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The clock is ticking on LIBOR. Now what?

05.12.21

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement No. 93 Replacement of Interbank Offered Rates

Summary

With the global reference rate reform and the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) disappearing at the end of 2021, GASB Statement No. 93 was issued to address the accounting and financial impacts for replacing a reference rate. 

The article below is focused on Hedging Derivative Investments and amendments impacting Statement No. 87, Leases. We have not included guidance related to the Secured Overnight Financing Rate or the Up-Front Payments. 

Background

We have all heard that by the end of 2021, LIBOR will cease to exist in its current form. LIBOR is one of the most commonly used interbank offered rates (IBOR). Now what?

In March 2020, the GASB provided guidance to address the accounting treatment and financial reporting impacts of the replacement of IBORs with other referenced rates while maintaining reliable and comparable information. Statement No. 93 specifically addresses previously issued Statements No. 53, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Derivative Instruments, and No. 87, Leases, to provide updated guidance on how a change to the reference rate impacts the accounting for hedging transactions and leases.  

Here are our analyses of what is changing as well as easy-to-understand and important considerations for your organization as you implement the new standards.

Part 1: Hedging Derivative Instruments

The original guidance under Statement No. 53, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Derivative Instruments, as amended, requires that a government terminate a hedging transaction if the government renegotiates or amends a critical term of a hedging derivative instruction. 

Reference rate is the critical term that differentiates Statement No. 93 from Statement No. 53. The newly issued Statement No. 93 provides an exception that allows for certain hedging instruments to hedge the required accounting termination provisions when the IBOR is replaced with a new reference rate. 

In order words, under Statement No. 53, a modification of the IBOR would have caused the hedging instrument to terminate. However, Statement No. 93 now provides an exception to the termination rules as a result of the end of LIBOR. According to Statement No. 93, the exception is allowable when: 

  1. The hedging derivative instrument is amended or replaced to change the reference rate of the hedging derivative instrument’s variable payment or to add or change fallback provisions related to the reference rate of the variable payment.
  2. The reference rate of the amended or replacement hedging derivative instrument’s variable payment essentially equates to the reference rate of the original hedging derivative instrument’s variable payment by one or both of the following methods:
    • The replacement rate is multiplied by a coefficient or adjusted by addition or subtraction of a constant; the amount of the coefficient or constant is limited to what is necessary to essentially equate the replacement rate and the original rate
    •  An up-front payment is made between the parties; the amount of the payment is limited to what is necessary to essentially equate the replacement rate and the original rate.
  3. If the replacement of the reference rate is effectuated by ending the original hedging derivative instrument and entering into a replacement hedging derivative instrument, those transactions occur on the same date.
  4. Other terms that affect changes in fair values and cash flows in the original and amended or replacement hedging derivative instruments are identical, except for the term changes, as specified in number 1 below, that may be necessary for the replacement of the reference rate.

As noted above, there are term changes that may be necessary for the replacement of the reference rate are limited to the following

  • The frequency with which the rate of the variable payment resets
  • The dates on which the rate resets
  • The methodology for resetting the rate
  • The dates on which periodic payments are made.

Many contracts that will be impacted by LIBOR will be covered under Statement No. 93. The statement was created in order to ease with the transition and not create unnecessary burdens on the organizations. 

Part 2: Leases

Under the original guidance of Statement No. 87 Leases, lease contracts could be amended while the contract was in effect. This was considered a lease modification. In addition, the guidance states that an amendment to the contract during the reporting period would result in a separate lease. Examples of such an amendment included change in price, length, or the underlying asset.  

Included within Statement No. 93, are modifications to the lease standard as it relates to LIBOR. In situations where a contract contains variable payments with an IBOR, an amendment to replace IBOR with another rate by either changing the rate or adding or changing the fallback provisions related to the rate is not considered a lease modification. This modification does not require a separate lease. 

When is Statement No. 93 effective for me?

The removal of LIBOR as an appropriate interest rate is effective for reporting periods ending after June 31, 2021. All other requirements of Statement No. 93 are effective for all reporting periods beginning after June 15, 2022. Early adoption is allowed and encouraged. 

What should I do next? 

