Skip to Main Content

insightsarticles

How does your control environment look in a remote world?

04.09.20

Read this if you are a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer, Chief Information Officer, or Controller.

While COVID-19 has forced many of us into a remote work environment, we also have to deal with the challenges that come along with it. The stark contrast between an office environment and one that potentially involves working in isolation can be a difficult adjustment. Office kitchen conversations have evolved into conversations with pets, our newest co-workers. A quick, in-person question has now turned into an email, phone, or video call. And job responsibilities expand as we try to not only juggle work but also ensure our children focus on school work―and don’t destroy the house. 

Not only has this forced environment caused social challenges, it has also opened the door for internal control challenges, as  internal controls designed to operate effectively in an office environment may not be ideal for a remote workplace. Even ones that are appropriately designed, may prove to be operating ineffectively in this new environment. Let’s take a look at some internal control challenges, and potential solutions, faced by working in a remote environment.

Establishing a remote control environment

Exercising appropriate tone at the top and establishing appropriate oversight can be challenging with a remote workforce. Ethics and governance policies play an important role in setting clear expectations about workplace behaviors. But, a workforce is much more apt to follow a leadership team’s example rather than a policy. All of those office conversations, even the conversations that are not work related, help set an expectation of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. These conversations often happen naturally in the office via a quick conversation in passing in the hallway or a late-Friday happy hour with your department. However, these interactions do not naturally occur in a remote workplace. Leadership and department heads should make an active effort to maintain communication with their workforce. Some things to consider:

  • Send out weekly emails to the entire department and possibly more personal, one-on-one videoconferences or phone calls between your department heads or managers and individual members of their teams.
  • These department-wide emails should stress the importance of communication as well as continuing to produce high quality work and maintaining accountability. 
  • One-on-one meetings should be used to check in with employees to ensure their work needs are being met. 

Employees will most likely have many suggestions to improve their new work environment, including suggestions on how to improve communication amongst team members. 

The power of video

Videoconferencing also provides a great opportunity to stay connected. Virtual happy hours simulate an in-person happy hour. This is a great way to check-in with team members and show that, although people are out of sight, they are not out of mind. Town hall-type meetings can also be explored. Your leadership team can solicit open discussion. Agenda items may include office status updates, technological considerations, and an opportunity for employees to openly discuss current challenges due to working in a remote environment. Employees are going to have anxiety about the current environment. These meetings can help put employees at ease.

Risk assessment

Internal control environments are constantly evolving. Employees leave. Software is updated.  Offered services and products change. The list goes on. However, it is unprecedented that an internal control environment has changed so rapidly. Given these unprecedented times, there is potential for higher risk of fraud, internally and externally. Those responsible for designing internal controls (control owners) should reassess your company’s environment. Although internal controls can be designed in a manner in which they operate effectively regardless of the circumstances, it is possible there are unintended changes to processes that have occurred. 

For instance, let’s say the employee responsible for reviewing loan file maintenance changes is now working an alternative work schedule due to personal obligations. This employee does not have the ability to make loan file changes; therefore, segregation of duties has never been an issue. An employee within loan servicing has agreed to take some of the employee’s responsibilities and is now reviewing some of the loan file maintenance changes, which has put this employee in a position to review some of their own changes. 

Furthermore, some internal controls that require employees be at a physical location to operate may also be compromised, such as inventory cycle counts. If these controls are unable to operate, control owners will need to consider the impacts on the affected transaction areas, and if there are compensating controls that can be designed to alleviate some of the control risk.

Control activities

Accounts payable and check signing

The accounts payable and cash disbursement process will most likely be upended as a result of your new remote environment. Bills received through the mail will need to be scanned to the accounts payable clerk for entry into the accounting system. Some offices have designated certain personnel responsible for checking mail on an infrequent basis, for instance, weekly. Check signing may also prove to be a challenge as blank check stock may be inaccessible. Electronic receipt of invoices and signing of checks, as well as the use of wire and ACH transfers, lend themselves as feasible solutions. Email approvals may suffice when multiple signers are needed to approve high dollar disbursements.

