Every year, research firm Audit Analytics publishes a study about financial restatement trends. In 2018, the number of public companies that amended their annual financial reports increased by 18%.
Many of these amendments were due to minor technical issues, however. Of the 400 public companies that amended their returns in 2018, only 30 amended 10-Ks (or 8%) were due to financial restatements. But this was up from 13 amended 10-Ks (or 4%) in 2017. Any time a company restates its financial results, it raises a red flag and prompts stakeholders to dig deeper.
Reasons for financial restatement
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) defines a restatement as a revision of a previously issued financial statement to correct an error. Whether they’re publicly traded or privately held, businesses may reissue their financial statements for several “mundane” reasons. Management might have misinterpreted the accounting standards, requiring the company’s external accountant to adjust the numbers. Or they simply may have made minor mistakes and need to correct them.
Leading causes for financial restatements include:
- Recognition errors (for example, when accounting for leases or reporting compensation expense from backdated stock options),
- Income statement and balance sheet misclassifications (for instance, a company may need to shift cash flows between investing, financing and operating on the statement of cash flows),
- Mistakes reporting equity transactions (such as improper accounting for business combinations and convertible securities),
- Valuation errors related to common stock issuances,
- Preferred stock errors, and
- The complex rules related to acquisitions, investments, revenue recognition, and tax accounting.
Often, financial restatements happen when the company’s statements are subjected to a higher level of scrutiny. For example, restatements may occur when a private company converts from compiled financial statements to audited financial statements or decides to file for an initial public offering. They also may be needed when the owner brings in additional internal (or external) accounting expertise, such as a new controller or audit firm.
Audit Analytics reports that “material restatements often go hand-in-hand with material weakness in internal controls over financial reporting.” In rare cases, a financial restatement also can be a sign of incompetence — or even fraud. Such restatements may signal problems of financial reports that require corrective actions.
Communication is key
Restating financial statements can be time consuming and costly. Regular communication with interested parties — including lenders and shareholders — can help businesses overcome the negative stigma associated with restatements. Management also needs to reassure employees, customers, and suppliers that the company is in sound financial shape to ensure their continued support.
Your in-house accounting team is currently dealing with an unprecedented number of major financial reporting changes, which may, at least partially, explain the recent increase in financial restatements. We can help accounting personnel understand the evolving accounting and tax rules to minimize the risk of restatement, as well as help them effectively manage the restatement process.