Groupon in accounting mess shocker | FT Alphaville

Groupon in accounting mess shocker

It is, at pixel time, getting quite late on Friday in the States.

What better time for Groupon – the business school accounting cautionary tale masquerading as an online discount deals-maker – to slip out an earnings revision accompanied by a “material weakness” in its internal controls. Just six months after its going public.

So we thought we’d post the full gory details.

Here’s the revised earnings release:

Groupon Announces Revised Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2011 Results, Confirms First Quarter Guidance…

The revisions resulted in a reduction to fourth quarter 2011 revenue of $14.3 million. The revisions also resulted in an increase to fourth quarter operating expenses that reduced operating income by $30.0 million, net income by $22.6 million, and earnings per share by $0.04. Financial results for prior periods, including as of and for the nine months ended September 30, 2011, were not affected by the revisions.

The revisions are primarily related to an increase to the Company’s refund reserve accrual to reflect a shift in the Company’s fourth quarter deal mix and higher price point offers, which have higher refund rates. The revisions have an impact on both revenue and cost of revenue…

(Translation: a lot more customers suddenly want refunds)

In conjunction with the completion of the audit of Groupon’s financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2011 by its independent auditor, Ernst & Young LLP, the Company included a statement of a material weakness in its internal controls over its financial statement close process in its Annual Report on Form 10-K for year ended December 31, 2011.

Let’s turn to deep inside the 10-K to see what happened (excuse the length)

In connection with the preparation of our financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2011, we concluded there is a material weakness in the design and operating effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting as defined in SEC Regulation S-X. A material weakness is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis . The primary factors contributing to the material weakness, which relates to our financial statement close process, were:

• We did not maintain financial close process and procedures that were adequately designed, documented and executed to support the accurate and timely reporting of our financial results. As a result, we made a number of manual post-close adjustments necessary in order to prepare the financial statements included in this Form 10-K.

• We did not maintain effective controls to provide reasonable assurance that accounts were complete and accurate and agreed to detailed support, and that account reconciliations were properly performed, reviewed and approved. While these activities should be performed in the ordinary course of our preparing our financial statements, we instead needed to undertake significant efforts to complete reconciliations and investigate items identified in those reconciliations during the course of our financial statement audit.

• We did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure the timely, effective review of estimates, assumptions and related reconciliations and analyses, including those related to customer refund reserves. As noted previously, our original estimate disclosed on February 8 of the reserve for customer refunds proved to be inadequate after we performed additional analysis.

With the oversight of senior management and our audit committee, we have begun taking steps and plan to take additional measures to remediate the underlying causes of the material weakness, primarily through the development and implementation of formal policies, improved processes and documented procedures, as well as the hiring of additional finance personnel.

In addition to these efforts, we are in the process of documenting and testing our internal control over financial reporting in order to report on the effectiveness of our internal controls as of December 31, 2012, as required following our initial public offering in 2011. We have expended significant internal and external resources in this effort. In particular, we have been working with another global accounting in preparation for reporting on the effectiveness of our internal controls, and we have expanded the auditing firm’s engagement scope to address the underlying cause of the material weakness. However, we can provide no assurance at this time that management will be able to report that our internal control over financial reporting is effective as of December 31, 2012, or that our registered public accounting firm will be able to attest that such internal controls are effective.

Notwithstanding the identified material weakness, management believes the consolidated financial statements included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K fairly represent in all material respects our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows at and for the periods presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP.

There’s a new risk in Groupon’s already novel-length section on risk factors (again, apologies for the length):

In connection with the preparation of our financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2011, our independent registered accounting firm identified a material weakness in the design and operating effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting, and as a result we expect to incur additional costs remediating this material weakness. In addition, the existence of this issue could adversely affect us, our reputation or investor perceptions of us. It also may be more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified persons to serve on our board of directors or as executive officers. Advocacy efforts by stockholders and third-parties may also prompt even more changes in corporate governance and reporting requirements. We expect that the additional reporting and other obligations imposed on us by these rules and regulations will increase our legal and financial compliance costs and the costs of our related legal, accounting and administrative activities significantly. These increased costs will require us to divert a significant amount of money that we could otherwise use to expand our business and achieve our strategic objectives

Here — assuming you’ve survived the Martin Lukes-ness of it all so far — is the bit about the refunds problem:


At the time revenue is recorded, we record an allowance for estimated customer refunds. We accrue costs associated with refunds in accrued expenses on the consolidated balance sheets. The cost of refunds where the amount payable to the merchant is recoverable is recorded in the consolidated statements of operations as a reduction to revenue. The cost of refunds when there is no amount recoverable from the merchant are presented as a cost of revenue.

To determine the amount of our refund reserve, we track refund patterns of prior deals, use that data to build a model and apply that model to current de als. Further analysis of our refund activity into 2012 indicated deviations from modeled refund behavior for deals featured in late 2011, particularly due to a shift in our fourth quarter deal mix and higher price point offers. Accordingly, we updated our refund model to reflect changes in the deal mix and price point of our deals over time and we believe this updated model will enable us to more accurately track and anticipate refund behavior.

And yes, despite all this, they’ve re-affirmed guidance.

Related link:
Groupon blows it again – Blodget, BI
Groupon offers, or, how to write about the Groupon IPO when you don’t really care – FT Alphaville