Risk & Compliance

Finance Execs Cheer Goodwill Shortcut

CFOs seem likely to make heavy use of FASB’s new “qualitative” option for impairment testing.
David KatzOctober 28, 2011

Offered the chance to enable their company to avoid the currently complex calculations of goodwill-impairment testing, corporate finance executives will seize the opportunity in droves, a soon-to-be-released survey suggests.

Last summer Duff & Phelps and the Financial Executives Research Foundation, the parent organization of Financial Executives International, asked a group of CFOs, controllers, treasurers, and other corporate finance executives if their company would take advantage of a proposed Financial Accounting Standards Board shortcut. Under the FASB plan, companies could bypass the current two-step quantitative goodwill-testing process by making — and passing — a “qualitative” assessment of their impairments.

The two hundred FEI members who responded did so resoundingly in the affirmative. Sixty-nine percent of those working for private companies and 81% at public companies expect their employers to take advantage of the option for some or all of their reporting units.

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They will now get their chance: on September 15, FASB stated a final version of its rule that companies will no longer be required to calculate the fair value of their reporting units if they judge, based on a qualitative assessment, that it’s more likely than not that their fair values are more than their book values. (Goodwill impairment occurs when the fair value of goodwill in a company’s reporting unit drops below the unit’s book value, also known as its “carrying amount.”)

The new option will be effective for annual and interim goodwill-impairment tests performed for fiscal years starting after December 15, and early adoption is permitted.

Previous FASB guidance required a company to test for goodwill impairment at least once a year using a two-step process. In step one, the entity had to figure out the fair value of a reporting unit and compare the fair value with the unit’s carrying amount. If the fair value were less than the carrying amount, then the company had to perform a second step to gauge the amount of the impairment loss, if there any.

In the new guidance, FASB says a company choosing to make a qualitative assessment must base it on “such events and circumstances” as macroeconomic conditions, industry and market conditions, raw materials and labor costs, and “[o]verall financial performance such as negative or declining cash flows.”

Gary Roland, a managing director at Duff & Phelps, says he is surprised that a higher percentage of private-company finance executives didn’t say their company would take advantage of the shortcut. After all, FASB first came up with the idea in response to a push from private companies to provide them with a simpler, cheaper testing process.

Nevertheless, Roland had expected a strong positive response from companies across the board. “There’s no surprise that certain entities would want to take advantage of this because they weren’t happy with the fees,” he says.

The survey, however, recorded just the hopes of finance executives and is only a partial reflection of how many companies will actually take advantage of the shortcut, according to the valuation consultant. “It still could be a difficult proposition,” depending upon how narrowly companies passed impairment tests in prior years and how stringent auditors are in allowing companies to take the shortcut, he adds.