Audit

Measuring “fair value” for financial reporting purposes

The balance sheet usually reflects the historic cost of assets and liabilities. But certain items must be reported at “fair value” under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Here’s a closer look at what fair value is and which balance sheet accounts it affects.

Fair value vs. fair market value

Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 820 defines fair value as “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.” This definition is similar in many respects to “fair market value,” which is defined in IRS Revenue Ruling 59-60.

The main difference is that fair market value focuses on the universe of hypothetical buyers and sellers. Conversely, FASB uses the term “market participants,” which refers to buyers and sellers in the asset’s or liability’s principal market. The principal market is entity specific and may vary among companies.

Hierarchy of value

Under ASC Topic 820, fair value is most often associated with business combinations and subsequent accounting for goodwill and other intangibles after the deal closes. Other examples of items that are reported at fair value include:

  • Impairment or disposals of long-lived assets,
  • Asset retirement or environmental obligations,
  • Stock compensation, and
  • Certain financial assets and liabilities.

When measuring fair value, the FASB provides a hierarchy of methods that may not necessarily apply to valuations performed for other purposes. GAAP gives top priority to market-based methods, such as quoted prices in active markets for identical assets or liabilities.

When market data isn’t readily available for a specific company, GAAP looks to quoted prices in active markets for similar assets or liabilities — in other words, comparable public stock prices or sales of controlling interests in comparable companies. The least desirable level of inputs under GAAP is unobservable data, such as cash flow or cost estimates prepared by management (which may be used to estimate value under the income or cost approach).

Changes in value

Decreases in the fair value of an asset (or increases in the fair value of a liability) may result from, say, poor company performance, changes in economic conditions and inaccurate estimates made in the past. Companies aren’t allowed to overstate the value of assets (or understate the value of a liability) under GAAP, so changes in fair value may lead to write-offs or restatements.

Outside expertise

Auditors are specifically prohibited from providing valuation services for their public audit clients. Private companies may follow suit to prevent independence issues during audits. So, companies often turn to valuation experts who are independent from their auditors to make fair value estimates — and then their auditors can evaluate whether those estimates appear reasonable. Contact us if you have any questions about fair value, including how it’s estimated or when it applies.

© 2017

3 financial statements you should know

Successful business people have a solid understanding of the three financial statements prepared under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). A complete set of financial statements helps stakeholders — including managers, investors and lenders — evaluate a company’s financial condition and results. Here’s an overview of each report.

1. Income statement

The income statement (also known as the profit and loss statement) shows sales, expenses and the income earned after expenses over a given period. A common term used when discussing income statements is “gross profit,” or the income earned after subtracting the cost of goods sold from revenue. Cost of goods sold includes the cost of labor, materials and overhead required to make a product.

Another important term is “net income.” This is the income remaining after all expenses (including taxes) have been paid.

2. Balance sheet

This report tallies the company’s assets, liabilities and net worth to create a snapshot of its financial health. Current assets (such as accounts receivable or inventory) are reasonably expected to be converted to cash within a year, while long-term assets (such as plant and equipment) have longer lives. Similarly, current liabilities (such as accounts payable) come due within a year, while long-term liabilities are payment obligations that extend beyond the current year or operating cycle.

Net worth or owners’ equity is the extent to which the book value of assets exceeds liabilities. Because the balance sheet must balance, assets must equal liabilities plus net worth. If the value of your liabilities exceeds the value of the assets, your net worth will be negative.

Public companies may provide the details of shareholders’ equity in a separate statement called the statement of retained earnings. It details sales or repurchases of stock, dividend payments and changes caused by reported profits or losses.

3. Cash flow statement

This statement shows all the cash flowing into and out of your company. For example, your company may have cash inflows from selling products or services, borrowing money and selling stock. Outflows may result from paying expenses, investing in capital equipment and repaying debt.

Although this report may seem similar to an income statement, it focuses solely on cash. It’s possible for an otherwise profitable business to suffer from cash flow shortages, especially if it’s growing quickly.

Typically, cash flows are organized in three categories: operating, investing and financing activities. The bottom of the statement shows the net change in cash during the period. To remain in business, companies must continually generate cash to pay creditors, vendors and employees. So watch your statement of cash flows closely.

Ratios and trends

Are you monitoring ratios and trends from your financial statements? Owners and managers who pay regular attention to these three key reports stand a better chance of catching potential trouble before it gets out of hand and pivoting, when needed, to maximize the company’s value.

© 2017

FAQs about agreed upon procedures

An agreed upon procedures (AUP) engagement uses procedures similar to an audit, but on a smaller and limited scale. Here’s how a customized AUP engagement differs from an audit and can be used to identify specific problems that require immediate action.

How do AUPs compare to audits?

