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Value creation and ESG: Building a better future—and business

By:

A Senior in BerryDunn’s Accounting and Assurance Practice Group, Jake works with clients to prepare financial statements and gain an understanding of accounting and reporting requirements. He works primarily in the commercial and employee benefit sectors.

Jake Black
09.07.22

Read this if you are a construction or architecture and engineering firm looking at ESG initiatives at your organization.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is an ever-growing topic that may have a significant impact on the future growth and sustainability of your company. Beyond the awareness of ESG, the key question is, “Why should I care?” While there are a multitude of answers to this question, there is one answer that can propel your business forward to outpace your competitors and create value. 

ESG initiatives for construction, engineering, and architectural firms can be broken down into four separate value creation opportunities: growth through competitive bidding, cost-reduction, investment optimization, and cultural enhancement. Here we look at the benefits of each that your company can leverage to improve your competitive advantage.

Growth through competitive bidding

According to recent data, the construction industry accounts for nearly half of total CO2 annual global emissions, including 27% from building operations, 10% in building materials and construction, and 10% in other construction activities. Combined with the US goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 set by the White House, there is a heightened focus on environmentally sustainable construction. As reduced emissions goals evolve at the state and local government level, there are increased opportunities for ESG-focused companies to expand into new geographic markets and continue to grow in existing ones. Particularly for government-driven projects, there has been increased screening of contractors for their prior and current sustainability performance. By improving your ESG profile, you may be able to get more government projects moving forward. 

Cost-reduction

When it comes to cost-reduction, ESG initiatives are often thought of in a negative light. Through a strong ESG program, there are a multitude of cost-saving opportunities. Operational costs can be reduced by implementing ESG initiatives that promote reduced water and energy consumption. Some key cost-saving opportunities for contractors, architects, and engineers may lie in the Social (behavior around people, political and social issues) and Governance (corporate behavior, including compensation and profits) pillars of ESG. Cultural enhancement is linked to reduced employee turnover, which can increase productivity and reduce labor and overhead costs. A strong ESG approach also lowers the risk of regulatory and legal intervention, which can reduce costs by eliminating project delays and mitigate risk of liability. 

Investment optimization

Shifting focus to employ an ESG-conscious approach could help minimize exposure to long-term investment risk due to environmental and sustainability concerns. While there are certainly upfront costs when implementing an ESG strategy, failure to act or explore now may eventually result in even greater expense in the future. Regulatory frameworks are in the process of being created that will ban or limit the use of certain building products. The cost of removing banned products and installing eco-friendly ones in the future will likely exceed the cost of using eco-friendly products today. ESG is a forward-thinking process that requires some up-front cost and effort that most believe will pay in dividends in the future. 

Cultural enhancement

ESG-conscious companies can attract and retain talent, improve employee morale and motivation, improve productivity, and lower costs. ESG components in the workforce can range from health and safety precautions on job sites to well-being initiatives and staff learning and development programs. Studies show that the Millennial and Gen Z generations place a larger importance on a company’s ESG program than former generations. These two generations will overwhelmingly account for the majority of the workforce in the next five to 10 years. ESG programs that place a focus on employee well-being are beneficial for the employee, employer, and in turn the environment. 

Implementing a strong ESG approach doesn’t happen all at once. By making small inroads in some of the areas mentioned above, you can better position your company for success in the future and take advantage of the many opportunities ESG may provide. 

If you have questions about ESG or have a question about your specific situation, please contact our construction team. We’re here to help you find and navigate new opportunities.

Topics: ESG

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BerryDunn experts and consultants

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

Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

There is still time to claim the Employee Retention Credit, if eligible. The due date for filing Form 941-X to claim the credit is generally three years from the date of the originally filed Form 941. 

The ERC is a refundable payroll tax credit for wages paid and health coverage provided by an employer whose operations were either fully or partially suspended due to COVID-related governmental orders or that experienced a significant reduction in gross receipts. 

The amount of the credit can be substantial. For 2020, the credit is 50% of the first $10,000 of qualified wages per employee for the qualifying period beginning as early as March 12, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020 (thus the max credit per employee is $5,000 in 2020). For 2021, the credit is 70% of the first $10,000 of qualified wages per employee, per qualifying quarter (thus the potential max credit is $21,000 per employee in 2021). 

