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

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.

© 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

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

The Art and Science of Goodwill Impairment Testing

Goodwill shows up on a company’s balance sheet when the company has been acquired in a business combination. It represents what’s left over after the purchase price in a merger or acquisition is allocated to the company’s tangible assets, identifiable intangible assets and liabilities. Periodically, companies must test goodwill for “impairment” — that is, whether the carrying value on the balance sheet has fallen below its fair value. This assessment can be complicated.

Reporting recap

Under current U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), public companies that report goodwill on their balance sheet must test goodwill at least annually for impairment. In lieu of annual impairment testing, private companies may elect to amortize acquired goodwill over a useful life of up to 10 years.

All companies — regardless of whether they’re publicly traded or privately held — must test goodwill for impairment when a triggering event happens. Examples of triggering events that could lower the fair value of goodwill include:

  • The loss of a key customer or key person,
  • Adverse regulatory actions,
  • Unanticipated competition, and
  • Negative cash flows from operations.

Impairment may also occur if, after an acquisition has been completed, there’s an economic downturn that causes the parent company or the acquired business to lose value. Impairment write-downs reduce the carrying value of goodwill on the balance sheet. They also lower profits reported on the income statement, which may raise a red flag to lenders and investors.

Quantifying impairment

Calculating goodwill impairment was originally a two-step process: First, businesses must figure out whether an impairment exists, and then they must put a dollar figure on it. The second step includes determining the implied fair value of goodwill and comparing it with the carrying amount of goodwill on the balance sheet.

The rules for testing goodwill impairment were simplified in Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2017-04, Intangibles — Goodwill and Other, Simplifying the Test for Goodwill Impairment. The changes go live for fiscal periods starting after:

  • December 15, 2019, for public companies that file with the Securities and Exchange Commission,
  • December 15, 2020, for other public companies,
  • December 15, 2021, for privately held businesses.

Early adoption is permitted for testing dates after January 1, 2017. The updated guidance nixes the second step of the impairment test. Instead, a business will perform the impairment test by comparing the fair value of a reporting unit that includes goodwill with its carrying amount.

Who can help?

Few companies employ internal accounting staff with the requisite training and time to handle impairment testing. And most auditors won’t perform valuation services for their audit clients for fear of violating their independence standards. Instead, valuation specialists are often called in to handle these complex assignments. Contact us for more information.

© 2019

Manage Your Working Capital More Efficiently

Working capital is the difference between a company’s current assets and current liabilities. For a business to thrive, its working capital must be greater than zero. A positive balance enables the company to meet its short-term cash flow needs and grow.

But too much working capital can be a sign of inefficient management. In general, you want to generate as much income as possible from the money that’s tied up in receivables, inventory, payables and other working capital accounts. Here’s how to find the sweet spot between too little and too much working capital.

Benchmarking performance

Current assets are those that can be easily converted into cash within a 12-month period. Conversely, current liabilities include any obligations due within 12 months, including accounts payable, accrued expenses and notes payable.

In addition to calculating the difference between these two amounts, management may calculate the current ratio (current assets ÷ current liabilities) and the acid-test ratio (cash, receivables and investments ÷ current liabilities). A company’s working capital ratios can be compared over time or against competitors to help gauge performance.

You can also compute turnover ratios for receivables, inventory and payables. For example, the days-in-receivables ratio equals the average accounts receivable balance divided by annual sales times 365 days. This tells you, on average, how long it takes the company to collect customer invoices.

Staying positive

There are three main goals of working capital management:

  1. To ensure the company has enough cash to cover expenses and debt,
  2. To minimize the cost of money spent on funding working capital, and
  3. To maximize investors’ returns on assets and investments.

Maintaining a positive working capital balance requires identifying patterns of activity related to line items within the current asset and liability sections.

Digging deeper

Suppose your company’s current ratio has fallen from 1.5 to 1.2. Is this good or bad? That depends on your circumstances. You’ll need to identify the reasons it’s fallen to determine whether the decline is a sign of an impending cash flow shortage. Often the answer lies in three working capital accounts: 1) accounts receivable, 2) inventory, and 3) accounts payable.

For example, when it comes to collecting from customers, how much time elapses between the recognition of an accounts receivable and its collection? Are certain customers habitually slower to pay than others?

Inventory has significant carrying costs, including storage, insurance, interest, pilferage, and the potential for damage and obsolescence. Has your company established target inventory levels? If so, who within the organization monitors compliance? To avoid running out of materials, companies often hold too much inventory. And it’s often financed through trade debt, which can prove costly over the long term.

With respect to the payment of accounts payable, does your company pay according to the credit terms offered by the vendor? Are there penalties for paying past those terms? It might be time for your company to renegotiate its payment terms.

