The Financial Accounting Standards Board has issued an update to accounting standards meant to put to rest any confusion that may still exist on how to apply the principal-versus-agent guidance in the new revenue recognition rule.
FASB issued ASU 2016-08 to answer uncertainties that arose as companies dug into the massive new revenue recognition standard issued in 2014 to prepare for its adoption in 2018. The guidance addresses how to recognize revenue when there’s a third party to a transaction that might leave room for questions on whether the reporting company represents the principal in a three-way relationship or an agent of someone else. That determination is critical for an entity determine whether it should recognize revenue on a gross or net basis.
“An entity is a principal if it controls the specified good or service before that good or service is transferred to a customer,” FASB wrote in the new guidance. The ASU clarifies four points that are meant to help companies make the determination. It says, for example, that the determination should be made for each performance obligation in a given contract, so an entity could be a principal for some obligations and an agent for others. FASB amended some of the examples in the original guidance and added some new ones to further illustrate how the determination should work.
The new guidance takes effect with the new revenue recognition standard, which was delayed from its original 2017 effective date to 2018, FASB said. The The guidance is consistent with that issued by the International Accounting Standards Board so it will be applied in the same way under U.S. and international rules.
A recent PwC webcast poll suggests companies are still trailing in their efforts to study the effects of the new standard and adapt their systems and internal controls to implement it. With more than 12,000 participants in the webcast, only 1.6 percent said they were prepared to adopt the standard on a full retrospective basis and were already running dual bookkeeping to gather information under both the existing and new standards simultaneously. That will be necessary when companies adopt in 2018 and must present three years worth of comparative information.
An additional 15.5 percent of webcast participants said they had assessed their revenue streams and knew which areas of their accounting will be affected; 21.8 percent said they had studied the standard and were beginning to assess their revenue streams; 26.4 percent said they were in the early stages of understanding the potential impact. The remainder of participant said they either didn’t know or they were members of PwC’s own staff, so the question was not relevant to them.
PwC partner Bud Swartz said it would be “wishful thinking” for companies to expect another deferral in the effective date, either from FASB or the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Both FASB and the SEC are laser focused on not deferring,” he said.
When FASB extended the effective date to 2018, board members debated whether to defer the standard for one or two years, Swartz said. “FASB said one was the right answer,” he said. “At this point, the guidance we are getting is don’t expect it, so you shouldn’t plan on it.”