The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) recently gave private companies long-awaited relief from one of the most complicated aspects of financial reporting — consolidation of variable interest entities (VIEs). Here are the details.
Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 810, Consolidation, was designed to prevent companies from hiding liabilities in off-balance sheet vehicles. It requires businesses to report on their balance sheets holdings they have in other entities when they have a controlling financial interest in those entities.
For years, the decision to consolidate was based largely on whether a business had majority voting rights in a related legal entity. In 2003, in the wake of the Enron scandal, the FASB amended the standard to beef up the guidelines on when to consolidate.
The updated standard introduced the concept of variable interest entities. Under the VIE guidance, a business has a controlling financial interest when it has:
- The power to direct the activities that most significantly affect an entity’s economic performance,
- The right to receive significant benefits from the entity, and
- The obligation to absorb losses from the entity.
Private companies contend that some of their most common business relationships could be considered VIEs under ASC 810. These relationships are set up for tax or estate planning purposes — not to trick investors or pump up stock prices.
Private company alternative
Private companies told the FASB that the variable interest entity model forced them to consolidate multiple affiliated and subsidiary businesses onto a parent’s balance sheet. This frustrated lenders and creditors, who wanted cleaner balance sheets. In addition, in companies where ownership is shared among close relatives, determining who holds the power may not always be clear.
In 2014, the FASB issued an updated standard that let private companies ignore the VIE guidance for certain leasing transactions. Private companies applauded this update, but problems persisted with the consolidation guidance for transactions that didn’t involve leases.
So this past October, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-17, Consolidation (Topic 810): Targeted Improvements to Related Party Guidance for Variable Interest Entities, which expands the exception to include all private company VIEs. However, a private company that makes use of the latest amendments to Topic 810 must disclose in its financial statements its involvement with, and exposure to, the legal entity under common control.
Is the VIEs election right for you?
The amendments in ASU No. 2018-17 are effective for private companies for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2020, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2021. Early adoption is permitted. Contact us to determine whether the VIEs election makes sense for your business — and, if so, when you should adopt the simplified alternative.