FASB proposes improvements to the accounting for share-based payment arrangements with nonemployees
On March 7, 2017, the FASB issued a proposed ASU that would simplify the accounting for share-based payments granted to nonemployees for goods and services. Under the proposal, most of the guidance on such payments to nonemployees would be aligned with the requirements for share-based payments granted to employees.
While deliberating its initial simplification initiative project on share-based payment accounting, the Board decided to add a project to address the accounting for nonemployee share-based payment arrangements. The Board determined that a separate simplification project was warranted for the nonemployee model since improvements to that guidance could involve broader changes and take longer to complete than those in other simplification projects.
Currently, share-based payment arrangements with employees are accounted for under ASC 718, while nonemployee share-based payments issued for goods and services are accounted for under ASC 505-50. ASC 505-50 differs significantly from ASC 718. Differences include (but are not limited to) the guidance on (1) the determination of the measurement date (which generally is the date on which the measurement of equity-classified share-based payments become fixed), (2) the accounting for performance conditions, (3) the ability of a nonpublic entity to use certain practical expedients for measurement, and (4) the accounting for (including measurement and classification) share-based payments after vesting. The proposed ASU would eliminate most of the differences, as further described below.
In the proposal’s Basis for Conclusions, the FASB discusses the issuance of the guidance in ASC 505-50, noting that the differences between the accounting for employee and nonemployee awards was originally based on “the view that there is a fundamental difference between the relationship that employees and nonemployees have with the entity granting the awards.” However, the Board concluded that awards granted to employees are economically similar to awards granted to nonemployees and that therefore two different accounting models were not justified.
Comments on the proposed ASU are due by June 5, 2017. For ease of reference, the proposal’s questions for respondents are reprinted in the appendix of this Heads Up.
Key Provisions of the Proposed ASU
The proposed ASU would supersede ASC 505-50 and expand the scope of ASC 718 to include all share-based payment arrangements related to the acquisition of goods and services from both nonemployees and employees. As a result, most of the guidance in ASC 718, including its requirements related to classification and measurement, would apply to nonemployee share-based payment arrangements.
Currently, ASC 505-50 provides guidance on the accounting for nonemployee share-based payments issued by the grantor and received by the grantee. Under ASC 505-50, the grantor’s accounting is similar to that of the grantee (e.g., the determination of the measurement date). In addition to the accounting for nonemployee share-based payments for goods and services, ASC 505-50 provides guidance on the grantor’s accounting for share-based payments issued as sales incentives to customers.
An entity would apply ASC 606 (once adopted) to share-based payments received by a vendor from a customer in a revenue transaction as well as to share-based payments that represent consideration payable to a customer. Under ASC 606-10-32-21, an entity is required to measure the estimated fair value of noncash consideration, including share-based payments, at contract inception. In addition, the guidance in ASC 606-10-32-25 on consideration payable to a customer currently refers only to cash and items that can be applied against amounts owed by the customer. However, the proposed ASU would amend that guidance to include equity instruments granted in conjunction with selling goods or services. Accordingly, the proposed ASU would exclude share-based payments issued as sales incentives to customers from the scope of ASC 718.
While the scope of ASC 718 would be expanded to include nonemployee share-based payment arrangements, an entity would apply that guidance to nonemployee share-based payments only if they are related to the acquisition of goods and services “to be used or consumed in a grantor’s own operations.”
In the proposal’s Basis for Conclusions, the Board noted that for an entity to apply ASC 718, the goods or services received in exchange for share-based payments must be “used or consumed in a grantor’s own operations and is not applicable to instruments granted essentially to raise capital.” This provision was included as an anti-abuse measure to prevent entities from structuring a share-based payment transaction as a means of raising capital and accounting for it under ASC 718 (particularly its classification guidance).
One of the more significant proposed changes is related to the determination of the measurement date, which is generally the date on which the measurement of equity-classified share-based payments becomes fixed. The proposed ASU would eliminate the guidance in ASC 505-50 on determining the measurement date for nonemployee share-based payment arrangements. Rather, for equity-classified awards, the measurement date would generally be the grant date.
