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Hot topics for finance departments in 2015

There’s a tension for finance organizations that go public. Throughout the year, they are faced with new rules from accounting standard-setters, new guidance from accounting firms and new direction by regulators that could affect them directly.

Last year was no different as the Financial Accounting Standards Board issued 17 Accounting Standards Updates (ASUs), up from 12 in 2013, including a real biggie (the new revenue recognition standard), and the regulators continued to be active and forceful. On top of this, privately held companies are getting more rules sent their way, and an increasing number are considering whether they too should get involved in the public markets.

No matter where your organization lies in its cycle—whether you’re in a startup or a fully fledged publicly traded company past the early, shaky days of trading—you have many issues to face in the coming year as your team puts together its financial reports and communicates with investors. Here are recent changes you should keep in mind, depending on your situation:

Taking on the new revenue recognition rule: By now companies should be past the evaluation stage and their plan to implement should be nearing completion. They should start tracking their transactions to see how they’ll play out under the new guidance.

Until formal adoption in 2017, companies must disclose the anticipated effect the new standard will have on their financials, so knowing the magnitude of the change is a critical initial step. It could lead to adjustments in processes and affect how contracts are drafted. Moreover, companies need to have this type of data around now to decide whether to adopt the standard retrospectively (which will include 2015 financials) or prospectively (beginning January 2017).

The entire endeavor will go beyond the finance department. As we saw with the implementation of the previous revenue recognition standard, possibly business practices and certainly revenue accounting processes and systems will need to adapt to record revenue transactions correctly.

Simplifying matters for private companies: The good news for private companies is FASB’s Private Company Council (PCC), now a year into its Decision-Making Framework for determining the situations when private companies can use an accounting alternative, issued four PCC-consensus ASUs in 2014. With the goal of simplifying accounting and reporting for private companies, these new ASUs should reduce private companies’ cost of compliance.

      • 2014-02: allows private companies to evaluate goodwill impairment when a triggering event occurs rather than annually.
      • 2014-03: provides a simpler method of accounting for derivatives.
      • 2014-07: provides a simpler alternative than the variable interest entity (VIE) model for accounting for leases under common control.
      • 2014-18: hot off the FASB presses in time for Christmas, this ASU simplifies private company accounting for intangible assets acquired through a business combination.

Preparing for public-company life: Depending on your viewpoint, there has been a positive effect of the reduced reporting and SOX compliance provisions from the JOBS Act in the increased number of IPOs in 2014 (a 44% increase over the number of 2013 filings). And IPO and follow-on public market financing activity don’t seem to be tailing off so far as we start 2015, particularly in the Bay Area.

But before private companies rush to Wall Street, they need to remember that despite a one-year exemption from the requirement to have their auditors sign off on SOX, management must still include their own assertion regarding internal controls in SEC reports beginning with the second 10-K and will want to have effective internal controls way before then. The auditors will still want to get comfortable in knowing management is doing what they say they’re doing. (For more about braving the new world as a post-IPO business, see our recent intelligence report, Ensuring a smooth ride as a newly public company.)

Getting ready for the audit: Finally, the auditors also received their own flurry of new rules and warnings from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board in 2014. Companies will end up feeling the effect as those changes trickle down, leading auditors to deepen their focus as they review certain accounting methods. The PCAOB has stated the new audit requirements and alerts were issued in response to insufficient audit procedures in areas that have a higher risk for misstatements and the incidence of deficiencies.

There is a new audit requirement surrounding transactions and financial relationships with related parties, including executive officers, as well as requirements that strengthen the auditing of significant unusual transactions.

Two new practice alerts were issued in the fourth quarter of 2014. One dealt with auditing revenue, specifically testing recognition and timing, evaluating the presentation (gross vs. net), internal controls, and the risk of fraud. Additionally, the alert addresses the application of audit sampling and analytic testing procedures.

The second alert reminds auditors about PCAOB standards related to auditing “going concern” with regard to the application of updated accounting and reporting guidance. The PCAOB’s agenda for 2015 includes a project to consider updating the auditing standard.

Companies will still need to be ready for the increased scrutiny by the auditors of their 2014 results as a result of the alert issued late in 2013 that seemed to sneak up on them as they went through audits last year. Be ready for testing of review controls, controls over system-generated data and reports, and management’s evaluation of identified control deficiencies.

We all recognize that the pace of change keeps accelerating and isn’t likely to slow down in 2015. Staying on top of what’s new and what applies to our specific situation requires quite a bit of focus. It is part of what makes your finance and accounting folks such valuable members of the team.

Julie Gilson is a senior consultant with RoseRyan and a CPA (inactive) with over 15 years working in finance and accounting with fast-moving public and private technology companies.

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