We encourage all those that may be impacted by LIBOR—whether with hedging derivative instruments, leases, and/or specific debt arrangements—to review all of their instruments to determine the specific impact on your organization. This process will be time consuming, and may require communication with the organizations with whom you are contracted to modify the terms so that they are agreeable to both parties.

If you would like more information about early adoption, or implementing the new Hedging Derivative Instruments or Leases, please contact Katy Balukas or Grant Ballantyne.
 

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Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

GASB Statement No. 96 Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements

Summary

GASB Statement No. 96 defines the term Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements (SBITA) as “a contract that conveys control of the right to use another party’s (a SBITA vendor’s) information technology (IT) software, alone or in combination with tangible capital assets (the underlying IT assets), as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.”

GASB Statement No. 96 determines when a subscription should be recognized as a right-to-use subscription, and also determines the corresponding liability, capitalization criteria, and required disclosures. 

Why does this matter to your organization?

In 2018, Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Accounting Standards Updated (ASU) 2018-15: Cloud Computing Arrangements for Service Contracts, and we knew it would only be a matter of time when a similar standard would be issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Today, more and more governmental entities are purchasing software in the cloud as opposed to a software that is housed locally on their machine or network. This creates the need for updated guidance in order to improve overall financial reporting, while maintaining consistency and comparability among governmental entities. 

What should you do?

We are going to walk through the steps to determine if a SBITA exists—from identification through how it may be recognized in your financial statements. You can use this step-by-step guide to review each individual subscription-based software to determine if Statement No. 96 applies.

Step 1: Identifying a SBITA

There is one important question to ask yourself when determining if a SBITA exists:

Will this software no longer work/will we no longer be able to log in once the contract term ends?

If your answer is “yes”, it is likely that a SBITA exists.  

Step 2: Determine whether a contract conveys control of the right to use underlying IT assets

According to Statement No. 96, the contract meets the right to use underlying IT assets by:

  • The right to obtain the present service capacity from use of the underlying IT assets as specified in the contract
  • The right to determine the nature and manner of use of the underlying IT assets as specified in the contact

Step 3: Determine the length of the subscription term

The subscription term starts when a governmental entity has a non-cancellable right to use the underlying IT assets. This is the period during which the SBITA vendor does not have the ability to cancel the contract, increase or decrease rates, or change the benefits/terms of the service. The contract language for this period can also include an option for the organization or the SBITA vendor to extend or terminate the contract, if it is reasonably certain that either of these options will be exercised.

Once a subscription term is set, your organization should revisit the term if one or more of the following occurs:

  • The potential option (extend/terminate) is exercised by either the entity or the SBITA vendor 
  • The potential option (extend/terminate) is not exercised by either the government or the SBITA vendor
  • An extension or termination of the SBITA occurs 

If the maximum possible term under the SBITA contract is 12 months or less, including any options to extend, regardless of their possibility of being exercised, an exception for short-term SBITAs has been provided under the statement. Such contracts do not need to be recognized under the Statement and the subscription payments will be recognized as outflows of resources. 

Step 4: Measurement of subscription liability 

The subscription liability is measured at the present value of the subscription payments expected to be made during the previously determined subscription term. The SBITA contract will include specific measures that should be used in determining the liability that could include the following:

  • Fixed payments
  • Variable payments
  • Payments for penalties for termination
  • Contract incentives
  • Any other payments to the SBITA which are included in the contract

The future payments are discounted using the interest rate that the SBITA charges to your organization. The interest rate may be implicit in the contract. If it is not readily determinable, the rate should be estimated using your organization’s incremental borrowing rate. 

Your organization will only need to re-measure the subscription liability is there is a change to the subscription term, change in the estimated amounts of payments, change in the interest rate the SBITA charges to your organization, or contingencies related to variable payments. A change in the discount rate alone would not require a re-measurement. 

Step 5: Measurement of subscription asset

The SBITA asset should be measured at the total of the following:

  • The amount of the initial measurement of the subscription liability (noted in Step 4 above)
  • If applicable, any payments made to the SBITA vendor at the beginning of the subscription term
  • The capitalized initial implementation costs (noted in Step 6 below)

Any SBITA vendor incentives received should be subtracted from the total.

