Are you preparing financial statements and wondering whether you need to include going concern disclosures? Or maybe you’re the auditor, and you’re wondering if a going concern paragraph should be added to the audit opinion. You’ve heard there are new requirements for both management and auditors, but you’re not sure what they are.
This article summarizes (in one place) the new going concern accounting and auditing standards.
For many years the going concern standards were housed in the audit standards–thus, the need for FASB to issue accounting guidance (ASU 2014-15). It makes sense that FASB created going concern disclosure guidance. After all, disclosures are an accounting issue.
ASU 2014-15, Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, provides guidance in preparing financial statements. This standard was effective for years ending after December 15, 2016.
GASB Statement 56, Codification of Accounting and Financial Reporting Guidance Contained in the AICPA Statements on Auditing Standards, is the relevant going concern standard for governments. GASB 56 was issued in March 2009. (GASB 56 requires financial statement preparers to evaluate whether there is substantial doubt about a governmental entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for 12 months beyond the date of the financial statements. As you will see below, this timeframe is different from the one called for under ASU 2014-15. This post focuses on ASU 2014-15 and SAS 132.)
Meanwhile, the Auditing Standards Board issued their own going concern standard in February 2017: SAS 132.
Auditors will use SAS 132, The Auditor’s Consideration of an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, to make going concern decisions. This SAS is effective for audits of financial statements for periods ending on or after December 15, 2017. SAS 132 amends SAS 126, The Auditor’s Consideration of an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern.
So, let’s take a look at how to apply ASU 2014-15 and SAS 132.
In the past, the going concern decisions were made by auditors in a single step. Now, it is helpful to think of going concern decisions in two steps:
First, we’ll consider management’s decisions.
ASU 2014-15 provides guidance concerning management’s determination of whether there is substantial doubt regarding the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern.
FASB defines going concern with the words substantial doubt. So, how does FASB define substantial doubt?
Substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern is considered to exist when aggregate conditions and events indicate that it is probable that the entity will be unable to meet obligations when due within one year of the date that the financial statements are issued or are available to be issued.
So, how does management determine if “it is probable that the entity will be unable to meet obligations when due within one year”?
Probable means likely to occur.
If for example, a company expects to miss a debt service payment in the coming year, then substantial doubt exists. This initial assessment is made without regard to management’s plans to alleviate going concern conditions.
ASC 205-40-50-4 says:
The evaluation initially shall not take into consideration the potential mitigating effect of management’s plans that have not been fully implemented as of the date that the financial statements are issued (for example, plans to raise capital, borrow money, restructure debt, or dispose of an asset that have been approved but that have not been fully implemented as of the date that the financial statements are issued).
But what factors should management consider?
Management should consider the following factors when assessing going concern:
Moreover, management is to consider these factors for one year. But from what date?
The financial statement preparer (i.e., management or a party contracted by management) should assess going concern in light of one year from the date “the financial statements are issued or are available to be issued.”
So, if December 31, 2017, financial statements (for a nonpublic company) are available to be issued on March 15, 2017, the preparer looks forward one year from March 15, 2017. Then, the preparer asks, “Is it probable that the company will be unable to meet its obligations through March 15, 2018?” If yes, substantial doubt is present and disclosures are necessary. If no, then substantial doubt does not exist. As you would expect, the answer to this question determines whether going concern disclosures are to be made and what should be included.
If substantial doubt does not exist, then going concern disclosures are not necessary.
If substantial doubt exists, then the company needs to decide if management’s plans alleviate the going concern issue. This decision determines the disclosures to be made. The required disclosures are based upon whether:
If conditions or events raise substantial doubt about an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, but the substantial doubt is alleviated as a result of consideration of management’s plans, the entity should disclose information that enables users of the financial statements to understand all of the following (or refer to similar information disclosed elsewhere in the footnotes):
Management’s plans should be considered only if is it probable that they will be effectively implemented. Also, it must be probable that management’s plans will be effective in alleviating substantial doubt.
So, if management’s plans are expected to work, does the company have to explicitly state that management’s plans will alleviate substantial doubt? No.
When management’s plans alleviate substantial doubt, companies need not use the words going concern or substantial doubt in the disclosures. And as Sears discovered, it may not be wise to do so (their shares dropped 16% after using the term substantial doubt even though management had plans to alleviate the risk). Rather than using the term substantial doubt, consider describing conditions (e.g., cash flows are not sufficient to meet obligations) and management plans to alleviate substantial doubt.
An example note follows:
Note 2 – Company Conditions
The Company had losses of $4,525,123 in the year ending March 31, 2017. As of March 31, 2017, its accumulated deficit is $11,325,354.
Management believes the Company’s present cash flows will not enable it to meet its obligations for twelve months from the date these financial statements are available to be issued. However, management is working to obtain new long-term financing. It is probable that management will obtain new sources of financing that will enable the Company to meet its obligations for the twelve-month period from the date the financial statements are available to be issued.
Notice this example does not use the words substantial doubt.
If conditions or events raise substantial doubt about an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, and substantial doubt is not alleviated after consideration of management’s plans, an entity should include a statement in the notes indicating that there is substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date that the financial statements are available to be issued (or issued when applicable). Additionally, the entity should disclose information that enables users of the financial statements to understand all of the following:
An example disclosure follows:
SAS 132 provides guidance concerning the auditor’s consideration of an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern.
