Test-Driving the Codification

Accounting research on the fast track
BY CAROLINE O. FORD AND C. WILLIAM THOMAS

UPDATE: FASB Delays Codification Launch to July

In January, FASB released the FASB Accounting Standards Codification (ASC or codification). The codification simplifies the classification of accounting standards by restructuring all authoritative U.S. GAAP for nongovernmental entities into one online database under a common referencing system. The codification is a first step in organizing U.S. accounting standards for convergence with IFRS.

When it becomes authoritative, which is expected to happen in July rather than in April as originally scheduled, the codification will become the single source of authoritative U.S. accounting standards for nongovernmental entities, superseding all then-existing non-SEC accounting and reporting standards. A summary of the content and structure of the codification was featured in the JofA earlier this year ("Framing the Future," May 08, page 40). This article continues with a more detailed discussion of the structure of the codification and Web-based research system, which offers several options for accessing, viewing and using its contents.

A brief accounting research case study in this article offers a firsthand look at how to use the codification research system. We compare the results of research using the new system with those of traditional research methods.

We encourage readers to test-drive the system while they read the article to better understand the system and experience its benefits firsthand. FASB is not charging for using the system now but has not said whether that will change after the codification becomes authoritative. Register to use the codification at http://asc.fasb.org and consider commenting before FASB closes the verification period on Jan. 15.

TIERED, TOPICAL STRUCTURE: AREAS AND TOPICS
The codification is organized in a tiered structure. Information is organized into eight areas, ranging from industry specific to general financial statement matters. Within each area are topics, subtopics, sections, subsections and paragraphs, where details of the technical content reside.

At the topic and section levels, the codification material correlates to IFRS. The codification topical organization is expected to ease the convergence of U.S. GAAP and IFRS standards.

Each area represents a collection of related topics, which are designated with 3-digit topic codes. The areas are: presentation; assets; liabilities; equity; revenue; expenses; broad transactions; and industry.

Topics in the "Presentation" area relate only to general presentation matters and do not address recognition, measurement, and de-recognition issues. Within the five financial statement account areas—from assets through expenses—various types of financial statement accounts are treated as separate topics. Topics in the "Broad Transactions" area relate to multiple financial statement accounts and are generally categorized by type of transaction. As the name implies, topics in the "Industry" area deal with transactions that are unique to specific industries or types of activities.

SUBTOPICS
Subtopics represent two-digit subsets of a topic and are generally distinguished by type or by scope. Subtopics unique to a topic use classification numbers between 00 and 99. Topics contain an overall subtopic, which is always coded 10. Unique or incremental subtopics are assigned higher numbers. Industry topics may contain subtopics that mirror general topics where applicable.

SECTIONS
Sections represent the nature of the content within a subtopic. Every subtopic uses the same sections, unless there is no content for a particular section within that subtopic. See the sidebar "Standard Section Content Within Codification" for the standard content specifications for sections.

Sections that cover SEC disclosure requirements for public companies are designated with the prefix "S." The codification does not contain the entire population of SEC rules, regulations, interpretations and staff guidance. In particular, it excludes content related to matters outside the basic financial statements, such as management’s discussion and analysis, auditing and independence matters. The codification does not replace or affect SEC guidance as it does with FASB and other standards. SEC content is expected to be updated periodically as SEC rules change. Users should always refer to the SEC Web site for the most recent updates regarding SEC rules and regulations.

SUBSECTIONS AND PARAGRAPHS
Subsections occur only in a limited number of cases. They further segregate content of a particular section. Each section has at least one general subsection. Subsections are not numbered. They differ from a paragraph heading in that the system provides a feature to combine all subsection content for a topic.

For example, the "Receivables" topic— "Overall" subtopic—"Overview and Background" section (ASC 310-10-05) includes a subsection for acquisition, development and construction arrangements. This allows CPAs doing research to combine all content related to acquisition, development and construction arrangements.

CLASSIFICATION CODES
Unlike any previous GAAP references, the codification follows an established pattern. The hybrid classification system is XXX-YY-ZZ- PP, where XXX = topic, YY = subtopic, ZZ = section, and PP = paragraph.