Step 6: Capitalization of other outlays

In addition to the IT asset, Statement No. 96 provides for other outlays associated with the subscription to be capitalized as part of the total subscription asset. When implementing the IT asset, the activities can be divided into three stages: 

  • Preliminary project stage: May include a needs assessment, selection, and planning activities and should be recorded as expenses.
  • Initial implementation stage: May include testing, configuration, installation and other ancillary charges necessary to implemental the IT asset. These costs should be capitalized and included in the subscription asset.
  • Operation and additional implementation stage: May include maintenance and troubleshooting and should be expensed.

Step 7: Amortization

The subscription asset are amortized over the shorter of the subscription terms or the useful life of the underlying IT assets. The amortization of the asset are reported as amortization expense or an outflow of resources. Amortization should commence at the beginning of the subscription term. 

When is this effective?

Statement No. 96 is effective for all fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2022, fiscal and calendar years 2023. Early adoption is allowed and encouraged.

Changes to adopt the pronouncement are applied retroactively by restating previously issued financial statements, if practical, for all fiscal years presented. If restatement is not practical, a cumulative effect of the change can be reported as a restatement to the beginning net position (or fund balance) for the earliest year restated. 

What should you do next? 

With any new GASB Standard comes challenges. We encourage governmental entities to re-review their vendor contracts for software-related items and work with their software vendors to identify any questions or potential issues. While the adoption is not required until fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2022, we recommend that your organization start tracking any new contracts as they are entered o starting now to determine if they meet the requirements of SBITA. We also recommend that your organization tracks all of the outlays associated with the software to determine which costs are associated with the initial implementation stage and can be capitalized. 

What are we seeing with early adoption?

Within the BerryDunn client base, we are aware of at least one governmental organization that will be early adopting. We understand that within component units of state governments, the individual component unit is required to adopt a new standard only when the state determines that they will adopt.

If you are entering into new software contracts that meet the SBITA requirements between now and the required effective date, we would recommend early adoption. If you are interested in early adoption of GASB Statement No. 96, or have any specific questions related to the implementation of the standard, please contact Katy Balukas or Grant Ballantyne

Article
Our take on SBITA: Making accounting for cloud-based software less nebulous

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Along with COVID-19 related accounting changes that require our constant attention, we need to continue to keep our eyes on the changes that routinely emerge from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Here is a brief overview of what GASB Statement No. 93, Replacement of Interbank Offered Rates, Statement No. 96, Subscription-Based Information Technology Arrangements, and Statement No. 97 Certain Component Unit Criteria, and Accounting and Financial Reporting for Internal Revenue Code Section 457 Deferred Compensation Plans, may mean to you. If you want more detail, we’ve included links to more analyses and in-depth explanation of what you need to know now.

GASB 93

We have all heard that by the end of 2021, LIBOR will cease to exist in its current form. In March 2020, the GASB provided guidance to address the accounting treatment and financial reporting impacts of the replacement of interbank offered rates (IBORs) with other referenced rates, while maintaining reliable and comparable information. Statement No. 93 specifically addresses previously issued Statement Nos. 53 and 87 to provide updated guidance on how a change to the reference rate impacts the accounting for hedging transactions and lease arrangements.  Read more in our article The Clock is Ticking on LIBOR. Now What?

GASB 96

GASB Statement No. 96 defines the term Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements (SBITA) as “A contract that conveys control of the right to use another party’s (a SBITA vendor’s) information technology (IT) software, alone or in combination with tangible capital assets (the underlying IT assets), as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.”

GASB Statement No. 96 determines when a subscription should be recognized as a right-to-use subscription, and also determines the corresponding liability, capitalization criteria, and required disclosures. Learn why this matters and what you need to do next: Our Take on SBITA: Making Accounting for Cloud-Based Software Less Nebulous.

GASB 97

GASB Statement 97 addresses specific practice issues that have arisen related to retirement plans. The standard is roughly divided into two parts—component units and Section 457 plans—each of which focus on a different aspect of governmental retirement plan accounting. Help your organization gain an understanding of the standard with our article GASB 97: What's new, what to do, and what you need to know.

If you have questions about these pronouncements and what they mean to your organization, please contact Grant Ballantyne.

