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10.0 FINANCIAL MEASURES, ACCOUNTING POLICIES AND CONTROLS - 10.1 Our accounting policies

10 Financial measures, accounting policies and controls

 

10.1 Our accounting policies

This section discusses key estimates and assumptions that management has made and how they affect the amounts reported in the financial statements and notes. It also describes key changes in accounting standards and our accounting policies, and how they affect our financial statements.

We have prepared our consolidated financial statements using IFRS. Other significant accounting policies, not involving the same level of measurement uncertainty as those discussed in this section, are nevertheless important to an understanding of our financial statements. See Note 2, Significant accounting policies, in BCE’s 2016 consolidated financial statements for more information about the accounting principles we used to prepare our consolidated financial statements.

 

Critical accounting estimates and key judgments

When preparing financial statements, management makes estimates and judgments relating to:

  • reported amounts of revenues and expenses
  • reported amounts of assets and liabilities
  • disclosure of contingent assets and liabilities

We base our estimates on a number of factors, including historical experience, current events and actions that the company may undertake in the future, and other assumptions that we believe are reasonable under the circumstances. By their nature, these estimates and judgments are subject to measurement uncertainty and actual results could differ.

We consider the estimates and judgments described in this section to be an important part of understanding our financial statements because they require management to make assumptions about matters that were highly uncertain at the time the estimates and judgments were made, and changes to these estimates and judgments could have a material impact on our financial statements and our segments.

Our senior management has reviewed the development and selection of the critical accounting estimates and judgments described in this section with the Audit Committee of the BCE Board.

Any sensitivity analysis included in this section should be used with caution as the changes are hypothetical and the impact of changes in each key assumption may not be linear.

Our more significant estimates and judgments are described below.

ESTIMATES

USEFUL LIVES OF PROPERTY, PLANT AND EQUIPMENT AND FINITE-LIFE INTANGIBLE ASSETS

We review our estimates of the useful lives of property, plant and equipment and finite-life intangible assets on an annual basis and adjust depreciation or amortization on a prospective basis, if needed.

Property, plant and equipment represent a significant proportion of our total assets. Changes in technology or our intended use of these assets, as well as changes in business prospects or economic and industry factors, may cause the estimated useful lives of these assets to change.

The estimated useful lives of property, plant and equipment and finite-life intangible assets are determined by internal asset life studies, which take into account actual and expected future usage, physical wear and tear, replacement history and assumptions about technology evolution. When factors indicate that assets’ useful lives are different from the prior assessment, we depreciate or amortize the remaining carrying value prospectively over the adjusted estimated useful lives.

Change in accounting estimate

In 2016, as part of our ongoing annual review of property, plant and equipment and finite-life intangible assets, and to better reflect their useful lives, we increased the estimate of useful lives of certain assets. The changes have been applied prospectively effective January 1, 2016 and did not have a significant impact on our financial statements.

POST-EMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLANS

The amounts reported in the financial statements relating to DB pension plans and OPEBs are determined using actuarial calculations that are based on several assumptions.

Our actuaries perform a valuation at least every three years to determine the actuarial present value of the accrued DB pension plan and OPEB obligations. The actuarial valuation uses management’s assumptions for, among other things, the discount rate, life expectancy, the rate of compensation increase, trends in healthcare costs and expected average remaining years of service of employees.

While we believe that these assumptions are reasonable, differences in actual results or changes in assumptions could materially affect post-employment benefit obligations and future net post-employment benefit plans cost.

We account for differences between actual and expected results in benefit obligations and plan performance in OCI, which are then recognized immediately in the deficit.

The most significant assumptions used to calculate the net post-employment benefit plans cost are the discount rate and life expectancy.

A discount rate is used to determine the present value of the future cash flows that we expect will be needed to settle post-employment benefit obligations.

The discount rate is based on the yield on long-term, high-quality corporate fixed income investments, with maturities matching the estimated cash flows of the post-employment benefit plans. Life expectancy is based on publicly available Canadian mortality tables and is adjusted for the company’s specific experience.

A lower discount rate and a higher life expectancy result in a higher net post-employment benefit obligation and a higher current service cost.

Sensitivity analysis

The following table shows a sensitivity analysis of key assumptions used to measure the net post-employment benefit obligations and the net post-employment benefit plans cost for our DB pension plans and OPEB plans.

