Common Themes in Banks’ Critical Audit Matters

Beginning in 2019, auditors of large accelerated filers that file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission were required to communicate critical audit matters, or CAMs, in their audit opinions. An analysis of Form 10-K filings for U.S. depository institutions for reporting periods covering June 30, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2019, reveals common themes of interest to bankers. The 10-Ks of large accelerated filers with a Dec. 31, 2019 year-end represent the first time these required communications appeared in a significant amount of bank filings.

Banks that are classified as large accelerated filer might wonder how their CAMs compare to those of other banks; SEC filers that do not have the designation might wonder what to expect in their own audit opinions for fiscal years ending on or after Dec. 15, 2020.

Background
In 2017, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) adopted Auditing Standard 3101, which requires auditors to communicate CAMs in their audit opinions for audits of large accelerated filers with fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019.

The PCAOB defines a critical audit matter as “any matter arising from the audit … that was communicated or required to be communicated to the audit committee and that: (1) relates to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements and (2) involved especially challenging, subjective, or complex auditor judgment.” CAMs are intended to provide insight beyond the boilerplate audit opinion and share important information with investors.

Each CAM included in the audit opinion should include:

  • What: Identification of the CAM.
  • Why: Principal considerations that led the auditor to determine the matter was a CAM.
  • How: A description of how the CAM was addressed in the audit, including a description of one or more of the following: (1) the auditor’s response or approach most relevant to the matter; (2) a brief overview of the audit procedures performed; (3) an indication of the outcome of the audit procedures; (4) key observations with respect to the matter.
  • Where: The relevant financial statement accounts or disclosures that relate to the CAM.

Number of CAMs
Crowe specialists analyzed the audit opinions of U.S. depository institutions that are large accelerated filers and filed directly with the SEC (“issuers”) with year-ends between June 30 and Dec. 31, 2019, using data from Audit Analytics.

In 2019, 150 depository institutions reported CAMs; and all depository institutions that both file with the SEC and are large accelerated filers reported at least one CAM. The average number of CAMs per issuer was just shy of 1.5. Approximately two-thirds of issuers reported just one CAM, while just under 10% of issuers reported more than two CAMs. Four CAMs was the maximum observed in any one depository institution, with only one institution reporting that number (Exhibit 1).

CAMs per issuer

CAM themes
Auditors of the 150 bank issuers reported a total of 221 CAMs. Unsurprisingly, the most common CAM was related to the allowance for loan and lease losses. This CAM appeared in every bank issuer’s opinion and constituted 68% of the total CAMs reported by bank auditors. In addition to the 150 CAMs specific to the allowance, eight CAMs were specific to the disclosure around the pending adoption of the Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-13 (Accounting Standards Codification 326), commonly referred to as current expected credit losses accounting standard.

The second most common CAM topic — business combinations — appeared 35 times across 32 issuers’ opinions. Nearly three-fourths (27) of the business combination CAMs were specific to certain acquired assets and liabilities, most commonly loans and identifiable intangible assets. Six CAMs were more general in nature and covered entire acquisition transactions. Two CAMs were specific to Day 2 acquisition accounting.

Twenty-eight CAMs were outside of the common topics of the allowance, CECL and business combinations. These CAMs spanned topics including goodwill impairment, servicing rights valuations, deferred tax asset valuation allowances, contingencies, level three fair values and revenue recognition, among others (Exhibit 2).

Banking CAM topics

The number and nature of CAMs will vary over time, but the most frequently observed topics appearing in 2019 CAMs will likely always be prevalent in bank audit opinions. As more institutions adopt CECL, the incidence of CECL as a CAM almost certainly will increase.

The prevalence of CAMs related to business combinations likely will be directly related to the level of bank acquisitions that occur in a given period. Other CAM topics such as goodwill impairment, deferred tax asset valuation allowances, and fair value considerations might increase or decrease based on market conditions.

The CARES Act: What Banks Need to Know

Banks will play a critical role in providing capital and liquidity to American businesses and consumers, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes several provisions that benefit depository institutions. The implications for bank directors and officers are significant; they may need to make major decisions quickly.

Expanded SBA Lending
The CARES Act appropriates $349 billion for “paycheck protection loans” to be made primarily by banks that will be 100% guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through its 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program. The SBA issued an interim final rule on the program on April 2 and has issued additional formal and informal guidance since that date. Application submissions began on April 3. Banks and borrowers will want to move quickly, due to the limited funds available for the program.

