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.

Equity-based compensation — Northern California’s universal answer to engendering loyalty in employees — is a useful tool but a complicated one. This was one of several hard truths heard by attendees during BayBio’s recent Lunch & Learn event by RoseRyan. Accompanied by compensation consultancy Radford, RoseRyan hosted this packed event on February 26 at BayBio’s headquarters in San Francisco.

To retain top talent these days, companies have a variety of stock-based methods, which are accompanied by their share of accounting, tax, and legal issues. What strategy a company picks today for rewarding employees could affect how smoothly it can transition to another version of itself later on, either as a public entity or as an acquisition target.

During their comprehensive overview of what private companies need to realize as they structure and maintain their comp plans, Kelley Wall, a director at RoseRyan who leads the firm’s Technical Accounting Group, and Kyle Holm, an associate partner at Radford, hit upon the following hard truths.

1. Your company will have to up the ante as it matures.
Startups tend to begin with just stock options and then work their way up to restricted stock or restricted stock units and eventually performance-based awards. Each compensation type comes with its own set of pros and cons. For example, stock options do not lead to immediate dilution whereas restricted stock does. Employees may favor restricted stock for the fact it will give them ownership right away, but tax consequences upon vesting can be troublesome.

And while performance awards encourage goal-based behavior, they are not without their challenges. With these type of awards, companies have to regularly determine the probability of employees meeting their performance targets and adjust their stock-compensation expense accordingly, which can create some volatility in earnings. And it may be difficult for early-stage companies to adequately assess performance targets — any modifications of those targets down the road will result in modification accounting and likely additional compensation expense.

2. Modifications can be messy.
Modifications will happen. The roles of employees change, employees come and go, and employees’ individual targets for reaping the benefits of a pay plan will evolve. And so will the way the company accounts for compensation. Situations where accounting changes come into play include: giving a terminated employee an extended period to exercise their options beyond what was initially agreed upon; changing performance-based metrics; and hiring consultants and allowing them to continue to hold the stock options they were granted as consultants. In general, any change to an award or an award holder’s status should trigger a review of accounting modifications.

3. Your payment systems are only as accurate as the data you’ve put into them.
Wall acknowledged this truth seems fairly obvious but cautioned that lack of data integrity continues to trip up companies. Too often companies lean too heavily on outside lawyers and accountants without realizing those service providers can’t keep up with changes within a business if they don’t know about them.

The fact is the majority of stock-based compensation data has some underlying issues. For instance, RoseRyan has seen a company with vesting stock options for employees who left five years ago — which led to an overstatement when the information was uncovered. To make sure the data surrounding their equity plans are clean, companies need a system of checks and balances — such as reconciling awards granted with board minutes at least once a quarter and having a process to tie employee terminations to the equity records.

4. You have a lot to consider about your equity plans if an IPO is in your future.
One of the hardest truths hits in the time leading up to a public offering. This is when tough questions arise over all the decisions that have been made beforehand, Holm warned, and even more difficult choices will need to be made. Those who have a stake in the company will shift their focus from their percentage of ownership to the actual value of their shares. Companies going through the transition will need to determine whether they should consider amending their stock plans. They’ll also need to define their post-IPO equity pool size. And they’ll need to take a look at how they communicate beyond one-on-one pay agreements. It’s also a good time to consider what information will be publicly disclosed in your registration statement. For one, details about pay plans for the most highly paid senior leaders will be publicized, not only to investors and securities regulators but employees as well. There’s also a lot of information regarding the plans and award details included in SEC filings, and newly-public companies are burdened with additional disclosures around stock valuation.

While equity-based compensation comes with issues, Wall noted, managers can provide robust pay plans that do what they’re supposed to — retain top talent — as long as they operate with their eyes wide open with an awareness of how changes and new decisions will have consequences.

This post originally appeared here, on BayBio’s website.

RoseRyan and Assay Investor Perspectives just released their Share Price Survey Results after meeting individually with more than 20 senior finance leaders and directors and surveying others online. We intended to gain an understanding of what private and public companies are doing to actively manage their valuation and share price over time.

It turns out they are making some efforts but lack the expertise and long-term strategy to pull it off well. After the clever pre-IPO road show presentations and after all the investment bankers have gone home, there’s little thought put into creating a comprehensive “share price strategy.”

It’s a hot topic. Share price and valuation always get attention whenever RoseRyan provides thought leadership papers or events on this topic. That’s not so surprising since we are in Silicon Valley after all, surrounded by all the hoopla that accompanies the latest IPO, merger or acquisition – and all the valuations that go along with them.

The excitement is even greater these days as we are in the midst of a busy IPO market. In 2013, FireEye, Portola Pharmaceuticals, Twitter, Rocket Fuel, Veracyte, Marketo and others kicked it off. And the trend is continuing, with anticipation that Box, KineMed, Dropbox, Asterias Biotherapeutics, Square, Spotify, Airbnb and others will soon file as well.

It is amazing how much effort goes into preparing for an IPO. What comes next involves hard work as well. Companies that let the inevitable “post-IPO hangover” take too much of an effect miss out on critical opportunities. Those hot-shot companies will need to take their singular focus off getting to the IPO bell and spend a little time considering how they will maintain their share price and valuation. But most likely they will not. Too often, newly public companies don’t come up with a strategy for how they are going to not only maintain their lofty valuation but also increase it over time.