      IMPACT ON NET POST-EMPLOYMENT
BENEFIT PLANS COST FOR 2016 –
INCREASE (DECREASE) 
IMPACT ON POST-EMPLOYMENT BENEFIT
OBLIGATIONS AT DECEMBER 31, 2016 –
INCREASE (DECREASE)

 

CHANGE IN
ASSUMPTION
  INCREASE IN
ASSUMPTION
  DECREASE IN
ASSUMPTION
  INCREASE IN
ASSUMPTION
  DECREASE IN
ASSUMPTION
 

Discount rate

0.5 % (77 ) 66   (1,435 ) 1,533  

Life expectancy at age 65

1 year   34   (33 ) 699   (678 )
IMPAIRMENT OF NON-FINANCIAL ASSETS

Goodwill and indefinite-life intangible assets are tested for impairment annually or when there is an indication that the asset may be impaired. Property, plant and equipment and finite-life intangible assets are tested for impairment if events or changes in circumstances, assessed at each reporting period, indicate that their carrying amount may not be recoverable. For the purpose of impairment testing, assets other than goodwill are grouped at the lowest level for which there are separately identifiable cash inflows.

Impairment losses are recognized and measured as the excess of the carrying value of the assets over their recoverable amount. An asset’s recoverable amount is the higher of its fair value less costs of disposal and its value in use. Previously recognized impairment losses, other than those attributable to goodwill, are reviewed for possible reversal at each reporting date and, if the asset’s recoverable amount has increased, all or a portion of the impairment is reversed.

We make a number of estimates when calculating recoverable amounts using discounted future cash flows or other valuation methods to test for impairment. These estimates include the assumed growth rates for future cash flows, the number of years used in the cash flow model, and the discount rate. When impairment charges occur they are recorded in Other income (expense).

In 2015, we recorded an impairment charge of $49 million, of which $38 million was allocated to indefinite-life intangible assets, $9 million to finite-life intangible assets and $2 million to property, plant and equipment. The impairment charge related mainly to our music cash generating unit (CGU) within our Bell Media segment and resulted from revenue and profitability declines from lower viewership and higher TV content costs. The charge was determined by comparing the carrying value of the CGU to its fair value less costs of disposal. We estimated the fair value of the CGU using both discounted cash flows and market-based valuation models which include five-year cash flow projections derived from business plans reviewed by senior management for the period of January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2020, using a discount rate of 9.0% and a perpetuity growth rate of nil, as well as market multiple data from public companies and market transactions. The carrying value of our music CGU was $171 million at December 31, 2015.

Goodwill impairment testing

We perform an annual test for goodwill impairment in the fourth quarter for each of our CGUs or groups of CGUs to which goodwill is allocated and whenever there is an indication that goodwill might be impaired.

A CGU is the smallest identifiable group of assets that generates cash inflows that are independent of the cash inflows from other assets or groups of assets.

We identify any potential impairment by comparing the carrying value of a CGU or group of CGUs to its recoverable amount. The recoverable amount of a CGU or group of CGUs is the higher of its fair value less costs of disposal and its value in use. Both fair value less costs of disposal and value in use are based on estimates of discounted future cash flows or other valuation methods. Cash flows are projected based on past experience, actual operating results and business plans. When the recoverable amount of a CGU or group of CGUs is less than its carrying value, the recoverable amount is determined for its identifiable assets and liabilities. The excess of the recoverable amount of the CGU or group of CGUs over the total of the amounts assigned to its assets and liabilities is the recoverable amount of goodwill.

An impairment charge is recognized in Other income (expense) in the income statements for any excess of the carrying value of goodwill over its recoverable amount. For purposes of impairment testing of goodwill, BCE’s CGUs or groups of CGUs correspond to our reporting segments as disclosed in Note 4, Segmented information, in BCE’s 2016 consolidated financial statements.

Any significant change in each of the estimates used could have a material impact on the calculation of the recoverable amount and resulting impairment charge. As a result, we are unable to reasonably quantify the changes in our overall financial performance if we had used different assumptions.

We cannot predict whether an event that triggers impairment will occur, when it will occur or how it will affect the asset values we have reported.

For the Bell Media group of CGUs, a decrease of (0.4%) in the perpetuity growth rate or an increase of 0.3% in the discount rate, would have resulted in its recoverable amount being equal to its carrying value.

There were no goodwill impairment charges in 2016 or 2015.

DEFERRED TAXES

Deferred tax assets and liabilities are calculated at the tax rates that are expected to apply when the asset or liability is recovered or settled. Both our current and deferred tax assets and liabilities are calculated using tax rates that have been enacted or substantively enacted at the reporting date.