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) regulates both audits and AUP engagements. But the natures of these two types of accounting services are quite different. When a CPA firm performs an audit, its client is the company. With an AUP engagement, the client is typically the company’s lender or another third party — a fact that usually alleviates potential conflicts of interest.

Another key difference is that of responsibility. Audits require CPAs to provide a formal opinion on whether the company’s financial statements have been prepared in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

On the other hand, CPAs make no formal conclusions when performing AUPs; they simply act as finders of fact. It’s the client’s responsibility to draw conclusions based on the CPA’s findings.

AUP engagements may target specific financial data (such as accounts payable, accounts receivable or related party transactions), nonfinancial information (such as a review of internal controls or compliance with royalty agreements), a specific financial statement (such as the income statement or balance sheet) or even a complete set of financial statements.

When do you need AUPs?

AUPs boast several advantages over audits. They can be performed at any time during the year — not just at year end. And because you have the flexibility to choose only those procedures you feel are necessary, they can be cost-effective.

Lenders may, for example, request an AUP engagement, if they have doubts or questions about a borrower’s financials — or if they want to check on the progress of a distressed company’s turnaround plan. Or a business owner may decide to hire a CPA to perform an AUP engagement, if he or she suspects that the CFO is misrepresenting the company’s financial results or the plant manager is stealing inventory. These engagements can also be useful in mergers and acquisition due diligence.

Who can help?

An AUP engagement can be used to dig deeper into financial results and identify specific problems that require immediate action. We can help you customize an AUP engagement that can identify problems and resolve issues quickly and effectively.

© 2017

Evaluating going concern issues

Financial statements are generally prepared under the assumption that the business will remain a “going concern.” That is, it’s expected to continue to generate a positive return on its assets and meet its obligations in the ordinary course of business. But sometimes conditions put that assumption into question.

Recently, the responsibility for making going concern assessments shifted from auditors to management. So, it’s important for you to identify the red flags that going concern issues exist.

Make the call

Under Accounting Standards Update No. 2014-15, Presentation of Financial Statements — Going Concern (Subtopic 205-40): Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, management is responsible for assessing whether there are conditions or events that raise “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued — or available to be issued. (The alternate date prevents financial statements from being held for several months after year end to see if the company survives.)

When going concern issues arise, auditors may adjust balance sheet values to liquidation values, rather than historic costs. Footnotes also may report going concern issues. And the auditor’s opinion letter — which serves as a cover letter to the financial statements — may be downgraded to a qualified or adverse opinion. All of these changes forewarn lenders and investors that the company is experiencing financial distress.

Meet the threshold

When evaluating the going concern assumption, look for signs that your company’s long-term viability may be questionable, such as:

  • Recurring operating losses or working capital deficiencies,
  • Loan defaults and debt restructuring,
  • Denial of credit from suppliers,
  • Dividend arrearages,
  • Disposals of substantial assets,
  • Work stoppages and other labor difficulties,
  • Legal proceedings or legislation that jeopardizes ongoing operations,
  • Loss of a key franchise, license or patent,
  • Loss of a principal customer or supplier, and
  • An uninsured or underinsured catastrophe.

The existence of one or more of these conditions or events doesn’t automatically mean that there’s a going concern issue. Similarly, the absence of these conditions or events isn’t a guarantee that your company will meet its obligations over the next year.

Comply with the new guidance

Compliance with the new accounting standard starts with annual periods ending after December 15, 2016. So, managers of calendar-year entities will need to make the going concern assessment starting with their 2016 year-end financial statements. Contact us for more information about making going concern assessments and how it will affect your financial reporting.

© 2017

Use qualified auditors for your employee benefit plans

Employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants must generally provide an audit report when filing IRS Form 5500 each year. Plan administrators have fiduciary responsibilities to hire independent qualified public accountants to perform quality audits.

Select a qualified auditor

ERISA guidelines require employee benefit plan auditors to be licensed or certified public accountants. They also require auditors to be independent. In other words, they can’t have a financial interest in the plan or the plan sponsor that would bias their opinion about a plan’s financial condition.

But specialization also matters. The more training and experience that an auditor has with plan audits, the more familiar he or she will be with benefit plan practices and operations, as well as the special auditing standards and rules that apply to such plans. Examples of audit areas that are unique to employee benefit plans include contributions, benefit payments, participant data, and party-in-interest and prohibited transactions.

Ask questions

Employee benefit plan audits are a matter of more than just compliance. The auditor’s report highlights any problems unearthed during the audit, which can serve as a springboard for improving plan operations. The conclusion of audit work is a good time to ask such questions as the following:

  • Have plan assets covered by the audit been fairly valued?
  • Are plan obligations properly stated and described?
  • Were contributions to the plan received in a timely manner?
  • Were benefit payments made in accordance with plan terms?
  • Did the auditor identify any issues that may impact the plan’s tax status?
  • Did the auditor identify any transactions that are prohibited under ERISA?

