Accounting Standards

Virus Relief Bill Delays CECL Rule for Banks

Congress makes a rare intervention to delay when large public banks must change how they account for losses on souring loans.
Matthew HellerMarch 27, 2020

The $2 trillion emergency relief package now headed to President Trump’s desk gives large banks a temporary reprieve from a major change in bank accounting standards, marking a rare intervention by Congress in what is normally the domain of the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

Large publicly-traded banks were supposed to adopt the current expected credit losses (CECL) accounting standard on Jan. 1. But the CARES Act passed by the House on Friday gives them until Dec. 31 — or when the coronavirus national emergency ends, whichever comes first — to overhaul how they account for losses on souring loans.

The January 2023 deadline for privately held banks, credit unions, and smaller public companies to comply remains in place.

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The CECL delay was included in the bill over the objections of Kathleen Casey, chair of the Financial Accounting Foundation’s board of trustees, which oversees FASB.

“Those who have raised objections to the implementation of the standard are primarily concerned about the effect it has for some banks on their regulatory capital,’ she wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. “This concern can be addressed directly by the regulators themselves without requiring any change to CECL or its effective dates.”

Casey also cautioned against “rashly adopting unprecedented measures that would act to diminish confidence in generally accepted accounting principles, financial reporting, and our markets during this critical time.”

But John DelPonti, managing director of Berkeley Research Group, believes the banking industry will welcome the change.

“Given the need for everyone to focus on the safety of their employees and helping customers in need, this appropriately eliminates a very difficult task and reduces additional volatility associated with the standard by delaying its implementation,” he told Accounting Today.

The CECL standard, which FASB finalized in 2016, requires banks to recognize expected losses when they issue loans instead of waiting until it is probable that a loss has been incurred.

“This is a major improvement from the last financial crisis in 2008, when the ‘incurred loss’ accounting model created a mismatch between a bank’s reported financial numbers and its actual underlying financial condition,” Casey noted in her letter.