Internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR). Audit committees are responsible for overseeing ICFR. The SEC statement stresses the importance of following up on the remediation of any material weaknesses.

Communications with independent auditors. Audit committees must openly communicate with external auditors throughout the audit reporting process. The SEC statement recommends discussing such issues as accounting policies and practices, estimates and significant unusual transactions.

Non-GAAP measures. These metrics, when used appropriately in combination with GAAP measures, can provide decision-useful information to investors. The SEC statement suggests that audit committees learn how management uses these metrics to evaluate performance — and whether they’re consistently prepared and presented from period to period.

Reference rate reform. Discontinuation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) may present a material risk for companies with contracts that reference LIBOR. The SEC statement encourages audit committees to understand management’s plan to address the risks associated with reference rate reform.

Critical audit matters (CAMs). These are material accounts or disclosures communicated to the audit committee that require the auditor to make a subjective decision or use complex judgment. Beginning in 2019, auditors are required to include CAMs for certain public companies in the auditor’s report. The SEC statement reminds audit committees to understand the nature of each CAM, including the auditor’s basis for determining it and how it will be described in the auditor’s report.

Let’s work together

Collaboration between the audit committee and external auditors is critical, regardless of whether a company is publicly traded or privately held. Contact us with any questions you have regarding the financial reporting process.

© 2020

Employee benefit plans: Do you need a Form 5500 audit?

Some benefit plans are required to include an opinion from an independent qualified public accountant (IQPA) when filing Form 5500 each year. The IQPA examines the plan’s financial statements and schedules to ensure they’re presented fairly and in conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The financial statements and IQPA opinion are often referred to collectively as the “audit report.”

100 participant rule

Generally, employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants — including eligible, but not participating, as well as separated employees with account balances — must include an audit report with Form 5500, “Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan.” An audit report filed for a plan that covered 100 or more participants at the beginning of the plan year should use the “large plan” requirements.

A return/report filed for a pension benefit plan or welfare benefit plan that covered fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year should follow the “small plan” requirements. If your total participant count as of the first day of the plan year is less than 100, you generally don’t need to include an audit report with your Form 5500.

For the plan to be exempt from this requirement, at least 95% of the plan assets must be “qualifying” plan assets. And any person who handles plan assets that don’t constitute qualifying plan assets must be bonded in accordance with ERISA. The amount of the bond may not be less than the value of the qualifying plan assets.

A slight variation in the general rule exists within what is commonly referred to as the “80-120 participant rule.” If the number of participants is between 80 and 120, and a Form 5500 was filed for the previous plan year, you may elect to complete the return/report in the same category (large or small plan) that you filed for the previous return/report.

Large-plan exceptions

Generally, if a plan chooses to report as a large plan, the IRS requires the plan sponsor to file an audit report. But there are some limited exceptions to this requirement.

For example, employee welfare benefit plans that are unfunded, fully insured, or a combination of unfunded and insured don’t have to file an audit report. And neither do employee pension benefit plans that provide benefits exclusively through allocated insurance contracts or policies fully guaranteeing the payment of benefits.

Certain welfare benefit plans aren’t required to include an IQPA opinion if:

  • Benefits are paid solely from the employer’s general assets,
  • The plan provides benefits exclusively through insurance contracts or through a qualified health maintenance organization (HMO), the premiums of which are paid directly by the employer from its general assets or partly from its general assets and partly from employee contributions, or
  • The plan provides benefits partly from the sponsor’s general assets and partly through insurance contracts or a qualified HMO.

In addition, if one plan year is seven or fewer months, the IRS will defer the audit requirement for the first of two consecutive plan years. But you must still provide the financial statement, and your audit report for the second year must include an IQPA opinion on both the previous short year and the second year.

Know the rules

Failing to include a required audit report could result in the plan facing a civil suit. But you don’t want to pay for an IQPA if you don’t need to. Contact us to determine the appropriate course of action.

© 2019

Nonprofits: Are you ready for the new contribution guidance?

When the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) updated its rules for recognizing revenue from contracts in 2014, it only added to the confusion that nonprofits already had about accounting for grants and similar contracts.

Fortunately, last year, the FASB provided some much-needed clarification with Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-08, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Clarifying the Scope and the Accounting Guidance for Contributions Received and Contributions Made. Calendar-year nonprofits must follow this guidance when preparing their 2019 year-end financial statements.

Complicated rules

Nonprofits traditionally have taken varying approaches when they:

  • Characterize grants and similar contracts as exchange transactions (also known as reciprocal transactions) or contributions (nonreciprocal transactions), and
  • Distinguish between conditional and unconditional contributions.

