The NASPP Blog

March 14, 2017

Modification Accounting Update: Is it in Time?

Last week, I blogged about the FASB’s recent update to ASC 718, which clarifies when modification accounting is required for amendments to outstanding awards. The genesis for this update is the amendments companies are making to their share withholding provisions in light of ASU 2016-09. So the question is: will the update be final in time for companies to rely on it for their share withholding amendments?

Timing of Share Withholding Amendments

Calendar-year public companies have to adopt ASU 2016-09 by this quarter and presumably will want to amend the share withholding provisions in their plan at the same time or shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the update on modification accounting (which doesn’t have an official number yet) won’t be issued until April, at the earliest.

Consider Waiting

One obvious alternative is to wait until the update is issued to amend plans and award agreements.  But companies with major vesting events happening before then may want to amend their plans and awards sooner.

Hope for the Best

Once the update is issued, companies can adopt it early. The update clearly won’t be issued in time for it to be adopted in calendar Q1, but companies should be able to adopt it in calendar Q2. When companies adopted ASU 2016-09 in an interim period, they were required to apply it to prior interim periods in the same year. We don’t know for sure that this requirement will apply to the update on modification accounting, but it seems reasonable to assume that it will (it applies to many, if not all, ASUs issued lately by the FASB).

Thus, if calendar-year companies amend their awards in Q1 and account for the amendments as modifications, it’s possible that early adopting the modification accounting update would allow them to reverse that treatment.

Maybe Auditors Won’t Make Companies Wait for the Update

Lastly, my understanding is that—even without the FASB’s update—some auditors don’t think amending a share withholding provision requires modification treatment. The few comment letters that opposed the update did so on the basis that it is unnecessary because this conclusion can already be reached under the current standard.

The FASB’s recent vote on the update (which was unanimous with respect to the question of when modification accounting should be required) provides a clear indication of the board’s attitude. Given that, perhaps the actual issuance of the final update is a mere formality and most (maybe all) auditors will come to the conclusion that modification accounting isn’t required for share withholding amendments even without the final update. But I wouldn’t assume this without discussing it with your auditors.

– Barbara