Under ASC 505-50, the measurement date for nonemployee share-based payments that are classified as equity is the earlier of (1) the date as of which a commitment for performance by the counterparty to earn the equity instruments is reached (a “performance commitment”) or (2) the date as of which the counterparty’s performance is complete. For a performance commitment to be reached, “sufficiently large disincentives for nonperformance” must exist so that “performance by the counterparty to earn the equity instruments is probable.” In practice, a performance commitment is often not reached before the completion of performance, which delays the measurement date until performance is complete (i.e., the nonemployee awards are remeasured or “marked to market” each reporting period until they are vested). Under the proposed ASU, the measurement of equity-classified nonemployee share-based payments would generally be fixed on the grant date, as defined in ASC 718. This could have a significant impact on the cost recognized for nonemployee awards issued for goods and services.
While most nonemployee awards are issued in exchange for services, there may be instances in which such awards are issued for goods. Accordingly, the proposal would amend the definition of “vest” to incorporate vesting conditions tied to the delivery of goods (in addition to services) and would use the term “nonemployee vesting period” rather than “requisite service period” to describe the period in which the required nonemployee goods or services are provided.
When nonemployee awards are exchanged in a business combination, it is important for an entity to determine what portion of the replacement awards is attributed to “precombination vesting” (and therefore included in the consideration transferred) and what portion is attributed to “postcombination vesting” (and therefore recognized in the postcombination period).
In addition, under ASC 718, service and performance conditions are vesting conditions, while market conditions are incorporated into the fair-value-based measurement of share-based payments. Under the proposed ASU, that guidance would apply to nonemployee awards as well. However, the proposed ASU would modify the definitions of service and performance conditions to incorporate characteristics of nonemployee awards into them. Accordingly, the proposed ASU would expand the definition of a service condition to include “a nonemployee delivering goods or rendering services to the grantor over a vesting period” and the definition of a performance condition to include the “performance of the counterparty, if such performance is in accordance with the terms of the award and solely relates to the grantor’s own operations (or activities).”
While ASC 505-50 provides guidance on “counterparty performance conditions,” it does not discuss service conditions. However, in recognizing the cost of nonemployee goods or services under ASC 505-50, an entity may in practice treat certain counterparty vesting conditions as service conditions if they are more similar to service-type conditions than counterparty performance conditions. Because the vesting conditions of nonemployee awards might not be similar to those of employee awards (e.g., employment for a specified period), an entity must use significant judgment to determine which conditions are more akin to service-type conditions and which are more akin to performance-type conditions. For example, vesting conditions for certain nonemployee awards may be tied to specific tasks and activities (e.g., promoting the entity’s products at a defined number of events) rather than to the provision of service for a specific period. In such circumstances, those specific tasks and activities may represent service-type conditions instead of counterparty performance conditions. The accounting treatment of counterparty performance conditions under ASC 505-50, as discussed below, is significantly different from that of service-type conditions.
Under the proposed ASU, an entity would still need to apply judgment in determining whether a nonemployee vesting condition is a service condition or performance condition. To meet the definition of a performance condition, the vesting requirement must be related to the grantor’s operations or activities, not the grantee’s. Therefore, certain tasks and activities that a nonemployee must perform (e.g., quality-control services that include an assessment of a minimum number of locations each year) to vest in awards may be characterized as service conditions because they are not solely related to the grantor’s own operations or activities. However, the distinction under the proposal may not as be relevant if an entity elects to estimate forfeitures since it would assess the probability of both service and performance conditions (see discussion below on forfeitures).