SAS 132, paragraph 10, states the objectives of the auditor are as follows:
These objectives can be summarized as follows:
In light of these objectives, certain audit procedures are necessary.
In the risk assessment phase of an audit, the auditor should consider whether conditions or events raise substantial doubt. In doing so, the auditor should examine any preliminary management evaluation of going concern. If such an evaluation was performed, the auditor should review it with management. If no evaluation has occurred, then the auditor should discuss with management the appropriateness of using the going concern basis of accounting (the liquidation basis of accounting is required by ASC 205-30 when the entity’s liquidation is imminent) and whether there are conditions or events that raise substantial doubt.
The auditor is to consider conditions and events that raise substantial doubt about an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time. What is a reasonable period of time? It is the period of time required by the applicable financial reporting framework or, if no such requirement exists, within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued (or within one year after the date that the financial statements are available to be issued, when applicable). The governmental accounting standards require an evaluation period of “12 months beyond the date of the financial statements.”
Auditors should consider negative financial trends or factors such as:
The risk assessment procedures are a part of planning an audit. You may obtain new information as you perform the engagement.
The auditor should remain alert throughout the audit for conditions or events that raise substantial doubt. So, after the initial review of going concern issues in the planning stage, the auditor considers the impact of new information gained during the subsequent stages of the engagement.
If events or conditions do give rise to substantial doubt, then the audit procedures should include the following (SAS 132, paragraph 16.):
Sometimes management’s plans to alleviate substantial doubt include financial support by third parties or owner-managers (usually referred to as supporting parties).
When financial support is necessary to mitigate substantial doubt, the auditor should obtain audit evidence about the following:
If the evidence in a. is not obtained, then “management’s plans are insufficient to alleviate the determination that substantial doubt exists.”
The intent of supporting parties may be evidenced by either of the following:
If the auditor receives a support letter, he can still request a written confirmation from the supporting parties. For instance, the auditor may desire to check the validity of the support letter.
If the support comes from an owner-manager, then the written evidence can be a support letter or a written representation.
An example of a third party support letter (when the applicable reporting framework is FASB ASC) is as follows:
(Supporting party name) will, and has the ability to, fully support the operating, investing, and financing activities of (entity name) through at least one year and a day beyond [insert date] (the date the financial statements are issued or available for issuance, when applicable).
You can specify a date in the support letter that is later than the expected date. That way if there is a delay, you may be able to avoid updating the letter.
The auditor should not only consider the intent of the supporting parties but the ability as well.
The ability of supporting parties to provide support can be evidenced by information such as:
After examining the intent and ability of supporting parties regarding the one-year period, you might identify potential going concern problems that will occur more than one year out.
So, should an auditor inquire about conditions and events that may affect the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern beyond management’s period of evaluation (i.e., one year from the date the financial statements are available to be issued or issued, as applicable)? Yes.
Suppose an entity knows it will be unable to meet its November 15, 2018, debt balloon payment. The financial statements are available to be issued on June 15, 2017, so the reasonable period goes through June 15, 2018. But management knows it can’t make the balloon payment, and the bank has already advised that the loan will not be renewed. SAS 132 requires the auditor to inquire of management concerning their knowledge of such conditions or events.
Why? Only to determine if any potential (additional) disclosures are needed. FASB only requires the evaluation for the year following the date the financial statements are issued (or available to be issued, as applicable). Events following this one year period have no bearing on the current year going concern decisions. Nevertheless, additional disclosures may be merited.
Thus far, the requirements to evaluate the use of the going concern basis of accounting and whether substantial doubt is present have been explained. Now, let’s see what the requirements are for:
When substantial doubt exists, the auditor should request the following written representations from management:
Remember that you may need to add additional language to your communication with those charged with governance.
When conditions and events raise substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time, the auditor should communicate the following (unless those charged with governance manage the entity):
When substantial doubt exists before consideration of management’s plans, the auditor should document the following (SAS 132, paragraph 32.):
If the auditor concludes that there is substantial doubt concerning the company’s ability to continue as a going concern, an emphasis of a matter paragraph should be added to the opinion.
An example of a going concern paragraph is as follows:
The accompanying financial statements have been prepared assuming that the Company will continue as a going concern. As discussed in Note 2 to the financial statements, the Company has suffered recurring losses from operations, has a net capital deficiency, and has stated that substantial doubt exists about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern. Management’s evaluation of the events and conditions and management’s plans regarding these matters are also described in Note 2. The financial statements do not include any adjustments that might result from the outcome of this uncertainty. Our opinion is not modified with respect to this matter.
The auditor should not use conditional language regarding the existence of substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern.
Paragraph 26. of SAS 132 states that an auditor should issue a qualified opinion or an adverse opinion, as appropriate, when going concern disclosures are not adequate.
Now, let’s circle back to where we started and review the objectives of SAS 132.
The objectives are as follows:
As you can see ASU 2014-15 and SAS 132 are complex. So, make sure you are using the most recent updates to your disclosure checklists and audit forms and programs.
Finally, keep in mind that going concern is also relevant to compilation and review engagements.
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Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.
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