USING THE CODIFICATION RESEARCH SYSTEM
Navigation within the codification research system can be accomplished four ways: browsing by topical structure, crossreferencing original standards and the codification, searching, or by using a "go to" feature. The system’s home page offers tutorials that include audio and animated screens demonstrating how to navigate the codification research system.

Browsing by topic, FASB’s intended method of navigation, requires the user to first click on a link from an always-present list of areas, followed by topics and another click to a subtopic link. A table of contents displays sections and allows the user to expand the view to list all subsections and paragraphs. A "breadcrumb" navigation stream is listed at the top of the page for reference and navigation.

The cross-reference feature links original standards with the codification either by standard or by codification. Queries by standard allow users to determine where original standard content is located within the codification. After first choosing a standard type from a dropdown menu of 19 sources and choosing the standard number, the system generates a report linking original source paragraph numbers to codification paragraphs. Clicking on the links within the report takes users to original standards and/or paragraphs in the codification.

Searching "by codification" follows the same pattern, except codification topics, subtopics and/or section numbers are entered to generate a report linking to related original standard paragraphs. As users familiarize themselves with the system, the cross-reference feature will likely be their preferred choice of navigation. However, it is unclear how long this feature will remain once the codification becomes effective.

The search feature within the codification research system is similar to other Boolean operator (key character) search engines. Search results can be narrowed by related terms or by area. The "Go To" feature allows advanced users to jump to a requested document location within the system, as long as the researcher knows at least the topic number at issue.




Standard Section Content Within Codification

XXX-YY-00 Status
XXX-YY-05 Overview and Background
XXX-YY-10 Objectives
XXX-YY-15 Scope and Scope Exceptions
XXX-YY-20 Topical Definitions—Glossary
XXX-YY-25 Recognition
XXX-YY-30 Initial Measurement
XXX-YY-35 Subsequent Measurement
XXX-YY-40 Derecognition
XXX-YY-45 Other Presentation Matters
XXX-YY-50 Disclosure
XXX-YY-55 Implementation Guidance and Illustrations
XXX-YY-60 Relationships
XXX-YY-65 Transition and Open Effective Date Information
XXX-YY-70 Links to Grandfathered Material
XXX-YY-75 XBRL Definitions

RESEARCHING A VENUE RECOGNITION ISSUE: COMPARING OLD AND NEW
The following discussion compares the research process using a traditional research system versus the codification research system. The scenario is a Trueblood Case Study reproduced with permission from the Deloitte Foundation. The question at issue is how the business, Lighthouse, should recognize revenue for sales of its devices and service.

Lighthouse is a provider of locating services to the shipping industry. Lighthouse’s Ship Finder service is a one-way messaging service that routes messages from the ships at sea to the shipping company’s offices. These messages provide the shipping company with detailed information related to ship location, speed and current local weather. Lighthouse must install a dedicated hardware unit or device on the ship before the Ship Finder service can be used. Customers generally sign two contracts, one governing the sale of devices and the other governing the provision of the service.

Service contracts generally span 12 months and are billed monthly. The services are priced at standard rates, although discounts are offered depending on the number of devices sold. The devices also have been sold at a discount. However, the discount is based on the number of units purchased (or to be purchased) and does not appear to be unreasonable.

Standard pricing for the devices and service is as follows:

Product or Service   Price
Ship Finder Device   $10,000 per unit, MSRP
Ship Finder Service   $300 per month, per unit

The Lighthouse devices are made to be used exclusively with the Lighthouse services and, currently, no competitor makes devices that work with the Lighthouse services. Customers may cancel the service at any time. However, amounts paid related to the devices are nonrefundable. Payments for the devices are due upon completion of the installation and final acceptance by the customer.

TRADITIONAL RESEARCH SYSTEM
To illustrate the traditional research system method, we used the Financial Accounting Research System (FARS) (www.fasb.org/fars), as well as the SEC Web site as sources of evidence. The research process described below, however, is applicable to most traditional research systems oriented to the GAAP hierarchy.