Provisions Benefitting Depository Institutions Directly

Troubled Debt Restructuring Relief. A financial institution may elect to suspend the requirements under generally accepted accounting principles and federal banking regulations to treat loan modifications related to the COVID-19 pandemic as troubled debt restructurings. The relief runs through the earlier of Dec. 31 or 60 days after the termination date of the national emergency, and does not apply to any adverse impact on the credit of a borrower that is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CECL Delay. Financial institutions are not required to comply with the current expected credit losses methodology (CECL) until the earlier of the end of the national emergency or Dec. 31.

Reduction of the Community Bank Leverage Ratio. Currently, a qualifying community banking organization that opts into the community bank leverage ratio framework and maintains a leverage ratio of greater than 9% will be considered to have met all regulatory capital requirements. The CARES Act reduces the community bank leverage ratio from 9% to 8% until the earlier of the end of the national emergency or Dec. 31. In response to the CARES Act, federal banking regulators set the community bank leverage ratio at 8% for the remainder of 2020, 8.5% for 2021 and 9% thereafter.

Revival of Bank Debt Guarantee Program. The CARES Act provides the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. with the authority to guarantee bank-issued debt and noninterest-bearing transaction accounts that exceed the existing $250,000 limit through Dec. 31. The FDIC will determine whether and how to exercise this authority.

Removal of Limits on Lending to Nonbank Financial Firms. The Comptroller of the Currency is authorized to exempt transactions between a national bank or federal savings association and nonbank financial companies from limits on loans or other extensions of credit — commonly referred to as “loan-to-one borrower” limits — upon a finding by the Comptroller that such exemption is in the public interest.

Provisions Related to Mortgage Forbearance and Credit Reporting

The CARES Act codifies in part recent guidance from state and federal regulators and government-sponsored enterprises, including the 60-day suspension of foreclosures on federally-backed mortgages and requirements that servicers grant forbearance to borrowers affected by COVID-19.

Foreclosure and Forbearance on Residential Mortgages. Companies servicing loans insured or guaranteed by a federal government agency, or purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, must grant up to 180 days of forbearance to borrowers who request and affirm financial hardship due to COVID-19 through the period ending on the later of July 25, or the end of the national emergency.

Servicers are not required to document the borrower’s hardship. The initial 180-day forbearance period must be extended up to an additional 180 days at the borrower’s request., Servicers of federally backed mortgage loans may not assess fees, penalties, or interest beyond the amounts scheduled or calculated during this forbearance period, as if the borrower made all contractual payments on time and in full under the terms of the mortgage contract. The law also imposes a foreclosure moratorium on federally backed mortgage loans of at least 60 days, beginning on March 18.

Forbearance on Multi-Family Mortgages. Multifamily borrowers with a federally backed multifamily mortgage loan that was current on its payments on Feb. 1, may request forbearance for a 30-day period with up to two 30-day extensions, during the covered period. Servicers are required to document borrower’s hardship. Borrowers must provide tenant protections, including prohibitions on evictions for non-payment and late payment fees, in order to qualify for the forbearance, and servicers are required to document the borrower’s hardship.

Moratorium on Negative Credit Reporting. Any furnisher of credit information that agrees to defer payments, forbear on any delinquent credit or account, or provide any other relief to consumers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic must report the credit obligation or account as current if the credit obligation or account was current before the accommodation.

CECL Delay Opens Window for Risk Improvements

The delay in the current expected credit loss accounting model has created a window of opportunity for small banks.

The delay from the Financial Accounting Standards Board created two buckets of institutions. Most of the former “wave 1” institutions constitute the new bucket 1 group with a 2020 start. The second bucket, which now includes all former “wave 2 and 3” companies are pushed back to 2023 — giving these institutions the time required to optimize their approach to the regulation.

Industry concerns about CECL have focused on two of its six major steps: the requirement of a reasonable and supportable economic forecast and the expected credit loss calculation itself. It’s important to note that most core elements of the process are consistent with current industry best practices. However, they may take more time for banks to do it right than previously thought.

Auditors and examiners have long focused on the core of CECL’s six steps — data management and process governance, credit risk assessment, accounting, and disclosure and analytics. Financial institutions that choose to keep their pre-CECL process for these steps do so at their own peril, and risk falling behind competitors or heightened costs in a late rush to compliance. Strategically minded institutions, however, are forging ahead with these core aspects of CECL so they can fully vet all approaches, shore up any deficiencies and maintain business as usual before their effective date.

Discussions over the impact of the CECL standard continue, including the potential for changes as the impacts from CECL bucket 1 filings are analyzed. Unknown changes, coupled with a three-year deadline, could easily lead to procrastination. Acting now to build a framework designed to handle the inevitable accounting and regulatory changes will give your bank the opportunity to begin CECL compliance with confidence and create a competitive advantage over your lagging peers.

