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What the C-Suite should know about CECL and change management

Read this if you are at a financial institution. 

Some institutions are managing CECL implementation as a significant enterprise project, while others have assigned it to just one or two people. While these approaches may yield technical compliance, leadership may find they fail to realize any strategic benefits. In this article, Dan Vogt, Principal in BerryDunn’s Management and IT Consulting Practice, and Susan Weber, Senior Manager and CECL expert in BerryDunn’s Financial Services Practice, outline key actions leaders can take now to ensure CECL adoption success.  

Call it empathy, or just the need to take a break from the tactical and check in on the human experience, but on a recent call, I paused the typical readiness questions to ask, “How’s the mood around CECL adoption – what’s it been like getting others in the organization involved?” The three-word reply was simple, but powerful: “Kicking and screaming.”  

Earlier this year, by a vote of 5-2, the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) closed the door to any further delays to CECL adoption, citing an overarching need to unify the industry under one standard. FASB’s decision also mercifully ended the on-again off-again cycle that has characterized CECL preparation efforts since early 2020. One might think the decision would have resulted in relief. But with so much change in the world over the past few years, is it any wonder institutions are instead feeling change-saturated?  

Organizational change

CECL has been heralded as the most significant change to bank accounting ever, replacing 40+ years of accounting and regulatory oversight practices. But the new standard does much more than that. Implementing CECL has an effect on everything from executive and board strategic discussions to interdepartmental workflows, systems, and controls. The introduction of new methods, data elements, and financial assets has helped usher in new software, processes, and responsibilities that directly affect the work of many people in the organization. CECL isn’t just accounting—it’s organizational change. 

Change management

Change management best practices often focus on leading from optimism—typically leadership and an executive sponsor talk about opportunities and the business reasons for change. Some examples of what this might sound like as it relates to CECL might include, by converting to lifetime loss expectations, the institution will be better prepared to weather economic downturns; or, by evolving data and modeling precision, an institution’s understanding and measure of credit risk is enhanced, resulting in more strategic growth, pricing, and risk management. 

But leading from optimism is sometimes hard to do because it isn’t always motivating—especially when the change is mandated rather than chosen.  

Perhaps a more judiciously used tactic is to focus on the risk, or potential penalty, of not changing. In the case of CECL, examples might include, your external auditor not being able to sign-off on your financials (or significant delays in doing so), regulatory criticism, inefficient/ineffective processes, control issues, tired and frustrated staff. These examples expose the institution to all kinds of key risks: compliance, operational, strategic, and reputational, among them.

CECL success and change management

With so much riding on CECL implementation and adoption going well, some organizations may be at heightened risk simply because the effort is being compartmentalized—isolated within a department, or assigned to only one or two people. How effectively leadership connects CECL implementation with tenets of change management, how quickly they understand, then together embrace, promote, and facilitate the related changes affecting people and their work, may prove to be the key factor in achieving success beyond compliance.  

One important step leaders can take is to perform an impact assessment to understand who in the organization is being affected by the transition to CECL, and how. An example of this is below. Identifying the departments and functions that will need to be changed or updated with CECL adoption might expose critical overlaps and reveal important new or enhanced collaborations. Adding in the number of people represented by each group gives leaders insight into the extent of the impact across the institution. By better understanding how these different groups are affected, leaders can work together to more effectively prioritize, identify and remove roadblocks, and support peoples’ efforts longer term.           

 
No matter where your institution is currently in its CECL implementation journey, it is not too late to course-correct. Leadership—unified in priority, message, and understanding—can achieve the type of success that produces efficient sustainable practices, and increases employee resilience and engagement.

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, revisit past articles, or tune in to our CECL Radio podcast. You can also follow Susan Weber on LinkedIn.

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Implementing CECL: Kicking and screaming

Read this if your organization offers health insurance through a health insurance exchange.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, it contained a known gap which made healthcare premiums unaffordable for some families covered under Medicare or employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The gap in the law, commonly referred to as the family glitch, was formalized in 2013 as the result of a Final Rule issued by the IRS. 

The “family glitch” calculates the affordability of an employer-sponsored health insurance plan based on the cost for the employee, not additional family members. An article published in April 2022 on healthinsurance.org estimated that the cost of health insurance for a family covered by an employer-sponsored plan could end up being 25% or more of the household’s income, even if the plan was considered affordable (less than 9.61% of the household’s income) for the employee alone. Almost half of the people impacted by the family glitch are children.

