IFRS 16 certainly represents one of the more significant innovations of the international accounting regulatory framework of the last years and it is characterized by a high level of pervasiveness that associated to his complexity raises many points of attention for the operators, being these latter extensors or readers/users of the balance sheet.
A first aspect surely regards the correct finding of the lease contracts that, if in many cases can be carried out immediately, in others- most of all in the sphere of the industrial processes- results more complex and articled.
According to IFRS 16, an accord is, or contains a lease if, paying a predetermined fee, an entity obtains the right to control and use a specific good for an established period of time to obtain, the economic benefits coming from the use of the mentioned good over the established period of time.
A central element is the therefore the possibility to benefit – under the payment of a predetermined fee- of the economic benefits coming from the control of a specific good over an established period of time.
IFRS 16: Is it always easy to find a lease?
In the application area, this definition could not be immediately applicable. A lease contract can be, for instance, easily individuated in case of a real estate lease through which a lessee, under payment of a pre-fixed rental fee, obtains the possibility to benefit of specific real estate spaces put under his control to freely use them in the respect of the regulations in force and the usage conditions aimed to preserve the good.
In other cases, above all in the sphere of industrial processes, this is not immediate. Let’s take as hypothesis the case of a company that has given in outsourcing to a third part a phase of his productive process. The sub-process requires the use of a plant for which we ask ourselves if a lease contract could be configured to the outsourcer or not. In order to have an answer, we are helped by the flow chart described in the paragraph B31 of the IFRS 16 that reports the key questions to ask ourselves in order to value if all the necessary conditions to identify a lease contract have been verified.
First, it is necessary to value if the outsourcee avails a specific asset to accord the subscript contract with the outsourcer. In presence of an accord in outsourcing the plant could be not only specific, but also built or specifically modified to respond to the exigencies of the outsourcer, in such case this first verification would bring towards the finding of a lease contract. However, it happens that the outsourcee could have a productive capacity larger than the one necessary to render the service to the outsourcer and therefore, on his choice, to decide which productive line activate to provide the performance to him requested; in such case, configuring a lease contract would be criticizable.
This second hypothesis is typical of those situations in which the outsourcer is not the only customer of the outsourcee; if the outsourcer does not substantially catch all the benefits coming from the use of that asset, normally there is no configuration of a lease contract. The real distinguishing element to understand if there is the lease contract or not, ends to be the verification of who has the control of the asset.
In a goods and/or services providing contract, the control of the asset is among the prerogatives of the supplier that decides how to make work, on his risk and under his responsibility, the plan to fulfill the contractual obligation assumed with the customer counterpart.
Not even the fact that the customer could have given precise instructions about the characteristics of the requested product has to mislead; this does not mean having the control on the asset used to realize that product depending on the instructions given. Therefore, in presence of an outsourcing contract, even though there is an identification asset and all the benefits are caught by the outsourcer, should not be configured a lease contract to the extent that the operative decisions and consequently the responsibility and the risks of the management of the asset fall on the outsourcee. For that purpose, the paragraph BC123 is very clear, considering that it defines as distinguishing element for the identification of a lease contract, the capacity of the outsourcer of modifying, at his discretion, the operative instructions of the asset use, putting the outsourcer in the position of the mere executor –that, if at all, could at most pretend a revision of the prescription for an eventual modification of the scope of work – of a will expressed by the outsourcer to which he could not oppose a rejection (BC 117 IFRS 16).
In synthesis, the identification of a lease contract in similar situations is not pacific and arises from a deep analysis of the contract subscripted between the parts and in particular of the respective operating spheres and of the attribution of roles and responsibilities among parts. Therefore the IFRS 16 imposes an accurate analysis of the contracts, taking care that first the requesting organizational units and second the procurement function verify the existence or not of lease contracts within the concluded operations, not assigning this activity only to a subsequent check of the administrative function, however necessary.