Centering CECL practices as the core of a larger management information system gives institutions a way to improve their risk assessment and mitigation strategies and grow business while balancing risk and return. More widely, institutions can align the execution across the organization, engaging both management and shareholders.

Institutions can use their CECL preparations to establish an end-to-end credit risk management framework within the organization and enjoy strategic, incremental improvements across a range of functions — improving decision making and setting the stage for future standards. This can yield benefits in several areas.

Data management and quality: Firms starting to build their data histories with credit risk factors now can improve their current Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses process to ensure the successful implementation of CECL. Financial institutions frequently underestimate the time and effort required to put the required data and data management structures in place, particularly with respect to granularity and quality. For higher quality data, start sourcing data now.

Integration of risk and financial analysis: This can strengthen the risk modeling and provisioning process, leading to an improved understanding and management of credit quality. It also results in more appropriate provisions under the standard and can give an early warning of the potential impact. Improved communication between the risk and finance functions can lead to shared terminologies, methods and approaches, thereby building governance and bridges between the functions.

Analytics and transparency: Firms can run what-if scenario analysis from a risk and finance perspective, and then slice and dice, filter or otherwise decompose the results to understand the drivers of changes in performance. This transparency can then be used to drive firms’ business scenario management processes.

Audit and governance: Firms can leverage their CECL preparations to adopt an end-to-end credit risk management architecture (enterprise class and cloud-enabled) capable not only of handling quantitative compliance to address qualitative concerns and empower institutions to better answer questions from auditors, management and regulators. This approach addresses weaknesses in current processes that have been discovered by audit and regulators.

Business scenario management: Financial institutions can leverage these steps to quantify the impact of CECL on their business before regulatory deadlines, giving them a competitive advantage as others catch up. Mapping risks to potential rewards allows firms to improve returns for the firm.

Firms can benefit from CECL best practices now, since they are equally applicable to the current incurred loss process. Implementing them allows firms to continue building on their integration of risk and finance, improving their ALLL processes as they do. At the same time, they can build a more granular and higher quality historical credit risk database for the transition to the new CECL standards, whatever the timeframe. This ensures a smoother transition to CECL and minimizes the risk of nasty surprises along the way.

2020 Risk Survey Results: “Don’t Panic. Just Fly the Airplane.”

It wasn’t uncommon in the latter half of 2019 for bank executives to note the margin pressure faced by the industry, brought on by an inhospitable interest rate environment. And rates dropped even lower in early 2020, with the Federal Reserve cutting rates to zero.

“In spite of the Fed’s yo-yo interest rate, we have a responsibility to manage our assets in a manner that is in the best interest[s] of our shareholders and communities we serve. The key is not to panic, but [to] hold the course,” said John Allison, CEO of Conway, Arkansas-based Home Bancshares, in the $15 billion bank’s second quarter 2019 earnings call. “At the end of the day, your management’s trying to operate profitably in the middle of this chaos. They say when you’re piloting an airplane and there’s a major problem, like an engine going out: ‘Don’t panic. Just fly the airplane.’”

Allison’s advice to “just fly the airplane” seems an appropriate way to frame the risks facing the banking industry, which Bank Director explored again in its 2020 Risk Survey, sponsored by Moss Adams. Conducted in January, it includes the views of more than 200 independent directors, CEOs, risk officers and other senior executives of U.S. banks below $50 billion in assets.

A majority of these industry leaders say they’re more worried about interest rate risk amid a competitive environment for deposit growth — 25% report their bank lost deposit share in 2019, and 34% report gains in this area. Looking ahead to 2020, most (73%) say their bank will leverage personal relationships to attract deposits from other institutions. Less than half will leverage digital channels, a strategy that skews toward — but is not exclusive to — larger banks.

In the survey, almost 60% cite increased concerns around credit risk, consistent with the Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey from January, which reports dampened demand for commercial loans and expectations that credit quality will moderately deteriorate.

Interestingly, Bank Director’s 2020 Risk Survey finds respondents almost unanimously reporting that their bank’s loan standards have remained consistent over the past year. However, the majority (67%) also believe that competing banks and credit unions have eased their underwriting standards over the same time period.