For 2021, employers with 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 may include all wages and health plan expenses as qualified wages. For 2020, employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 may include all wages and health plan expenses as qualified wages while employers with more than 100 full-time employees in 2019 may only claim the credit for qualified wages paid to employees who did not provide services. For purposes of determining full-time employees, an employer only needs to include those that work 30 hours a week or 130 hours a month in the calculation. Part-time employees working less than this would not be considered in the employee count.

There is additional interplay between claiming the ERC and the wages used for PPP loan forgiveness that will need to be considered. 

Student loan repayment programs

One of the benefits younger employees would like to receive from their employer is assistance with student loan repayments. A recent study indicated an employee would commit to working for an employer for at least five years if the employer assisted with student loan payments. Some employers have been providing such a benefit and, until 2020, any student loan payments made by the employer would have been considered taxable income. 

Beginning in 2020 and through 2025, at least for now, employers are permitted to provide tax-free student loan repayment benefits to employees. In order to receive tax-free payments, such a plan must be in writing and must be offered to a non-discriminatory group of employees. In addition, the tax-free benefit must be limited to $5,250 per calendar year. Now may be the time to consider offering student loan repayment benefits to help retain and attract employees.

Automatic enrollment for employee deferrals in 401(k)/403(b) plan

Most employers offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan to their employees. However, the federal government and several state governments are concerned that employees are either not saving enough for retirement and/or do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Some states are mandating the establishment of an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or mandatory participation in a state-sponsored multiple employer plan (MEP). Other states are mandating that employers who do not sponsor a 401(k) or 403(b) plan provide automatic employee payroll deductions into a state-sponsored Individual Retirement Account (IRA) type vehicle sponsored by the state. If you do not already sponsor a 401(k) or 403(b) plan you should confirm if your state has any requirements.

For those employers who do sponsor a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, you should consider implementing an automatic enrollment provision if you have not done so already. Automatic enrollment requires a certain percentage of an employee’s wages to be withheld and deposited into the 401(k) or 403(b) plan each pay period, unless the employee elects otherwise. While the current law does not require an employer to use automatic enrollment, there is pending legislation that would require an automatic enrollment provision in any new retirement plan. Even though existing plans would be grandfathered under the pending legislation, it may be worth implementing an automatic enrollment provision in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan to help and encourage employees to save for retirement. 

If you have questions about any of these or other employee benefit topics, please contact our Employee Benefits Audit team. We're here to help.

Article
Employee benefit plan updates: The Employee Retention Credit and student loan repayment programs

Read this if you are subject to Medicaid DSH audits.

The Medicaid DSH program, created in 1981, provides funding to hospitals in the form of DSH payments. Federal law requires that state Medicaid programs make DSH payments to hospitals that serve a disproportionately high number of Medicaid beneficiaries and uninsured low-income patients, to help offset uncompensated care costs (UCC). With healthcare costs steadily outpacing income growth and inflation, these DSH payments serve as an important and sometimes necessary reimbursement mechanism. 

In most states, hospitals that receive Medicaid DSH payments are subject to an annual DSH audit, to determine the DSH UCC limit and to compare it against DSH payments received from the Medicaid state agencies. The DSH UCC limit uses information from the Medicare cost report, as well as Medicaid and uninsured patient detail, to calculate the UCC. 

Upon completion of the DSH audit, the Medicaid state agency or its contractor will compare the UCC to the DSH payments issued during the state fiscal year to determine if a hospital is in a shortfall, where DSH payments were less than the UCC, or a "longfall", where DSH payments were greater than the UCC. If it is determined that a hospital is in a longfall, the state’s Medicaid plan may require hospitals to pay some or all of the DSH funds back. With potentially significant financial implications, it is in the hospital’s best interest to understand the requirements and to complete the audit in a timely and accurate fashion. 

Completion of the DSH audit can be a daunting task. For some, the mere mention of the words “DSH audit” is enough to send chills down one’s spine. It is best assigned to those with solid reimbursement, revenue cycle, hospital operations, and information management system (IT) knowledge. 

It is not uncommon for hospitals to have a consulting firm, such as BerryDunn, complete the DSH audit on their behalf. While the DSH audit may seem like a heavy lift, we hope the following tips will assist you in tackling the audit and getting through the process smoothly and efficiently. 