Experienced auditors can also suggest ways to improve your plan’s operations based on their audit findings.

Protect yourself

Employee benefit plan audits offer critical protection to plan administrators and employees. Your company can’t afford to skimp when it comes to hiring an auditor who is unbiased, experienced and reliable. Contact us for more information on hiring a plan auditor.

© 2017

Signs of inventory fraud

Is your inventory being stolen by dishonest employees or customers? Inventory is a prime target for fraud schemes, second only to cash. And it doesn’t always involve the physical theft of items. Here are some early warning signs that your inventory has been targeted.

Know your risk profile

Some companies are more at risk for inventory fraud than others. Obviously, service companies with minimal inventory on hand bear little risk of inventory embezzlement; instead, it’s more common among retailers, manufacturers and contractors. In general, higher-value inventory items, such as electronics or jewelry, tend to be more attractive to thieves.

Sometimes, however, the inventory account is just a convenient place to hide financial misstatement ploys, such as skimming or bogus sales. Thousands of journal entries are typically made to the inventory account, and it’s closed out to cost of sales each year. So, thieves with access to the accounting systems may bury their scams in the inventory account. Then, victim-organizations may write off discrepancies between the computerized perpetual inventory records and physical inventory counts as external pilferage, obsolescence or errors — when, in fact, it’s due to intentional manipulation of the accounting systems.

Monitor inventory metrics

If your year-end inventory counts aren’t adding up, don’t just write off the discrepancy as a cost of doing business; investigate why. You can shed light on the situation by computing various inventory ratios, including:

  • Days in inventory (average inventory divided by annual cost of sales times 365 days),
  • Gross margin (sales minus cost of sales) as a percentage of sales,
  • Inventory as a percentage of total assets,
  • Returns as a percentage of annual sales, and
  • Shipping costs as a percentage of sales.

These metrics should be consistent over time and comparable to industry benchmarks. Sudden changes require immediate action.

Catch fraud early

The median duration — from inception to detection of a fraud scam — is 18 months, according to the 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Many victims are unaware that inventory balances are inaccurate until they’ve accrued substantial losses. Diligent managers know the signs of inventory fraud and can identify anomalies early. Contact us for help investigating a suspected inventory scam.

© 2016

Are you ready for audit season?

It’s almost audit season for calendar-year entities. A little preparation can go a long way toward facilitating the external audit process, minimizing audit adjustments and surprises, lowering your audit fees in the future and getting more value out of the audit process. Here are some ways to plan ahead.

The mindset

Before fieldwork begins, meet with your office team to explain the purpose and benefits of financial statement audits. Novice staff members may confuse financial audits with IRS audits, which can sometimes become contentious and stressful. Also designate a liaison in the accounting department who will answer inquiries and prepare document requests for auditors.

Reconciliation
Enter all transactions into the accounting system before the auditors arrive, and prepare a schedule that reconciles each account balance. Be ready to discuss any estimates that underlie account balances, such as allowances for uncollectible accounts, warranty reserves or percentage of completion.

Check the schedules to reveal discrepancies from what’s expected based on the company’s budget or prior year’s balance. Also review last year’s adjusting journal entries to see if they’ll be needed again this year. An internal review is one of the most effective ways to minimize errors and adjusting journal entries during a financial statement audit.

Work papers
Auditors are grateful when clients prepare work papers to reconcile account balances and transactions in advance. Auditors also will ask for original source documents to verify what’s reported on the financial statements, such as bank statements, sales contracts, leases and loan agreements.

Compile these documents before your audit team arrives. They may also inquire about changes to contractual agreements, regulatory or legal developments, additions to the chart of accounts and major complex transactions that occurred in 2016.
Internal controls

Evaluate internal controls before your auditor arrives. Correct any “deficiencies” or “weaknesses” in internal control policies, such as a lack of segregation of duties, managerial review or physical safeguards. Then the auditor will have fewer recommendations to report when he or she delivers the financial statements.

Value-added
Financial statement audits should be seen as a learning opportunity. Preparing for your auditor’s arrival not only facilitates the process and promotes timeliness, but also engenders a sense of teamwork between your office staff and external accountants.

© 2016

Tips for efficient year-end physical inventory counts

The basics

Inventory includes raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods. Your physical inventory count also may include parts and supplies inventory. Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), inventory is recorded at the lower of cost or market value.

Estimating the value of inventory may involve subjective judgment calls, especially if your company converts raw materials into finished goods available for sale. For example, the value of work-in-progress inventory includes overhead allocations and, in some cases, may require percentage-of-completion assessments.