Article
Update for GASB-governed organizations: Lease accounting, LIBOR transition, SBITA, and Section 457 plans

Read this if you paid wages for qualified sick and family leave in 2021.

The IRS has issued guidance to employers on year-end reporting for sick and family leave wages that were paid in 2021 to eligible employees under recent federal legislation.

IRS Notice 2021-53, issued on September 7, 2021, provides that employers must report “qualified leave wages” either on a 2021 Form W-2 or on a separate statement, including:

  • Qualified leave wages paid from January 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021 (Q1) under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA).
  • Qualified leave wages paid from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 (Q2 and Q3) under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).

The notice also explains how employees who are also self-employed should report such paid leave. This guidance builds on IRS Notice 2020-54, issued in July 2020, which explained the reporting requirements for 2020 qualified leave wages.

Employers should work with their IT department and/or payroll service provider as soon as possible to review the payroll system, earnings codes configuration and W-2 mapping to ensure that these paid leave wages are captured timely and accurately for year-end W-2 reporting.

FFCRA and ARPA tax credits background

In March 2020, the FFCRA imposed a federal mandate requiring eligible employers to provide paid sick and family leave from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020, up to specified limits, to employees unable to work due to certain COVID-related circumstances. The FFCRA provided fully refundable tax credits to cover the cost of the mandatory leave.

In December 2020, the CAA extended the FFCRA tax credits through March 31, 2021, for paid leave that would have met the FFCRA requirements (except that the leave was optional, not mandatory). The ARPA further extended the credits for paid leave through September 30, 2021, if the leave would have met the FFCRA requirements.

In addition to employer tax credits, under the CAA, a self-employed individual may claim refundable qualified sick and family leave equivalent credits if the individual was unable to work during Q1 due to certain COVID-related circumstances. The ARPA extended the availability of the credits for self-employed individuals through September 30, 2021. However, an eligible self-employed individual may have to reduce the qualified leave equivalent credits by some (or all) of the qualified leave wages the individual received as an employee from an employer.

Reporting requirements to claim the refundable tax credits

Eligible employers who claim the refundable tax credits under the FFCRA or ARPA must separately report qualified sick and family leave wages to their employees. Employers who forgo claiming such credits are not subject to the reporting requirements.

Qualified leave wages paid in 2021 under the FFCRA and ARPA must be reported in Box 1 of the employee’s 2021 Form W-2. Qualified leave wages that are Social Security wages or Medicare wages must be included in boxes 3 and 5, respectively. To the extent the qualified leave wages are compensation subject to the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA), they must also be included in box 14 under the appropriate RRTA reporting labels.

In addition, employers must report to the employee the following types and amounts of wages that were paid, with each amount separately reported either in box 14 of the 2021 Form W-2 or on a separate statement:

  • The total amount of qualified sick leave wages paid for reasons described in paragraphs (1), (2), or (3) of Section 5102(a) of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA)1  with respect to leave provided to employees during the period beginning on January 1, 2021, through March 31, 2021. The following, or similar language, must be used to label this amount: “Sick leave wages subject to the $511 per day limit paid for leave taken after December 31, 2020, and before April 1, 2021.”
  • The total amount of qualified sick leave wages paid for reasons described in paragraphs (4), (5), or (6) of Section 5102(a) of the EPSLA with respect to leave provided to employees during the period beginning on January 1, 2021, through March 31, 2021. The following, or similar language, must be used to label this amount: “Sick leave wages subject to the $200 per day limit paid for leave taken after December 31, 2020, and before April 1, 2021.”
  • The total amount of qualified family leave wages paid to the employee under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) with respect to leave provided to employees during the period beginning on January 1, 2021, through March 31, 2021. The following, or similar language, must be used to label this amount: “Emergency family leave wages paid for leave taken after December 31, 2020, and before April 1, 2021.”
  • The total amount of qualified sick leave wages paid for reasons described in paragraphs (1), (2), or (3) of Section 5102(a) of the EPSLA with respect to leave provided to employees during the period beginning on April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. The following, or similar language, must be used to label this amount: “Sick leave wages subject to the $511 per day limit paid for leave taken after March 31, 2021, and before October 1, 2021.”
  • The total amount of qualified sick leave wages paid for reasons described in paragraphs (4), (5), and (6) of Section 5102(a) of the EPSLA with respect to leave provided to employees during the period beginning on April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. The following, or similar language, must be used to label this amount: “Sick leave wages subject to the $200 per day limit paid for leave taken after March 31, 2021, and before October 1, 2021.”
  • The total amount of qualified family leave wages paid to the employee under the EFMLEA with respect to leave provided to employees during the period beginning on April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. The following, or similar language, must be used to label this amount: Emergency family leave wages paid for leave taken after March 31, 2021, and before October 1, 2021.”

