Companies are struggling to provide stakeholders with enough detail about how disruption caused by COVID-19 might have impacted the business, according to the U.K.’s corporate governance regulator.
In its annual review of corporate reporting, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) found it was not always clear whether companies’ judgments and estimates factored in any future uncertainty about how assets and liabilities could be affected by ongoing issues such as the pandemic and Brexit.
Revenue recognition and cash flow statements were also cited as areas of concern.
The FRC reviewed 246 reports and accounts—a 14 percent increase on 2020—and questioned 97 companies about their reports. “Overall, the review found the quality of reporting remained unchanged, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the regulator.
The FRC found significant noncompliance at 15 companies (up from 14 last year) required to restate their accounts, including airline Wizz Air, real estate group IWG, and food packaging business Hilton Food Group.
Since the start of the pandemic, investors and corporate governance experts have warned some companies are likely to be tempted to treat their revenue and cash flow statements in a more favorable light to retain contracts and customers (as happened with collapsed infrastructure firm Carillion), leading to fears of large corporate insolvencies.
The FRC also said climate-related risk disclosures would be at the heart of its monitoring next year. Premium-listed companies whose accounting periods begin on or after Jan. 1, 2021, will have to report against Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures’ (TCFD) recommendations on a “comply-or-explain” basis.
The TCFD, an organization that seeks to provide a standardized framework for climate-related financial reporting, set out 11 recommended financial disclosures in 2017 that all organizations should address to show how climate risks impact a company’s governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets.
These include describing the board’s oversight of climate-related risks and management’s role in assessing risks and opportunities, as well as examining how the organization manages them as part of business strategy.
More widely, the FRC also expects material climate change policies, risks, and uncertainties to be included in narrative reporting and “appropriately considered and reflected” in financial statements.
A report released in September by financial think tank Carbon Tracker found limited consideration and reference of climate change in financial statements in more than 70 percent of the 107 global companies it reviewed.
The FRC released guidance Thursday to help companies prepare for the level and depth of disclosure regulators and stakeholders expect.
Some of the key recommendations include providing better disclosures around how boards consider and assess climate-related issues (governance); how the business model may be affected by climate-related issues and how the company may respond to those challenges (strategy); what scenarios might affect the company’s sustainability and viability and how the company is responding (strategy and risk management); and how climate-related issues and their impact are measured, including metrics, data, and financially relevant information (metrics and targets).
In a statement, Sarah Rapson, the FRC’s executive director of supervision, said: “Given the growing importance of climate risks and the need for high quality reporting in this area, the FRC will be closely reviewing how companies report against the new TCFD requirements.”