 

Key Findings

  • Scaling Back on Stress Tests. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, passed in May 2018, freed banks between $10 billion and $50 billion in assets from the Dodd-Frank Act (DFAST) stress test requirements. While last year’s survey found that 60% of respondents at these banks planned to keep their stress test practices in place, participants this year reveal they have scaled back (7%) or modified (67%) these procedures.
  • Ready for CECL. More than half of survey respondents say their bank is prepared to comply with the current expected credit loss (CECL) standards; 43% indicate they will be prepared when the standards take effect for their institution.
  • Cyber Anxiety Rising. Eighty-seven percent of respondents say their concerns about cybersecurity threats have risen over the past year. This is the top risk facing the banking industry, according to executives and directors. Further, 77% say their bank has significantly increased its oversight of cybersecurity and data privacy.
  • Board Oversight. Most boards review cybersecurity regularly — either quarterly (46%) or at every board meeting (24%). How the board handles cybersecurity governance varies: 28% handle it within a technology committee, 26% within the risk committee and 19% as a full board. Just one-third have a director with cybersecurity expertise.
  • Climate Change Overlooked. Despite rising attention from regulators, proxy advisors and shareholders, just 11% say their bank’s board discusses climate change at least annually as part of its analysis and understanding of the risks facing the organization. Just 9% say an executive reports to the board annually about the risks and opportunities presented by climate change. More than 20% of respondents say their bank has been impacted by a natural disaster in the past two years.

To view the full results of the survey, click here.

Coronavirus Sparks CECL Uncertainty

Even before COVID-19, the first quarter of 2020 was shaping up to be an uncertain one for large public banks. Now, it could be a disaster.

There is broad concern that the current expected credit loss standard, which has been effective since the start of 2020 for big banks, will aggravate an already bad situation by discouraging lending and loan modification efforts just when the new coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the economy. Congress is poised to offer banks temporary relief from the standard as a part of its broader relief act.

Section 4014 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, would give insured depository institutions and bank holding companies the option of temporarily delaying CECL implementation until Dec. 31, 2020, or “the date on which the public emergency declaration related to coronavirus is terminated.”

Congress’ bill comes as the Financial Accounting Standards Board has already rebuffed the efforts of one regulator to delay the standard.

On March 19, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams sent a letter to the board seeking, among other requests, a postponement of CECL implementation for banks currently subject to the standard and a moratorium for banks with the 2023 effective date.

McWilliams wrote that a moratorium would “allow these financial institutions to focus on immediate business challenges relating to the impacts of the current pandemic and its effect on the financial system.”

FASB declined to act on both proposals. “We’re continuing to work with financial institutions to understand their specific challenges in implementing the CECL standard,” wrote spokesperson Christine Klimek in an email to me later that day.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the standard’s reporting effective date could not come at a worse time for banks — or that a potential delay necessitating a switch back to the incurred loss model may be a major undertaking for banks scheduled to report results in the next several weeks.

“Banks are being tasked with something pretty complex in a very short timeframe. And of course, this is the first period that they’re including these numbers and a lot of the processes are brand new,” says Reza Van Roosmalen, a principal at KPMG who leads the firm’s efforts for financial instruments accounting change. “They’ve practiced with parallel runs. But you’re immediately going to the finals without having had any other games. This is the hardest situation you could be in.”

CECL has been in effect since the start of the new year for large banks and its impact was finally expected to show up in first-quarter results. But the pandemic and related economic crisis creates major implications for banks’ allowances and could potentially influence their lending behavior.

The standard requires banks to reserve lifetime loan losses at origination. Banks took a one-time adjustment to increase their reserves to reflect the lifetime losses of all existing loans when they switched to the standard, deducting the amount from capital with the option to phase-in the impact over three years. Afterwards, they adjusted their reserves using earning as new loans came onto the books, or as their economic forecasts or borrowers’ financial conditions changed. The rapid spread and deep impact of COVID-19, the bulk of which has been experienced by the U.S. in March, has led to a precipitous economic decline and interest rate freefall. Regulators are now encouraging banks to work with borrowers facing financial hardship.

“For banks, [CECL is] going to be a true test for them. It’s not just going through this accounting standard in the macroeconomic scenario that we’re in,” says Will Neeriemer, a partner in DHG’s financial services group, pointing out that the change comes as many bankers adjust to working from home or in shifts to keep operations running. “That is almost as challenging for them as going through the new standard for the first time in a live environment.”

The concern is that CECL will force allowances to jump once more at the beginning of the standard as once-performing loans become troubled all at the same time. That could discourage new lending activity — leading to procyclical behavior that mirrors, rather than counters, economic peaks and troughs.

It remains to be seen if that would happen if Congress doesn’t provide temporary accounting and provisioning relief, or if some banks decline the temporary relief and report their results under CECL. Regardless, the quarter will be challenging for banks.

“It’s temporary relief and it’s only for this year. It keeps the status quo, which I think is important,” says Lawrence Kaplan, chair of the bank regulatory group in Paul Hasting’s global banking and payments systems practice. “You don’t have to have artificial, unintended consequences because we’re switching to a new accounting standard during a period where there are other extraordinary events.”