  1. Allow enough time for completion of the DSH audit. A considerable amount of time and effort is needed to collect, reconcile and summarize the internal claims data and to enter information into the required schedules. The time needed to complete the audit will depend on your organization’s available resources and complexity of the IT and financial systems. Typically, this process takes one to two weeks to complete, sometimes longer. Creating the patient data support files themselves is arguably the most time-consuming aspect of the process. 
  2. Review the minimum federal requirements for DSH payment eligibility and document your organization’s qualifications. To receive DSH payments, hospitals must have a low-income inpatient utilization rate (LIUR) greater than 25 percent, or the hospital must have a Medicaid utilization rate (MIUR) that is at least one standard deviation above the mean rate of all hospitals in the state that receive Medicaid payments. States may distribute DSH payments to other hospitals provided they have a MIUR of at least one percent, and if they offer obstetric services that they have at least two OB/GYN on staff.
  3. Take time to understand how DSH payments are calculated in your state and if any recent state Medicaid plan changes may affect your organization’s eligibility and amount of qualifying payments. 
  4. Carefully review any audit instructions provided, paying particular attention to types of claims, service dates, and required supporting information. 
  5. Gather all the data files needed for completion of the DSH audit before diving in, including the cost report(s) for the period under audit, patient data support files that support the Medicaid and uninsured populations, and audited hospital financial statements (if applicable). Remember: bad data in, bad data out!
  6. Reconcile the state claims data. If the state claims data is used by the state Medicaid agency or its contractor to complete a portion of the audit, we strongly recommend a reconciliation of the state claims data to internal records, to help ensure all eligible claims, inpatient days, and charges are included.
  7. Identify and capture all Medicaid and uninsured patients. When completing schedules, hospitals should ensure they are identifying and capturing all Medicaid and uninsured patients, and accurately report the charges and payments for these patients for the DSH audit. Certain data elements are required, including patient demographic data and hospital charge and payment information. 
  8. Review insured patients' claims with no insurance payment. For uninsured patient charge capture, hospitals may benefit from reviewing insured patients’ claims with no insurance payment. Some claims, meeting state Medicaid plan coverage requirements, could be included as “uninsured” if they meet one of the three exclusion requirements: (1) service was not covered by insurance, but is covered by a Medicaid state plan; (2) patient’s benefits were exhausted prior to the admission/service date, and (3) patient reached the lifetime insurance limit. Some accounts that appear to be insured on the surface may in fact be eligible for inclusion in the calculation of the UCC. Remember, claims denied by insurance, such as untimely filing, lack of pre-authorization, or medically unnecessary services, should not be reported. In many cases, the only way to know for sure if an account can be included is through research of patient notes and financial information. Leave no stone unturned! It could be the difference between a longfall and a shortfall in your UCC.
  9. Review your work prior to submission. Many states will provide a checklist with the audit package, to ensure all data elements have been included with the submission. Even if the hospital has resources to complete the audit, consider arranging for a third-party review of the DSH audit and other submission items to help ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data. 
  10. Schedule time to review audit adjustments. The Medicaid state agency or its contractor will likely provide an adjustment report for your review. Plan your time for review of the audit adjustments, as the window for response or amendments may be very narrow. Take note of the adjustments, especially the high dollar ones, and either confirm that they are accurate or make revisions as necessary. This is another opportunity to bring in an advisor for a second review. 

Should you have any questions about or during the DSH reporting process, please do not hesitate to reach out to Andrew Berube and Olga Gross-Balzano at BerryDunn. We’d be pleased to serve as a second set of eyes to your process or alleviate the time requirements on your finance team. 

Andrew Berube
aberube@berrydunn.com
207-239-9893

Olga Gross-Balzano
OGross-Balzano@berrydunn.com
207-842-8025

Article
Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) audits: 10 tips for a successful audit

Read this if you want to understand the new lease accounting standard.

What is ASC 842?

ASC 842, Leases, is the new lease accounting standard issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). This new standard supersedes ASC 840. For entities that have not yet adopted the guidance from ASC 842, it is effective for non-public companies and private not-for-profit entities for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021.

ASC 842 (sometimes referred to as Topic 842 or the new lease standard) contains guidance on the accounting and financial reporting for agreements meeting the standard’s definition of a lease. The goal of the new standard is to:

  • Streamline the accounting for leases under US GAAP and better align with International Accounting Standards lease standards 
  • Enhance transparency into liabilities resulting from leasing arrangements (particularly operating lease contracts)
  • Reduce off-balance-sheet activities

What is the definition of a lease under the new standard?