Segregation of duties

As mentioned above, it is possible processes have inadvertently changed, exposing certain internal controls to ineffectiveness. Segregation of duties may become difficult as employees shift to alternative work schedules or have other issues. Maintaining segregation of duties should be a top priority for control owners and is something that should be constantly assessed as circumstances change. Challenging times may make segregation of duties difficult and may force you to get creative by requesting employees perform duties they are not otherwise accustomed to performing.

Digital sign-offs

You should also consider the manner in which you document the completion of controls. Control owners should be cautious about the integrity of an employee’s initials simply typed onto a digital document, as any employee can perform this task. Digital signatures, which require an employee to enter credentials prior to signing, enhance the integrity of a sign-off and are often time stamped. Digital signatures may also “lock down” the document, prohibiting any changes to the signed document.

Timely review

Given the circumstances, it is not unreasonable that preparation and review may take longer than under normal circumstances. Even if additional time is granted for the preparation and review of documents, you should consider the implications this has on the transaction class as a whole. The longer it takes to complete a control, the greater the consequences may be if you identify an error. For instance, the impact of an incorrect change to a loan rate index can be substantial if not identified timely. If identified quickly, you can avoid consequences later.

Information and communication

For many companies that have moved from a paper to a digital environment, sharing of information should not be an issue. However, for those that still operate in a mostly paper environment, performing tasks and sharing information with team members may prove to be difficult. And, those without the capability of scanning and sending documents from home could compromise a specific internal control altogether. Being forced to work remotely may be the perfect excuse to move paper processes into a digital format.

Monitoring

Monitoring your internal control environment is of the utmost importance given these significant changes. Frequent conversations should be had with control owners to ensure changes to processes do not render controls ineffective. Identified gaps in internal controls should be addressed proactively. Provide control owners with the opportunity to discuss changes to control processes with Internal Audit or Risk Management so such departments can consider the impact of changes on internal control. This also gives these departments the opportunity to cover any resulting gaps.

Permanent changes

Once the remote workplace requirements end, the effects of working in such an environment will not. There are many benefits and efficiencies to be found in working remotely. As people have now been forced to work in such an environment, they will be more apt to continue to do so. Therefore, let’s take this opportunity to revise processes and internal controls to be “remote workplace” compatible. This will provide a long-lasting impact to your organization far beyond the pandemic. 
 

Related Services

Consulting

Organizational and Governance

Related Professionals

Principals

Read this if you are a plan sponsor of employee benefit plans.

This article is the sixth in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. You can read the previous articles here.

Plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility to provide oversight over the operations of employee benefit plans. This oversight involves a multitude of varying responsibilities. Failure to provide sufficient oversight can lead to non-compliance with rules and regulations. However, even if plan sponsors are providing sufficient oversight, lack of documentation of the oversight is arguably equally as severe as no oversight at all. Here are some common fiduciary responsibilities and how you should document them. 

Review of the report on service organization’s controls

Most employee benefit plans have outsourced a significant portion of the plan’s processes, and the internal controls surrounding those processes, to a service organization. Regardless of how certain plan-related processes are performed—internally or outsourced—the plan sponsor has a fiduciary responsibility to monitor the internal controls in place surrounding significant processes and to determine if these controls are suitably designed and effective. The most commonly outsourced processes of an employee benefit plan are the administration, including recordkeeping of the plan, through a third-party administrator; payroll processing; and actuarial calculations, if applicable to the plan.

When plan processes are outsourced to service organizations, generally the most efficient way to obtain an understanding of the outsourced controls is to obtain a report on controls issued by the service organization’s auditor. You should request the service organization’s latest System and Organization Controls Report (SOC 1 report). The SOC 1 report should be based on the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 18, Reporting on the Controls at a Service Organization, frequently known as SSAE 18.

Plan sponsors should perform a documented review of the SOC 1 report for each of the plan’s service organizations. The documented review should most notably include discussion of any exceptions noted within the service auditor’s testing performed, identification of subservice organizations and consideration if subservice organization SOC 1 reports need to be obtained, and assessment of the complementary user entity controls outlined in the SOC 1 report. The complementary user entity controls are internal control activities that should be in place at the plan sponsor to provide reasonable assurance that the controls tested at the service organization provide the necessary level of internal control over the plan’s financial statements. Contact a BerryDunn professional to obtain our SOC report review template to assist in documenting your review.