Making Strategic Decisions With The Help of Data Analytics

Banks capture a variety of data about their customers, loans and deposits that they can harness in visually effective ways to support strategic decision-making. But to do this successfully, they must have leadership commit to provide the funding and human resources to improve data collection and management.

Bad data or poor data quality costs U.S. businesses about $3 trillion annually, and breeds bad decisions made from having data that is just incorrect, unclean, and ungoverned,” said Ollie East, consulting director of advanced analytics and data engineering at Baker Tilly.

Companies generally have two types of data: structured and unstructured. Structured data is information that can be organized in tables or a database: customer names, age, loan balances and interest rates. Unstructured data is information that exists in written reports, online customer reviews or notes from sales people. It does not fit into a standard database and is not easily relatable to other data.

If data analytics is the engine, then data is the gasoline that powers it,” East said. “Everything starts with data management: getting and cleaning data and putting it into a format where it can be used, governed, controlled and treated as an asset.”

A maturity model for data analytics progresses from descriptive to prescriptive uses for the information. The descriptive level answers questions like, “What happened?” The diagnostic level answers, “Why did it happen?” The predictive level looks at “What will happen?” Finally, at the prescriptive level, a company can apply artificial intelligence, machine learning or robotics on large sets of structured and unstructured data to answer “How can I make it happen?”

Existing cloud-based computing technology is inexpensive. Companies can import basic data and overlay a Tableau or similar dashboard that creates a compelling visual representation of data easily understood by different management teams. Sean Statz, senior manager of financial services, noted that data visualization tools like Tableau allows banks to create practical visual insights into their loan and deposit portfolios, which in turn will support specific strategic initiatives.

To do a loan portfolio analysis, a simple extraction of a bank’s data at a point in time can generate a variety of visual displays that demonstrate the credit and concentration risks. Repetitive reporting allows the bank to analyze trends like the distribution of credit risk among different time periods and identify new pricing strategies that may be appropriate. Tableau can create a heat map of loans by balance, so bankers can quickly observe the interest rates on different loans. Another view could display loss rates by risk rating, which can help a bank determine the real return or actual yield it is earning on its loans.

Statz said sophisticated analytics of deposit characteristics will help banks understand customer demographics, and adjust their strategies to grow and retain different types of customers. Bank can use this information in their branch opening and closing decisions, or prepare for CD maturities with questions like, “When CDs roll over, what products will we offer? If we retain all or only half of CD customers, but at higher interest rates, how does that affect cost of funds and budget planning?”

Data analytics can help banks undergo more sophisticated key performance indicator comparisons with their peers, not just at an aggregate national or statewide level, but even a more narrow comparison into specific asset sizes.

Banks face many challenges in effective data analytics, including tracking the right data, storing and extracting it, validating it and assigning resources to it correctly. But the biggest challenge banks need to tackle is determining if they have the necessary data to tackle specific problems. For example, the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new current expected credit loss (CECL) standards require banks to report lifetime credit losses. If banks do not already track the credit quality characteristics they will need for CECL, they need to start capturing that data now.

Banks often store data on different systems: residential real estate loans on one system, commercial loans on another. This makes extracting the data in a way that supports data visualization like Tableau difficult. They must also validate the data for accuracy and identify any gaps in either data collection or inputting through the system. They also need to ensure they have the human resources and tools to extract, scrub and manipulate essential data to build out a meaningful analytic based on each data type.

The key to any successful data analytics undertaking is a leadership team that is committed to developing this data maturity mindset, whether internally or with help from a third party.

FASB Sheds Light On CECL Delay Decision


CECL-8-15-19.pngSmall community banks are poised to receive a delay in the new loan loss standard from the accounting board.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board is changing how it sets the effective dates for major accounting standards, including the current expected credit loss model or CECL. They hope the delay, which gives some banks an extra one or two years, provides them with more time to access scarce external resources and learn from the implementation lessons of larger banks.

Bank Director spoke with FASB member Susan Cosper ahead of the July 27 meeting discussing the change. She shed some light on the motivations behind the change and how the board wants to help community banks implement CECL, especially with its new Q&A.

BD: Why is FASB considering a delay in some banks’ CECL effective date? Where did the issue driving the delay come from?
SC: The big issue is the effective date philosophy. Generally speaking, we’ve split [the effective dates] between [Securities and Exchange Commission] filers or public business entities, and private companies and not-for-profits. Generally, the not-for-profits and private companies have gotten an extra year, just given their resource constraints and educational cycle, among other things.

We started a dialogue after the effective date of the revenue recognition standard with our small business advisory committee and private company council about whether one year was enough. They expressed a concern that one [extra] year is difficult, because they don’t necessarily have enough time to learn from what public companies have done, they have resource constraints and they have other standards that they’re dealing with.