|Entity A grants 100 warrants to a distributor that is not a customer (i.e., it is a vendor). The warrants will vest as long as the distributor includes A’s products in 20 of its locations for two years. In addition, if the distributor generates $100 million in sales for A during that two-year period, an additional 100 warrants will vest. While the inclusion of A’s products in 20 of the distributor’s locations and the generation of $100 million in sales for A are both related to the distributor’s performance, A would need to assess whether each vesting condition is a service or performance condition. Under ASC 505-50, A may reasonably conclude that maintaining its products in 20 of the distributor’s locations is a service-type condition and that achieving $100 million in sales to earn additional warrants is a counterparty performance condition. Under the proposed ASU, A may reasonably reach the same conclusions. While achievement of $100 million in sales for A is associated with the distributor’s service and performance, such performance is related solely to A’s own operations. By contrast, maintaining A’s products in 20 of the distributor’s locations would not be related solely to A’s own operations and would therefore be treated as a service condition.|
The treatment of nonemployee share-based payment performance conditions under the proposed ASU would be significantly different from that under existing guidance. In recognizing the cost of nonemployee awards, an entity generally is precluded by ASC 505-50 from considering whether it is probable that the performance conditions will be met. Rather, if the quantity and terms of nonemployee awards depend on counterparty performance conditions, the entity measures any cost recognized on the basis of the “then-current lowest aggregate fair value” of the awards as of each reporting period until the performance conditions are “known” (i.e., achieved). This could result in a scenario in which the lowest aggregate fair value is zero and no cost is recognized until the performance conditions are achieved, even if the performance conditions are expected to be met. Many stakeholders believe that such an accounting outcome does not reflect the economics of share-based payment transactions and that the costs should be recognized when the related goods or services are provided and the awards are expected to vest, in a manner similar to the recognition of cost if the payment was made in cash. Under the proposed ASU the guidance on nonemployee awards would therefore be aligned with that in ASC 718. Accordingly, an entity would be required to recognize any cost on the basis of the probable outcome of performance conditions.
|Entity B enters into a contract with an advertising company that provides marketing services in exchange for a cash fee. The cost associated with the cash fee is recognized as the marketing services are performed. In addition, if B achieves $100 million in sales over a one-year period after the services are provided, the advertising company will receive 100 warrants. Under ASC 505-50, B will not recognize any cost associated with the warrants (the lowest aggregate fair value is zero until the performance condition is achieved) when the marketing services are provided. Rather, the cost of the warrants will be recognized when or if the sales level is achieved on the basis of the fair-value-based measure of the warrants on the date of achievement. As a result, any cost associated with the warrants is recognized after the marketing services have been provided. Under the proposed ASU, if the warrants are classified as equity, the grant-date fair-value-based measure of the warrants would be recognized earlier if achievement of the sales target is probable. That cost generally would be recognized as the marketing services are performed.|
In a manner similar to employee awards, the proposed ASU would permit an entity to make an entity-wide policy election for all nonemployee awards to either (1) estimate forfeitures or (2) recognize forfeitures when they occur. If the entity elects to estimate forfeitures, it should recognize the cost of nonemployee awards on the basis of its estimate of awards for which the goods are expected to be delivered or the service is expected to be rendered. That estimate should be revised as appropriate.
An entity’s forfeiture policy is associated solely with service conditions because the entity must assess probability and may not make a policy election for performance conditions. However, as noted above, unlike employee service conditions, nonemployee vesting conditions might not be tied to the provision of service for a specific period. An entity will need to use judgment to determine whether its forfeiture policy applies to certain nonemployee vesting conditions, because it may not be obvious whether such conditions are service or performance conditions.
In addition, the number of grantees of nonemployee awards may not be significant (relative to employee awards, which in many cases could be granted to a large pool of employees). Accordingly, if an entity elects to estimate forfeitures for nonemployee awards, determining how many awards will be forfeited may be difficult in the absence of sufficient historical forfeiture experience. In such circumstances, an entity might conclude that each nonemployee will fulfill its contract and that no awards are estimated to be forfeited. In other cases, an entity may reasonably estimate forfeitures if the volume of nonemployee providers is large and the nonemployees are similar so that historical forfeiture data exist. For example, an entity may grant awards to employees of a third-party management advisory company that vest if the grantees provide advisory services for a specified period. In those circumstances, historical forfeiture data may exist if such grantees function in a manner similar to employees of the grantor.
