A landmark financial reporting update is replacing about 180 pieces of industry-specific revenue accounting guidance with a single, principles-based approach. In May 2014, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) unveiled Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. In 2015, the FASB postponed the effective date for the new revenue guidance by one year. Here’s why companies that report comparative results can’t delay any longer — and how to start the implementation process.

No time to waste

The updated revenue recognition guidance takes effect for public companies for annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2017, including interim periods within those annual reporting periods. The update permits early adoption, but no earlier than the original effective date of December 15, 2016. Private companies have an extra year to implement the changes.

That may seem like a long time away, but many companies voluntarily provide comparative results. For example, the presentation of two prior years of results isn’t required under GAAP, but it helps investors, lenders and other stakeholders assess long-term performance.

Calendar-year public companies that provide two prior years of results will need to collect revenue data under one of the retrospective transition methods for 2016 and 2017 in order to issue comparative statements by 2018. Private companies would have to follow suit a year later.

A new mindset

The primary change under the updated guidance is the requirement to identify separate performance obligations — promises to transfer goods or services — in a contract. A company should treat each promised good or service (or bundle of goods or services) as a performance obligation to the extent it’s “distinct,” meaning:

1. The customer can benefit from it (either on its own or together with other readily available resources), and

2. It’s separately identifiable in the contract.

Then, a company must determine whether these obligations are satisfied over time or at a point in time, and recognize revenue accordingly. The shift to a principles-based approach will require greater judgment on the part of management.

Call for help

Need assistance complying with the new guidance? We can help assess how — and when — you should report revenue, explain the disclosure requirements, and evaluate the impact on customer relationships and other aspects of your business, including tax planning strategies and debt covenants.

© 2016

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