Certain of the accounting policies described in Note 01 require critical accounting estimates that involve complex and subjective judgments and the use of assumptions, some of which may be for matters that are inherently uncertain and susceptible to change. Such critical accounting estimates could change from period to period and may have a material impact on the Group’s financial condition, changes in financial condition or results of operations. Critical accounting estimates could also involve estimates where management could have reasonably used another estimate in the current accounting period. The Group has identified the following significant accounting policies that involve critical accounting estimates.
Fair Value Estimates
Fair value is defined as the price at which an asset or liability could be exchanged in an arm’s length transaction between knowledgeable, willing parties, other than in a forced or liquidation sale.
In reaching estimates of fair value, management judgment needs to be exercised. The areas requiring significant management judgment are identified, documented and reported to senior management as part of the valuation control framework and the standard monthly reporting cycle. The Group’s specialist model validation and valuation groups focus attention on the areas of subjectivity and judgment.
The level of management judgment required in establishing fair value of financial instruments for which there is a quoted price in an active market is minimal. Similarly there is little subjectivity or judgment required for instruments valued using valuation models that are standard across the industry and where all parameter inputs are quoted in active markets.
The level of subjectivity and degree of management judgment required is more significant for those instruments valued using specialized and sophisticated models and those where some or all of the parameter inputs are not observable. Management judgment is required in the selection and application of appropriate parameters, assumptions and modeling techniques. In particular, where data are obtained from infrequent market transactions extrapolation and interpolation techniques must be applied. In addition, where no market data are available, parameter inputs are determined by assessing other relevant sources of information such as historical data, fundamental analysis of the economics of the transaction and proxy information from similar transactions with appropriate adjustments to reflect the terms of the actual instrument being valued and current market conditions. Where different valuation techniques indicate a range of possible fair values for an instrument, management has to establish what point within the range of estimates best represents fair value. Further, some valuation adjustments may require the exercise of management judgment to achieve fair value.
Methods of Determining Fair Value
A substantial percentage of the Group’s financial assets and liabilities carried at fair value are based on, or derived from, observable prices or inputs. The availability of observable prices or inputs varies by product and market, and may change over time. For example, observable prices or inputs are usually available for: liquid securities; exchange traded derivatives; over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives transacted in liquid trading markets such as interest rate swaps, foreign exchange forward and option contracts in G7 currencies; and equity swap and option contracts on listed securities or indices. If observable prices or inputs are available, they are utilized in the determination of fair value and, as such, fair value can be determined without significant judgment. This includes instruments for which the fair value is derived from a valuation model that is standard across the industry and the inputs are directly observable. This is the case for many generic swap and option contracts.
In other markets or for certain instruments, observable prices or inputs are not available, and fair value is determined using valuation techniques appropriate for the particular instrument. For example, instruments subject to valuation techniques include: trading loans and other loans or loan commitments designated at fair value through profit or loss, under the fair value option; new, complex and long-dated OTC derivatives; transactions in immature or limited markets; distressed debt securities and loans; private equity securities and retained interests in securitizations of financial assets. The application of valuation techniques to determine fair value involves estimation and management judgment, the extent of which will vary with the degree of complexity and liquidity in the market. Valuation techniques include industry standard models based on discounted cash flow analysis, which are dependent upon estimated future cash flows and the discount rate used. For more complex products, the valuation models include more complex modeling techniques, parameters and assumptions, such as volatility, correlation, prepayment speeds, default rates and loss severity. Management judgment is required in the selection and application of the appropriate parameters, assumptions and modeling techniques. Because the objective of using a valuation technique is to establish the price at which market participants would currently transact, the valuation techniques incorporate all factors that the Group believes market participants would consider in setting a transaction price.
Valuation adjustments are an integral part of the fair value process that requires the exercise of judgment. In making appropriate valuation adjustments, the Group follows methodologies that consider factors such as bid-offer spread valuation adjustments, liquidity, and credit risk (both counterparty credit risk in relation to financial assets and the Group’s own credit risk in relation to financial liabilities which are at fair value through profit or loss).
Under IFRS, if there are significant unobservable inputs used in the valuation technique as of the trade date the financial instrument is recognized at the transaction price and any trade date profit is deferred. Management judgment is required in determining whether there exist significant unobservable inputs in the valuation technique. Once deferred the decision to subsequently recognize the trade date profit requires a careful assessment of the then current facts and circumstances supporting observability of parameters and/or risk mitigation.
The Group has established internal control procedures over the valuation process to provide assurance over the appropriateness of the fair values applied. If fair value is determined by valuation models, the assumptions and techniques within the models are independently validated by a specialist group. Price and parameter inputs, assumptions and valuation adjustments are subject to verification and review processes. If the price and parameter inputs are observable, they are verified against independent sources.
