Archives For corporate reporting

By Martin Brassell, co-author of Banking on IP and Inngot CEO, on the new financial reporting standard and its implications for intangible assets

The new Financial Reporting Standard 102 (‘FRS 102’) comes into effect from the end of 2015 (where a company’s accounting year is the calendar year) and April 2016 (where it is the fiscal year). It changes the treatment of intangible assets for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who will now follow substantially the same rules as multinationals.

It’s therefore a good time to brush up on the identification and valuation of this category of assets, which is responsible for driving the majority of value in most companies. The main changes fall under two headings.

Buying or ‘merging’ companies

Currently, when two companies are combined, either merger accounting (adding the two existing balance-sheets together) or acquisition accounting (placing a fair value on all acquired company’s assets) might be permissible. FRS 102 states acquisition accounting must be used in nearly all cases (bar group reorganisations).

Also, acquisition accounting rules are being updated. Any excess paid over and above the fair value of the fixed assets and liabilities can no longer simply be characterised as ‘goodwill’. Instead, it needs to be broken down into goodwill and identifiable intangible assets, in a very similar manner to IFRS 3 (with some minor wording differences).

This means that the sources of intangible value that have never previously appeared on an acquired company’s balance-sheet will need to be identified and quantified.

The useful life of intangible assets and goodwill

FRS 102 preserves the option, previously available under SSAP 13 (which it replaces), of either amortising qualifying development costs of new products and services over a suitable period, or expensing these costs during the year in which they are incurred.

However, UK GAAP currently permits ‘goodwill’ to have an indefinite life, as long as the value is tested annually for impairment. Under FRS 102, the concept of an indefinite life falls away and a lifespan has to be specified for amortisation purposes.

If an asset’s lifespan cannot be determined reliably, a ‘default’ figure of five years must be used. This is much shorter than existing UK GAAP, under which it would have been customary to amortise some assets over a much longer period (up to 20 years).

Combine these changes with the reduced role of ‘hard’ assets, which are increasingly outstripped by spending on intangibles, and the number of businesses looking to reflect their real investment profile on their balance-sheet looks set to rise.

ACCA is currently running a UK pilot of the National Corporate Innovation Index methodology, which looks at the value created by intangible asset investment across a range of categories. ACCA members engaged with SMEs can participate and obtain a report for their client company by emailing rosalind.goates@accaglobal.com. Interest in participation needs to be expressed by 28 August 2015.

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By Paul Cooper, corporate reporting manager, ACCA
Along with ACCA’s UK and Ireland-based members of its Global Forum for Corporate Reporting, I have been involved with our response to the Financial Reporting Council’s (FRC) consultation on its latest proposals on financial reporting by residential management companies (RMCs).

The FRC wants to clarify how RMCs account for expenditure from the service charge monies they hold for maintenance and other matters, such as repairs and gardening. Reflecting the legal position, a RMC’s financial statements would recognise this as service charge expenditure. At the same time, an equivalent amount of income would be recognised, representing drawings from the service charge monies received (i.e., a balancing figure). This means that to match the expenses it gives a net effect of nil, and shows the expenses are funded from the service charge receipts. These monies are held by the RMC in trust for the leaseholders, and cannot therefore be shown as an asset on the RMC’s balance sheet. The FRC proposes that the balance of the monies held is disclosed for information, along with the fact of its trust status.

While acknowledging that these proposals represent some progress by the FRC, ACCA is concerned that much more is needed to deliver authoritative guidance which fully meets the needs of leaseholders. The reporting envisaged by the FRC also has some, but not complete, common ground with the Summary of Costs, something that leaseholders can require under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. In consequence, there is potential for creating confusion.

Where, as is frequently the case, the leaseholders are the members of the RMC, their information needs are presently often satisfied by including all transactions and balances in the financial statements of the RMC. This methodology goes far beyond the FRC proposals by also recognising, for example, accrued expenses, service charge debtors and the balance of the sinking fund (reserves). As it satisfies the information needs of leaseholders, it is unlikely that a statutory Summary of Costs will also be required. However, this method of accounting is incorrect, particularly as the RMC is recognising assets and liabilities which are not its own.

