After issuing some of the biggest changes to standards seen by the current generation of accountants, the Financial Accounting Standards Board will likely keep in mind the current workload for corporate accounting offices before taking on big new projects.
At a national conference of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, FASB Chairman Russ Golden acknowledged companies have a lot of work to do in the coming few years to absorb and put into effect huge changes in how to account for revenue, leases, financial instruments, and credit losses, to name a few. “The board is keenly aware of the amount of change in the system and it’s something we’ll consider as we consider new projects,” he said.
Golden listed the major new standards as examples of big improvements to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Standards that have been finalized in the past few years. The revenue standard removes one of the biggest sources of inconsistency in accounting standards, he said, and takes a huge step toward making U.S. rules more like those in International Financial Reporting Standards.
The new leases standard will produce a more faithful representation of a company’s assets and liabilities as a result of its lease obligations, Golden said, and the new standard on credit losses standard will replace today’s model that focuses on losses that have already occurred by requiring entities to gives some warning about credit losses they expect to face in the near future.
In addition to the blockbuster changes, the board has also pushed out a number of simplifications to accounting standards to make GAAP easier to understand or to apply. Now FASB is turning its attention to becoming more proactive with implementation of new accounting standards, said Golden. “You can issue the greatest standard in the world, but it won’t improve financial reporting if preparers don’t understand and apply it consistently,” said.
That has prompted the board to get more involved in supporting implementation efforts, he said. The board’s most proactive role in that respect has been in hosting a Transition Resource Group for revenue recognition to field and vet the numerous implementation questions that surfaced as companies dug into the details of the new rules and considered how the requirements would apply in the company’s own business.
The TRG addressed dozens of questions and referred a handful to FASB for follow-up rule-making to make clarifications that would assure more consistent application, Golden said. The TRG has no new questions in the pipeline that have not already been addressed, so FASB is not taking up any further rule-making around revenue recognition clarifications, according to Golden. However, the board will be proactive especially as the 2018 effective date approaches to educate users and investors about what is ahead, he said.
Going forward, FASB has big changes in store for hedging and insurance, both of which have been in development for years and are expected to be finalized in 2017. With respect to hedging, FASB expects the final standard to improve hedge accounting rules and make them easier to apply, Golden said. The new standard is expected to more closely align with companies’ risk management activities, which will enable hedge accounting to be applied to a broader range of financial and non-financial risk management strategies, he said.
“There’s a clear desire to finish hedging,” said Golden. “Then we need to determine the type of projects we will work on in the future and the pace of projects, considering the degree of change that is currently in the system.” He’s not surprised by calls from all corners of capital markets to allow the system to absorb what’s already in play before taking on more new big accounting changes. The concerns are raised not only by smaller companies, but larger companies and audit firms alike, he said.