The family glitch was allowed to stand in 2013 partly because of concerns that resolving the issue could push more people off employer-sponsored plans and onto marketplace qualified health plans, ultimately raising the cost of subsidies. Since then, several attempts have been made to fix the issue, which affects around five million Americans. The most recent attempt was an executive order issued by President Biden soon after taking office in January 2021. The Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing regulatory changes proposed by the Treasury Department and IRS, details of which were published in April 2022. 

These regulatory changes would alter the way health insurance exchanges calculate a family’s eligibility for subsidies when the family has access to an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. If the changes go into effect in 2023 as proposed, audits of the 2023 fiscal year will need to account for the new regulations and potentially conduct different testing protocols for different parts of the year. 

Our team is closely following these proposed changes to help ensure our clients are prepared to follow the new regulations. Earlier this week, we attended a public hearing held by the Treasury Department, where representatives of various groups spoke in support of, or in opposition to the proposed regulatory change. Supporters noted that families with plans that offer expensive coverage for dependents would benefit from this change through reduced costs and more coverage options, including provider networks that may more closely align with the family members’ needs. Those in favor of the change anticipate that families with children would see the most benefit. 

Those opposed to the change expressed that due to the way the law is currently written, they do not see the regulatory flexibility for the administration to make this change through administrative action. Additionally, concerns were raised that families covered by multiple health insurance plans could be faced with higher out-of-pocket-costs due to having separate deductibles that must be met on an annual basis. Lastly, not all families that have unaffordable insurance would see financial relief under this proposal. 

The Treasury Department is expected to announce its decision in time for open enrollment for plan year 2023 which is scheduled to begin on November 1, 2022. Our team will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates on how the changes may impact our clients. 

For more information

If you have more questions or have a specific question about your situation, please reach out to us. There is more information to consider when evaluating the effects these changes will have on the landscape of healthcare access and affordability, and we’re here to help.

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Fixing the "family glitch": How a proposed change to the ACA will affect healthcare subsidies 

Read this if you have offices in more than one state or are a SaaS company.

For many software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, sales tax compliance remains a challenge. Approximately 20 states currently subject SaaS to tax, and taxability varies from state to state, which impacts many SaaS companies that scale rapidly and unknowingly expand their nexus footprint into these states.

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., the Supreme Court held that states may assert nexus on an out-of-state business that exceeds a reasonable economic threshold, whether or not the business has physical presence in the state. The 2018 ruling is particularly impactful to SaaS companies because:

  • Cloud-based offerings are delivered electronically without the need for in-state presence.
  • Following the decision, all states have enacted some form of legislation that adopts an economic nexus threshold (typically, this threshold is $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions).
  • With Wayfair standards now in place for over three years, historical noncompliance is becoming more material, and states are expected to increase enforcement.

The issue of sales tax compliance has become more pressing now for two key reasons:

First, liabilities and exposures are cumulative, and material exposures may continue to mount for companies that are noncompliant. This is especially relevant for companies that have failed to adhere to the Wayfair nexus standards. In addition, the increasing presence of remote employees will expand the nexus footprints of many technology companies that offer flexible work arrangements.

Second, while tech M&A activity is expected to slow for the remainder of 2022, some SaaS firms may still be looking to sell or raise capital. Sales tax exposure will remain a priority consideration during the due diligence process for any strategic deals taking place. Due to the short lifecycle of most technology companies, tax due diligence is key in preparing for an exit or capital raise.

The impact of evolving tax policy

An increasing number of states are amending the statutory definition of taxable services to include SaaS or are categorizing SaaS as taxable “tangible personal property.” For example, Maryland recently enacted legislation that imposes sales tax on certain digital products, including SaaS.

Adding to the complexity, states often construe certain technology-based services as taxable SaaS. For example, state administrative guidance and case law may interpret online advertising and data analytics services as taxable SaaS if software is the predominant component of the offering. Also, as noted above, the state-by-state treatment varies widely. For instance, New York aggressively subjects cloud-based offerings to sales tax, whereas California does not subject SaaS or electronically downloaded offerings to sales tax.

Remote work

The recent adoption of remote-work models further complicates the determination of nexus and sales tax obligations, as companies hire employees in states where they have not previously had a physical presence. The vast majority (84%) of all technology businesses surveyed in BDO’s 2022 Technology CFO Outlook Survey expect to see some impact on their total tax liability as a result of onboarding out-of-state remote workers.

The presence of in-state employees is a nexus-creating activity irrespective of whether the company’s sales exceed economic nexus thresholds. Therefore, if a SaaS company has employees working in a different state than its headquarters, it is critical to track employee start dates by state and consider the potential sales tax obligations.

Understanding your risk exposure

In an exit scenario, CFOs don’t want surprises, and buyers don’t want to absorb liabilities. SaaS companies must carefully analyze their sales and use tax posture in the deal context to understand risks and proactively address any shortcomings. Failure to adopt appropriate tax compliance procedures at the onset of nexus-creating activities can lead to a material exposure.