First, a keyword search or reference to a topical index for such keywords as revenue recognition, right of return, service contracts, and/or multiple deliverables identified a vast number of authoritative sources from various levels of the GAAP hierarchy. For example:

Keyword   Search Results (abbreviated)
Revenue recognition:   ARB 43; APB Opinion 10; FAS 48;
    FAS 111; FTB 90-1; SAB Topic 13;
    SAB 101; SAB 104
Service contracts:   FIN 46R; EITF 97-2; FAS 141R;
    EITF 08-1; EITF 99-19
Multiple deliverables:   EITF 01-4; EITF 00-21; EITF 00-3;
    SAB 104; SAB 101

Actual search results far exceeded the abbreviated list above. Wading through unrelated search results created an inefficient research process. Adding to the inefficiency, the various levels of the GAAP hierarchy in the search results required the researcher to spend considerable time and effort referencing each related result. Because the GAAP hierarchy places a higher significance on level A sources (see GAAP hierarchy in FASB Statement no. 162), the search results from the higher levels are investigated first. However, the lower levels, such as EITF results from level C, cannot be ignored. They may be relevant for the specifics of Lighthouse’s accounting issue.

Even after narrowing the search when possible, the researcher spent valuable time reading authoritative sources that ultimately did not apply to this case. Finally, the researcher narrowed the applicable sources to Lighthouse’s revenue recognition issue to the following: SAB 101, EITF 00-21, ARB 43 and APB Opinion 10. These sources provide the foundation for the two accounting alternatives:

Alternative 1. The device and service agreements represent a single unit of accounting, and both elements should be recognized as the service is provided.

Alternative 2. The delivery of the devices represents a separate earnings process and should be recognized once the devices are delivered, installed and accepted by the customer.

Advocates of alternative 1 point to the fact that the service cannot be used without the device, and the device alone has no function. The three criteria, outlined in EITF 00-21, paragraph 9, to determine whether a delivered item is a separate unit of accounting, are not met. Therefore, EITF 00-21, paragraph 10, indicates that the device revenue should be combined with the undelivered item (services) to determine the appropriate recognition of revenue. The device revenue should be recognized over the service period. SAB 101, now codified in SAB Topic 13, reiterates the need to defer the device revenue until service is provided (see SAB Topic 13 A(3)(c)).

Alternative 2 advocates, on the other hand, believe that the device and service are separate units of accounting. They note that Lighthouse prepares separate contracts for the device and service, and amounts paid for devices are nonrefundable even if service is canceled. Revenue recognition for devices does not depend on customers using the service. Therefore, device revenue should be recognized at the time the transaction is completed because it is realized or realizable and earned, as noted in ARB 43, chapter 1A, and APB Opinion 10, paragraph 12.

To complete the research process, the researcher must draw a conclusion and communicate it to the appropriate person(s).

FASB CODIFICATION RESEARCH SYSTEM
Rather than beginning the research process with a general keyword search, using the codification research system, the researcher began by browsing the main areas list, which always appears on the left-hand side of the screen. The researcher chose the area "Revenue" and the corresponding topic "Revenue Recognition" (605) and then browsed the adjoining subtopic links (see screenshot below), choosing the subtopic "Multiple-Element Arrangements (25)."

The table of contents for 605-25 displayed the various related sections, subsections and paragraphs. The "Expand" function allowed the researcher to quickly and easily view each specific area within 605-25. From there, the researcher could choose one specific section/subsection/paragraph to explore. The researcher also used the "Join All Sections" (see screenshot below) function to read each section/subsection/paragraph consecutively, rather than just one source at a time.

In addition to exploring 605-25, the researcher investigated additional subtopics under the main topic "Revenue Recognition" (605), including the "Overall" subtopic 10 (see screenshot below), subtopic 15 (Products), and subtopic 20 (Services). Each subtopic falls under the topic heading "Revenue Recognition" (605). For each subtopic chosen, the researcher reviewed related SEC material, which is listed along with all other sections but prefaced with the letter "S."

While the alternatives regarding Lighthouse’s revenue recognition issue are the same, the process using the codification research system is significantly streamlined, reducing time and resource requirements. Note that this method did not require the researcher to investigate various levels of GAAP literature, determining which was most authoritative, nor did the researcher have to use literature from multiple sources. Instead, the alternative was formed after researching within one main topic (605) and two subtopics (605-25 and 605-10).

