revenue

Why revenue matters in an audit

For many companies, revenue is one of the largest financial statement accounts. It’s also highly susceptible to financial misstatement.

When it comes to revenue, auditors customarily watch for fictitious transactions and premature recognition ploys. Here’s a look at some examples of critical issues that auditors may target to prevent and detect improper revenue recognition tactics.

Contractual arrangements

Auditors aim to understand the company, its environment and its internal controls. This includes becoming familiar with key products and services and the contractual terms of the company’s sales transactions. With this knowledge, the auditor can identify key terms of standardized contracts and evaluate the effects of nonstandard terms. Such information helps the auditor determine the procedures necessary to test whether revenue was properly reported.

For example, in construction-type or production-type contracts, audit procedures may be designed to 1) test management’s estimated costs to complete projects, 2) test the progress of contracts, and 3) evaluate the reasonableness of the company’s application of the percentage-of-completion method of accounting.

Gross vs. net revenue

Auditors evaluate whether the company is the principal or agent in a given transaction. This information is needed to evaluate whether the company’s presentation of revenue on a gross basis (as a principal) vs. a net basis (as an agent) complies with applicable standards.

Revenue cutoffs

Revenue must be reported in the correct accounting period (generally the period in which it’s earned). Cutoff testing procedures should be designed to detect potential misstatements related to timing issues, as well as to obtain sufficient relevant and reliable evidence regarding whether revenue is recorded in the appropriate period.

If the risk of improper accounting cutoffs is related to overstatement or understatement of revenue, the procedures should encompass testing of revenue recorded in the period covered by the financial statements — and in the subsequent period.

A typical cutoff procedure might involve testing sales transactions by comparing sales data for a sufficient period before and after year end to sales invoices, shipping documentation or other evidence. Such comparisons help determine whether revenue recognition criteria were met and sales were recorded in the proper period.

Renewed attention

Starting in 2018 for public companies and 2019 for other entities, revenue must be reported using the new principles-based guidance found in Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. The updated guidance doesn’t affect the amount of revenue companies report over the life of a contract. Rather, it affects the timing of revenue recognition.

In light of the new revenue recognition standard, companies should expect revenue to receive renewed attention in the coming audit season. Contact us to help implement the new revenue recognition rules or to discuss how the changes will affect audit fieldwork.

© 2018

How to conduct a year-end risk assessment

Auditors assess their clients’ risk factors when planning for next year’s financial statement audit. Likewise, proactive managers assess risks at year end. A so-called “SWOT” analysis can help frame that assessment.

Typically presented as a matrix, this analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats provides a logical framework for understanding how a business runs. It tells what you’re doing right (and wrong) and predicts what outside forces could impact cash flow in a positive (or negative) manner.

Internal factors

SWOT analysis starts by identifying strengths and weaknesses from the customer’s perspective. Strengths represent potential areas for boosting revenues and building value, including core competencies or competitive advantages. Examples might include a strong brand image, a loyal customer base or exceptional customer service.

It’s important to unearth the source of each strength. When strengths are largely tied to people, rather than the business itself, consider what might happen if a key person suddenly left the business. To offset key person risks, consider:

  • Purchasing life insurance policies on key people,
  • Initiating noncompete or buy-sell agreements, or
  • Implementing a formal succession plan designed to transition management to the next generation.

Weaknesses represent potential risks and should be minimized or eliminated. They might include high employee turnover, weak internal controls, unreliable quality or a location with poor accessibility. Often weaknesses are evaluated relative to the company’s competitors.

Outside influences

The next part of a SWOT analysis looks externally at what’s happening in the industry, economy and regulatory environment. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could increase revenues and value if the company acts on them before its competitors do.

Threats are unfavorable conditions that might prevent your company from achieving its goals. Threats might come from the economy, technological changes, competition and increased regulation. The idea is to watch for and minimize existing and potential threats.

Need help?

Contact us for help putting your company’s risk framework together. We can guide you on how to use SWOT analysis to evaluate 2017 financial results and plan for the future.

© 2017

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