Documentation of the plan within minutes

To provide general plan oversight, plan sponsors should have a group charged with the governance of the plan. This group should meet on a routine basis to review various aspects of the plan’s operations. Minutes of these meetings should contain evidence that certain matters that would be of interest to the Department of Labor (DOL) were discussed.

We recommend minutes of meetings document the following:

  • Investment performance—The plan sponsor has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the investments offered by the plan are meeting certain performance expectations. Investment statements and the plan’s investment policy should be reviewed on a regular basis with documentation of this review retained in minutes of meetings. Any conclusions reached about the need to change investments or put an investment on a “watch-list” should also be documented in the minutes, including any additional steps that need to be taken.
  • SOC 1 report review—As noted above, the plan sponsor has a fiduciary duty to ensure all third-party service organizations utilized by the plan have suitably designed and effective internal controls. Plan sponsors should perform a documented review of the SOC 1 report for each of the plan’s service organizations. The results of these reviews should then be reported at plan oversight meetings with any subsequent actions or conclusions documented in the minutes to these meetings.
  • Reasonableness of fees—The DOL requires plan fiduciaries to determine if the fees charged under covered service provider agreements are reasonable in relation to the services provided. To determine the reasonableness of fees, the plan may (1) hire a consultant, (2) monitor industry trends regarding fees, (3) consult with peer companies, (4) use a benchmarking service, or (5) conduct a request for proposal. Failure to determine the reasonableness of the fees charged can result in a prohibited transaction. When doing such a review, the fiduciaries of the plan should document in the minutes the steps taken and conclusions reached.
  • Overall review of the plan—Plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility to review the activity of the plan as well as participant balances. We recommend plan sponsors implement and document monitoring procedures over the activities of the plan and participant balances. This review could be incorporated into documented self-testing procedures, by haphazardly selecting a sample of participants each quarter and reviewing their account activity and participant balances. The results of such self-testing should then be reported at plan oversight meetings with any subsequent actions or conclusions documented in the minutes to these meetings. Reach out to a BerryDunn professional to obtain our participant change review workbook to assist in performing this self-testing.

Retention of salary reduction agreements

During our audits of employee benefit plans, we often note that employee deferrals are not consistently supported by salary reduction agreements or other forms maintained in employees’ personnel files. Many third-party administrators allow participants to make changes to their elective deferral rates directly through the third-party administrators without the involvement of the plan sponsor.

We often recommend that you maintain all changes to employee elective deferral rates in employees’ personnel files using salary reduction agreements. We also recommend that employees’ elections to not participate in the plan be documented in their personnel file. If employees can elect to change their deferral rates directly with the third-party administrator, we typically recommend that management print support from the third-party administrator’s online portal as documentation to support the change in the employee’s deferral rate and retain this support in the employees’ personnel file. However, if the third-party administrator’s online portal provides adequate history of deferral election changes, the plan sponsor may be able to rely on this portal for documentation retention. In these instances, the plan auditor should request a deferral feedback report directly from the third-party administrator.  

Monitoring of inactive accounts

Inactive accounts should be monitored by the plan sponsor for unusual activity or excessive fees that may be posted to these accounts. To the extent that inactive accounts have not exceeded $5,000, consideration should be given to cashing out the accounts if allowed by the plan document. Plan sponsors should, on a periodic basis, review the accounts of inactive participants or those who have been separated from service to ascertain whether the changes and charges to those accounts appear reasonable.

Plan sponsors have many documentation responsibilities. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive. And, the facts and circumstances of each employee benefit plan will change the applicability of these items. However, this list should be used as a tool to help plan sponsors perform a deep dive of their current plan documentation processes. And, hopefully, a result of this deep dive will be a robust documentation process that deliberately documents all major decisions and review functions related to the plan.

