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CFOs Largely Unaware of Pending Revenue Rule

Tammy Whitehouse | June 25, 2013

As the Financial Accounting Standards Board prepares to publish its final standard to overhaul accounting for revenue recognition, a rule that has been years in the making, more than half of CFOs who participated in a recent Grant Thornton survey said they are unaware of the changes that are about to take place.

Grant Thornton polled nearly 1,300 CFOs with companies of all types and sizes in the spring of 2013 and found 54 percent were unaware that FASB plans to issue a new revenue recognition standard that will replace most of the current industry standards with a single approach that applies to all public and non-public entities. FASB is expected to issue its final standard in the third quarter with the rule expected to take effect in 2017.

The awareness level rises with the revenue of the company that the CFO represents, according to the survey results. Among CFOs with companies that recognize less than $100 million in revenue, only 38 percent were familiar with the forthcoming rule. When the company's revenue is greater than $5 billion, 72 percent of CFOs said they knew of the new standard.

Only 23 percent of the CFOs in Grant Thornton's survey result represent public companies, although the new revenue recognition standard will apply to public and private companies alike. “It has been falling beneath the radar,” says John Hepp, a partner with Grant Thornton. “I have had the impression that people weren't paying attention to it." He surmises that busy CFOs are more focused on day-to-day demands or issues that are nearer on the horizon.

The results also seem to suggest that among CFOs who are familiar with the pending rule change, most believe it will have little or no effect on the company. More than 60 percent said they did not expect the new standard to change the revenue numbers that the company currently reports, nor did they expect the standard to increase the cost of measuring and reporting revenue.

Hepp says companies should take a closer look at the standard and their own circumstances to assure they understand the implications. “Whenever you have a major change in concept, such as ‘what is revenue?,' I would take a look at that and make sure my business model is robust to that,” he says. The new standard could indeed produce little change for some entities, but might lead to significant change for others. Changes are likely to be substantial, for example, in real estate or in sectors like technology where companies routinely do business under multiple-element arrangements.

FASB has been meeting and working with the International Accounting Standards Board since early to develop a comprehensive new standard that would produce improvements for both U.S. and international accounting standards. The new standard is intended to provide a new framework for determining when and how a company would measure and recognize revenue, built largely on identifying where companies have contracts with customers and have fulfilled their obligations under those contracts. The boards are hoping to improve comparability of revenue across jurisdictions and across industries while also giving users of financial statements more useful information.