ASC 842 defines a lease as “A contract, or part of a contract, that conveys the right to control the use of identified property, plant, or equipment (an identified asset) for a period of time in exchange for consideration.” 

This definition outlines four primary characteristics to consider: 1) an identified asset, 2) the right to control the use of that asset, 3) a period of time, and 4) consideration.

(For a deeper dive into what constitutes a lease, you can download the BerryDunn lease accounting guide here.) 

How will this affect your organization?

  • Lease arrangements have to be classified as finance, operating, or short-term leases. In general accounting for the lease asset and liability is as follows:

    • For finance leases, use the effective interest method to amortize the liability, and amortize the asset on a straight-line basis over the lease term. Note that this has the effect of “front-loading” the expense into the early years of the lease.

    • For operating leases (e.g., equipment and some property leases), the lease asset and liability would be amortized to achieve a straight-line expense impact for each year of the lease term. ASC topic 842 establishes the right-of-use asset model, which shifts from the risk-and-reward approach to a control-based approach. 
  • Lessees will recognize a lease liability of the present value of the future minimum lease payments on the balance sheet and a corresponding right of use asset representing their right to use the leased asset over the lease term. 
  • The present value of the lease payments is required to be measured using the discount rate implicit in the lease if its readily determinable. More likely than not it will not be readily determinable, and you would use a discount rate that equals the lessee’s current borrowing rate (i.e., what it could borrow a comparable amount for, at a comparable term, using a comparable asset as collateral).
  • It will be critical to consider the effect of the new rules on your organization’s debt covenants. All things being equal, debt to equity ratios will increase as a result of adding lease liabilities to the balance sheet. Lenders and borrowers may need to consider whether to change required debt to equity ratios as they negotiate the terms of loan agreements.

Time to implement: What do you need to do next?

The starting place for implementation is ensuring you have a complete listing of all known lease contracts for real estate property, plant, and equipment. However, since leases can be in contracts that you would not expect to have leases, such as service contracts for storage space, long-term supply agreements, and delivery service contracts, you will also need to broaden your review to more than your organization’s current lease expense accounts. 


We recommend reviewing all expense accounts to look for recurring payments, because these often have the potential to have contracts that contain a lease. Once you have a list of recurring payments, review the contracts for these payments to identify leases. If the contract meets the elements of a lease—a contract, or part of a contract, that conveys the right to control the use of identified property, plant, or equipment (an identified asset) for a period of time in exchange for consideration—your organization has a lease that should be added to your listing.

Additionally, your organization is required to consider the materiality of leases for recognition of ASC 842. There are no explicit requirements (that, of course, would make things too easy!). One approach to developing a capitalization threshold for leases (e.g., the dollar amount that determines the proper financial reporting of the asset) is to use the lesser of the following: 

  • A capitalization threshold for PP&E, including ROU assets (i.e., the threshold takes into account the effect of leased assets determined in accordance with ASC 842) 
  • A recognition threshold for liabilities that considers the effect of lease liabilities determined in accordance with ASC 842

Under this approach, if a right-of-use asset is below the established capitalization threshold, it would immediately be recognized as an expense. 

It's important to keep in mind the overall disclosure objective of 842 "which is to enable users of financial statements to assess the amount, timing, and uncertainty of cash flows arising from leases". It's up to the organization to determine the level of details and emphasis needed on various disclosure requirements to satisfy the disclosure objective. With that objective in mind, significant judgment will be required to determine the level of disclosures necessary for an entity. However, simply put, the more extensive the organization's leasing activities, the more comprehensive the disclosures are expected to be. 

Don't wait, download our lease implementation organizer (Excel file) to get started today! 

Key takeaways and next steps:

  •  ASC 842 is effective for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2021
  • Establish policies and procedures for lease accounting, including a materiality threshold for assessing leases
  • Develop a system to capture data related to lease terms, estimated lease payments, and other components of lease agreements that could affect the liability and asset being reported
  • Evaluate if bond covenants or debt limits need to be modified due to implementation of this standard
  • Determine if there are below market leases/gifts-in-kind of leased assets

If you have questions about finance or operating leases, or need help with the new standard, BerryDunn has numerous resources available below and please don’t hesitate to contact the lease accounting team. We’re here to help. 