What to Do Next
Executives usually have two choices to increase their valuation – grow their income or increase their multiple. What the survey results and our discussions show is that companies really don’t understand what the buy-side analysts are looking for. The buy-side analysts’ focus is usually on the multiple and the levers that will move the multiple directly. Most companies focus on increasing net income, which is what most buy-side analysts don’t focus on.

Why is there such a big disconnect? It is centered on the nature of the people doing the work. Most investor relations representatives have either a communications or a sell-side background, and most buy-side analysts have advanced degrees or PhDs in mathematics. And most company executives have MBAs. These different backgrounds can lead to a mismatch in the way these groups speak to each other and understand each other. Basically, they are speaking different languages.

The results of our executive conversations show that this disconnect is causing issues in long-term valuations. Companies’ lack of a solid understanding of buy-side analysts and what really drives share price can expose them to undervaluation. A depressed (from where it should be) valuation impacts recruiting, brand, motivation and culture.

Senior leaders can reverse this trend by deploying strategies that really drive the multiple and having a focused strategy on communicating those strategies to analysts. This does not preclude companies’ need for focusing on increasing income; it just means if they want to supercharge their valuation, they need to have clear strategies that increase their multiple. Read our report, Share Price Survey Results 2013, for the details.

Chris Vane is a director at RoseRyan, where he leads the development of the finance and accounting firm’s cleantech and high tech practices. He is open to discussing ways to positively impact your company’s share price/valuation. Contact Chris at [email protected] or call him at 510.456.3056 x169.

RoseRyan is presenting a free breakfast seminar, “Optimizing Your Liquidity Event: Practical Advice From the Trenches,” on June 12 in Palo Alto.

It will show you how to maximize the profitability—and minimize the pain—of your future IPO or M&A, setting the stage for success by methodically dealing with legal, finance and accounting issues and policies. Topics include:

  • Managing processes and policies
  • Avoiding the primary deal killers
  • Preparing financial accounting and reporting

You’ll also get an unvarnished account of the NeoPhotonics IPO from the company’s vice president and CFO, James D. Fay. He’ll share what worked, what didn’t and what the company learned from the experience.

Our panel also includes these IPO and M&A experts:

Pat Voll, Vice President, RoseRyan: Pat leads RoseRyan’s compliance and ERM practice and has worked on numerous IPOs and M&As.

Yoomin Hong, Vice President, Goldman, Sachs & Co.: Yoomin focuses on origination and execution of strategic and financing transactions for clients in the cleantech sector.

E. Thom (Todd) Rumberger Jr., Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP: Todd focuses on private equity, M&As and venture capital, and guiding Internet, software, telecommunications, digital media and financial services companies through all stages of their growth.

The seminar takes place 8–10 a.m. at Foley & Lardner in Palo Alto. Get details and register here. 

We know that making time to attend a seminar is tough in our over-scheduled lives. And reading presentation slides is rarely an ideal way to connect the dots of complex subjects. Maybe you’d like to expand your knowledge while wearing your sweats and eating popcorn? Well, now you can.

We’ve made getting guidance easy—with our videos, you can take in valuable information while propping your feet up on your desk or walking your way to fitness at your mobile workstation, if you insist on multitasking.

Check out videos of our three most recent seminars:

IPO Bound? New Strategies, New Ideas and Tips for Success

IPO ahead? Learn the dos and don’ts at key stages and get legal, finance and auditor perspectives on how to get your house in order, tell your business story, nail your S-1 and hit your runway. (This program provides great business advice, even if an IPO’s not in your future.)

Equity Compensation: End-to-End Strategies for Private Companies

Whether your plans are for growth or a lucrative exit, don’t let thorny equity compensation design and execution issues ground them. Get legal, HR, accounting and industry perspectives on setting yourself up for success, avoiding common pitfalls and planning for an M&A deal or IPO.

Valuation Metrics and Drivers in Today’s Economy

Whatever your goals, a high valuation is a top priority. Demystify the valuation equation and understand market variables, business model economics, and analyst and investor perspectives; develop a valuation strategy; and avoid mistakes and deal breakers.

Taking your company public is a heady thought. But as soon you climb off Cloud 9, you realize there’s a lot to contemplate—including people, process and technology—as you start down that road. Three Silicon Valley experts recently shared their insights on making IPO dreams a reality at a popular RoseRyan-sponsored seminar, IPO Bound? New Strategies, New Ideas and Tips for Success.

Kelley Wall of RoseRyan, Matt Taggart of Ernst & Young, and Dan Winnike of Fenwick & West aimed their advice at high-tech, life sciences and cleantech companies that are beginning to plan for IPOs. Here are the headlines:

Your journey to a successful IPO requires planning for three phases: the one to two years prior to your big event, the actual IPO process and post-IPO operations. Each phase presents legal, audit and accounting issues and requirements. Anticipating the issues and staying up to date on the requirements can minimize risk and accelerate execution of your IPO.

Among other things, you may be wondering how you’re going to accommodate IPO planning on top of managing and growing your company. And how can you recruit a board of directors that will help take your post-IPO enterprise where you want it to go? Good questions!

For the answers, and more insights on preparing for the big event, check out the seminar presentation slides.