Issues : Regulation

CECL Delayed for Small Banks


CECL-7-18-19.pngSmall banks hoping for a delay in the new loan loss accounting standard could get their wish, following a change in how the accounting board sets the effective dates for new standards.

On July 17, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) proposed pushing back the effective date of major accounting changes like revenue recognition, leases and — key to financial institutions — the current expected credit loss model (CECL). The board hopes the additional time will offer relief to smaller companies with fewer resources and provide more space to learn from the implementation efforts of larger peers. Under the proposal, community banks and credit unions now have a new effective date of Jan. 1, 2023, to implement CECL.

The board’s proposal also provided relief for a new category they call “small reporting companies,” and thus simplified the three-tiered effective dates into two groups. The proposal retains the 2020 effective date for companies that file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that are not otherwise classified as a small reporting companies.

CECL will force banks to set aside lifetime loss reserves at loan origination, rather than when a loss becomes probable. The standard has been hotly contested in the industry since its 2016 passage, and banking groups and members of Congress had unsuccessfully sought a delay in the intervening years.

But on Wednesday, some finally got what they were looking for. The proposed CECL delay for many banks comes as FASB grapples with how it sets the effective dates for different standards, said board member Susan Cosper in an interview conducted prior to the July 17 meeting.

In the past, FASB would pass a new accounting standard and set an effective date for SEC filers and public business entities in one year, then give private companies and nonprofit organizations an extra year to comply. The gap in dates recognizes the resource constraints those firms may face as well as the demand for outside services, and provide time for smaller companies to learn from the implementation lessons of large companies. However, the board’s advisory councils said this may not be enough time.

“What we’ve learned … is that the smaller companies wait longer to actually start the adoption process,” Cosper says. “There are many community banks that haven’t even begun the process of thinking about what they need to do to apply the credit loss standard.”

The extra time should allow these companies the ability to digest and implement the credit loss overhaul using existing resources. During the meeting, FASB member R. Harold Schroeder said that bankers tell him they could quickly apply the CECL standard in a “compliance approach” as a “box-checking exercise” for their banks. But, they tell him, they need more time if they want to implement CECL in a way that allows them to use it to make business decisions.

“The companies I talked to are taking these standards seriously as an opportunity to improve; ‘We want the data to flow through our systems, but it takes more time,’” he said.

The board also adopted an SEC filer category, called “small reporting companies” or SRCs. The SEC defines a small reporting company as a firm with a public float of less than $250 million, or has annual revenues of less than $100 million and no annual float or a public float of less than $700 million. For CECL, SRCs have the same implementation deadline as their private and not-for-profit peers. Companies with a 2023 effective date have the option of adopting the standard early.

The proposal to extend the CECL effective dates for small companies received unanimous support from the board. The proposal now goes out for public comment.

“The process of gathering, cleaning and validating [loan loss] data has taken longer than we expected,” says Mike Lundberg, national director of financial institutions services at accounting firm RSM US. “Having a little more time[for banks] to run parallel paths or fine-tune their models is really, really helpful.”

Lundberg points out that small banks will now have nearly six years to implement the standard, which passed in 2016. He also warns against bankers’ complacency.

“[The implementation] will take a long time and is a big project,” he says. “It’s definitely a ‘Don’t take the foot off the gas’ situation. This is the time to get it right.”

FASB also offered additional assistance to financial institutions with a newly published Q&A document around the “reasonable and supportable” forecast, and announced a multi-city roadshow to meet with small practitioners and bankers. Cosper says the Q&A looks to narrow the work banks need to do in order to create a forecast and includes additional forward-looking metrics banks can consider.

“I think that people really get nervous with the word ‘forecast,’” she says. “What we tried to clarify in the Q&A is that it’s really just an estimate, and it goes on to describe what that estimate should include.”