Given the complex nature of SaaS sales tax, technology companies must address compliance in a step-by-step phased approach:

  • Nexus study
    An initial nexus study consists of an examination of a company’s state specific activities in determining whether it has a filing obligation in various states. This includes an analysis of both physical presence (e.g., property, payroll, in-state services, etc.) and state-by-state economic nexus standards.
  • Taxability analysis
    Once the company’s nexus profile is established, a comprehensive taxability analysis is required to determine whether the states identified in the nexus study subject SaaS and other ancillary services to sales tax. Depending on the nature of the company’s offerings, this may involve in-depth research on a state-by-state basis. For instance, if the company is providing a technology-based service that is potentially classified as a nontaxable service rather than SaaS, research in the material states is required to develop a supportable position. In addition, the taxability process will include an assessment of potential mitigating factors, such as tax-exempt customers, sale-for-resale exemptions and use tax remittance, on a customer-by-customer basis.
  • Potential exposure quantification/remediation
    If the company has nexus in states that subject its offerings to tax, the exposure should be quantified to determine the magnitude of exposure in those states. This will help to determine whether to proactively remediate the exposure through participation in state voluntary disclosure programs. Voluntary disclosure participation allows a company that is historically noncompliant to pay the applicable back taxes in exchange for a limited lookback period (typically three to four years) with the waiver of penalties. 
  • Sales tax compliance automation
    Once the company has addressed its potential exposure in the applicable states, it will have a subsequent filing obligation. Depending on the complexity, an automated sales-tax solution is often recommended to assist with the nexus, taxability and filing compliance going forward. An automated solution often increases efficiencies, saves time and helps mitigate tax compliance risk. 

Developing a plan to address sales tax prior to undergoing a diligence process is key to better understanding and controlling the compliance process. Failure to do so may lead to material escrow or purchase price allocation to remediate a sales tax issue that could have otherwise been prevented. 

Way forward

Understanding state and local taxes (SALT) can make a big difference for technology companies, especially SaaS businesses. Non-compliance with tax standards could lead to financial risks and even affect customer relationships.

There is ample M&A opportunity to consider in 2022, with valuations leveling off and cash reserves ready to be spent. Nearly two-thirds of tech firms (65%) plan to buy, sell, or partner this year, according to BDO data. Tech companies should prepare for deal making by being proactive about sales and tax compliance. Not doing so can block deals in the pipeline, as buyers and investors are keenly aware of tax compliance obligations.

Consulting a third party on SALT compliance, especially regarding economic nexus standards and taxability, may help SaaS firms receive the full value of their companies, mitigate exposure and liability, and empower company leaders to feel prepared when it comes time to sell.

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our Consulting and Compliance team. We're here to help.

Written by Angela Acosta, Thomas Leonardo, and Matthew Dyment. Copyright © 2022 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved. www.bdo.com

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Breaking down sales and use tax compliance for SaaS companies

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

The Department of Labor (DOL) is preparing to finalize a proposed rule that changes the way environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors are viewed in a plan sponsor’s investment process and proxy voting methods. The proposal, which was issued in October 2021, aims to help plan sponsors understand their responsibilities when investing in ESG strategies and makes significant changes to two previously issued ESG rules.

Here, we provide an update on the DOL’s proposed rule and seek to help plan sponsors understand their potential new responsibilities when considering ESG investments. 

Background on ESG rules

For many years, the DOL has considered how non-financial factors, such as the effects of climate change, may affect plan sponsors’ fiduciary obligations. Amid an increasing focus on ESG investments, the Trump administration issued a final rule on ESG in November 2020 that required plan fiduciaries to only consider financial returns on investments—and to disregard non-financial factors like environmental or social effects. The rule also banned plan sponsors from using ESG investments as the Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA).

A separate ruling issued in December 2020 said that managing proxy and shareholder duties (for investments within the plan) should be done for the sole benefit of the participants and beneficiaries—not for environmental or social advancements. It also stated that fiduciaries weren’t required to vote on every proxy and exercise every shareholder right.

In March 2021, the Biden Administration said it would not enforce the previous year’s rulings until it finished its own review. The current proposed rule is the result of that research.

Overview of the new proposed ESG rule

In October 2021, the DOL proposed a new rule, “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights.” According to the proposed rule, fiduciaries may be required to consider the economic effects of climate change and other ESG factors when making investment decisions and exercising proxy voting and other shareholder rights. The proposal states that fiduciaries must consider ESG issues when they are material to an investment’s risk/return profile. The rule also reversed a previous provision on QDIAs, paving the way for ESG investment options to be used in automatic enrollment as long as such investment options meet QDIA requirements.