Manner and Period of Cost Recognition
Although the total cost recognized for nonemployee awards could change under the proposed ASU, the manner of and period(s) for recognizing costs would not. The proposed ASU incorporates certain recognition guidance from ASC 505-50 into ASC 718; thus, any cost recognized for nonemployee share-based payments would continue to be recognized under other applicable accounting guidance as though cash was paid. That is, ASC 718 under the proposed ASU would not prescribe the period(s) or the manner (i.e., capitalize or expense) in which nonemployee share-based payments would be recognized. Rather, an asset or expense would be recognized (or previous recognition reversed) in the same period(s) and in the same manner as though the grantor had paid cash for the goods or services. Accordingly, an entity recognizes the cost of nonemployee awards “when it obtains the goods or as services are received.”
Under ASC 718, compensation cost is generally recognized ratably over the requisite service period (or ratably over multiple requisite service periods). Because of the nature of nonemployee awards, ratable recognition over a service period may not necessarily be appropriate. Accordingly, the proposed ASU retains the principle in ASC 505-50 that any asset or expense would be recognized in the same period(s) and in the same manner as though the grantor had paid cash. The Board decided that further clarification or requirements related to attribution were not necessary because “[d]iscussions with outreach participants indicated that this area did not pose a significant concern or create a significant amount of confusion” and that “there is an absence of this type of specific guidance for costs paid in cash.”
An entity must use judgment in determining the attribution of cost since it may not tie directly to nonemployee vesting conditions. For example, an entity could grant awards to a vendor that provides services ratably but for which vesting is tied solely to the level of performance. For instance, a vendor could provide services associated with a call center ratably over time, but vesting of the awards would be tied to resolving issues within a certain period. Similarly, awards could be provided to a nonemployee for goods, but vesting may not be tied to the delivery of goods. For example, a nonemployee award issued for goods may vest if fewer than 3 percent of all goods delivered over a specified period are defective.
In addition, an entity is required under ASC 718 to make an accounting policy election for employee awards that have graded vesting schedules and that only contain service conditions (i.e., no performance or market conditions). For those awards, an entity elects to recognize compensation cost on a straight-line basis over the requisite service period for either (1) each separately vesting portion of the award as if the award was, in substance, multiple awards or (2) the entire award (i.e., over the requisite service period of the last separately vesting portion of the award). Under the proposed ASU, the policy election would continue to be limited to employee awards.
Because ASC 505-50 does not provide explicit guidance on the period(s) or manner of cost recognition, it does not contain a similar policy election for graded vesting awards. In practice, some entities may have analogized to the guidance in ASC 718 and selected an accounting policy for nonemployee awards with graded vesting schedules when such awards are for services (in a manner similar to the policy election described above for employee awards). While the proposed ASU limits the policy election to employee awards, it does not provide prescriptive guidance on cost recognition for nonemployee awards. Accordingly, an entity should carefully evaluate the facts and circumstances associated with its nonemployee awards to determine the appropriate recognition of cost.
Under ASC 505-50, nonemployee share-based payment awards are measured at the fair value of either the consideration received (i.e., fair value of the goods or services received) or the equity instruments issued, whichever is more reliably measurable. In practice, such awards generally are measured on the basis of the fair value of the equity instruments issued. Under the proposed ASU, nonemployee awards would always be measured on the basis of the fair value of the equity instruments issued, in a manner consistent with the measurement for employee awards. That is, the fair-value-based measurement objective for nonemployee awards would align with that for employee awards. However, in calculating the fair-value-based measurement of nonemployee stock options and similar instruments, an entity would be required to use the contractual term rather than the expected term.
Under ASC 718, an entity measures employee stock options by using an expected term that takes into account the effects of employees’ expected exercise and postvesting employment termination behavior. The expected term is used because employee stock options differ from transferable or tradable options “in that employees cannot sell (or hedge) their share options — they can only exercise them; because of this, employees generally exercise their options before the end of the options’ contractual term.” However, determining an expected term for nonemployee awards would be challenging because entities often do not have sufficient historical data related to the early exercise behavior of nonemployees. In addition, nonemployee stock option awards may not be exercised before the end of the contractual term since they often do not contain certain features typically found in employee stock option awards (i.e., nontransferability, nonhedgability, and truncation of the contractual term because of postvesting service termination). Accordingly, in a manner consistent with the SEC staff’s views in Staff Accounting Bulletin Topic 14.A, “Share-Based Payment Transactions With Nonemployees,” the proposed ASU would require an entity to measure nonemployee stock options by using the contractual term.
