Revenue recognition tilts toward modified transition approach
A majority of S&P 500 companies chose the simplicity of the modified retrospective transition for their revenue recognition standard implementation, a new white paper shows.
FASB’s new revenue recognition standard, which took effect at the beginning of 2018 for public companies, presented financial statement preparers with two options for transition. The full retrospective transition provides investors with more information because it requires the presentation of the three previous years’ financials under the new rules.
The modified retrospective transition does not require the historical restatement but mandates that two sets of accounting records should be maintained during the year of adoption. Thirty-five of 40 (87.5%) S&P 500 companies analyzed that did not early adopt the revenue recognition standard chose the modified retrospective transition method, according to a white paper by Intelligize, a firm that provides analytics to compliance and transactional professionals.
Among the small number (32) of S&P 500 companies that early adopted the revenue recognition standard, 10 chose the modified retrospective method, 15 elected the full retrospective transition, three did not use a transition method, and four did not disclose their transition method. (A few companies did not use a transition method because they previously had no revenue.)
The 87.5% number for the non-early adopters gave the modified retrospective approach a significant advantage overall.
“I think it was the cost and simplicity of using that method [that made it attractive],” Rob Peters, an Intelligize senior director, said in a phone interview. “In the end I think it was far simpler for them to say, ‘Let’s just do it this way. We’ll save some money, and we’ll get it done a lot quicker.’”
The Intelligize analysis also scrutinized SEC comment letters on early adopters, finding that measurement of performance obligations generated 69.7% of all comments.
Identifying performance obligations is the second step in the new five-step revenue recognition process. The comment letters related to judgment issues on the timing of satisfaction of performance obligations and obligations satisfied at a point in time rather than over time.
“Those are areas that had the most subjectivity from an accounting standpoint, where issuers had to really take a look at the measurements and make some judgments,” Peters said.
The comment letters may provide valuable insight to private company finance executives who are scheduled to implement the standard next year. Some of the most interesting comment letters included:
“[With] the amount of judgment that goes into the performance obligations and how they’re measured, I think the SEC really wanted to assist users in understanding what goes into it, and make it a little smoother for the transition period,” Peters said.
For more information on FASB’s revenue recognition standard, please visit the AICPA’s webpage devoted to the topic.
— Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s editorial director.
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