financial statement

Beware of accounts deceivable

More than half of financial statement frauds involve sales and accounts receivable, according to the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission. (COSO is a joint initiative of five private sector organizations that develops frameworks and guidance on enterprise risk management, internal control and fraud deterrence.) But why do fraudsters tend to target accounts receivable?

For accrual-basis entities, accounts receivable is typically one of the most active accounts in the general ledger. It’s where companies report contract revenue and any other sales that are invoiced to the customer (rather than paid directly in cash). The sheer volume of transactions flowing through this account helps hide a variety of scams. Here are some examples.

Fictitious sales

Sometimes fraudsters book phony sales — and receivables — to make their company’s performance appear rosier than reality. Increased sales assure stakeholders that the company is growing and building market share. They also increase profits artificially, because bogus sales generate no costs. And, overstated receivables inflate the collateral base, allowing the company to secure additional financing.

Timing differences

Unscrupulous owners or employees might manipulate cutoffs to boost sales and receivables in the current accounting period. For example, a salesperson could prematurely report a large contract sale even though material uncertainties exist. A retail chain CFO could hold the accounting period open a few extra days to boost year-end sales. Or a contractor might use aggressive percentage-of-completion estimates to boost revenues.

Lapping

Some employees divert customer payments for their personal use. Then, the fraudster applies a subsequent payment from another customer to the customer whose funds were stolen. The second customer’s account is credited by a third customer’s payment, and so on. Delayed payments continue until the fraudster repays the money, makes an adjusting journal entry or gets caught.

Know the red flags

Accounts receivable fraud can be hard to unearth. Fortunately, experienced forensic accountants know to look for such anomalies as:

  • Dramatically increased accounts receivable compared to sales or total assets,
  • Revenues increasing without a proportionate increase in cost of sales or shipping costs,
  • Deteriorating collections, and
  • Significant write-offs and returns in subsequent periods.

If something seems awry with your accounts receivable, we can help verify your outstanding balances and find holes in your internal controls system to safeguard against future scams.

© 2016

The basics of pushdown accounting

Both public and private companies can elect to use “pushdown” accounting when there’s a merger, acquisition or other change-in-control event. What does this mean — and when might this alternative reporting method be advantageous?

Understanding your options

Pushdown accounting refers to the practice of adjusting an acquired company’s standalone financial statements to reflect the acquirer’s accounting basis rather than the target’s historical costs. Typically, this means stepping up the target’s net assets to fair value and, to the extent the purchase price exceeds fair value, recognizing the excess as goodwill.

In 2014, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-17, Business Combinations (Topic 805): Pushdown Accounting (a consensus of the FASB Emerging Issues Task Force). The updated guidance made pushdown accounting optional for all companies.

Reporting post-M&A performance

Whether pushdown accounting is appropriate depends on a company’s particular circumstances. For some companies, there may be advantages to reporting assets and liabilities at fair value and adopting consistent accounting policies for both the parent and subsidiary. Other companies may prefer not to apply pushdown accounting to avoid the negative impact on earnings, often associated with a step-up to fair value.

Previously, U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) provided little guidance on when pushdown accounting might be appropriate. For public companies, SEC guidance generally prohibited pushdown accounting unless the acquirer obtained at least an 80% interest in the target, and it generally required pushdown accounting when the acquirer’s interest reached 95%. The SEC has rescinded portions of its pushdown accounting guidance, bringing it in line with the FASB’s new standard.

Weighing your options

For each individual change-in-control event, acquired companies must evaluate the option to apply pushdown accounting. And once pushdown accounting is applied, the election is irrevocable. Acquired companies that apply pushdown accounting in their standalone financial statements are required to include disclosures in the current reporting period to help users evaluate its effects. Contact our A&A specialists for help deciding whether to elect this reporting option.