A moving target

The inventory count gives a snapshot of how much inventory is on hand at year end. The value of inventory is always in flux, as work is performed and items are delivered or shipped. To capture a static value, it’s essential that business operations “freeze” while the count takes place.

Usually, it makes sense to count inventory during off-hours to minimize the disruption to business operations. Larger organizations with multiple locations may be unable to count everything at once. So, larger companies often break down their counts by physical location.

Proactive planning

Planning is the key to minimizing disruptions. Before counting starts, management can:.

  • Order (or create) prenumbered inventory tags,
  • Conduct a dry run to identify roadblocks and schedule workers,
  • Assign workers to count inventory using two-person teams to prevent fraud,
  • Write off any unsalable items, and
  • Precount and bag slow-moving items.

If your company issues audited financial statements, your audit team will be present during the physical inventory count. They aren’t there to help count inventory. Instead, they’ll observe the procedures, review written inventory processes and cutoffs, evaluate internal controls over inventory, and perform independent counts to compare to your inventory listing and counts made by your employees.

Beyond the count

When the inventory count is complete, it’s critical to investigate discrepancies between your computerized accounting records and physical inventory counts. We can use this information to help you evaluate how to stock items more efficiently and safeguard against future write-offs due to fraud, damage or obsolescence.

© 2016

Are you ready for the new revenue recognition rules?

A landmark financial reporting update is replacing about 180 pieces of industry-specific revenue accounting guidance with a single, principles-based approach. In May 2014, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) unveiled Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. In 2015, the FASB postponed the effective date for the new revenue guidance by one year. Here’s why companies that report comparative results can’t delay any longer — and how to start the implementation process.

No time to waste

The updated revenue recognition guidance takes effect for public companies for annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2017, including interim periods within those annual reporting periods. The update permits early adoption, but no earlier than the original effective date of December 15, 2016. Private companies have an extra year to implement the changes.

That may seem like a long time away, but many companies voluntarily provide comparative results. For example, the presentation of two prior years of results isn’t required under GAAP, but it helps investors, lenders and other stakeholders assess long-term performance.

Calendar-year public companies that provide two prior years of results will need to collect revenue data under one of the retrospective transition methods for 2016 and 2017 in order to issue comparative statements by 2018. Private companies would have to follow suit a year later.

A new mindset

The primary change under the updated guidance is the requirement to identify separate performance obligations — promises to transfer goods or services — in a contract. A company should treat each promised good or service (or bundle of goods or services) as a performance obligation to the extent it’s “distinct,” meaning:

  1. The customer can benefit from it (either on its own or together with other readily available resources), and
  2. It’s separately identifiable in the contract.

Then, a company must determine whether these obligations are satisfied over time or at a point in time, and recognize revenue accordingly. The shift to a principles-based approach will require greater judgment on the part of management.

Call for help

Need assistance complying with the new guidance? We can help assess how — and when — you should report revenue, explain the disclosure requirements, and evaluate the impact on customer relationships and other aspects of your business, including tax planning strategies and debt covenants.

© 2016

Overview of inventory reporting methods

It’s critical to report inventory using the optimal method. There are several legitimate options for reporting inventory — but take heed: The method you choose ultimately affects how much inventory and profit you’ll show and how much tax you’ll owe.

The basics

Inventory is generally recorded when it’s received and title transfers to the company. Then, it moves to cost of goods sold when the product ships and title transfers to the customer. But you can apply different inventory methods that will affect the value of inventory on your company’s balance sheet.

FIFO vs. LIFO

Under the first-in, first-out (FIFO) method, the first units entered into inventory are the first ones presumed sold. Conversely, under the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method, the last units entered are the first presumed sold.

In an inflationary environment, companies that report inventory using FIFO report higher inventory values, lower cost of sales and higher pretax earnings than otherwise identical companies that use LIFO. So, in an increasing-cost market, companies that use FIFO appear stronger — on the surface.

But LIFO can be an effective way to defer taxes and, therefore, improve cash flow. Using LIFO causes the low-cost items to remain in inventory. Higher cost of sales generates lower pretax earnings as long as inventory keeps growing. To keep inventory growing and avoid expensing old cost layers, however, some companies may feel compelled to produce or purchase excessive amounts of inventory. This can be an inefficient use of resources.

Specific identification

When a company’s inventory is one of a kind, such as artwork or custom jewelry, it may be appropriate to use the specific-identification method. Here, each item is reported at historic cost and that amount is generally carried on the books until the specific item is sold. But a write-off may be required if an item’s market value falls below its carrying value.

Weighing your options

Each inventory reporting method has pros and cons — and what worked when you started your business may not be the right choice today. As you prepare for year end, consider whether your method is still optimal, given your current size and business operations, expected market conditions, and today’s tax laws and accounting rules. Not sure what’s right? We can help you evaluate the options.

© 2016