If an employer chooses to provide a separate statement and the employee receives a paper 2021 Form W-2, then the statement must be included with the Form W-2 sent to the employee. If the employee receives an electronic 2021 Form W-2, then the statement must be provided in the same manner and at the same time as the Form W-2.

In addition to the above required information, the notice also suggests that employers provide additional information about qualified sick and family leave wages that explains that these wages may limit the amount of the qualified sick leave equivalent or qualified family leave equivalent credits to which the employee may be entitled with respect to any self-employment income.

For more information

If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your particular situation, please call us. We’re here to help.

 1Employees are eligible for qualified sick leave under EPSLA if the employee:

  • Was subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  • Had been advised by a health-care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  • Experienced symptoms of COVID-19 and was seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • Was caring for an individual who was subject to a quarantine order related to COVID-19, or had been advised by a health-care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  • Was caring for a son or daughter of such employee, if the school or place of care of the son or daughter had been closed, or the child-care provider of such son or daughter was unavailable, due to COVID-19; or
  • Was experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Article
IRS guidance to employers: Year-end reporting requirements for qualified sick and family leave wages

Read this if you are responsible for meeting your broker-dealer’s annual report filing requirement under Securities Exchange Act (SEA) Section 15.

In February, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved a 30-day extension for eligible broker-dealers to file their annual reports, effective immediately. Firms that meet the criteria should consider taking advantage of the filing extension. Here are a few details and tips to help broker-dealers understand more about the 30‑day extension.

SEA Section 15 filing extension background

Normally, each broker-dealer registered under Securities Exchange Act (SEA) Section 15 must file annual reports—including financial and compliance or exemption reports, along with those prepared by an independent accountant—no more than 60 days after the broker-dealer’s fiscal year ends. But in light of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requested that the SEC allow broker-dealers an extra 30 days to file their annual reports. The extension, FINRA argued, would allow broker-dealers more time to obtain audit services.

Criteria for broker-dealers eligible for the extension

To qualify for a filing extension of 30 calendar days, a broker-dealer must meet the following criteria:

  1. Was in compliance with 15c3-1 (Net Capital) as of its most recent fiscal year end and had total capital and allowable subordinated liabilities of less than $50 million,
  2. Is permitted to file an exemption report as part of its most recent fiscal year-end annual reports,
  3. Submits written notification to FINRA and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) of its intent to rely on this order on an ongoing basis for as long as it meets the conditions of the order, and
  4. Files the annual report electronically with the SEC using an appropriate process.

The extension does not apply to just this year alone. It is understood to be in effect on an ongoing basis.

How to notify FINRA of your intent to take advantage of the extension

Broker-dealers that meet the aforementioned conditions are required to notify FINRA of their intent to take advantage of the extension. FINRA advises eligible broker-dealers to send an email to their Risk Monitoring Analyst with a message structured according to the following template:

“My firm wishes to have an additional 30 calendar days for filing its annual report on an ongoing basis for as long as my firm meets the conditions set forth in the SEC Order of February 12, 2021, regarding additional time for filing annual reports under SEA Rule 17a-5.”

How to file electronically

In addition to notifying FINRA, those looking to benefit from the extension are required to file electronically. There are multiple ways to do so, but the most user-friendly and efficient avenue to electronic filing is through the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval (EDGAR) system.

Using the EDGAR system, broker-dealers must upload only two attachments maximum. The EDGAR system offers two options for electronic filing:

  1. The broker-dealer could attach one document containing all the annual reports as a public document; or
  2. The broker-dealer could attach two documents to its submission: (1) a public document containing the statement of financial condition, the notes to the statement of financial condition and the accountant’s report which covers the statement of financial condition, and (2) a non-public document containing all the components of the annual reports.