Article
Plan documentation: Another key to successful oversight

Read this if you are a community bank.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently issued its first quarter 2021 Quarterly Banking Profile. The report provides financial information based on Call Reports filed by 4,978 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions. The report also contains a section specific to community bank performance. In first quarter 2021, this section included the financial information of 4,531 FDIC-insured community banks. Here are our key takeaways from the community bank section of the report:

  • There was a $3.7 billion increase in quarterly net income from a year prior despite continued net interest margin (NIM) compression. This increase was mainly due to higher noninterest income and lower provision expenses. Provision expense decreased $1.4 billion from first quarter 2020. However, it remained positive at $390.1 million. For non-community banks, provision expense was negative $14.9 billion for the first quarter 2021.
  • Quarterly NIM declined 28 basis points from first quarter 2020 to 3.26%. The average yield on earning assets fell 76 basis points to 3.64%, while the average funding cost fell 48 basis points to 0.37%.
  • Net operating revenue increased by $3.9 billion from first quarter 2020, a 17.1% increase. This increase is attributable to higher revenue from loan sales (increased $1.3 billion, or 126.4%) and an increase in net interest income (up $1.8 billion from first quarter 2020).
  • Non-interest expense increased 7.6% from first quarter 2020. This increase was mainly attributable to salary and benefit expenses, which saw an increase of $838.1 million (9.6%). That being said, average assets per employee increased 18.5% from first quarter 2020.
  • Noncurrent loan balances (loans 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) remained relatively stable from a year ago having slightly increased by $19.3 million, or 0.2%. However, despite the slight increase in noncurrent loan balances, the noncurrent rate decreased 8 basis points from first quarter 2020 due to strong year-over-year loan growth.
  • The coverage ratio (allowance for loan and lease losses as a percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) increased 30 percentage points year-over-year to 180%, a 14-year high.
  • Net charge-offs declined 7 basis points from first quarter 2020 to 0.04%, a record low. The net charge-off rate for consumer loans declined most among major loan categories, having decreased 41 basis points.
  • Trends in loans and leases showed a moderate increase from fourth quarter 2020, increasing by 1.4%. This increase was mainly seen in the commercial and industrial (C&I) loan category, which was driven by an increase in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan balances. Total loans and leases increased by 10.8% from first quarter 2020. The majority of growth was seen in C&I loans, which accounted for approximately three-quarters of the year-over-year increase in loans and leases. However, keep in mind C&I loans include PPP loans that were originated in the first half of 2020, with additional funding provided by the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020.
  • Nearly all community banks reported an increase in deposit volume during the year. Growth in deposits above the insurance limit drove the annual increase while alternative funding sources, such as brokered deposits, declined. However, even when doing a quarter-to-quarter comparison, deposits were up from fourth quarter 2020 by 5.6%.
  • The average community bank leverage ratio (CBLR) for the 1,845 banks that elected to use the CBLR framework was 11.15%.
  • The number of community banks declined by 29 to 4,531 from fourth quarter 2020. This change includes two new community banks, five banks transitioning from community to non-community banks, 24 community bank mergers or consolidations, and two community bank self-liquidations.

First quarter 2021 was a strong quarter for community banks, as evidenced by the increase in year-over-year quarterly net income of 77.5% ($3.7 billion). However, tightening NIMs will force community banks to either find creative ways to increase their NIM, grow their earning asset bases, or find ways to continue to increase non-interest income to maintain current net income levels. Some community banks have already started dedicating more time to non-traditional income streams, as evidenced by a 45% year-over-year increase in quarterly non-interest income. The importance of the efficiency ratio (non-interest expense as a percentage of total revenue) is also magnified as community banks attempt to manage their non-interest expenses in light of declining NIMs.

Despite the strong first quarter, there is still uncertainty in many areas. For instance, although significant charge-offs have not yet materialized, the financial picture for many borrowers remains uncertain, and payment deferrals have made some credit quality indicators, such as past due status, less reliable. The ability of community banks to maintain relationships with their borrowers and remain apprised of the results of their borrowers’ operations has never been more important. This monitoring will become increasingly important as we transition into a post-pandemic economy. For seasonal borrowers, this summer could be a “make-or-break” point. If strong demand does not materialize, the economic consequences of the pandemic may not be reversible. 