Nonpublic Entity Practical Expedients
Under ASC 505-50, nonpublic entities do not have any practical expedients to use as substitutes for measuring nonemployee awards at fair value. The proposed ASU, however, would give nonpublic entities most of the same practical expedients as those provided for employee awards. The exception is the practical expedient associated with determining the expected term for employee awards. As discussed above, an entity must use the contractual term to measure stock options and similar instruments issued to nonemployees.
Under ASC 718, a nonpublic entity may use “calculated value” to measure its stock options and similar instruments granted to employees if it is unable to reasonably estimate the fair value of such awards because it is not practicable for it to estimate the expected volatility of its stock price. Calculated value is a measure that uses the historical volatility of an appropriate industry sector index instead of the expected volatility of the entity’s stock price. Under the proposed ASU, this practical expedient would be extended to nonemployee awards and would need to be consistently applied to both employee and nonemployee awards. A nonpublic entity that applies this practical expedient to nonemployee awards would not be required to demonstrate preferability under ASC 250.
In practice, many nonpublic entities may not have used calculated value for their employee awards since it is often practicable to estimate the expected volatility of a nonpublic entity’s stock price on the basis of the volatilities of similar public entities.
In a manner similar to employee awards, the proposed ASU would permit nonpublic entities to make a one-time accounting policy election to measure all liability-classified nonemployee share-based payment awards at intrinsic value instead of fair value without establishing preferability. The election would be made upon adoption of the final guidance.
The same guidance on the classification of employee share-based payment awards under ASC 718 applies to nonemployee awards under ASC 505-50 before vesting. However, under ASC 505-50, nonemployee awards become subject to other guidance in U.S. GAAP that generally applies to financial instruments (e.g., ASC 815) once performance is complete (i.e., the awards are vested). By contrast, employee awards remain within the scope of ASC 718 (even after vesting) unless they are modified after the holder ceases to be an employee (except under an equity restructuring that meets certain criteria). Since the proposed ASU aligns the classification treatment of employee and nonemployee awards, nonemployee awards would remain within the scope of ASC 718 unless they are modified after the awards vest and the nonemployee is no longer providing goods and services (except under an equity restructuring that meets certain criteria).
Under current U.S. GAAP, certain nonemployee awards that are classified as equity under ASC 505-50 meet the definition of a derivative financial instrument under ASC 815. Accordingly, once performance is complete, they would be classified as a derivative liability and remeasured at fair value through earnings each reporting period. Under the proposed ASU, such awards would continue to be classified as equity unless modified as described above.
The Board decided not to add specific disclosure requirements for nonemployee share-based payment arrangements because the existing disclosures in ASC 718 are sufficient. Separate disclosures would be required “to the extent that the differences in the characteristics of the awards make separate disclosure important to an understanding of the entity’s use of share-based compensation.”
The FASB plans to determine an effective date for the final guidance after considering stakeholder feedback on the proposed ASU.
Transition and Related Disclosures
The proposed ASU would generally require an entity to use a modified retrospective transition approach, with a cumulative-effect adjustment to retained earnings, for outstanding nonemployee awards at the time it adopts the standard. In determining the cumulative-effect adjustment to equity for awards that are currently classified as a liability but would be classified as equity under the proposed ASU, an entity would apply the guidance on modifications of an award from liability to equity classification (i.e., the liability award as measured on the adoption date would be reclassified to equity). However, if a nonpublic entity changes its measurement of certain nonemployee awards to calculated value, the proposed ASU would require a prospective approach.
In the first interim and annual period of adoption, an entity would be required to disclose the following:
- The nature of and reason for the change in accounting principle.
- The cumulative effect of the change on retained earnings in the statement of financial position as of the beginning of the period of adoption.
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