If prices and parameter inputs or assumptions are not observable, the appropriateness of fair value is subject to additional procedures to assess its reasonableness. Such procedures include performing revaluations using independently generated models, assessing the valuations against appropriate proxy instruments, performing sensitivity analysis and extrapolation techniques, and considering other benchmarks. Assessment is made as to whether the valuation techniques yield fair value estimates that are reflective of the way the market operates by calibrating the results of the valuation models against market transactions. These procedures require the application of management judgment.
Fair Value Estimates Used in Disclosures
Under IFRS, the financial assets and liabilities carried at fair value are required to be disclosed according to the valuation method used to determine their fair value. Specifically, segmentation is required between those valued using quoted market prices in an active market (level 1), valuation techniques based on observable parameters (level 2) and valuation techniques using significant unobservable parameters (level 3). This disclosure is provided in Note 15 . Management judgment is required in determining the category to which certain instruments should be allocated. This specifically arises when the valuation is determined by a number of parameters, some of which are observable and others are not. Further, the classification of an instrument can change over time to reflect changes in market liquidity and therefore price transparency.
In addition to the fair value hierarchy disclosure in Note 15 , the Group provides a sensitivity analysis of the impact upon the level 3 financial instruments of using a reasonably possible alternative for the unobservable parameter. The determination of reasonably possible alternatives requires significant management judgment.
For financial instruments measured at amortized cost (which includes loans, deposits and short and long term debt issued) the Group discloses the fair value. This disclosure is provided in Note 16 . Generally there is limited or no trading activity in these instruments and therefore the fair value determination requires significant management judgment.
Reclassification of Financial Assets
The Group classifies financial assets into the following categories: financial assets at fair value through profit or loss, financial assets AFS or loans. The appropriate classification of financial assets is determined at the time of initial recognition. In addition, under the amendments to IAS 39 and IFRS 7, “Reclassification of Financial Assets” which were approved by the IASB and endorsed by the EU in October 2008, it is permissible to reclassify certain financial assets out of financial assets at fair value through profit or loss (trading assets) and the AFS classifications into the loans classification. For assets to be reclassified there must be a clear change in management intent with respect to the assets since initial recognition and the financial asset must meet the definition of a loan at the reclassification date. Additionally, there must be an intent and ability to hold the asset for the foreseeable future at the reclassification date. There is no ability for subsequent reclassification back to the trading or AFS classifications. Refer to Note 14 for further information on the assets reclassified by the Group.
Significant management judgment and assumptions are required to identify assets eligible under the amendments for which expected repayment exceeds estimated fair value. Significant management judgment and assumptions are also required to estimate the fair value of the assets identified (as described in “Fair Value Estimates”) at the date of reclassification, which becomes the amortized cost base under the loan classification. The task facing management in both these matters can be particularly challenging in the highly volatile and uncertain economic and financial market conditions such as those which existed in the third and fourth quarters of 2008. The change of intent to hold for the foreseeable future is another matter requiring significant management judgment. The change in intent is not simply determined because of an absence of attractive prices nor is foreseeable future defined as the period until the return of attractive prices. Refer to Note 01 section “Reclassification of Financial Assets” for the Group’s minimum requirements for what constitutes foreseeable future.
Impairment of Loans and Provision for Off-Balance Sheet Positions
The accounting estimates and judgments related to the impairment of loans and provision for off-balance sheet positions is a critical accounting estimate for the Corporate Banking & Securities (CB&S) and Private & Business Clients (PBC) Corporate Divisions because the underlying assumptions used for both the individually and collectively assessed impairment can change from period to period and may significantly affect the Group’s results of operations.
In assessing assets for impairment, management judgment is required, particularly in circumstances of economic and financial uncertainty, such as those of the recent financial crisis, when developments and changes to expected cash flows can occur both with greater rapidity and less predictability.
The determination of the impairment allowance required for loans which are deemed to be individually significant often requires the use of considerable management judgment concerning such matters as local economic conditions, the financial performance of the counterparty and the value of any collateral held, for which there may not be a readily accessible market. In certain situations, such as for certain leveraged loans, the Group may assess the enterprise value of the borrower to assess impairment. This requires use of considerable management judgment regarding timing of exit and the market value of the borrowing entity. The actual amount of the future cash flows and their timing may differ from the estimates used by management and consequently may cause actual losses to differ from the reported allowances.