Additionally, as offices start to open employers will start to reassess their office needs. Many employers have either created or revised remote working policies due to changing employee behavior. If remote working schedules persist, whether it be full-time or hybrid, the demand for office space may decline, causing instability for commercial real estate borrowers. Recent inflation concerns have also created uncertainty surrounding future Federal Reserve monetary policy. If an increase in the federal funds target rate is used to combat inflation, community banks could see their NIMs in another transitory stage. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to BerryDunn’s Financial Services team if you have any questions.

Article
FDIC Issues its First Quarter 2021 Quarterly Banking Profile

Read this is you are at a financial institution and concerned about fraud.

The numbers tell a story: Financial fraud 

Back in 2016, BerryDunn’s Todd Desjardins wrote about occupational fraud at financial institutions. This article mainly cited information from a 2016 Report to the Nations (2016 Report) published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). Fast forward to 2021, and ACFE’s 2020 Report to the Nations: Banking and Financial Services Edition (2020 Report) displays that occupational fraud continues to be a concern.

Financial institutions account for 19% of all occupational fraud worldwide, up from 16.8% in the 2016 Report. These fraud causes have a median loss of $100,000 per case—down from $192,000 per case in the 2016 Report. Cases had risen slightly from the 2016 Report to 386—up from 368 cases.

What does a fraudster look like, and how do they commit their crimes? How do you prevent fraud from happening at your organization? And, how can you strengthen an already robust anti-fraud program? These questions, raised in Todd’s 2016 article, remain relevant today. 

A profile in fraud: Who can it be? 

One of the most difficult tasks any organization faces is identifying and preventing potential cases of fraud. This is especially challenging because the majority of employees who commit fraud are first-time offenders with no record of criminal activity, or even termination at a previous employer.

The 2020 Report reveals a few commonalities between fraudsters. The amounts from the 2016 Report are shown in parentheses for comparison purposes:

  • 3% of fraudsters had no criminal background (3%)
  • Men committed 71% of frauds and women committed 29% (69%, 31%)
  • 56% of fraudsters were an employee, 27% worked as a manager, and 14% operated at the executive/owner level (3%, 31%, 20%)
  • The median loss for fraudsters who had been with their organizations for more than five years was $150,000 compared to $86,000 for fraudsters who had been with their organizations for five years or less ($230,000, $74,500)

Employees who committed fraud displayed certain behaviors during their schemes. The ACFE reported these top red flags in its 2020 Report:

  • Living beyond means: 42% (45.8%)
  • Financial difficulties: 33% (30%)
  • Unusually close association with vendor/customer: 15% (20.1%)
  • Divorce/family problems: 14% (13.4%)

These figures give us a general sense of who commits fraud and why. But in all cases, the most pressing question remains: how do you prevent the fraud from happening?

Preventing fraud: A commonsense approach that works

As a proactive plan for preventing fraud, we recommend focusing time and energy on two distinct facets of your operations: leadership tone and internal controls.

It all starts at the top: Leadership

The Board of Directors and senior management are in a powerful position to prevent fraud. By fostering a top-down culture of zero-tolerance for fraud, you can diminish opportunity for employees to consider, and attempt, fraud.

It is crucial to start at the top. Not only does this send a message to the rest of the company, but frauds committed at the executive level had a median loss of $1,265,000 per case, compared to a median loss of $77,000 when an employee perpetrated the fraud. This is compared to a median loss of $500,000 and $54,000 per case, respectively, in the 2016 Report.

Improving your internal control culture

Every financial institution uses internal controls in its daily operations. Override of existing internal controls, lack of internal controls, and lack of management review were all cited in the 2020 Report as the most common internal control weaknesses that contribute to occupational fraud in the banking and financial services industry.

The importance of internal controls cannot be overstated. Every organization should closely examine its internal controls and determine where they can be strengthened—even financial institutions with strong anti-fraud measures in place.

We have created a checklist of the top 10 controls for financial institutions, available in our white paper on preventing fraud. This is a list that we encourage every financial leader to read. By strengthening your foundation, your company will be in a powerful place to prevent fraud. 

Get the keys to prevent fraud—free fraud prevention white paper

Employees are your greatest strength and number one resource. Taking a proactive, positive approach to fraud prevention maintains the value employees bring to a financial institution, while focusing on realistic measures to discourage fraud.

