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CECL: Where to start

08.30.16

By now you have heard that the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) answer to the criticism the incurred-loss model for accounting for the allowance for loan and lease losses faced during the financial crisis has been released in its final form. The Current Expected Credit Loss model (CECL), which was developed through an arduous (and sometimes contentious) process following the crisis, will bring substantial changes to the way community banks account for expected losses in their loan portfolios. 

Working closely with community banks in the years building up to final issuance, we recognized an uncomfortable level of uncertainty created by the ever-changing proposals and lack of concrete examples. Now that the guidance is final, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to provide our interpretations, thoughts and insights where we can. As the FASB has shown recently with its new revenue pronouncement, there is a good chance that updates to the guidance will occur as we move closer to the implementation dates. The banking regulators who have thus far been mostly silent on the guidance will also have their interpretations.   

We find that with substantial new guidance breaking it down into bite size pieces can be the best approach to understanding and implementation. With that said, this is the first of a number of planned articles from BerryDunn to do just that.

Building your team 

One of the first things your institution should do is create an implementation team. Building it now with staff from diverse backgrounds and experience including finance, lending and collections will bring significant rewards in the long run. This is also a good time to consider opportunities to include your auditor in the process. Ultimately, you will need them to perform audit procedures on your CECL allowance as part of your financial statement audit. That also means your model and the resulting estimate must be auditable. Including auditors in the early stages should also help your team think about implications the audit requirements may have for expectations related to retaining documentation and supporting assumptions. In addition, your auditor may be able to share observations based on how other institutions are implementing CECL that may be helpful for your team.  Auditors can do all this while maintaining independence if their services are structured properly.

When your team is assembled and is up-to-speed on the basics of what CECL is and isn’t, defining the team’s goals and creating a roadmap to get there will be your keys to success. And asking the right questions while creating the roadmap is a great place to start. 

Questions to consider:

What available method (under CECL) is the best fit for the institution?

We expect that largely most community institutions will start with a top-down approach using an adaption from their current loss-rate approach to reflect the change from the old incurred loss method to the “life of the loan” current expected credit loss method. We believe the following step-by-step model will be one practical approach that should fit most community banks and credit unions:

  1. Determine which loans for specific reserves are appropriate, much in the same manner as you’re likely doing now. The notion of “impaired” loans goes away with CECL; a loan should be evaluated specifically if the institution becomes aware of loan-specific information indicating it has an exposure to loss that differs from other loans it’s been pooled with. In practice, we think that’ll be largely the same loans that are currently being identified as impaired.
  2. Secondly, for the rest of the portfolio:
    1. Group loans by common characteristics – same as you are likely doing now. These groups can match your portfolio or class groupings used now in financial reporting, but can also be broken down further.
    2. For each group, create subgroups for each origination year. One of the disclosure requirements in the guidance suggests the current year and previous four years are the critical ones to focus on; anything older than five years could be combined together.
    3. For each subgroup:
      1. Establish economic and other relevant conditions for the average remaining term of loans in the subgroup. This will be a combination of forecasted conditions for the near future, probably based on the Fed’s three-year forecast, and long-term historical conditions for the remaining average loan term.
      2. Select an historical loss period that best approximates the conditions established in 2c(i).
      3. Determine average remaining lifetime losses for the historical loss period established in 2c(ii) for that loan type.
      4. Adjust the average determined in 2c(iii) for any current or expected conditions that you believe are different from this historical data. The regulators have indicated their expectation that these will likely be the types of items for which qualitative factors have been developed under the incurred loss model, or a subset thereof.

These adjustments should themselves be based on historical data, or peer historical data if institution-specific data isn’t available (for example, a new loan product); for example, a 25 basis point upward adjustment for actual and expected declines in real estate values beyond the average in the historical period in 2c(ii) should be supported by data that shows a 25 basis point increase in losses for this type of loan in previous periods in which real estate values had shown a similar decline.

What data do we need to start collecting?

The clock has started! The CECL model requires analysis of loss rates and environmental factors. Detailed loss-rate calculations for as far back as you can get is your goal. The next step after collecting the historical data on your losses is to document other factors that were in play during each period. You will also need to consider the factors that affected charge-off rates for different periods. Changes in overall economic conditions, underwriting (both risk and quality), the legal environment and other factors need to be documented and correlated to trends in charge-offs. Remember one of the first steps in preparing a CECL model is to decide which time period of losses best matches the current environment. Without considering the full picture, including the external forces in play, it will be impossible to select an appropriate time period.

How do we retain and access that data?

Many core providers restrict access to older loan level data, and in some cases historical information is readily available only for very short time periods. Knowing the restrictions on your older data will be key in planning for CECL. The model suggests that a starting point for considering historical data needs is to consider what time periods matter. This may vary for different types of loans.

Some core providers have started reaching out to their institutions to discuss CECL and options for collection of data through webinars and one-on-one meetings. Consider reaching out directly to your provider to see what options in terms of data collection, retention and reporting will be available to your team.

What is the next step?

Build a simple model so that your team can better grasp and discuss the fundamentals of CECL. This can serve to solidify the concept of “life of loan losses” vs. the incurred loss method, as well as get your task force focused on what is important in collecting data.