Lease accounting resources 

Article
ASC 842 lease accounting—get started today before it's too late

Read this if you are at a financial institution. For more CECL information, tune in to the latest episode of BerryDunn’s CECL Radio podcast. It features Susan Weber and David Stone discussing how to handle unfunded commitments and debt securities during CECL preparation.

I love a big surprise! Of course, I mean the fun, uplifting kind—like birthday parties, a best friend’s unexpected visit, or that special anniversary gift. Not that other kind of surprise that’s more like biting into an apple only to find half a worm. Calculating a loss reserve for unfunded commitments is not a new concept, but the reach and significance of it may end up surprising institutions. How much? A review of 2020 public filings and disclosures shows that some adopters saw unfunded commitment reserves increase millions of dollars, from one percent of total reserves pre-adoption to six percent or more post-adoption. In this article, we take a close look at unfunded commitments under CECL, in an effort to help you avoid that “other kind” of surprise.  

Within the CECL standard (Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 326 – Financial Instruments-Credit Losses), key considerations for estimating reserves tied to unfunded commitments are covered in section 326-20-30-11. The section lays out three key fundamentals: it applies to credit commitments that are not unconditionally cancellable, and that institutions should consider how likely the commitment is to be funded, and its expected life. 

First, let’s look at unconditionally cancellable—this essentially means that unless an institution can, at any time and for any reason, cancel its commitment to lend, then the commitment has to be included in this part of the estimate. Institutions may be surprised to discover that a portion of its commercial sales pipeline should now be included in unfunded commitment balances. Why? Because commitment letters issued to business loan applicants are often considered legally binding and they typically do not contain language that would make them unconditionally cancellable by the institution. This makes sense when you realize the primary goal of the commitment letter is to assure the applicant that the bank is committed to making the loan. This discovery, in turn, has led those involved in CECL implementation to develop (1) processes to ensure commercial loan pipelines are sufficiently detailed enough to know what, when, and how these commitments should be included in the calculation, and (2) internal controls that assure the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of the information. 

Next up—how likely is it that the commitment will be funded? For unused portions of existing loans and lines, this may mean taking a look at average utilization rates. For in-scope pipeline commitments, institutions may find that they need to dig through information that is not commonly held in a central system to come up with a success or close rate. The likelihood of funding may vary widely between products or segments, and over its expected life. For example, the expected funding of a residential or commercial real estate construction line may approach 100%, whereas only 40% or less of a revolving line may ever be used. These funding rates become the basis for “discounting” the unfunded balances subject to reserve estimation and should be re-evaluated on some periodic basis, which can be detailed in the institution’s CECL model documentation related to governance and monitoring.

Finally, let’s look at the expected life of the loan component. This language and expectation are consistent with on-balance sheet credit, leading institutions to (1) make sure they are able to segment their off-balance sheet commitments in the same pools used for boarded loans, and (2) apply the appropriate pool reserve factor to unfunded commitments over the expected life of that type of loan. One-way institutions may accomplish this is by making sure that they are using the same fully adjusted reserve factor and expected life assumptions for unfunded pools as they do for their funded pool counterparts. 

You may discover that your CECL model or software vendor does not provide for unfunded commitment calculations, or only provides support for the available credit portion of loan facilities boarded to your core loan system. In either case, this means institutions must consider, support, and complete calculations outside of the model. Writing clear step-by-step instructions and ensuring a robust independent review/approval process will help off-set risks posed by such manual calculations.

Could you use an experienced resource to help you document or validate your CECL model?  

No matter what stage of CECL readiness you are in, we can help you navigate the requirements as efficiently and effectively as possible. For more information, visit the CECL page on our website. If you would like specific answers to questions about your CECL implementation, please visit our Ask the Advisor page to submit your questions.

For more tips on documenting your CECL adoption, stay tuned for our next article in the series. You can also follow Susan Weber on LinkedIn.

Article
Unfunded commitments and CECL: You may be in for a big surprise

Read this if you are a business owner or are interested in business valuation. 

BerryDunn’s business valuation team recently authored a book titled A Field Guide to Business Valuation for Owners and Leaders of Private Companies. It is being published by Business Valuation Resources, the leading provider of valuation textbooks, in September. 

