Department of Labor Inspector General Larry Turner issued a semi-annual report Tuesday arguing that the Employee Benefit Security Administration lacks both the resources and authority to fulfill its mandate to employee benefit plans. The report particularly emphasized EBSA’s limited authority to conduct thorough audits of workplace retirement plans.
My takeaways from the report:
The OIG remains concerned about the Employee Benefits Security Administration’s (EBSA) ability to protect the integrity of pension, health, and other benefit plans of about 153 million workers, retirees, and their families under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). In particular, the OIG is concerned about the statutory limitations on EBSA’s oversight authority and inadequate resources to conduct compliance and enforcement. A decades-long challenge to EBSA’s compliance program, ERISA provisions allow billions of dollars in pension assets to escape full audit scrutiny. The act generally requires every employee benefit plan with more than 100 participants to obtain an audit of the plan’s financial statements each year. However, an exemption in the law allowed auditors to perform “limited-scope audits.” These audits excluded pension plan assets already certified by certain banks or insurance carriers and provided little to no confirmation regarding the actual existence or value of the assets. (page 23)
It’s no surprise to anyone at this point that local governments are struggling to find workers. But finance departments are especially hard-hit when it comes to brain drain. A National Association of State Treasurers study found that 60% of public finance workers are over 45 while less than 20% are younger than 35.
The private sector is facing similar issues. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the accounting profession has an acute shortage of workers as the population of graduates with accounting degrees has declined over the years.
ACFRs, unlike quarterly or other interim reports, are the official account of a government’s finances for the previous year and show how those numbers compare with previous years. It takes some time for finance departments to gather the year-end data, but getting those numbers audited is the last and generally the most time-consuming step before publishing the annual financial report. In some cases, like in Indiana and Ohio, the audit is conducted or signed off by the state auditor’s office. In other instances, localities hire a firm to audit their financial statements.
According to new data published by the University of Illinois Chicago and Merritt Research Services, the last decade has seen a 13% increase in the median amount of time for local government audits to be completed. That means most governments are posting their ACFRs at least three weeks later in the year compared with a decade ago. Nearly half of the increase has occurred over the last two years. The research focuses on the median—rather than the average—because some governments are extreme outliers and take a year and a half or even more than two years to file their annual report.
By way of a few paragraphs inserted into the recently enacted 4,000-page 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress mandated that state and local governments prepare their annual financial statements in a standardized format that is electronically searchable. The provision effectively drags state and local governments kicking and screaming into the 20th century, if not the 21st.
As worthy an accomplishment as this appears to be, it was resisted mightily by the state and local government financial community. Most prominently, they argue, the measure can potentially result in a major transfer of accounting and reporting regulatory authority from states to the federal government, thereby undercutting what many consider a fundamental principle of federalism. Moreover, state and local officials see it as one more costly unfunded mandate imposed upon their governments.
The opposition by state and local governments is understandable. But they have no one to blame but themselves. To this day they are wedded to a technological past. In a perverted way, they may be getting their just desserts. The act requires them to do little more than what they should have done years ago on their own for the benefit of their investors and other stakeholders.
Implicit in the act is that governments will have to prepare their financial statements using XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) or some comparable reporting framework. This is the format that the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would be charged with implementing the new provision, currently demands corporations use in their financial filings. XBRL requires all entities to classify each of the elements of their financial statements (e.g., assets, liability, revenues and expenses) by identical rules and in machine readable form.
In its lame duck session last month, Congress tucked a sleeper section into its 4,000-page omnibus spending bill. The controversial Financial Data Transparency Act (FDTA) swiftly came out of nowhere to become federal law over the vocal but powerless objections of the state and local government finance community. Its impact on thousands of cities, counties and school districts will be a buzzy topic at conferences all this year and beyond. Meanwhile, software companies will be staking claims in a digital land rush.
The central idea behind the FDTA is that public-sector organizations’ financial data should be readily available for online search and standardized downloading, using common file formats. Think of it as “an http protocol for financial data” that enables an investor, analyst, taxpayer watchdog, constituent or journalist to quickly retrieve key financial information and compare it with other numbers using common data fields. Presently, online users of state and local government financial data must rely primarily on text documents, often in PDF format, that don’t lend themselves to convenient data analysis and comparisons. Financial statements are typically published long after the fiscal year’s end, and the widespread online availability of current and timely data is still a faraway concept.
So far, so good. But the devil is in the details. The first question is just what kind of information will be required in this new system, and when. Most would agree that a complete download of every byte of data now formatted in voluminous governmental financial reports and their notes is overwhelming, unnecessary and burdensome. Thus, a far more incremental and focused approach is a wiser path. For starters, it may be helpful to keep the initial data requirements skeletal and focus initially on a dozen or more vital fiscal data points that are most important to financial statement users. Then, after that foundation is laid, the public finance industry can build out. Of course, this will require that regulators buy into a sensible implementation plan.