Implications for annual filings

An upcoming filing deadline is a stressful event, especially for broker-dealers contending with the upheaval of the past 18 months. Fortunately, FINRA has advocated on their behalf, and the SEC has complied by offering a 30-day filing extension.

The extension provides broker-dealers excess time to review documents and schedule a session with their auditor. Auditors will likely appreciate the extension as well, as it allows them to serve their various clients over a longer period of time, alleviating some of the pressure traditionally associated with filing season.

For these reasons and more, broker-dealers who qualify are encouraged to take the steps required to benefit from this grace period. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact our broker-dealer consulting team. We're here to help.

Article
Eligible broker-dealers: Take advantage of SEC's 30-day filing extension

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

This article is the ninth 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

Employee benefit plan loan basics 

If your plan’s adoption agreement is set up to allow loans, participants can borrow against their account balance. Some participants may find this an attractive option as the interest they pay on the loan is returned to their retirement account as opposed to other loans where the interest is paid to the lender. 

Additionally, while interest is charged at the market rate, it may be lower than other options available to the participant, such as a credit card or other unsecured debt. Unlike hardship distributions, there are no restrictions on the circumstances under which a participant may take a loan. A potential downside is that if the borrower defaults on the loan or ends their employment and cannot repay the loan in full, it converts from a loan to a deemed distribution, potentially incurring taxes and penalties.

If a participant decides that an employee benefit plan loan is their best option, they will apply for the loan through your plan administrator. Loans are limited in both size and quantity. Participants may take loans up to 50% of their vested account balance with a maximum loan of $50,000. The provisions of a plan determine how many loans an employee may have at once; however, the combined loan balances cannot exceed 50% of the employee’s vested balance or $50,000. Furthermore, the $50,000 loan maximum must also consider payments made on loans within the previous 12 months.

Repayment of employee benefit plan loans

Repayment of employee benefit plan loans may be done through after tax payroll contributions, making it a relatively easy process for the participant. If a plan sponsor elects to provide this repayment option, they must ensure that repayments are remitted to the plan in a timely manner, just as they must with other employee funded contributions. The term of the loan is typically limited to five years and must be repaid in at least quarterly installments. However, a loan can be extended to as long as thirty years if specified within the plan’s loan policy. If the loan term is for longer than five years, the loan proceeds must be used to purchase a primary residence.

Like any source of debt, there are pros and cons to taking out an employee benefit plan loan, and it remains an important option for participants to understand. The benefits include the ease of applying for such a loan and loan interest that is then added to the participant’s retirement account balance. Potential pitfalls include lost earnings during the loan period and the risk of the loan becoming a deemed distribution if the participant is unable to repay within the allotted time. 

If you would like more information, or have specific questions about your specific situation, please contact our Employee Benefits Audit team.

Article
Retirement plan loans: A brief review

Read this if you have a blended workforce with both in-office employees and remote workers.

It is hard to believe it has been nearly a year and a half since we started our remote work journey. At the time, many thought the move to working remotely would be short term. Then, a couple of weeks turned into a month, a month into another month, another month into a year and, some employers are now finally considering re-opening their offices.

Back in April 2020, we provided some internal control challenges, and potential solutions, faced by working in a remote environment. These challenges included exercising appropriate tone at the top, maintaining appropriate segregation of duties, and ensuring timely review, amongst others. Although these challenges still exist, there are new considerations to address as we transition into (hopefully) a post-pandemic world.

Blended workforces

As we mentioned in that article, since people have now been forced to work in a remote environment, they will be more apt to continue to do so. For some employees, the perks of ditching that long commute outweighs the free coffee they receive in the office. Employers have a decision to make—do we allow our employees the option to continue to work from home or, do we require employees to work from the office, as was standard pre-pandemic? Now that employees have exhibited the ability to work from home efficiently and effectively, it may be difficult to move all employees back into the office. Requiring all employees to return to the office could result in employees seeking employment elsewhere, and the option to work remotely is a selling point for many recruiters. Furthermore, disallowing remote work could cause employees to feel distrusted or undervalued, possibly leading to less efficient and effective work.