The impairment allowance for portfolios of smaller-balance homogenous loans, such as those to individuals and small business customers of the private and retail business, and for those loans which are individually significant but for which no objective evidence of impairment exists, is determined on a collective basis. The collective impairment allowance is calculated on a portfolio basis using statistical models which incorporate numerous estimates and judgments. The Group performs a regular review of the models and underlying data and assumptions. The probability of defaults, loss recovery rates, and judgments concerning the ability of borrowers in foreign countries to transfer the foreign currency necessary to comply with debt repayments, among other things, are all taken into account during this review. For further discussion of the methodologies used to determine the Group’s allowance for credit losses, see Note 01 . The quantitative disclosures are provided in Note 19 and Note 20 .
Impairment of Other Financial Assets
Equity method investments and financial assets classified as AFS are evaluated for impairment on a quarterly basis, or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate that these assets are impaired. If there is objective evidence of an impairment of an associate or jointly-controlled entity, an impairment test is performed by comparing the investment’s recoverable amount, which is the higher of its value in use and fair value less costs to sell, with its carrying amount. In the case of equity investments classified as AFS, objective evidence of impairment would include a significant or prolonged decline in fair value of the investment below cost. It could also include specific conditions in an industry or geographical area or specific information regarding the financial condition of the company, such as a downgrade in credit rating. In the case of debt securities classified as AFS, impairment is assessed based on the same criteria as for loans. If information becomes available after the Group makes its evaluation, the Group may be required to recognize impairment in the future. Because the estimate for impairment could change from period to period based upon future events that may or may not occur, the Group considers this to be a critical accounting estimate. For additional information see Note 08 and Note 18 .
Impairment of Non-financial Assets
Non-financial assets are generally subject to impairment review at each quarterly reporting date. Goodwill and other intangible assets with an indefinite useful life are tested for impairment at least on an annual basis irrespective of whether indicators of impairment exist, or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances, such as an adverse change in business climate, indicate that these assets may be impaired. The Group records impairment losses on assets in this category when the Group believes that their carrying value may not be recoverable. At each reporting date the Group assesses whether there is an indication that a previously recognized impairment loss has reversed. If there is such an indication and the recoverable amount of the impaired asset subsequently increases, then the reversal of an impairment loss (excluding goodwill) is recognized immediately.
The determination of the recoverable amount in the impairment assessment requires estimates based on quoted market prices, prices of comparable businesses, present value or other valuation techniques, or a combination thereof, necessitating management to make subjective judgments and assumptions. Because these estimates and assumptions could result in significant differences to the amounts reported if underlying circumstances were to change, the Group considers this estimate to be critical.
Deferred Tax Assets
In determining the amount of deferred tax assets, the Group uses historical tax capacity and profitability information and, if relevant, forecasted operating results based upon approved business plans, including a review of the eligible carry-forward periods, available tax planning opportunities and other relevant considerations. Each quarter, the Group re-evaluates its estimate related to deferred tax assets, including its assumptions about future profitability.
The Group believes that the accounting estimate related to the deferred tax assets is a critical accounting estimate because the underlying assumptions can change from period to period and requires significant management judgment. For example, tax law changes or variances in future projected operating performance could result in a change of the deferred tax asset. If the Group was not able to realize all or part of its net deferred tax assets in the future, an adjustment to its deferred tax assets would be charged to income tax expense or directly to equity in the period such determination was made. If the Group was to recognize previously unrecognized deferred tax assets in the future, an adjustment to its deferred tax asset would be credited to income tax expense or directly to equity in the period such determination was made.
Legal and Regulatory Contingencies and Uncertain Tax Positions
The Group conducts its business in many different legal, regulatory and tax environments, and, accordingly, legal claims, regulatory proceedings or uncertain income tax positions may arise.
The use of estimates is important in determining provisions for potential losses that may arise from litigation, regulatory proceedings and uncertain income tax positions. The Group estimates and provides for potential losses that may arise out of litigation, regulatory proceedings and uncertain income tax positions to the extent that such losses are probable and can be estimated, in accordance with IAS 37, “Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets” or IAS 12, “Income Taxes”, respectively. Significant judgment is required in making these estimates and the Group’s final liabilities may ultimately be materially different.
Contingencies in respect of legal matters are subject to many uncertainties and the outcome of individual matters is not predictable with assurance. Significant judgment is required in assessing probability and making estimates in respect of contingencies, and the Group’s final liability may ultimately be materially different. The Group’s total liability in respect of litigation, arbitration and regulatory proceedings is determined on a case-by-case basis and represents an estimate of probable losses after considering, among other factors, the progress of each case, the Group’s experience and the experience of others in similar cases, and the opinions and views of legal counsel. Predicting the outcome of the Group’s litigation matters is inherently difficult, particularly in cases in which claimants seek substantial or indeterminate damages. See Note 29 for information on the Group’s judicial, regulatory and arbitration proceedings.