Now that you’ve got your team assembled and have begun to tackle these questions, it’s time to look at other factors to consider. In our next installment, we’ll take you through how to implement CECL for loans obtained in a merger or acquisition. In the meantime, please call us if you have any questions. To sign up to receive notification of our next update, click here.

Recently the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) finished its Governmental Accounting Research System (GARS), a full codification of governmental accounting standards. The completion of the project allows preparers easy access to accounting guidance from GASB. The overall project, starting from the codification of older pre-1989 Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) pronouncements in 2010, was focused on pulling together all authoritative guidance, similar to what FASB had done in 2009.

Here’s what we found interesting.

Poking around the GARS (Basic View is free) I was struck by a paragraph surrounded by a thick-lined box that read “The provisions of this Codification need not be applied to immaterial items.” If you have ever read a GASB or FASB pronouncement, you have seen a similar box. But probably, like me, you didn’t fully consider its potential benefits. Understanding this, GASB published an article on its website aimed at (in my opinion) prompting financial statement preparers to consider reducing disclosure for the many clearly insignificant items often included within governmental financial statements.

After issuing more than 80 pronouncements since its inception in 1984, including 19 in the last five years, GASB accounting requirements continue to grow. Many expect the pace to continue, with issues like leases accounting, potential revision of the financial reporting model, and comprehensive review of revenue and expense recognition accounting currently in process. With these additional accounting standards come more disclosure requirements.

With many still reeling from implementation of the disclosure heavy pension guidance, GASB is already under pressure from stakeholders with respect to information overload. Users of financial statements can be easily overwhelmed by the amount of detailed disclosure, often finding it difficult to identify and focus on the most significant issues for the entity. Balancing the perceived need to meet disclosure requirements with the need to highlight significant information can be a difficult task for preparers. Often preparers lean towards providing too much information in an effort to “make sure everything is in there that should be”. So, what can you do to ease the pain?

While the concept of materiality is not addressed specifically in the GASB standards, by working with your auditors there are a number of ways to reduce the overall length and complexity of the statements. We recommend reviewing your financial statements periodically with your auditor, focusing on the following types of questions:

  • On the face of the financial statements, are we breaking out items that are clearly inconsequential in nature and the amount?
  • Are there opportunities to combine items where appropriate?
  • In the notes to the financial statements are we providing excessive details about insignificant items?
  • Do we have an excess amount of historical disclosure from years past?
  • In the management’s discussion & analysis, is the analysis completed to an appropriate level? Is there discussion on items that are insignificant?

The spirit behind the box is that GASB was specifically thinking about material amounts and disclosures. It was not their intention to clutter the financials with what their article referred to as “nickel and dime” items. With more disclosure requirements on the way, now might be the time to think INSIDE the box.  

For more guidance on this and other GASB information, please contact Rob Smalley.

Blog
Extra information for GASB organizations: How to lessen information overload

Recently, federal banking regulators released an interagency financial institution letter on CECL, in the form of a Q&A. Read it here. While there weren’t a lot of new insights into expectations examiners may have upon adoption, here is what we gleaned, and what you need to know, from the letter.

ALLL Documentation: More is better

Your management will be required to develop reasonable and supportable forecasts to determine an appropriate estimate for their allowance for loan and lease losses (ALLL). Institutions have always worked under the rule that accounting estimates need to be supported by evidence. Everyone knows both examiners and auditors LOVE documentation, but how much is necessary to prove whether the new CECL estimate is reasonable and supportable? The best answer I can give you is “more”.

And regardless of the exact model institutions develop, there will be significantly more decision points required with CECL than with the incurred loss model. At each point, both your management and your auditors will need to ask, “Why this path vs. another?” Defining those decision points and developing a process for documenting the path taken while also exploring alternatives is essential to build a model that estimates losses under both the letter and the spirit of the new rules. This is especially true when developing forecasts. We know you are not fortune tellers. Neither are we.

The challenge will be to document the sources used for forecasts, making the connections between that information and its effect on your loss data as clear as possible, so the model bases the loss estimate on your institution’s historical experience under conditions similar to those you’re forecasting, to the extent possible.

Software may make this easier… or harder.               

The leading allowance software applications allow for virtually instantaneous switching between different models, permitting users to test various assumptions in a painless environment. These applications feature collection points that enable users to document the basis for their decisions that become part of the final ALLL package. Take care to try and ensure that the support collected matches the decisions made and assumptions used.

Whether you use software or not there is a common set of essential controls to help ensure your ALLL calculation is supported. They are:

  • Documented review and recalculation of the ALLL estimate by a qualified individual(s) independent of the preparation of the calculation
  • Control over reports and spreadsheets that include data that feed into the overall calculation
  • Documentation supporting qualitative factors, including reasonableness of the resulting reserve amounts
  • Controls over loan ratings if they are a factor in your model
  • Controls over the timeliness of charge-offs

In the process of implementing the new CECL guidance it can be easy to focus all of your effort on the details of creating models, collecting data and getting to a reasonable number. Based on the regulators’ new Q&A document, you’ll also want to spend some time making sure the ALLL number is supportable.  

Next time, we’ll look at a lesser known section of the CECL guidance that could have a significantly negative impact on the size of the ALLL and capital as a result: off-balance-sheet credit exposures.  

Want a heads-up the next time we have a CECL update? Sign up here and get the information first!

Blog
CECL: Reasonable and supportable? Be ready to be ALLL in

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