Deferred taxes are provided on temporary differences arising from investments in subsidiaries, joint arrangements and associates, except where we control the timing of the reversal of the temporary difference and it is probable that the temporary difference will not reverse in the foreseeable future.

The amount of deferred tax assets is estimated with consideration given to the timing, sources and amounts of future taxable income.

FAIR VALUE OF FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS

Certain financial instruments, such as investments in equity securities, derivative financial instruments and certain elements of borrowings, are carried in the statements of financial position at fair value, with changes in fair value reflected in the income statements and the statements of comprehensive income. Fair values are estimated by reference to published price quotations or by using other valuation techniques that may include inputs that are not based on observable market data, such as discounted cash flows and earnings multiples.

CONTINGENCIES

In the ordinary course of business, we become involved in various claims and legal proceedings seeking monetary damages and other relief. Pending claims and legal proceedings represent a potential cost to our business. We estimate the amount of a loss by analyzing potential outcomes and assuming various litigation and settlement strategies, based on information that is available at the time.

If the final resolution of a legal or regulatory matter results in a judgment against us or requires us to pay a large settlement, it could have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial statements in the period in which the judgment or settlement occurs.

ONEROUS CONTRACTS

A provision for onerous contracts is recognized when the unavoidable costs of meeting our obligations under a contract exceed the expected benefits to be received under the contract. The provision is measured at the present value of the lower of the expected cost of terminating the contract and the expected net cost of completing the contract.

JUDGMENTS

POST-EMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLANS

The determination of the discount rate used to value our post-employment benefit obligations requires judgment. The rate is set by reference to market yields of high-quality corporate fixed income investments at the beginning of each fiscal year. Significant judgment is required when setting the criteria for fixed income investments to be included in the population from which the yield curve is derived. The most significant criteria considered for the selection of investments include the size of the issue and credit quality, along with the identification of outliers, which are excluded.

INCOME TAXES

The calculation of income taxes requires judgment in interpreting tax rules and regulations. There are transactions and calculations for which the ultimate tax determination is uncertain. Our tax filings are also subject to audits, the outcome of which could change the amount of current and deferred tax assets and liabilities. Management believes that it has sufficient amounts accrued for outstanding tax matters based on information that currently is available.

Management judgment is used to determine the amounts of deferred tax assets and liabilities and future tax liabilities to be recognized. In particular, judgment is required when assessing the timing of the reversal of temporary differences to which future income tax rates are applied.

MULTIPLE ELEMENT ARRANGEMENTS

Determining the amounts of revenue to be recognized for multiple element arrangements requires judgment to establish the separately identifiable components and the allocation of the total price between those components.

CGUs

The determination of CGUs or groups of CGUs for the purpose of annual impairment testing requires judgment.

CONTINGENCIES

We accrue a potential loss if we believe a loss is probable and an outflow of resources is likely and can be reasonably estimated, based on information that is available at the time. Any accrual would be charged to earnings and included in Trade payables and other liabilities or Other non-current liabilities. Any payment as a result of a judgment or cash settlement would be deducted from cash from operating activities. We estimate the amount of a loss by analyzing potential outcomes and assuming various litigation and settlement strategies.

The determination of whether a loss is probable from claims and legal proceedings and whether an outflow of resources is likely requires judgment.

 

Adoption of amended accounting standards

As required, effective January 1, 2016, we adopted the following amended accounting standards on a prospective basis, none of which had a significant impact on our consolidated financial statements.

STANDARD

DESCRIPTION

IMPACT

Amendments to International Accounting Standard (IAS) 16 – Property, Plant and Equipment and IAS 38 – Intangible Assets

Clarifies that a revenue-based approach to calculate depreciation and amortization generally is not appropriate as it does not reflect the consumption of the economic benefits embodied in the related asset.

This amendment did not have a significant impact on our financial statements.

Amendments to IFRS 11 – Joint Arrangements

Provides guidance on the accounting for acquisitions of interests in joint operations in which the activity constitutes a business, as defined in IFRS 3 – Business Combinations. The amended standard requires the acquirer to apply all of the principles on accounting for business combinations in IFRS 3 and other IFRSs except for any principles that conflict with IFRS 11.

This amendment did not have a significant impact on our financial statements.

 

Future changes to accounting standards

The following new or amended standards issued by the IASB have an effective date after December 31, 2016 and have not yet been adopted by BCE.