The authoritative guidance used to form alternative 1 using the traditional method (EITF 00-21, paragraphs 9 and 10, and SAB Topic 13) is worded identically in the codification research system and can be found at FASB ASC 605-25-25-5, 605-25-25-6, and 605-10-S99, respectively. This can be verified using the "Printer-Friendly with sources" function within the codification research system. This option, which may be available only during the verification period, shows the original source of codification material in parentheses after the codification paragraph.

The wording in the authoritative guidance used to form alternative 2 (ARB 43, APB Opinion 10) was also identical to that within the codification research system (FASB ASC 605-10-25-3). In forming the second alternative, note that only one section/subsection was needed.

FEEDBACK
We introduced the codification in a senior-level undergraduate university course in accounting research and communication. We required 75 students to research six accounting cases similar to the one used above using both FARS and the codification research system. Students unanimously preferred the codification research system for reasons including ease of navigation and the benefits of having multiple ways to search.

For its part, FASB has been gathering comments on the system since the verification period began Jan. 15. FASB has received more than 700 comments from roughly 300 individuals, according to Christine Klimek, communications manager for the Financial Accounting Foundation. The comments are not public, but Klimek said most of them are content-related rather than general or system-related and that overall the feedback has been "extremely positive."

As CPAs adjust to the codification and research system, there are two potential downsides—the obvious learning curve and costs associated with redesigning firms’ research systems. We believe the learning curve associated with using the codification will be short. For reasons stated earlier, such as the cross-reference feature and topical index, the codification makes it fairly easy for researchers to learn the new system.

While this article provides exposure to the codification, there is no substitute for practice. We recommend readers register at http://asc.fasb.org, retrace the research steps outlined in the short case study used in this article, and see firsthand the advantages of using the codification research system over traditional research systems. Additionally, we encourage readers to explore the codification by Jan. 15, FASB’s deadline for comments, and provide feedback to FASB about any inadvertent changes to GAAP that may have occurred as a result of the codification process. 




AICPA RESOURCES

JofA article
Framing the Future,” May 08, page 40

Publication
FASB Codification Developments—2008: Strengthening Financial Management and Reporting, a Financial Reporting Alert, offers an overview of the codification project and case study examples (#029209)

CPE
Understanding FASB’s Accounting Standards Codification, a CPE on-demand Web event (#780131)
Navigating the New FASB Codification: Research Real Life Accounting Issues, a CPE self-study course (#745600)

For more information or to place an order, go to www.cpa2biz.com or call the Institute at 888-777-7077.

On-Site Training
Navigating the New FASB Codification: Research Real Life Accounting Issues (course acronym: CL4CODI). Click here or call 800-634-6780 for more information.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

FASB released the FASB Accounting Standards Codification in January. The codification simplifies the classification of accounting standards by restructuring all authoritative U.S. GAAP for nongovernmental entities into one online database under a common referencing system. It’s a first step in organizing U.S. accounting standards for possible convergence with IFRS.

The codification is organized in a tiered structure. Information is organized into eight areas, ranging from industry specific to general financial statement matters. Within each area are topics, subtopics, sections, subsections and paragraphs, where details of the technical content reside. At the topic and section levels, the codification material correlates to IFRS.

Unlike any previous GAAP references, the codification follows an established pattern. The hybrid classification system is XXX-YY-ZZ-PP, where XXX = topic, YY = subtopic, ZZ = section, and PP = paragraph.

Navigation within the codification research system can be accomplished four ways: browsing by topical structure, crossreferencing original standards and the codification, searching, or by using a "go to" feature.

Browsing by topic—FASB’s intended method—requires the user to click on a link from an area list, followed by topic and subtopic. A table of contents displays sections and allows the user to expand the view to list all subsections and paragraphs. A "breadcrumb" navigation stream is listed at the top of the page for reference and navigation.

The cross-reference feature links original standards with the codification either by standard or by codification. After first choosing a standard type from a dropdown menu of 19 sources and choosing the standard number, the system generates a report linking original source paragraph numbers to codification paragraphs.

Caroline O. Ford, CPA, Ph.D., and C. William Thomas, CPA, Ph.D., teach accounting at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Their e-mail addresses are carie_ford@baylor.edu and bill_thomas@baylor.edu respectively.

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