At 232 pages, Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-01, issued in January of 2016, might be intimidating, but we will boil down the essentials you need to know as a bank accountant, chief financial officer, or member of an audit committee. In 2010, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued a massive proposal with many significant changes including marking the majority of a bank’s balance sheet (securities, loans and deposits) to fair value. The FASB has come a long way since then and completes part one of its financial instruments project with the issuance of this standard. When boiled down, the standard contains eight or nine significant changes of interest to banks. Not every bank will be affected by all of the changes, and whether you view these changes as positive or negative depends upon whether you are a preparer or user.
Two of the changes—both of which the banking industry views as favorable—may be adopted early for financial statements not yet issued:
Liabilities using the fair value option: Under current generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the change in fair value resulting from instrument-specific credit risk is presented in earnings, which has an interesting result. As a bank’s own credit worthiness declines, income is recorded because the value of the liability declines, usually the bank’s debt. Many found that to be an odd outcome—and the FASB agreed. This ASU corrects that and those changes now will be recorded in other comprehensive income (OCI) instead of earnings, and consistent with regulatory capital treatment.
Disclosures of fair value of financial instruments: In an effort to provide relief, the FASB is dropping this requirement, which was born in Financial Accounting Standards (FAS) No. 107, for non-public business entities (non-PBEs). Beware, though: The definition of PBE is very broad and extends far beyond those who file with the SEC. Many banks have been surprised to learn they are considered to be PBEs.
The most significant change is that PBEs will have to calculate fair values using the exit price notion, obtaining a fair value using what a market participant would use. This is a big deal because under current GAAP, there is a provision that permits banks to calculate these fair values using a discounted cash flow approach known as entrance pricing. For example, the fair value of loans commonly is computed by discounting the cash flows using the current rates at which similar loans would be made to borrowers with mirroring credit ratings and remaining maturities. Requiring exit pricing could prove challenging, particularly for loans. A small but positive change for PBEs is the elimination of the requirement to disclose the methods and significant assumptions used.
The next big area of change is for equity investments, with general exceptions for those using the equity method or those that are consolidated. The unpopular change for banks is that, going forward, changes in fair value will run through earnings. Under current GAAP, equity investments can be classified as available for sale (AFS) with fair values changes running through OCI, or trading with fair value changes running through earnings. This change eliminates the AFS option.
There is good news, however, for equity investments without readily determinable fair values. Banks will have the option to measure these at cost minus impairment, if any, plus or minus changes resulting from qualifying observable price changes. This means investments can be written up with proper observable transactions. The FASB also simplified the impairment assessment by using a qualitative assessment.
Two more changes:
Deferred tax assets (DTAs) on AFS securities: Currently there is diversity in practice on evaluating such DTAs separately (given management has control because the securities can be sold) or in combination with other DTAs. The FASB chose the latter.
Measurement category: Financial assets and liabilities must be presented by measurement category (such as fair value or amortized cost) and form of financial asset (securities, loans or receivables) on the balance sheet or in the footnotes.
When Is This Effective?
For PBEs, the changes take effect for fiscal years beginning after Dec. 15, 2017, including interim periods within (which means first quarter of 2018 for calendar year-end reporting companies).
For non-PBEs, the changes take effect for fiscal years beginning after Dec. 15, 2018, and interim periods beginning after Dec. 15, 2019 (which means Dec. 31, 2019, for calendar year-ends).
The FASB plans to issue part two of its financial instruments project, a final standard on credit losses, in the first part of 2016 and part three, a proposal on hedging, in the second quarter of 2016.