The debate over information content requirements should focus first on “decision-useful information.” Having served briefly two decades ago as a voting member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), contributing my professional background as a chartered financial analyst, I can attest that almost every one of their meetings included a board member reminding others that required financial statement information should be decision-useful. A key question, of course, is “useful to whom?”
Date and Time of upcoming event: 3:00 PM ET Tuesday, January 24, 2023 (60 Minutes)
The U.S. Congress passed legislation on December 15, 2022 that includes requirements for the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt data standards related to municipal securities. The Financial Data Transparency Act (FDTA) aims to improve transparency in government reporting, while minimizing disruptive changes and requiring no new disclosures. The University of Michigan’s Center for Local State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) has partnered with XBRL US to develop open, nonproprietary financial data standards that represent government financial reporting which could be freely leveraged to support the FDTA. The Annual Comprehensive Financial Reporting (ACFR) Taxonomy today represents general purpose governments, as well as some special districts, and can be expanded upon to address all types of governments that issue debt securities. CLOSUP has also conducted pilots with local entities including the City of Flint.
Attend this 60-minute session to explore government data standards, find out how governments can create their own machine-readable financial statements, and discover what impact this legislation could have on government entities. Most importantly, discover how machine-readable data standards can benefit state and local government entities by reducing costs and increasing access to time-sensitive information for policy making.
Marc Joffe, Public Policy Analyst, Public Sector Credit
Stephanie Leiser, Fiscal Health Project Lead, Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy
Campbell Pryde, President and CEO, XBRL US
Robert Widigan, Chief Financial Officer, City of Flint
Life technical risks measure the possible losses from deviations from the best estimate assumptions relating to life expectancy, policyholder behavior, and expenses. The life technical risks are captured through mortality, longevity, morbidity, and other risks. The methodology for calculating the capital adequacy for these four risk categories remains unchanged under the proposed method, apart from the recalibration of capital charges or the consolidation of defining categories within each risk. Comparing to the current GAAP based model, charges have materially increased across all categories partly due to higher confidence intervals, with notable exceptions of longevity risk, with reduced charges across all stress levels (changes applicable to U.S. life insurers are illustrated in Tables A2 to A5 in the Appendix linked at the end of this article). Please note that S&P’s current capital model under U.S. statutory basis does not have an explicit longevity risk charge. However, this article focuses on comparison to current GAAP capital model that is closer to the new capital methodology framework.
For mortality risk, lower rates are charged for smaller exposures (net amount at risk (NAR) $5 billion or less) with the consolidation of size categories, but higher rates are charged for NAR between $5 billion and $250 billion, with an average increase of 49 percent for businesses under $400 billion NAR. A new pandemic risk charge (Table A3 in the Appendix linked at the end of this article) will further increase mortality related risk charges to be 109 percent higher than original mortality charges under confidence level for company rating of AA, and 93 percent higher for confidence level for company rating of A, respectively, on average (Figure 1). The disability risk charge rates increased moderately for most products, across all eight product types such that the increase of disability premium risk charges is 6 percent under confidence level for AA, and 2 percent for A, respectively. In addition, the proposed model introduced a new charge on disability claims reserve, ranging from 13.7 percent of total disability claims reserves for AAA, to 9.6 percent for BBB. However, the proposed model provides lower capital charge rates in longevity risk and lapse risk.
Author(s): Yiru (Eve) Sun, John Choi, and Seong-Weon Park
Publication Date: September 2022
Publication Site: Financial Reporting newsletter of the SOA
Under LDTI, DAC amortization will no longer obscure the relationship between direct and ceded accounting. It is now possible to align ceded accounting with direct, without any noise from DAC amortization. With poor alignment, distortions within the results reported to management and financial statement users will be different, sometimes greater than before. Whether the goal is to improve reporting or to avoid making it worse, a fresh look can help.
Most of the approaches that have been used to account for UL reinsurance can still be used. One exception is the implicit approach where, in lieu of explicit accounting for reinsurance, the gross profits used to amortize DAC were adjusted to be net of reinsurance. With the elimination of gross profits as an amortization base, this approach no longer has meaning.
For surviving approaches, it is now easier to evaluate their effectiveness in presenting the economic protection provided by reinsurance.
In this article, I begin an evaluation by examining the fundamentals of accounting for the insurance element of universal life. After that, I consider the economic protection provided by reinsurance and look for an ideal—a way to effectively account for that protection.
In a second article to be published later this year, I’ll evaluate several reinsurance approaches in terms of noise from missing the ideal, then end with some thoughts on what might be done to eliminate noise.