A book’s cover can say a lot about a book, and this one is no exception. The title of this book is A Field Guide to Business Valuation. We have organized the book like a field guide used by bird watchers, and encourage readers to keep it on hand as a reference. It doesn’t necessarily need to be read cover to cover. Jump around. If a question comes up about a particular topic, turn to the section that addresses that matter. Or, if learning all about business valuation sounds appealing, by all means read it cover to cover. You may find more to certain topics than you initially thought. Here are some of our notes about the book.

We wrote this book based on data from the field. It is based on our experiences helping business owners estimate, preserve, and increase business value. We work with people who don’t have a business valuation background. We regularly use simple analogies to help people understand complicated topics. We get used to answering the same questions that come up, and we have had many opportunities to hone our answers. After years of explaining business valuations in conversations and presentations, we wrote this book to provide more people with a greater understanding of how businesses are valued. 

This book is intended for business owners and their advisors who would like to learn more about how to estimate what a business is worth, what factors affect value, and how to make businesses more valuable. After reading this book, the reader should be conversant in business valuations and comfortable with the overall valuation framework. It is not an exhaustive dissertation on business valuation. There are many other (very thick) books that get into the details, picking up where this book leaves off. This book is for people who want an understanding of how businesses are valued but don’t have the time to read heavy textbooks. 

The book is designed for people who want to learn how to perform valuations themselves. While it doesn’t contain all the details necessary to master the craft of business valuation, it is a great introduction to the topic. 

Our focus is on the valuation of privately held businesses, not publicly traded companies. Public companies can be valued based on their stock prices or various intrinsic valuation models. The value of private and public companies is affected by different factors. 

We hope this book answers questions, provides new insights, and is an enjoyable read. Stay tuned for more details about availability and opportunities to learn more about the content. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Seth Webber or Casey Karlsen.

Article
We wrote the book on business valuation—and it's available now

Read this if you are a Chief Compliance Officer at a broker-dealer.

On August 3, 2022, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued Regulatory Notice 22-18 (the Notice), which addresses the increasing number of reports regarding registered representatives and associated persons (representatives) forging or falsifying customer signatures, and in some cases signatures of colleagues or supervisors, through third-party digital signature platforms. The Notice details multiple FINRA Rules that may be violated in the case of a forgery or falsification and also provides five scenarios member firms reported to FINRA in which representatives forged or falsified customer signatures, including the methods firms used to identify the forgeries or falsifications. The detection methods outlined are:

  • Customer inquiries or complaint investigations
  • Digital signature audit trail reviews
  • Email correspondence reviews
  • Administrative staff inquiries
  • Customer authentication supervision

There is no doubt that digital signatures provide convenience for customers. But this convenience can sometimes lead to unethical or non-compliant behavior. Even situations that representatives believe pass the “straight face” test may be considered non-compliance under FINRA regulations. Member firms should review the Notice carefully and implement some of FINRA’s detection methods, if not already implemented. Some of these methods are likely already in place since they may be duplicative of methods used to satisfy other FINRA Rules. For instance, reviewing customer inquiries or complaints is likely already occurring to satisfy FINRA Rule 4530, Reporting Requirements. As always, if any questions arise, please don’t hesitate to reach out to BerryDunn’s broker-dealer services team.

Article
Digital signatures: FINRA sends reminder on supervision obligations

Read this if you are a financial institution.

One of the new components to CECL is the consideration of how future economic conditions may impact your estimate of expected losses. What forecasts do you need, how to find and evaluate forecasts, and what are the things you need to think about regarding the forecast choices you make are all excellent questions. Below are 10 things that may help you make, evaluate, and support your “reasonable and supportable” forecast decision:   