The new ESG rule also made several changes to fiduciaries’ responsibilities when exercising shareholder rights. First, it changed a provision on proxy voting, giving fiduciaries more responsibility in deciding whether voting is in the best interest of the plan. Second, it removed two “safe harbor” examples of proxy voting policies. Next, the proposed rule eliminated fiduciaries’ need to monitor third-party proxy voting services. Lastly, the proposal removed the requirement to keep detailed records on proxy voting and other shareholder rights.

In addition, the DOL updated the “tie-breaker test” to allow fiduciaries the ability to choose an investment that has separate benefits (e.g., ESG factors) if competing investments equally serve the financial interests of the plan.

Comment letter analysis shows broad support for the proposed rule

The DOL received more than 22,000 comment letters for the proposed regulation. Ninety-seven percent of respondents support the proposed changes according to an analysis of the comment letters by the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF), a membership association that promotes sustainable investing. While some respondents asked the DOL to revisit the tie-breaker provision and other specifics of the proposed rule, many respondents agreed that the proposed rule clears the way for fiduciaries to consider adding ESG investment options to benefit plans.

Insight: Consider how the proposed ESG rule affects your plan today

Based on the typical timeline for similar rule changes, the DOL is expected to issue its final version of the proposed rule by mid- to late-2022. This means that plan sponsors shouldn’t have to wait long for clarification on their ability to add ESG investments to their plans. To prepare for the potential changes, plan sponsors should review the proposed rule and consider creating a prudent selection process that reviews all aspects that are relevant to an investment’s risk and return profile. As always, documentation is a critical step in this process.

If you have any questions about your specific situation, please reach out to our employee benefit consulting team. We're here to help.

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DOL proposes changes to ESG investing and shareholder rights: What plan sponsors need to know

Editor's note: read this if you are a CFO, controller, accountant, or business manager.

We auditors can be annoying, especially when we send multiple follow-up emails after being in the field for consecutive days. Over the years, we have worked with our clients to create best practices you can use to prepare for our arrival on site for year-end work. Time and time again these have proven to reduce follow-up requests and can help you and your organization get back to your day-to-day operations quickly. 

  1. Reconcile early and often to save time.
    Performing reconciliations to the general ledger for an entire year's worth of activity is a very time consuming process. Reconciling accounts on a monthly or quarterly basis will help identify potential variances or issues that need to be investigated; these potential variances and issues could be an underlying problem within the general ledger or control system that, if not addressed early, will require more time and resources at year-end. Accounts with significant activity (cash, accounts receivable, investments, fixed assets, accounts payable and accrued expenses and debt), should be reconciled on a monthly basis. Accounts with less activity (prepaids, other assets, accrued expenses, other liabilities and equity) can be reconciled on a different schedule.
  2. Scan the trial balance to avoid surprises.
    As auditors, one of the first procedures we perform is to scan the trial balance for year-over-year anomalies. This allows us to identify any significant irregularities that require immediate follow up. Does the year-over-year change make sense? Should this account be a debit balance or a credit balance? Are there any accounts with exactly the same balance as the prior year and should they have the same balance? By performing this task and answering these questions prior to year-end fieldwork, you will be able to reduce our follow up by providing explanations ahead of time or by making correcting entries in advance, if necessary. 
  3. Provide support to be proactive.
    On an annual basis, your organization may go through changes that will require you to provide us documented contractual support.  Such events may include new or a refinancing of debt, large fixed asset additions, new construction, renovations, or changes in ownership structure.  Gathering and providing the documentation for these events prior to fieldwork will help reduce auditor inquiries and will allow us to gain an understanding of the details of the transaction in advance of performing substantive audit procedures. 
  4. Utilize the schedule request to stay organized.
    Each member of your team should have a clear understanding of their role in preparing for year-end. Creating columns on the schedule request for responsibility, completion date and reviewer assigned will help maintain organization and help ensure all items are addressed and available prior to arrival of the audit team. 
  5. Be available to maximize efficiency. 
    It is important for key members of the team to be available during the scheduled time of the engagement.  Minimizing commitments outside of the audit engagement during on site fieldwork and having all year-end schedules prepared prior to our arrival will allow us to work more efficiently and effectively and help reduce follow up after fieldwork has been completed. 

Careful consideration and performance of these tasks will help your organization better prepare for the year-end audit engagement, reduce lingering auditor inquiries, and ultimately reduce the time your internal resources spend on the annual audit process. See you soon. 

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Save time and effort—our list of tips to prepare for year-end reporting