We started to think about whether we needed to give private companies and not-for-profits extra time. And at the same time, did we need to [expand that] to small public companies as well?

BD: What does this mean for CECL? What would change?
SC: For the credit loss standard, we had a three-tiered effective date, which is a little unusual. Changing how we set effective dates would essentially collapse that into two tiers. We will still have the SEC filers, minus the small reporting companies, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2020.

We would take the small reporting companies and group it with the “all-other” category, and push that out until Jan. 1, 2023. It essentially gives the non-public business entities an extra year, and the small reporting companies an extra two years.

BD: How long has FASB considered changing its philosophy for effective dates? It seems sudden, but I’m sure the board was receiving an increasing amount of feedback, and identified this as a way to address much of that feedback.
SC: We’ve been thinking about this for a while. We’ve asked our advisory committees and counsels a lot of questions: “How did it go? Did you have enough time? What did you learn?” Different stakeholder groups have expressed concern about different standards, but it was really trying to get an understanding of why they needed the extra time and concerns from a resource perspective.

When you think about resources, it’s not just the internal resources. Let’s look at a community bank or credit union: Sometimes they’re using external resources as well. There are a lot of larger companies that may be using those external resources. [Smaller organizations] may not have the leverage that some of the larger organizations have to get access to those resources.

BD: For small reporting companies, their CECL effective date will move from January 2020 to January 2023. How fast do you think auditors or anyone advising these SRCs can adopt these changes for them?
SC: What we’ve learned is that the smaller companies wait longer to actually start the adoption process. 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.

It also affords [FASB] an opportunity to develop staff Q&As and get that information out there, and help smaller community banks and credit unions understand what they need to do and how they can leverage their existing processes.

When we’ve met with community banks and credit unions, sometimes they think they have to do something much more comprehensive than what they actually need to do. We’re planning to travel around the country and hold meetings with smaller practitioners — auditors, community banks, credit unions — to educate them on how they can leverage their existing processes to apply the standard.

BD: What kind of clarity does FASB hope to provide through its reasonable and supportable forecast Q&A that’s being missed right now? [Editor’s note: According to FASB, CECL requires banks to “consider available and relevant information, including historical experience, current conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts,” when calculating future lifetime losses. Banks revert to their historical loss performance when the loan duration extends beyond the forecast period.]
SC: There are so many different aspects of developing the reasonable and supportable forecast in this particular Q&A. We have heard time and time again that there are community banks that believe they need to think about econometrics that affect banks in California, when they only operate in Virginia. So, we tried to clarify: “No, you need to think about the types of qualitative factors that would impact where you are actually located.”

The Q&A tries to provide an additional layer of clarity about what the board’s intent was, to help narrow what a bank actually has to do. It also provides some information on other types of metrics that banks could use, outside of metrics like unemployment. It talks about how to do the reversion to historical information, and tries to clarify some of the misinformation that we have heard as we’ve met with banks.

BD: People have a sense about what the words “reasonable” and “supportable” mean, but maybe banks feel that they should buy a national forecast because that seems like a safe choice for a lot of community banks.
SC: Hindsight is always 20-20, but I think people get really nervous with the word “forecast.” What we try to clarify in the Q&A is that it’s really just an estimate, and what that estimate should include.

BD: Is the board concerned about the procrastination of banks? Or that at January 2022, banks might expect another delay?
SC: What we’re really hoping to accomplish is a smooth transition to the standard, and that the smaller community banks and the credit unions have the opportunity to learn from the implementation of the larger financial institutions. In our conversations with community banks, they’re thinking about it and want to understand how they can leverage their existing processes.

BD: What is FASB’s overall sense of banks’ implementation of CECL?
SC: What we have heard in meetings with the larger financial institutions is that they’re ready. We’re seeing them make public disclosure in their SEC filings about the impact of the standard. We’ve talked to them extensively about some of how they’ve accomplished implementation. After the effective date comes, we will also have conversations with them about what went well, what didn’t go well and what needs clarification, in an effort to help the smaller financial institutions with their effective date.

2019 Mid-Year Bank M&A Outlook


merger-8-5-19.pngWhat might the second half of 2019 bring for bank mergers and acquisitions (M&A)?

The favorable drivers in the first half of 2019 — the regulatory landscape, enhanced earnings as a result of tax reform, desire for scale and efficiency, and the search for digital capabilities — will likely continue to be the catalysts for bank M&A activity in the second half of 2019. While the market has not seen a spike in the bank M&A deal volume, overall deal values continue to rise because of a few large transactions, including mergers with price tags of a $28 billion and a $3.6 billion. The following trends and drivers are expected to continue to have an impact on banking M&A activity in the second half of 2019 and beyond.