  1. Source(s): Even though many understand that economic forecasts, like their weather counterparts, are often wrong, reputation and experience of the forecaster(s) matter. Beyond name recognition, learning more about the people and process of how the forecast is derived will go a long way to helping you defend the source you’ve chosen.  
  2. Types: Forecasts may be produced by an individual, model(s), or group. You may have heard the term “consensus” to describe a forecast—literally, a forecast that results from the majority or average opinion of a group of contributors. An awareness of the type of forecast will help you identify the unique risks of each.    
  3. Assumptions: With any forecast, it is important to understand the specific assumptions on which the forecast is based. “This forecast assumes…,” or “The accuracy of this forecast is contingent upon….,” or “In developing this forecast we relied on….” are just a few examples of what to look for when reviewing introductions, footnotes, or disclaimers to the forecast(s).  
  4. Cost: Fee-based economic forecasts are not inherently more “reasonable and supportable” than free ones; remember, no forecast is perfect. Some fee-based providers may offer a version of their forecast for free. In these cases, having a clear understanding of what’s included in each version may be a deciding factor.
  5. Completeness: The more economic forecasts you read, the more you realize that what they are actually forecasting varies. Evaluating whether or not a forecast is complete is really about discovering if it forecasts all the economic conditions—or economic factors1—that you want to use in your model. For example, you may have mathematically shown that a local or regional unemployment rate is more informative about loss risk in your portfolio, but is there a forecast source for that local or regional rate?
  6. Frequency: Knowing how often a forecast is updated, and when it will be made available is crucial to the timing of your CECL reserve calculation, and the answers may affect more than just your decision of which forecast to use (see “Trade-offs”). For now, consider how reliably and consistently the forecast is available, and if you can count on it with enough time each quarter-end to use it in your reserve calculation.
  7. Future: With all the uncertainty of the past couple of years, it may seem optimistic to think about sources providing more than a one-year forecast. Yet, for some, this may be an important option. For this reason, finding out if a source does, can, or charges extra for providing one-, two-, and three-year (or longer) forecasts may be necessary.  
  8. Bias: It is important to be aware that forecasts can be biased, meaning that they always tend to be more or less enthusiastic about the future. Bias is not the same thing as providing alternative outlooks or scenarios—such as best case/worst case, or neutral/severe, which are more about the assumptions being made. Bias is often detected when over a period of time you compare sources against each other and discover that one source tends to forecast consistently higher or lower than others. This may be especially important when you consider how a forecast does or does not align with the views of the institution’s management.  
  9. Accuracy: Again, since all forecasts will be wrong to some degree, let’s set a new standard for thinking about accuracy. Perhaps the goal here is to find the less-wrong forecast. One way you might want to do this is to locate (or ask for) previous forecasts over different periods of time and compare them to what actually happened. This one is tricky because of assumptions and bias, but if you’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, you may find this kind of exercise helps you decide.
  10. Trade-offs: Given all the forecasting options and considerations, it may be re-assuring to hear that there is no one right answer. But in order to properly support your choices, it is important to think through and document what trade-offs have been made along the way, how they may affect your reserve calculation, and whether or not you feel it should be addressed elsewhere in your methodology.

In closing, two words of caution. First, while having a good single source for a forecast may sound like a great idea, have a back-up plan. Some forecast sources did not produce an update in March-April 2020, the time when first-wave adopters were trying to produce their first quarter CECL estimates, sending some folks scrambling. With this in mind, making use of several forecasts may help you mitigate single-source risk in the long-run. Second, having a process in place to ensure the same economic outlook is being used in all major functions is important. For example, relying on a “severe” future outlook to build loss reserves while at the same time using a “neutral” economic outlook for budgeting and ALM purposes could call into question the reasonableness of your CECL estimate. 

No matter what stage of CECL readiness you are in, we can help you navigate the requirements as efficiently and effectively as possible. For more information, visit the CECL consulting page on our website. If you would like specific answers to questions about your CECL implementation, please visit our Ask the Advisor page to submit your questions.

For more tips on managing your CECL adoption, stay tuned for our next article in the series. You can also follow Susan Weber on LinkedIn.

1In this context, economic factors” are measured conditions – such as unemployment, gross national product, consumer price index, etc. 

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Reasonable and supportable forecasts, oh my! 

Read this if you are at a not-for-profit hospital.

With the 990 filing deadline of August 15 firmly in the rearview mirror, and with our NFP tax team getting to take some well-deserved late summer paid time off, I have a small window of time for some reflection on the filing season. Some of us choose to wind down with a good book, maybe mull over what to do with the last remaining weeks of summer before the inevitability of Labor Day, or perhaps you’re deliberating what to get the kiddos as the new school year approaches (mine is still a wee pup so still rather light in that department). I myself have been reflecting on some of the issues I’ve seen on our last round of Form 990s, the vast majority of which are hospital clients with September 30 year ends, which I felt compelled to share. Here is my top five list of observations of this year's Form 990 filings.

  1. 501(r) & hospital websites
    By now, most are familiar with the nuts and bolts of 501(r), but something to be mindful of is the interplay between 501(r) and requirements of what needs to be posted on your hospital’s website. Community health needs assessments and implementation strategies (both the most recent set and two subsequent sets) should be posted online at all times.