In our white paper on preventing financial institution fraud, we take a deeper look at how to successfully implement a strong anti-fraud plan.

Commit to strengthening fraud prevention and you will instill confidence in your Board, employees, customers, and the general public. It’s a good investment for any financial institution. If you have any questions, please contact our team. We’re here to help. 
 

Article
In 2021, an anti-fraud plan is the best investment your financial institution can make

Read this if you are a community bank.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently issued its fourth quarter 2020 Quarterly Banking Profile. The report provides financial information based on call reports filed by 5,001 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions. The report also contains a section specific to community bank performance. In fourth quarter 2020, this includes the financial information of 4,559 FDIC-insured community banks. Here are our key takeaways from the community bank section of the report:

  • There was a $1.3 billion increase in quarterly net income from a year prior despite a 38.1% increase in provision expense and continued net interest margin (NIM) compression. This increase was mainly due to loan sales, which were up 159.2% from 2019. Year-over-year, net income is up 3.6%. However, the percentage of unprofitable community banks rose from 3.7% in 2019 to 4.4% in 2020.
  • Provision expense for the year increased $4.1 billion (a 141.6% increase) from 2019.
  • Year-over-year NIM declined 27 basis points to 3.39%. The average yield on earning assets fell 61 basis points to 4.00%.
  • Net operating revenue increased by $3.4 billion from fourth quarter 2019, a 14.5% increase. This increase is attributable to higher revenue from loan sales (increased $1.8 billion, or 159.2%) and an increase in net interest income.
  • Non-interest expenses increased 10.4% from fourth quarter 2019. This increase was mainly attributable to salary and benefit expenses, which saw an increase of $1.1 billion (12.6%). That being said, average assets per employee increased 16% from fourth quarter 2019.
  • Trends in loans and leases showed a moderate contraction from third quarter 2020, decreasing by 1.6%. This contraction was mainly seen in the C&I loan category, which was driven by a reduction in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan balances. However, total loans and leases increased by 10.3% from fourth quarter 2019. Although all major loan categories expanded in 2020, the majority of growth was seen in C&I loans, which accounted for approximately two-thirds of the year-over-year increase in loans and leases. However, keep in mind, C&I loans include PPP loans that were originated in the first half of 2020.
  • Nearly all community banks reported an increase in deposit volume during the year. Growth in deposits above the insurance limit drove the annual increase while alternative funding sources, such as brokered deposits, declined.
  • Average funding costs fell 33 basis points to 61 basis points for 2020.
  • Noncurrent loans (loans 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) increased $1.5 billion (12.8%) from fourth quarter 2019 as noncurrent balances in all major loan categories grew. However, the noncurrent rate remained relatively stable compared to fourth quarter 2019 at 77 basis points, partly due to strong year-over-year loan growth.
  • Net charge-offs decreased 4 basis points from fourth quarter 2019 to 15 basis points. The net charge-off rate for C&I loans declined most among major loan categories having decreased 24 basis points.
  • The average community bank leverage ratio (CBLR) for the 1,844 banks that elected to use the CBLR framework was 11.2%.
  • The number of community banks declined by 31 to 4,559 from third quarter 2020. This change includes two new community banks, four banks transitioning from non-community to community banks, three banks transitioning from community to non-community banks, 30 community bank mergers or consolidations, two community bank self-liquidations, and two community bank failures.

2020 was a strong year for community banks, as evidenced by the increase in year-over-year net income of 3.6%. However, tightening NIMs will force community banks to either find creative ways to increase their NIM, grow their earning asset bases, or find ways to continue to increase non-interest income to maintain current net income levels. Some community banks have already started dedicating more time to non-traditional income streams, as evidenced by the 40.1% year-over-year increase in non-interest income.

Furthermore, much uncertainty still exists. For instance, although significant charge-offs have not yet materialized, the financial picture for many borrowers remains uncertain. And payment deferrals have made some credit quality indicators, such as past due status, less reliable. The ability of community banks to maintain relationships with their borrowers and remain apprised of the results of their borrowers’ operations has never been more important.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to BerryDunn’s Financial Services team if you have any questions. We're here to help.
 

Article
FDIC issues its fourth quarter 2020 Quarterly Banking Profile

Read this if you are a bank.