STANDARD

DESCRIPTION

IMPACT

EFFECTIVE DATE

Amendments to IAS 7 – Statement of Cash Flows

Requires enhanced disclosures about changes in liabilities arising from financing activities, including changes from financing cash flows, changes arising from obtaining or losing control of subsidiaries or other businesses, the effect of changes in foreign exchange rates and changes in fair values.

Additional disclosures will be provided in the notes to our financial statements if required.

Annual periods beginning on or after January 1, 2017, applied prospectively.

IFRS 15 – Revenue from Contracts with Customers

Establishes principles to record revenues from contracts for the sale of goods or services, unless the contracts are in the scope of IAS 17 – Leases or other IFRSs. Under IFRS 15, revenue is recognized at an amount that reflects the expected consideration receivable in exchange for transferring goods or services to a customer, applying the following five steps:

1. Identify the contract with a customer

2. Identify the performance obligations in the contract

3. Determine the transaction price

4. Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations in the contract

5. Recognize revenue when (or as) the entity satisfies a performance obligation

The new standard also provides guidance relating to principal versus agent relationships, licences of intellectual property, contract costs and the measurement and recognition of gains and losses on the sale of certain non-financial assets such as property and equipment. Additional disclosures will also be required under the new standard.

IFRS 15 will principally affect the timing of revenue recognition, how we classify revenues between product and service and how we account for costs to obtain and fulfill a contract.

Under multiple-element arrangements, although the total revenue recognized during the term of a contract will be largely unaffected, the revenue allocated to a delivered item will no longer be limited to the non-contingent amount. This may accelerate the recognition of revenue ahead of the associated cash inflows and result in a corresponding contract asset recorded on the balance sheet, to be realized over the term of the customer contract.

We continue to make progress towards adoption of IFRS 15 according to our detailed implementation plan. Changes and enhancements to our existing IT systems, business processes, and systems of internal control are being designed, tested and implemented. A dedicated project team that leverages key resources throughout the company is also in place to effect the necessary changes.

Throughout 2017, systems and processes will be put in place to collect and compile the new data required to reflect the impact of IFRS 15 on our 2018 financial statements and key operating metrics and determine the impact to our historical comparative information. Accordingly, it is not yet possible to make a reliable estimate of the impact of the new standard on our financial statements. We expect that the impact of the new standard will be most pronounced in our Bell Wireless segment. While total revenue recognized over the term of a customer contract is not expected to change significantly, revenue recognition will be accelerated for certain customer contracts and a greater proportion of revenue will be classified to product revenue.

Annual periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018, using either a full retrospective approach for all periods presented in the period of adoption or a modified retrospective approach.

Amendments to IFRS 2 – Share-based Payment

Clarifies the classification and measurement of cash-settled share-based payment transactions that include a performance condition, share-based payment transactions with a net settlement feature for withholding tax obligations, and modifications of a share-based payment transaction from cash-settled to equity-settled.

The amendments to IFRS 2 are not expected to have a significant impact on our financial statements.

Annual periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

IFRS 9 – Financial Instruments

 

Sets out the requirements for recognizing and measuring financial assets, financial liabilities and some contracts to buy and sell non-financial items. IFRS 9 replaces IAS 39 – Financial Instruments: Recognition and Measurement. The new standard establishes a single classification and measurement approach for financial assets that reflects the business model in which they are managed and their cash flow characteristics. It also provides guidance on an entity’s own credit risk relating to financial liabilities and has modified the hedge accounting model to better link the economics of risk management with its accounting treatment. Additional disclosures will also be required under the new standard.

We are currently evaluating the impact of IFRS 9 on our financial statements.

Annual periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

IFRS 16 – Leases

 

Eliminates the distinction between operating and finance leases for lessees, requiring instead that leases be capitalized by recognizing the present value of the lease payments and showing them either as lease assets (right-of-use assets) or together with property, plant and equipment. If lease payments are made over time, an entity recognizes a financial liability representing its obligation to make future lease payments. A depreciation charge for the lease asset is recorded within operating costs and an interest expense on the lease liability is recorded within finance costs.

IFRS 16 does not require a lessee to recognize assets and liabilities for short-term leases and leases of low-value assets, nor does it substantially change lease accounting for lessors.

We are currently evaluating the impact of IFRS 16 on our financial statements.

Annual periods beginning on or after January 1, 2019, using either a full retrospective approach for all periods presented in the period of adoption or a modified retrospective approach, with early adoption permitted if an entity has adopted IFRS 15.

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