Many banks and credit unions are still putting off planning for a new accounting standard for loan-loss reserves despite a ticking clock that keeps getting louder and louder.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Current Expected Credit Loss Standard, or CECL, will require institutions to assess potential loan losses when they put an asset on their books. Banks and credit unions are currently required to set aside funds only when losses seem likely.
While compliance isn’t required until 2020 at the earliest, industry experts believe next year is the optimal time to test systems. As 2017 draws to an end, there is growing evidence that management teams are still procrastinating.
Only 11% of chief financial officers at financial institutions feel they are ready for the switch to CECL, based on survey results released Tuesday by the $781 million-asset Pacific Coast Bankers Bank. A separate poll by Jack Henry & Associates found that 63% of respondents haven’t even started planning.
“They must really be planning on being very busy in 2018,” said Lauren Smith, director of accounting policy at SS&C Primatics, which found that only 8% of the institutions it recently surveyed have begun making preparations.
To be sure, some banks are actively assessing the new standard or making changes, though the process hasn’t been fun.
“It’s taking a ton of time and it’s hard to absorb and understand,” said Jay Isaacs, president of the $1.1 billion-asset FirstCapital Bank of Texas in Midland. CECL “will be a massive change in our paradigm”
“I think people are underestimating the complexity of CECL,” said John Klebba, chairman and president of the $345 million-asset Legends Bank in Linn, Mo. “It will be a real time-sucker.”
Larger banks are also adjusting.
Cullen/Frost Bankers in San Antonio disclosed in its recent quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had formed a cross-functional working group, led by its CFO and chief risk officer, to assess the changes.
“We are currently developing an implementation plan to include assessment of processes, portfolio segmentation, model development, system requirements and the identification of data and resource needs, among other things,” the $31 billion-asset company said in its filing.
Cullen/Frost, which declined to discuss its planning in greater detail, said in its filing that implementing CECL will likely increase its loan-loss allowance.
That concern is shared by many other institutions.
A recent survey by Main Street Technologies found that two-thirds of respondents expect CECL to result in higher reserving. Roughly three-fourths of institutions polled by KPMG shared that sentiment, forecasting increases ranging from 21% to 60%.
Banks that file with the SEC must comply with CECL in 2020; other banks have until the following year. Credit unions can wait until 2022 to fully implement the standard.
Congress has taken note as those dates draw near and anxiety grows. In an Oct. 4 letter to the FASB, 26 members of the House of Representatives urged the organization to review CECL’s potential economic impact, while asking the SEC to delay implementation.
The lawmakers wrote in the letter that they are worried the new standard could “negatively affect the cost and availability of credit, add volatility to the balance sheet of banks, and impact the ability of financial institutions to continue lending in stressful economic environments.”
FASB “values input of all stakeholders including members of Congress and is in the process of evaluating the letter,” said spokesman John Pappas.
A number of institutions told KPMG that they have delayed implementation due to widespread uncertainty about key decisions on modeling and data inputs. The “ambiguity stems from the open-ended nature” of the new standard, Reza van Roosmalen, KPMG’s U.S. financial instruments change leader, said in a press release.
Many of those institutions will need to play catch-up.
“A lot of milestones have to be hit in 2018,” Smith said, especially for companies that plan to run CECL systems alongside existing loan-loss models prior to implementation. “Running parallel is really important. Obviously, the more time the better.”
CECL “will have a significant impact on financial institutions,” added Doug Hensley, head of consulting services at Pacific Coast Bankers Bank, which released a suite of CECL solutions and offered a webinar for banks with less than $10 billion in assets.
“The time to start preparation is now,” Hensley said. “To use a horse-racing analogy, half of them are still at the gate. It’s like they’ve rolled up to the intersection and have stopped trying to figure out where to go.”
Despite alarming survey results, it is too early to panic, industry observers said.
A delay “doesn’t mean banks don’t care,” Smith said. “They realize this is important.”