A working group, which was devised by ACCA and other professional bodies, produced best practice guidance to encourage financial reporting by RMCs which is both appropriate, and attempts to meet the information needs of leaseholders. However, the guidance is not binding, tends not to be favoured by the leaseholders, and RMCs usually have no external stakeholder which could require them to adopt the correct method of financial reporting.

ACCA believes that the solution would be for the FRC to use its greater authority and endorse similar comprehensive guidance, rather than the partial solution which it currently proposes. A consultation process for such guidance would also enable the advisers of RMCs to provide their views, in order to accommodate the preferences of leaseholders as far as is possible. Legal and accounting terms need to be looked at together on this issue.

ACCA’s response can be read in full here

By Ian Welch, head of policy, ACCA

Ian Welch

ACCA has consistently stated that the view of investors should be at the heart of standard-setting and financial policymaking. Too often their voice is not heard as rules are being made or proposals formulated.

But who exactly are the investors? How have their asset allocations and investment strategies changed since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC)? And, of most direct interest to accountants, what do they want from corporate reporting?
ACCA is undertaking a four-stage project examining the UK and Ireland investor landscape, post-GFC and the first two reports, based on interviews with key players and a survey of 300 investors carried out concurrently, reveal trends of far greater international application.

The increase in short-termism is one clear trend. The traditional domination of markets by pension funds and insurance companies has been eroded both by greater international ownership of companies, and by the emergence of other players such as hedge funds and private equity firms, with shorter-term investment horizons. And even the traditional players have switched much of their investment from equities to bonds, as a result of the GFC.

Added to this , the vastly increasing proportion (estimated by some to be 80%) of trades that takes place via computer in nano-seconds has left a question mark on who the owners of companies actually are – and how companies can meaningfully engage with investors who hold shares for a very short time. We have already seen international policymakers, such as the G20 and EU, responding with measures to enhance long-term finance and address the ‘ownership vacuum’. More is needed, it seems.

Low interest rates are another key trend. Central bank activism, leading to loose monetary policy, historically low interest rates and currency wars throughout Europe and the US has been a major response by the authorities to the GFC. This has had a clear effect on investors, making them search for yields in riskier investments.

Perhaps inevitably, the greater pressures on investors has seen a constant demand for more information and transparency -and the proliferation of new technologies such as mobile and social media has led to massively more corporate information being available, much of it on a real-time basis. But how much it is useful, and how do investors prevent themselves being overwhelmed?

Intriguingly our research revealed a dichotomy – and one which leaves policymakers with much to ponder. Three-quarters of investors say that, that the quarterly report remains a valuable input to their investment decision-making. Yet, at the same time, almost half of investors believe mandatory quarterly reporting should be abandoned, with almost two-thirds believing the increase in information has encouraged “hyper-investment” and taken up excessive amounts of management time.

This suggests a “tragedy of the commons” effect, whereby individual investors want to consume quarterly reporting for their own self-interest, despite recognizing that this focus on shortening time horizons is damaging for the overall market’s long-term interests.

Fully 45% said they had little use for the annual report – and worryingly, two-thirds said their faith in company reporting had declined since the GFC. Almost half that believe management has too much discretion in the financial numbers they report. While perhaps not surprising, these are nonetheless chastening findings for standard-setters and policy-makers to reflect on.

Is there any good news for the profession? Yes for auditors – much maligned of late – as external assurance of company figures seemed to be their main source of credibility. And investors claimed that they would be prepared to pay more to have additional information available contemporaneously as long as it was externally verified. This would put pressure on the audit profession – but it should consider it carefully as a way of regaining the initiative following recent critical political and regulatory inquiries on audit.

There is much here for many other parties to chew over, and ACCA will be following this up with a series of events designed to bring key players together to thrash it out, before releasing stages 3 and 4 in this research series, which will look at the ‘real-time’ issue in greater depth and investigate corporate reaction.

But for now, accounting standard-setters and regulators must consider the criticism of standards and the annual report. Policy- makers must wrestle with the quarterly reporting conundrum. And the investors themselves must consider how to get their voice more clearly heard when policy decisions that affect them are being made. If they really are prepared to pay more for a wider audit, then now would be a good time to let that be clearly known.

This post first featured in The Accountant, June 2013