    Financial assistance policies (FAP), applications, and plain language summaries need to be online too. Those web addresses are provided on Schedule H for the IRS and general public alike.

    Further, items such as Amounts Generally Billed (AGB) calculations, and the list of providers not covered under your hospital’s FAP should be updated and reviewed at least annually. The IRS, despite their skeleton crew and shoestring budget, can and do vigilantly check and scour hospital websites and send out correspondence for any observed irregularities.
  2. Conflicts of interest
    It’s considered a best practice for all NFPs to check for any conflicts of interest (specifically with members of governance and management) at least annually. While most organizations do this diligently and far more often than once a year, I want to point out that the 990 has an entire schedule devoted to reporting of “interested persons”—that being Schedule L. Interested persons go beyond just corporate officers and members of the board; they also can be family members as well as business entities that are more than 35% owned or controlled by any of the above. Your hospital may want to review your procedures as to how you identify potential conflicts to make sure you are also capturing these sorts of relationships.

    Reporting thresholds for Schedule L disclosure can vary. If, for example, a board member’s child works for the hospital and is paid more than $10,000, they are required to be disclosed and the board member is not considered to be independent by the IRS. Transactions with a business entity owned or controlled by an interested person has reporting thresholds of $10,000 for a single transaction, or $100,000 over the course of the year.

    We offer a detailed conflict of interest survey that addresses these questions and more. If interested to learn more about this, please speak to your engagement principal.
  3. Compensation to unrelated organizations
    It seems more and more each year we hear some variation of the following: “Dr. X sits on our board and works here at the hospital, but we don’t pay him/her directly—we pay their company.”

    It’s important to know the IRS closed up this reporting loophole long ago and requires the hospital to report the amounts paid to an unrelated organization for services they render as if you paid the individual directly. A narrative is also required on Schedule J explaining the arrangement. We find in most cases the hospital may not be aware of what exactly Dr. X receives for compensation, which is perfectly fine. The narrative on Schedule J can explain this and that what’s being reported as compensation to Dr. X is the amount paid to the unrelated organization, and not necessarily what Dr. X’s compensation is. In any event, it is not appropriate to say that Dr. X receives nothing.
  4. Fundraising events
    COVID-19 certainly put a damper on most, if not all fundraising events over the past few years, but we’ve started to see some of events come back on the calendar recently, which is a great sign! Just a friendly reminder that if the price of admission to the event is $75 or more, it is necessary to note what items of value a participant is receiving in exchange for the amount of money they pay to attend so they can determine what amount, if any, of their entrance fee is tax deductible.

    For example: A hospital hosts a golf tournament and charges $100 per person to play. In exchange, the person gets use of a golf cart, a round of golf, and some food/drink on hole 19. The fair market value of everything per person totals $85. In this case, only $15 is tax deductible as a charitable contribution ($100 paid minus $85 value received) and the $85 of value received must be relayed to the attendee.

    Should you have any questions as you begin to plan your next round of events, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
  5. Alternative Investments and Unrelated Business Income (UBI)
    What top five list would be complete without at least a mention of UBI? During the pandemic, we saw many clients get more creative in terms of generating revenue sources, particularly in terms of alternative investments that typically come in the form of a partnership interest and can carry with them significant tax consequences which are not always brought to the forefront at the time the investment is made. More than a few clients have been more than surprised (and less than impressed) to receive a Schedule K-1 at the end of year which not only contains UBI, but UBI that is spread over six different states, some or all of which may require you to file tax returns. If the alternative investment happens to be domiciled overseas, that can bring with it its own set of obligations. You can read more about this here

    It is vital for all organizations to be engaged in open and frequent communication with their investment managers and advisors (both within and outside the organization) to help ensure a full understanding of what sorts of obligations may stem from an investment. Organizations are strongly encouraged to review and share all relevant investment documentation and subsequent information (i.e., prospectus and any other offering materials) with its finance/accounting department, as well as its tax advisors prior to making the investment.

Just some things for you to think about as the next 990 filing deadline will be here before you know it, like the fall colors that will be joining us soon. I hope you all enjoy the last few gasps of what’s been a tremendous summer and you all find some time to do whatever it is that brings you joy and peace. As for me, I think it’s time to get a hobby! 

If you have any questions about your specific situation, please feel free to contact our not-for-profit tax team.

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990 filing: Five post-deadline considerations for hospitals