However, remote work comes with many challenges. Although video chat has been instrumental in navigating the remote work environment, it still has limitations. Nothing can beat in-person conversations and the relationships they help build. Nearly every video chat has a purpose, and unfortunately, you can’t just “run” into somebody in a video chat as you can in the office. Building camaraderie and instilling your company’s culture is difficult in a remote environment. And, if your workforce is blended, with some working in the office while others work remotely, building culture may be even more difficult than if your entire workforce was remote. Employees in the office may be less apt to communicate with remote colleagues. If you have a task you wish to delegate, you may think of giving the assignment to someone in the office prior to thinking of your remote co-workers that may be just as able and willing to complete the assignment. It will be important to ensure all employees are provided with equal opportunities, no matter of where they work.

Remote work policy

Regardless of your company’s decision to allow employees to work remotely or not, we recommend developing a remote work policy addressing expected behaviors. When developing such a policy, consider:

  •  Will the policy’s provisions apply to the entire company or will there be different provisions by department? If the latter, consider what the implications may be on employee morale.
  • Will there be a minimum amount of days per week that must be spent in the office?
  • If employees are allowed to work remotely, do they need to work a set schedule or can the frequency, and which days they work remotely, change from week to week?
  • Who should the employee communicate their decision to? How will this information then be shared company-wide?
  • How do remote employees address document destruction? If they are handling sensitive and confidential documents, how should they dispose of these documents?
  • Similarly, what are the expectations for protecting sensitive and confidential information at home?
  • Are employees allowed to hook up company-provided equipment to personal devices, such as personal printers?
  • If an employee is customer/client facing, what are the expectations for dress code and backgrounds for video chat meetings?
  • What will staff development look like for individuals working remotely? Alternatively, what will their involvement look like in onboarding/developing new employees?
  • What are the expectations for meetings? Will all meetings be set up in a manner that accommodates in-person and remote attendees? Are there meetings where in-person attendance is mandatory?

The importance of these considerations will likely differ from company to company. Some of these considerations may be addressed in other, already existing policies.

Are your internal controls “blended workforce” ready?

If your company plans to allow employees to work remotely, you will need to assess if your internal controls make sense for both in-office and remote employees. Typically, internal controls are written in a manner irrespective of where the employee resides. However, there may be situations that require an internal control be re-worked to accommodate in-office and remote employees. For instance, do you have an internal control that references a specific report that can only be run in-office? If the control owner plans to transition to a hybrid work schedule, does the frequency of the internal control need to change to reflect the employee’s new schedule? Alternatively, does it make sense to transition this internal control to someone else that will be in the office more frequently?

Internal control accommodations

The transition to a remote environment was expeditious and many thought the remote environment would be over quickly. As a result, there may have been modifications to internal controls that were made out of necessity, although they were not ideal from an internal control standpoint. The rationale for these accommodations may have been the expectation that the remote environment would be short-lived. Although these accommodations may have made sense for a short amount of time, and posed little to no additional risk to your company, the longer these accommodations remained in effect, the greater the chance for unintended consequences. 

We recommend reviewing your internal controls and creating a log of any internal control accommodations that were made due to the pandemic. Some of these modifications may continue to make sense and, after operating under the new internal control for an extended period of time, may even be preferable to the previous internal control. However, for those modifications that do appear to have increased control risk, control owners should assess if the length of the pandemic could have resulted in inadequately designed internal controls. And, if so, what could the consequences of these poorly designed internal controls have been to the company?

Internal control vs. process

While reviewing your company’s internal controls, it will also be a good time to ensure your internal control descriptions actually describe an internal control rather than simply a process. Although having well-documented processes for your company’s various transaction cycles is important, a good internal control description should already incorporate the process within it. Think of your internal control descriptions as writing a story—the “process” provides background information on the characters and setting, while the “internal control” is the story’s plot.

For example: The Accounting Manager downloads the market values from the investment portfolio accounting system and enters the market values into the general ledger on a monthly basis. Once the journal entry is entered, the Accounting Manager provides the market value report and a copy of the journal entry to the Controller.