The FASB’s updated revenue recognition guidance — ASU 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers — eliminated some of the previous guidance for nonprofits and imposed extensive disclosure requirements that didn’t seem relevant to contributions. ASU 2018-08 clarifies matters by laying out rules that will help nonprofits determine whether a grant or similar contract is indeed a contribution — and, if so, when they should recognize the revenue associated with it.

Exchange vs. contribution

To determine how to treat a grant or similar contract, you must assess whether the “provider” receives commensurate value for the assets it’s transferring. If it does, you should treat the grant or contract as an exchange transaction. ASU 2018-08 stresses that the provider (the grantor or other party) in a transaction isn’t synonymous with the general public. So, indirect benefit to the public doesn’t represent commensurate value received. Execution of the provider’s mission or positive sentiment received from donating also doesn’t constitute commensurate value received.

What if the provider doesn’t receive commensurate value? You then must determine if the asset transfer is a payment from a third-party payer for an existing transaction between you and an identified customer (for example, payments made under Medicare or a Pell Grant). If it is such a payment, the transaction won’t be considered a contribution under the ASU, and other accounting guidance would apply. If it isn’t such a payment, the transaction is accounted for as a contribution.

Conditional terms

According to ASU 2018-08, a conditional contribution includes:

  • A barrier the nonprofit must overcome to receive the contribution, and
  • Either a right of return of assets transferred or a right of release of the promisor’s obligation to transfer assets.

Unconditional contributions are recognized when received. However, conditional contributions aren’t recognized until you overcome the barriers to entitlement.

Is there a barrier to overcome before your organization can receive a contribution? Consider the inclusion of a measurable performance-related barrier, limits on your nonprofit’s discretion over how to conduct an activity or a stipulation that relates to the purpose of the agreement (not including administrative tasks and trivial stipulations such as production of an annual report). Some indicators might prove more important than others, depending on circumstances. And no single indicator is determinative.

Net effect

As a result of the updated guidance, nonprofits will likely account for more grants and similar contracts as contributions than they did under the previous rules. Check with your CPA to determine what that means for your financial statements, loan covenants and other matters.

© 2019

FAQs about prepaid expenses

The concept of “matching” is one of the basic principles of accrual-basis accounting. It requires companies to match expenses (efforts) with revenues (accomplishments) whenever it’s reasonable or practical to do so. This concept applies when companies make advance payments for expenses that will benefit more than one accounting period. Here are some questions small business owners and managers frequently ask about prepaying expenses.

When do prepaid expenses hit the income statement?

It’s common for companies to prepay such expenses as legal fees, advertising costs, insurance premiums, office supplies and rent. Rather than immediately report the full amount of an advance payment as an expense on the income statement, companies that use accrual-basis accounting methods must recognize a prepaid asset on the balance sheet.

A prepaid expense is a current asset that represents an expense the company won’t have to fund in the future. The remaining balance is gradually written off with the passage of time or as it’s consumed. The company then recognizes the reduction as an expense on the income statement.

Why can’t prepaid expenses be deducted immediately?

Immediate expensing of an item that has long-term benefits violates the matching principle under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Deducting prepaid assets in the period they’re paid makes your company look less profitable to lenders and investors, because you’re expensing the costs related to generating revenues that haven’t been earned yet. Immediate expensing of prepaid expenses also causes profits to fluctuate from period to period, making benchmarking performance over time or against competitors nearly impossible.

Does prepaying an expense make sense?

Some service providers — like your insurance carrier or an attorney in a major lawsuit — might require you to pay in advance. However, in many circumstances, prepaying expenses is optional.

There are pros and cons to prepaying. A major downside is that it takes cash away from other potential uses. Put another way, it gives vendors or suppliers interest-free use of your business’s funds. Plus, there’s a risk that the party you prepay won’t deliver what you’ve paid for.

For example, a landlord might terminate a lease — or they might file for bankruptcy, which could require a lengthy process to get your prepayment refunded, and you might not get a refund at all. Banks also might not count prepaids when computing working capital ratios. And since reporting prepaid expenses under GAAP differs slightly from reporting them for federal tax purposes, excessive prepaid activity may create complex differences to reconcile.

With that said, your company might receive a discount for prepaying. And companies without an established credit history, that have poor credit or that contract services with foreign providers, may need to prepay expenses to get favorable terms with their supply chain partners.

For more information

Start-ups and small businesses that are accustomed to using cash-basis accounting may not understand the requirement to capitalize business expenses on the balance sheet. But matching revenues and expenses is a critical part of accrual-basis accounting. Contact us with any questions you may have about reporting and managing prepaid assets.

© 2019

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.

Your role

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.

© 2019