The focus of both articles is on the insurance element. Accounting for the deposit element, embedded derivatives, and market risk benefits is beyond the scope of these articles. Also outside of scope is the requirement, in Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) Topic 326, to recognize a current estimate of credit losses from the failure of a reinsurer to reimburse reinsured benefits.
Author(s): Steve Malerich
Publication Date: Sept 2022
Publication Site: Financial Reporting newsletter, SOA
In the PBRAR, VM-31 3.D.2.e.(iv) requires the actuary to discuss “which risks, if any, are not included in the model” and 3.D.2.e.(v) requires a discussion of “any limitations of the model that could materially impact the NPR [net premium reserve], DR [deterministic reserve] or SR [stochastic reserve].” ASOP No. 56 Section 3.2 states that, when expressing an opinion on or communicating results of the model, the actuary should understand: (a) important aspects of the model being used, including its basic operations, dependencies, and sensitivities; (b) known weaknesses in assumptions used as input and known weaknesses in methods or other known limitations of the model that have material implications; and (c) limitations of data or information, time constraints, or other practical considerations that could materially impact the model’s ability to meet its intended purpose.
Together, both VM-31 and ASOP No. 56 require the actuary (i.e., any actuary working with or responsible for the model and its output) to not only know and understand but communicate these limitations to stakeholders. An example of this may be reinsurance modeling. A common technique in modeling the many treaties of yearly renewable term (YRT) reinsurance of a given cohort of policies is to use a simplification, where YRT premium rates are blended according to a weighted average of net amounts at risk. That is to say, the treaties are not modeled seriatim but as an aggregate or blended treaty applicable to amounts in excess of retention. This approach assumes each third-party reinsurer is as solvent as the next. The actuary must ask, “Is there a risk that is ignored by the model because of the approach to modeling YRT reinsurance?” and “Does this simplification present a limitation that could materially impact the net premium reserve, deterministic reserve or stochastic reserve?”
Understanding limitations of a model requires understanding the end-to-end process that moves from data and assumptions to results and analysis. The extract-transform-load (ETL) process actually fits well with the ASOP No. 56 definition of a model, which is: “A model consists of three components: an information input component, which delivers data and assumptions to the model; a processing component, which transforms input into output; and a results component, which translates the output into useful business information.” Many actuaries work with models on a daily basis, yet it helps to revisit this important definition. Many would not recognize the routine step of accessing the policy level data necessary to create an in-force file as part of the model itself. The actuary should ask, “Are there risks introduced by the frontend or backend processing in the ETL routine?” and “What mitigations has the company established over time to address these risks?”
Program will bring you up to date with most recent and coming important financial reporting developments for 2022 from FASB. Speakers include two FASB Board members and SEC’s Senior Associate Chief Accountant.
Author(s): multiple presenters
Publication Date: 1 Mar 2022 originally presented, recording accessed 16 Mar 2022
In its 2021 EMEA-wide Life Financial Modelling Survey, WTW reveals that many life insurers are under significant pressure from regulators and management to improve their financial reporting, exacerbated by key barriers to adopting cloud technologies capable of transforming their modelling capabilities.
While participating firms said they were satisfied with their current financial modelling, the demand for ever increasing and faster reporting is causing concern for many insurers, with this pressure being most evident for multinationals. Firms taking part in the survey highlighted three barriers in particular that they will first need to overcome in order to meet this demand for improved speed and efficiency: • Managing costs – Companies are under constant pressure to improve operational efficiency and meet the demand for real time services, but at ever decreasing costs. • Shortage of skilled resources – Having the right skill set and software is essential said survey respondents, particularly compared to the situation for companies still using old, obscure, or bespoke toolsets. • Improve governance and auditability – The challenge of updating financial modelling practices that not only deliver faster but are also capable of delivering a greater level of control and auditability. More than 90% of survey respondents recognised that the application of automation technology – including business process automation, elastic cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) – is a key priority to address these challenges. At the same time, a number of participating firms were cautious of the changes needed to implement new technology, naming transition cost, data and IT policies, and technical challenges as the main barriers to adoption.
To encourage the publication of transparent and accurate government financial information, Truth in Accounting has created a transparency score for financial reporting by the states. This report focuses on important-but-obscure annual financial reports on file in statehouses across the country and measures their contents against widely accepted best practices from the private sector. This report is based on fiscal year (FY) 2020, which includes the onset of the pandemic and the most recent reports available for all 50 states.
The Financial Transparency Score Report measures the states on an easily understandable 0-100 scoring scale, with a perfect score of 100 signifying an ideal timely, truthful, and transparent performance. While no state earned a perfect score in this year’s analysis, TIA regards a score of 80 or above as noteworthy.