The increased use and regulatory scrutiny around non-GAAP financial reporting measures in 2016 has prompted standard-setters to take a closer look at whether changes to current standards are in order.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board is talking with its advisors and giving some thought to whether the flap over corporate uses of non-GAAP measures indicates changes to GAAP might be in order. FASB Chairman Russell Golden says in a recent statement that the board’s Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council has encouraged the board to continue to monitor non-GAAP reporting and consider where it might signal the need for improvements to GAAP.
The Securities and Exchange Commission placed a huge focus on non-GAAP reporting in 2016, urging companies to rein in excessive or even abusive uses of non-GAAP measures, concerned such reporting might be misleading to investors. SEC staff members said in the latter months of 2016 that they’d seen an improvement in reporting following the increased regulatory scrutiny.
Golden says some non-GAAP reporting reflects requests from investors, which then shapes the reporting companies provide to investors. “Changing GAAP in these situations can help develop a standardized approach that is more consistent with common reporting practices that investors find useful,” he says. “In other words, it would improve the credibility of financial reporting.”
FASB is in the midst of a research project on financial performance reporting broadly, looking to evaluate different alternatives for requiring more subtotals or more disaggregation of income or other performance measures, Golden says. “As we consider performance reporting improvements, it is important that we study non-GAAP measures that are commonly used in practice,” he says.
Even the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is taking note of the regulatory focus on non-GAAP reporting and considering whether changes to auditing standards might be warranted. The board recently updated its standard-setting agenda to include a research project focused on the auditor’s role regarding other information outside the financial statements, including company performance metrics such as non-GAAP measures.
Recent publications from the CFA Institute would seem to suggest analysts and investors would welcome more consideration from standard setters about how non-GAAP reporting could inform the need for improvements to existing standards. A recent paper from the CFA Institute says regulatory focus to keep companies within the current guidelines that permit non-GAAP measures is not enough.
Concerns about non-GAAP reporting “should serve as a catalyst for the International Accounting Standards Board and the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board to enhance their primary financial statements’ presentation and classification requirements, including defining key subtotals,” the CFA Institute says. The group says its survey results show most investors expect and support the idea of new standard setting to provide more guidance around non-GAAP reporting, including “strong support for some level of assurance” around non-GAAP measures.