We can help

Working capital management is as much art as it is science. Contact us to help determine the optimal level of working capital based on the nature of your business. We can help you brainstorm ways to fortify your financial position and operate more efficiently.

© 2019 

GAAP vs. tax-basis: Which is right for your business?

Young woman comparing two things.

Most businesses report financial performance using U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). But the income-tax-basis format can save time and money for some private companies. Here’s information to help you choose the financial reporting framework that will work for your situation.

The basics

GAAP is the most common financial reporting standard in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires public companies to follow it — they don’t have a choice. Many lenders expect large private borrowers to follow suit, because GAAP is familiar and consistent.

However, compliance with GAAP can be time-consuming and costly, depending on the level of assurance provided in the financial statements. So, some private companies opt to report financial statements using an “other comprehensive basis of accounting” (OCBOA) method. The most common OCBOA method is the tax-basis format.

Key differences

Departing from GAAP can result in significant differences in financial results. Why? GAAP is based on the principle of conservatism, which prevents companies from overstating profits and asset values. This runs contrary to what the IRS expects from for-profit businesses. Tax laws generally tend to favor accelerated gross income recognition and won’t allow taxpayers to deduct expenses until the amounts are known and other deductibility requirements have been met. So, reported profits tend to be higher under tax-basis methods than under GAAP.

There are also differences in terminology. Under GAAP, companies report revenues, expenses and net income. Conversely, tax-basis entities report gross income, deductions and taxable income. Their nontaxable items typically appear as separate line items or are disclosed in a footnote.

Capitalization and depreciation of fixed assets is another noteworthy difference. Under GAAP, the cost of a fixed asset (less its salvage value) is capitalized and systematically depreciated over its useful life. For tax purposes, fixed assets are depreciated under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which generally results in shorter lives than under GAAP. Salvage value isn’t subtracted for tax purposes, but Section 179 and bonus depreciation are subtracted before computing MACRS deductions.

Other reporting differences exist for inventory, pensions, leases, start-up costs and accounting for changes and errors. In addition, companies record allowances for bad debts, sales returns, inventory obsolescence and asset impairment under GAAP. But these allowances generally aren’t permitted under tax law.

Departing from GAAP

GAAP has become increasingly complex in recent years. So some companies would prefer tax-basis reporting, if it’s appropriate for financial statement users.

For example, tax-basis financials might work for a business that’s owned, operated and financed by individuals closely involved in day-to-day operations who understand its financial position. But GAAP statements typically work better if the company has unsecured debt or numerous shareholders who own minority interests. Likewise, prospective buyers may prefer to perform due diligence on GAAP financial statements — or they may be public companies that are required to follow GAAP.

Contact us

Tax-basis reporting makes sense for certain types of businesses. But for other businesses, tax-basis financial statements may result in missing or even misleading information. We can help you evaluate the pros and cons and choose the appropriate reporting framework for your situation.

© 2019

Valuing Profits Interests in LLCs

Handsome african american businessman got a gold award in the online contest from monitor. Modern male character. Flat vector.

The use of so-called “profits interest” awards as a tool to attract and retain skilled workers has increased, as more companies are being structured as limited liability companies (LLCs), rather than as corporations. But accounting complexity has caused some private companies to shy away from these arrangements. Fortunately, relief from the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) may be coming soon.

New twist on equity compensation

Corporations tend to award traditional stock options. But profits interests are used exclusively by LLCs. As the name suggests, these arrangements provide recipients with a share of the company’s future profits. Under existing U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), these transactions may be classified as:

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

The 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 income statement expense. Profits interest can also result in the recognition of a liability on the balance sheet and require footnote disclosures.

Need for simplification

Profits interest arrangements can accomplish a variety of business objectives. Though they’re most often awarded to employees, profits interests can also be given to investors, third-party service providers and other individuals.

These awards are usually issued in exchange for future services, without direct payment or financial investment. Various terms and features can be incorporated into a profits interest. For example, these awards often have contingency features, such as vesting requirements, participation thresholds, the occurrence of certain events, limited time periods, expiration dates and forfeiture provisions. In turn, this variability can cause additional complexity compared to other forms of equity compensation and require special valuation techniques.

“Profits interest continues to come up as an area private companies are struggling with,” said Candace Wright, Chair of the Private Company Council (PCC) during a meeting with the FASB earlier this year. Private companies have been clamoring for practical expedients and additional guidance from the FASB on such issues as acceptable valuation methods, audit techniques and disclosure requirements.

Work in progress

Simplification of the financial reporting guidance would be welcome news for employers, employees and other stakeholders. Contact us for help reporting these transactions under existing U.S. GAAP or for an update on the latest developments from the FASB.

© 2019

Reasons Why Cash is King

Dollar Pipeline – lots of 20 Dollar Bills building a tube.

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.

Monitoring cash

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.

© 2019