Consolidated Appropriations Act
On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA) was signed into law. For financial institutions, aside from approving an additional $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funding, the CAA most notably extended troubled debt restructuring (TDR) relief. Originally provided in Section 4013 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, this relief allows financial institutions to temporarily disregard TDR accounting under US generally accepted accounting principles for certain COVlD-19-related loan modifications. Under the CARES Act, this relief was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extends such relief to January 1, 2022.

Relief from CECL implementation was also extended from December 31, 2020 to January 1, 2022.

We are here to help
If any questions arise, please contact the financial services team with any questions.

Article
TDR and CECL relief is extended for financial institutions

Read this if you are a community bank.

On December 1, 2020, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued its third quarter 2020 Quarterly Banking Profile. The report provides financial information based on call reports filed by 5,033 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions. The report also contains a section specific to community-bank performance based on the financial information of 4,590 FDIC-insured community banks. Here are some highlights from the community bank section of the report:

  • The community bank sector experienced a $659.7 million increase in quarterly net income from a year prior, despite a 116.6% increase in provision expense and continued net interest margin (NIM) compression. This increase was mainly due to loan sales, which were up 154.2% from 2019. Year-over-year, net income increased 10%.
  • Provision expense decreased 32.3% from second quarter 2020 to $1.6 billion. That said, year-to-date provision expense increased 194.3% compared to 2019 year-to-date.
  • NIM declined 41 basis points from a year prior to a record low of 3.27% (on an annualized basis). 
  • Net operating revenue increased by $2.8 billion from third quarter 2019, a 12.1% increase. This increase was attributable to higher revenue from loan sales and an increase in net interest income mainly due to higher interest income from commercial and industrial (C&I) loans (up 14.8%) and a decrease in interest expense (down 36.8%).
  • Average funding costs declined for the fourth consecutive quarter to 0.53%.
  • Growth in total loans and leases was stagnant from second quarter 2020, growing by only 1%. However, total loans and leases increased by 13.4% from third quarter 2019. This increase was mainly due to C&I lending, which was up 71%. This growth in C&I lending was mainly comprised of Paycheck Protection Program loans originated in the second quarter.
  • The noncurrent rate (loans 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) remained unchanged at 0.80% from second quarter 2020. That being said, noncurrent balances were up $1.6 billion in total from third quarter 2019. This year-over-year increase was mainly attributable to increases in noncurrent nonfarm nonresidential, C&I, and farm loan balances.
  • Net charge-offs decreased 22.1% year-over-year and currently stand at 0.10%.
  • Total deposit growth since second quarter 2020 was modest at 1.8%. However, total deposits compared to third quarter 2019 were up 16.7%.
  • The number of community banks declined by 34 to 4,590 from second quarter 2020. This change included one new community bank, three banks transitioning from non-community to community banks, eight banks transitioning from community to non-community banks, 29 community bank mergers or consolidations, and one community bank self-liquidation.

Community banks have been resilient and weathered the 2020 storm, as evidenced by an increase in year-over-year net income of 10%. However, tightening NIMs will force community banks to find creative ways to increase their NIM, grow their earning asset base, and identify ways to increase non-interest income to maintain current net income levels. 

Much uncertainty still exists. For instance, although significant charge-offs have not yet materialized, the financial picture for many borrowers remains uncertain, and payment deferrals have made some credit quality indicators, such as past due status, less reliable. The ability of community banks to maintain relationships with their borrowers and remain apprised of the results of their borrowers’ operations has never been more important. 

Despite the turbulence caused by the pandemic, there are many positive takeaways, and community banks have proven their resilience. Previous investments in technology, including customer facing solutions and internal communication tools, have saved time and money. As the pandemic forced many banks to move away from paper-centric processes, the resulting efficiencies of digitizing these processes will last long after the pandemic. 

If you have questions about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact BerryDunn’s Financial Services team. We’re here to help.
 

Article
FDIC issues its third quarter 2020 banking profile

Read this if you are a Financial Operations Principal or in the compliance department.