Intensifying Battle for Secured Customer Deposit Bases
U.S. banks’ deposit costs rose far more quickly than loan yields in the first quarter of 2019; further increases in deposit costs may prevent net interest margins from expanding in 2019. As the competition for deposits intensifies, buyers are increasingly looking for banks with a secured deposit base, especially those with a significant percentage. Moreover, as deposit betas accelerate — even as the Federal Open Market Committee slows rate hikes — it becomes more difficult for banks to grow deposits.

With the largest banks attempting to grow their deposit market share via organic customer growth, the regional and super regional banks are trying to develop similar presences through acquisitions. Banks that can navigate this rate environment ably should emerge as better-positioned acquirers via their stock currency, or sellers through the attractiveness of their funding base.

Favorable Regulatory Environment
Dodd-Frank regulations have eased over the past 12 months, increasing the threshold for added oversight and scrutiny from $50 billion in assets to $250 billion. Easing bank regulations and tax reforms that create surplus capital could continue driving regional and super regional consolidation. Moreover, banks with $250 billion to $700 billion in assets may continue to benefit in the second half of 2019 from a more-favorable regulatory landscape.

MOE’s Potential Change on the Competitive Landscape
There were a couple of mergers of equals (MOE) in the first half of 2019 that were welcomed by investors — an indication that the industry could be likely to see a rise in the volume of larger transactions in 2019. Regional banks that miss the MOE wave in the near term may soon find themselves without a “partner” after the initial wave of acquisitions occurs.

As the banks pressure-test their MOE strategy, the key may be to find a partner with strategic overlap to drive the synergies and justify the purchase price premium yet also provide an opportunity for growth and geographic footprint. Furthermore, unlike smaller tuck-ins, MOE requires additional strategic diligence and capabilities. This includes the ability to successfully integrate and scale capabilities, the ability to cross-sell to newly acquired segments, the ability to consolidate branches in overlapping markets and integrating divergent management processes and culture.

The Hunt for Digital Capabilities
Evolving consumer wants and the table stake needed to provide an integrated digital ecosystem are compelling many bank executives to differentiate themselves via technology and digital channels growth. Investors typically place a premium on digital-forward banks, driving up multiples for banks with efficient ecosystems of digital capabilities. The hunt for digital capabilities may provide an opportunity to not only add scale, but also transform legacy banks into agile, digital-first banks of the future.

Bank boards and executives should remain cognizant of above trends as they progress through their strategic M&A planning. Their resulting decisions — to be buyer, seller or an observer on the sidelines — may shape bank M&A activity in the second half of 2019 and into 2020.

Moreover, while the banks continue to assess the potential impact of the current expected credit loss (CECL) standard, the general market consensus is CECL may require a capital charge. As such, M&A credit due diligence should be treated as an investment in reducing future losses, even though the loan quality is currently viewed as benign. Successfully driving value from acquisitions while mitigating risks requires a focused lens on M&A strategy with the right set of tools, teams and processes to perform due diligence, execute and integrate as needed.

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How CECL Impacts Acquisitive Banks


CECL-7-30-19.pngBank buyers preparing to review a potential transaction or close a purchase may encounter unexpected challenges.

For public and private financial institutions, the impending accounting standard called the current expected credit loss or CECL will change how they will account for acquired receivables. It is imperative that buyers use careful planning and consideration to avoid CECL headaches.

Moving to CECL will change the name and definitions for acquired loans. The existing accounting guidance classifies loans into two categories: purchased-credit impaired (PCI) loans and purchased performing loans. Under CECL, the categories will change to purchased credit deteriorated (PCD) loans and non-PCD loans.

PCI loans are loans that have experienced deterioration in credit quality after origination. It is probable that the acquiring institution will be unable to collect all the contractually obligated payments from the borrower for these loans. In comparison, PCD loans are purchased financial assets that have experienced a more-than-insignificant amount of credit deterioration since origination. CECL will give financial institutions broader latitude for considering which of their acquired loans have impairments.

Under existing guidance for PCI loans, management teams must establish what contractual cash flows they expect to receive, as well as the cash flows they do not expect to receive. The yield on these loans can change with expected cash flows assessments following the close of a deal. In contrast, changes in the expected credit losses on PCD loans will impact provisions for loan losses following a deal, similar to changes in expectations on originated loans.

CECL will significantly change how banks treat existing purchased performing loans. Right now, accounting for purchased performing loans is straightforward: banks record loans at fair value, with no allowance recorded on Day One.