Although a savvy reader may be able to identify where the internal control points are within this process, it could easily be modified to explicitly include discussion of the actual internal controls. The text in bold below represents modifications to the original:

The Accounting Manager downloads the market values from the investment portfolio accounting system and enters the market values into the general ledger on a monthly basis. Once the journal entry is entered, the Accounting Manager provides the market value report and a copy of the journal entry to the Controller via email. This email serves as documentation of preparation of the journal entry by the Accounting Manager. The Controller then reviews the market value report against the journal entry for accuracy. Once approved, the Controller posts the journal entry and replies to the email to indicate their review and approval. The Accounting Manager saves the email chain as auditable evidence.

The text additions in bold font help provide a complete story. A new employee could easily read this description and understand what they need to do, and how to appropriately document it. Most importantly, the internal control is both in-office and remote environment friendly.

Transitioning back to the office has resulted in a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Routine office norms, such as shaking hands and having a spontaneous meeting over a cup of coffee need to be relearned. Likewise, policies and internal controls need to be revisited to address the changing landscape. The more proactive your company can be, the better positioned it will be to accommodate its employees’ demands, while also maximizing the effectiveness of its internal controls. Please contact David Stone or Dan Vogt if any questions arise.

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May the "blended workforce be with you": Policy and internal control considerations for a new era

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

This article is the eighth 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

The Department of Labor regulations regarding service provider fee disclosures clarify that plan fiduciaries are responsible for assessing the reasonableness of fees charged to plans in relation to services performed. 

Before a plan fiduciary is able to assess the reasonableness of plan fees, the fiduciary has to receive required fee disclosures from their covered service provider. A covered service provider is considered a party that enters into an agreement with a covered plan to provide certain services. The range of services provided generally include recordkeeping services, investment adviser services, accounting services, auditing services, actuarial services, appraisals, banking, consulting, legal services, third party administration services, or valuation services provided to the plan.

In general, the covered service providers are required to provide the plan fiduciary a disclosure of the following information:

  • All expected services and fees, and
  • All direct and indirect compensation
    • Direct compensation are fees paid to the service providers from the plan
    • Indirect compensation are fees paid to the service providers from sources other than the plan, the plan sponsor, the covered service provider, or an affiliate 

Once the service provider fee disclosures are received, the responsible plan fiduciary must assess the reasonableness of the fees in relation to the services provided. There are numerous ways a plan fiduciary can determine if the fees are reasonable. The following are some of the most common ways to determine if the plan expenses are reasonable:

  • Complete a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI) process that compares at least two vendors.
  • Complete a plan “benchmarking” project. The responsible plan fiduciary can have an independent organization compare the fees charged to the plan to plans of similar size and characteristics. Failure to determine the reasonableness of the fees charged can result in a prohibited transaction. The responsible plan fiduciary should determine and document whether the fees are reasonable. Documentation should also include the steps taken to make this determination.

It is important to remember that failure to assess the reasonableness of the service provider fees can result in a prohibited transaction. Documentation of the assessment process, including steps taken to make a determination on fee reasonableness, is the best way to avoid having a prohibited transaction.

If you have any questions while assessing your service providers’ fees, please contact our Employee Benefits Audit team.
 

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Service provider fee disclosures: Understanding the process

Read this if you are an organization that received federal funding subject to the Uniform Guidance. 

We are excited to announce the OMB released the 2021 Compliance Supplement late last week. This long-awaited release is effective for audits of fiscal years beginning after June 30, 2020 and supersedes the 2020 supplement and subsequent addendum. We are continuing to evaluate the changes to the supplement, but a few things to note from our early look:

  • There will be an addendum to this supplement, to address certain COVID-related relief funding with changing regulations that were not in place in time for this supplement. 
  • Good news for higher education: Part 4 of the supplement related to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (within assistance listing 84.425, section 2) is not expected to be amended by the addendum.
  • The supplement is making the formal shift away from the “Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance” (or CFDA) language to the term “Assistance Listing” in describing the number used for each program.
  • To evaluate the changes in the supplement from the prior year, consider checking out the Matrix of Compliance Requirements in Part 2 and Appendix V.

The timing for the release of the anticipated addendum has not yet been confirmed, but your audit teams are excited to get started with the new supplement. If you have any questions or need help making sense of it all, contact our Single Audit team. We’re here to help.

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OMB 2021 compliance supplement released