Lease Accounting Project Executive Sponsor
The participation of a highly-engaged executive sponsor is one of the key factors that determines whether a big project will fail or succeed. As a result, experienced project managers are always in the hunt for a good executive sponsor. But demand for these heavyweights at most companies often exceeds supply as there are many more critical projects than there are sponsors. Busy executives can only afford to commit their time to a handful of projects. A C-Level executive who is sponsoring 10 projects on top of their day job will likely be ineffective.
The new lease accounting rules are arguably one of the biggest accounting changes in history. For many large companies, hundreds of millions if not several billion dollars of leases will transfer onto the balance sheet. These new standards will impact many of the financial metrics that Wall Street uses to gauge financial performance from EBITDA to Return on Assets. Debt covenants, agency ratings, market capitalization and even executive compensation plans could be impacted by the adoption of these new rules. In other words – the risks are too high to not do this right.
Who Should be the Lease Accounting Project Executive Sponsor?
The Controller or Chief Accounting Officer is the obvious candidate for executive sponsorship given the nature of the project. However, unlike many FASB or IFRS standard changes that can be contained to the four walls of the accounting department, this one has enterprise-wide reach and very high visibility. The new leasing rules will require a cross-functional effort that stretches across groups from operations and fleet management to real estate and human resources. As a result, we recommend considering the Chief Financial Officer or Chief Procurement Officer as candidates as well.
What is the Role of the Lease Accounting Project Executive Sponsor?
The executive sponsor’s role is not to manage the day-to-day aspects of the project, but to act as the advocate for the project. He or she will need to champion and communicate the importance of the initiative to the CEO and Board as well as the leaders of HR, IT, Procurement, Treasury, Real Estate and Operations. The executive sponsor will need to solicit participation from the various stakeholders around the business. Additionally, the sponsor will need to secure budget to fund the implementation effort and any additional software that may need to be purchased. And throughout the project, the sponsor will help to clear obstacles that put milestones or project goals at risk.
What are the Key Challenges that the Lease Accounting Project Executive Sponsor will face?
Lease Accounting projects will encounter many of the challenges that all big projects face. Time and attention will be required from some of the busiest people in the company. These are the same people who are involved with all the other enterprise-wide projects – upgrading the ERP system; integrating the latest acquisition; and preparing for the next major product launch. But there will be some additional obstacles that Lease Accounting champions will need to overcome:
The executive sponsor will need to ensure that owners of leased assets in far-flung geographic regions participate in the project. Real estate and equipment lease owners from Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America will need to prioritize the effort to collect and submit all of their leasing documentation in a timely manner. A single email from the CFO requesting support will not be enough to motivate these international constituents. A higher-touch, more personalized effort will be required.
Board and Shareholder Inquiries
Given the significant potential impact to financial metrics resulting from the accounting policy changes, the project is likely to receive more attention from the CEO and Audit Committee of the Board of Directors. Major shareholders such as institutional investors are likely to inquire about the readiness for transition via the Investor Relations team. Also, given the magnitude of the assets and liabilities being transferred onto the balance sheet, sponsors should expect more scrutiny from internal and external audit functions as the deadline approaches.
Strategic versus Tactical Approach
At most companies, the leasing programs have been neglected – understaffed and underfunded with relatively weak systems, processes and controls. Executive Sponsors will face a challenging decision on how ambitious the project should be. Do we do just enough to comply with the implementation deadline, risking SOX compliance issues from weak systems, processes and controls after implementation? Or do we take a more strategic approach to the project by truly fixing the leasing program’s inefficiencies to develop a longer-term sustainable program?
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Learn More about the New Lease Accounting Standards
White Papers, Handbooks and Research Studies
Learn the differences between contract-level and asset-level lease accounting in this technical white paper. Review examples of the impact of asset-level decisions, judgments and events for material handling, data center and IT equipment.
Considering Lease Accounting Software to comply with the new FASB or IFRS standards? Download this eBook to understand the potential time and cost savings opportunities resulting from automation of lease classification and financial reporting.
The industry’s most comprehensive guide to collecting your lease accounting data. Follow our 10-step methodology to understand what data you need; where to find it; how to abstract it and how to clean it up. Over 50 pages of best practices and diagrams illustrate the process step by step.