Under CECL, acquired assets that have only insignificant credit deterioration (non-PCD loans) will be treated similarly to originated assets. This requires a bank to record an allowance at acquisition, with an offset to the income statement.

The key difference with the CECL standard for these loans is that it is not appropriate for a financial institution to offset the need for an allowance with a purchase discount that is accreted into income. To take it a step further: a bank will need to record an appropriate allowance for all purchased performing loans from past mergers and acquisitions that it has on the balance sheet, even if the remaining purchase discounts resulted in no allowance under today’s standards.

Management teams should understand how CECL impacts accounting for acquired loans as they model potential transactions. The most substantial change relates to how banks account for acquired non-PCD loans. These loans first need to be adjusted to fair value under the requirements of accounting standards codification 805, Business Combinations, and then require a Day One reserve as discussed above. This new accounting could further dilute capital during an acquisition and increase the amount of time it takes a bank to earn back its tangible book value.

Banks should work with their advisors to model the impact of these changes and consider whether they should adjust pricing or deal structure in response. Executives who are considering transactions that will close near their bank’s CECL adoption date not only will need to model the impact on the acquired loans but also the impact on their own loan portfolio. This preparation is imperative, so they can accurately estimate the impact on regulatory capital.

Evolving Considerations in the CECL Countdown


CECL-7-23-19.pngExecutives gearing up for the transition to the new loan loss accounting standard need to understand their methodologies and be prepared to explain them.

Many banks are well underway in their transition to the current expected credit loss methodology, or CECL, and coming up with a preliminary allowance estimate under the new standard. CECL will require banks to book their allowance based on expected credit losses for the life of their assets, rather than when the loss has been incurred.

The standard goes into effect for some institutions in 2020, which is slightly more than six months away. To prepare, executives are reviewing their bank’s initial CECL allowance, beginning to operationalize their process and preparing the documentation around their decision-making and approach. As they do this, they will need to keep in mind the following key considerations:

Bankers will need time to review their bank’s preliminary results and make adjustments as appropriate. Banks may be surprised by their initial allowance adjustments under CECL. Some banks with shorter-term portfolios have disclosed that they expect a decrease of their allowance under CECL, compared to the incurred loss estimate.

Some firms may find that they do not have the data needed to segment assets at the level they initially intended or to use certain loan loss methodologies. These findings will require a bank to spend more time evaluating different options, such as identifying simpler methodologies or switching to a segmentation approach that is less granular.

These preliminary CECL results may take longer to analyze and understand. Executives will need to understand how the assumptions the bank made influence the allowance. These assumptions include the periods from which the bank gathered its historical loss information for each segment, the reasonable and supportable forecast period, the reversion period, its prepayment assumptions, the contractual life of its loans—and how these interact. Bankers need to leave enough time for their institutions to iterate through this process and become comfortable with their results.

Incorporate less material or non-mainline loan asset classes into the overall process. Many banks spent last year determining and analyzing various loan loss methodologies and how those approaches would potentially impact their larger and more material asset classes. They should now broaden their focus to include less material or non-mainline asset classes as well.

Banks may be able to use a simplified methodology for these assets, but they will still need to be integrated into the bank’s core CECL process to satisfy internal controls and management and financial reporting.

Own the model and calculations. Executives will need to support their methodology elections and model calculations. This means they will need to explain the data and detailed calculations they used to develop their bank’s CECL estimate. It includes documenting why they decided that certain models or methodologies were the most appropriate for their institution and for specific portfolios, how they came to agree upon their key assumptions and what internal processes they use to validate and monitor their model’s performance.

Auditors and regulators expect the same level of scrutiny from executives whether the bank uses an internally developed model, engages with a vendor or purchases peer data. Executives may need specialized resources or additional internal governance and oversight to aid this process.

Know the qualitative adjustments. Qualitative adjustments may shift in the transition from an incurred loss approach to an expected lifetime one. Executives will need a deep understanding of the bank’s portfolios and how their concentration of risk has changed over time. They will also need to have an in-depth knowledge of the models and calculations their bank uses to determine the CECL allowance, so they can understand which credit characteristics and macro-economic variables are contemplated in the models. This knowledge will inform the need for additional qualitative adjustments.

Anticipate stakeholder questions. CECL adoption will require most banks to take a one-time capital charge to adjust the allowance. Executives will need to explain this charge to internal and external stakeholders. Moving from a rate versus volume attribution to a more complex set of drivers of the allowance estimate, including the incorporation of forecasted conditions, will require the production of additional analytics to properly assess and report on the change. Executives will need ensure their bank has proper reporting framework and structure to produce analytics at the portfolio, segment and, ultimately, loan level.