On July 30, 2013 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) amended certain reporting, audit, and notification requirements for broker-dealers registered with the SEC. Among other things, these amendments required broker-dealers to file one of two new reports with the SEC—a compliance report, if the broker-dealer did not claim it was exempt from Rule 15c3-3 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, or an exemption report if the broker-dealer did claim it was exempt from Rule 15c3-3 throughout the fiscal year. The Division of Trading and Markets of the SEC came out with frequently asked questions regarding the amendments made on July 30, 2013 and periodically updates this list of frequently asked questions. This list was updated July 1, 2020. Here are some of the most notable changes to the FAQs. For the full list, click here.

Exemption provisions

As noted above, a broker-dealer may claim exemption from Rule 15c3-3. Paragraph (k) of Rule 15c3-3 outlines four exemption provisions: (k)(1), (k)(2)(i), (k)(2)(ii), and (k)(2)(iii). Exemption provision (k)(1) may be claimed by broker-dealers that only perform direct-way mutual fund or variable annuity business. If the broker-dealer performs any other type of business, this exemption may not be claimed. Exemption provision (k)(2)(i) is commonly seen as a catch-all for broker-dealers whose businesses don’t qualify for a different exemption. However, to qualify, the broker-dealer cannot carry margin accounts, must promptly transmit all customer funds and deliver all securities received, and cannot otherwise hold funds or securities for, or owe money or securities to, customers. All transactions must be completed through one or more bank accounts specially designated for such transactions. Exemption provision (k)(2)(ii) is for broker-dealers that introduce transactions to a carrying broker-dealer on a fully disclosed basis. Lastly, exemption provision (k)(2)(iii) may be granted by the SEC upon written application by a broker-dealer. However, the SEC has never granted such an exemption.

Exemption report prohibitions

In some instances, a broker-dealer may not meet any of the exemption provisions of paragraph (k) of Rule 15c3-3. However, the broker-dealer may have also not held customer securities or funds during the fiscal year and therefore not be required to file a compliance report. In these instances, the broker-dealer should file an exemption report, along with a corresponding accountant’s report based on a review of the exemption report. 

Since the broker-dealer has not claimed an exemption under paragraph (k) of Rule 15c3-3, its exemption report should include a description of all the broker-dealer’s business activities and a statement that during the reporting period the broker-dealer (1) did not directly or indirectly receive, hold, or otherwise owe funds or securities for or to customers, other than money or other consideration received and promptly transmitted in compliance with paragraph (a) or (b)(2) of Rule 15c2-4; (2) did not carry accounts of or for customers; and (3) did not carry a propriety securities account of a broker or dealer (PAB accounts, as defined in Rule 15c3-3). Furthermore, on the broker-dealer’s FOCUS report, items 4550, 4560, 4570, and 4580 should be left blank.

Broker-dealers with multiple lines of business

Non-carrying broker-dealers may have multiple lines of business with customers. For instance, a broker-dealer may introduce some customer transactions to a carrying broker-dealer on a fully disclosed basis and also provide M&A transaction services. For the former, a (k)(2)(ii) exemption would be most appropriate. However, in the latter, a (k)(2)(i) exemption would be most appropriate. In these cases, it is common for the broker-dealer to disclose the exemption that best fits their primary line of business. However, the SEC has indicated the broker-dealer should disclose both exemption provisions in these instances, including any exceptions under either exemption. Each exemption provision being claimed should also be indicated on the broker-dealer’s FOCUS report. 

Similarly, some broker-dealers may provide activities that qualify under one or more of the exemption provisions of Rule 15c3-3 as well as activities that involve the activities described in items 1, 2, and 3 above. In these instances, the broker-dealer would not qualify for exemption from Rule 15c3-3 and would be required to file a compliance report with a corresponding accountant’s report based on an examination of the compliance report.

The exemption provisions for broker-dealers can be difficult to navigate. Further exacerbating the difficulty of navigating the exemption provisions, each broker-dealer has a different set of circumstances. The SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets also acknowledges these difficulties, hence the creation of its FAQ list. Broker-dealers should refer to this list, in conjunction with Rule 15c3-3, to ensure compliance. If further clarification is needed, the broker-dealer should consult their Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) representative. 

Article
The SEC updates its broker-dealer financial reporting rule FAQs