Staff members at the Securities and Exchange Commission continue to beat the drum for robust disclosure at year-end and into 2017 about public company activity to adopt new accounting standards on revenue recognition — even where companies don’t have hard numbers about the expected effect.
The SEC is closely monitoring implementation efforts of the massive new accounting standard, which public companies are required to reflect in financial statements beginning in 2018, said Wesley Bricker, chief accountant at the SEC, in a speech at a national accounting conference. “Clear progress has been made by preparers, but there is more to do,” he said. Bricker pointed to a recent survey that showed the vast majority of public companies were still assessing how they will be affected by the standard and considering how they should go about implementing it, but a small percentage of companies indicated they hadn’t even begun that process.
Given the enormity of change that is ahead, the SEC is pressing companies to give investors some warning about what’s coming. “The changes in standards will impact all companies, and even if the extent of change for a particular industry or company is slight, the disclosures necessary to explain the changes—and when implemented, to describe revenue streams—may not be,” Bricker warned. The SEC is focused not just on revenue recognition, but other big accounting changes that are coming in the future in other areas as well, he said, like lease accounting, financial instruments, and credit losses.
“Investors and OCA staff will be looking for increased disclosures in 2016 filings and during 2017 about the significance of the impact—whether quantitative or qualitative—of revenue recognition, among the other new standards, when those standards are adopted in the future,” Bricker said. Companies should even consider incorporating a discussion of the anticipated effects of the standard into their investor outreach activities, he said, to give investors plenty of time to absorb the information.
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Sylvia Alicea, a professional practice fellow at the SEC, said at the same conference said the SEC has been vocal in explaining disclosure expectations, but they are important enough to repeat. “The staff believes both quantitative and qualitative disclosure is important to investors,” she said. Where companies don’t know or aren’t sure of the dollars-and-cents effect of adopting the standard, that shouldn’t be a reason to say little or nothing, she said. “Registrants should not withhold information, even if they are lacking complete information.”
Where companies are lagging in their implementation efforts, Bricker encouraged them to examine where they are in the process and be frank in their disclosures. “Preparers, their audit committees, and auditors should discuss the reasons why and provide informative disclosures to investors about the status so that investors can assess the implications,” he said.
As industry task forces at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants continue studying implementation questions and developing an implementation guide, Bricker encouraged them to wrap up that process so companies can move forward more confidently. “I urge task force members to complete their work expeditiously but without compromising quality,” he said. “It is important to bring closure to the issues identified through this process.”