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UNCLAIMED PROPERTY FOCUS is a blog written by and for UPPO members, featuring diverse perspectives and insights from unclaimed property practitioners across the U.S. and Canada. We welcome your submissions to Unclaimed Property Focus. Please contact Tim Dressen via tim@uppo.org with any questions about submitting a blog post for consideration and refer to our editorial guidelines when writing your blog post. Disclaimer: Information and/or comments to this blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice on compliance or reporting requirements.

 

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Record Retention Strategies

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 25, 2018

Proper record retention is an essential part of any unclaimed property compliance program. Not only do state laws require holders to retain appropriate records, but doing so also provides an audit defense and can help avoid the use of estimation for determining unclaimed property liability.

 

“All states have some kind of requirement as it relates to the retention of unclaimed property records,” said Laurie Andrews, CFE, senior manager for Keane. “Failure to maintain those records can cause problems. In the event you are audited, it will make the audit much more burdensome and lead to extrapolations for periods where your records are unavailable. It’s far easier to keep and maintain records than to try to find them or recreate them when faced with an audit.”

 

Retained records are intended to demonstrate a holder’s historical compliance efforts. Records created at the time of reporting and properly maintained meet the burden of proof when being audited and provide a more powerful audit defense.

 

As with all areas of unclaimed property compliance, requirements for record retention vary from state to state. The Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, which provides model requirements for states to consider, calls for holders to retain:

  • Information required to be included on the report by state law.
  • The date, place and nature of circumstances giving rise to the owner’s property right.
  • The value of the property.
  • The last address of the owner, if known.
  • For traveler’s checks, money orders, or similar instruments, the record of the state and date of issue.

In the event of an audit, unclaimed property holders need records to demonstrate compliance for a lookback period that often spans the dormancy period plus 10 years—sometimes longer, depending on the state conducting the audit.

 

Holders can take several steps to maintain effective record retention practices. In addition to generating and maintaining good records, indexing them effectively helps ensure you or future employees can locate them when needed.

 

“It can be tough understanding and recreating records from a period when you weren’t involved in the process,” Andrews said. “When you’re creating, filing or indexing records, think of the people who will be reviewing them many years from now. If you maintain records with no supporting documentation or explanation, it’s going to be difficult for your successor to understand the historical data.”

 

Include record retention documentation within company policies and procedures. The unclaimed property compliance team may understand the need for maintaining specific records, but others may not. This could lead to record destruction practices that unintentionally increase unclaimed property risk.

 

Develop and enforce policies that protect records from destruction and alteration. If information needs to be added to records, it should be done in the same location where the records are stored. If the record exists in both a hard copy and electronic copy, added information should be attached to both.

 

If a third-party administrator manages the escheatment process, request and maintain copies of unclaimed property reports filed on your behalf. The holder is ultimately responsible for compliance and needs to ensure such records are properly retained.

 

Annually review record retention policies and periodically communicate them to anyone involved. Doing so helps ensure procedures stay current with changing requirements and that employees don’t forget about the importance of unclaimed property records. Occasionally verify that proper record backup processes are in place, reducing the threat of losing valuable data.

 

While all of this effort to retain records may seem daunting, evaluate the cost of retention versus the audit exposure created by not retaining records. Developing, following and monitoring record retention procedures may seem daunting, and storing records for long periods of time can be costly. However, the potential liability created when records are unavailable, and the effort required to recreate them when an audit occurs, likely make the cost and effort worthwhile.

 

For additional insight into record retention, attend the Technology & Record Retention and Developing Your Policies & Procedures sessions at the UPPO Annual Conference, March 4-7, 2018, in Tampa, Florida.

 

 

 

 

Tags:  audits  record retention 

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Unclaimed Property Trends Shape Annual Conference Sessions

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 8, 2018

For better or worse, this is not a dull time to be an unclaimed property professional. In recent years, numerous state legislatures have considered (and often approved) updating their unclaimed property statutes. Courts continue to look at state unclaimed property practices, including controversial audit practices. And companies from coast to coast and border to border face the ongoing challenge of minimizing their unclaimed property risk.

 

Throughout 2017, UPPO helped members keep up with the trends affecting unclaimed property professionals. Many of these same trends shape the agenda for the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference, March 4-7, 2018, in Tampa, Florida.

 

Delaware

In February 2017, Delaware Gov. John Carney signed S.B. 13 into law, triggering significant changes to the state’s unclaimed property practices. Since then, the state has adopted new audit rules and encouraged holders currently under audit to convert to the state’s VDA program.

 

As we approach the one-year mark since S.B. 13, its effects continue to unfold. The Delaware Reforms: One Year Later session at the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference will examine the status of changes in Delaware and their ramifications. The Advocacy Efforts in the Age of Reform session will shine a light on UPPO’s work to promote fair unclaimed property requirements not only in Delaware, but in all states.

 

Audits

Fueled by activity in Delaware, controversy continues to swirl around state audit practices. The use of third-party auditors incentivized by contingency fees has been the focus of litigation and advocacy efforts. As states update their unclaimed property statutes, some, such as Michigan, are enacting new audit standards. Some states also help offer a fairer playing field for holders by providing the opportunity to appeal audit assessments. The examination process, particularly that of multi-state audits, often strains holder resources, as it stretches over several years.  

 

The Audit 101, Navigating Your Audit and Mock Trial sessions, along with several of the Industry Focus sessions, at the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference will provide attendees with insight into strategies holders can employ when facing examination.

 

Litigation

The courts have provided several favorable rulings for holders in recent months. Appeals court rulings in cases brought by Plains All American Pipeline, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Marathon Petroleum have yielded positive results. Similar cases, including those brought by Office Depot and the multi-state squabble over MoneyGram official checks, continue to proceed through the courts.

 

Attendees at the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference will learn about these and other relevant litigation trends during the Legislative and Litigation Update session.

 

Operational Practices

In addition to exploring unclaimed property trends, the 2018 UPPO Annual Conference agenda is packed with sessions to provide practical knowledge attendees can apply to be more effective at their jobs. Sessions will examine a wide range of topics, including: state reporting basics, managing due diligence, self-assessments, record retention, exemptions and deductions, fraud, policies and procedures, foreign jurisdictions and much more.

 

View complete details about educational sessions and other 2018 UPPO Annual Conference events. The early-bird registration deadline is Jan. 10, so register today for the best rate.

Tags:  audits  Delaware  litigation  trends 

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Managing Multi-State Audits

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 7, 2017

In today’s unclaimed property environment, the constant threat of a multi-state audit is very real for holders. Those who find themselves under examination face a daunting process that will likely last three to five years and will most certainly result in a significant resource strain across many departments.

 

Multi-state audit liability can be quite costly. The third-party firm conducting the audit works on a contingency fee basis, providing an incentive to discover a large liability in every state for which it is working. If one of those states is the holder’s state of incorporation, estimated liability with a lookback period of 10-15 years is in play, depending on the specific state.

 

Company-wide engagement in the audit process is essential. Several departments, including accounts payable, payroll, accounts receivable. finance, IT and legal, will likely be called on to commit their time and effort to the audit process – all while continuing to carry out their regular day-to-day responsibilities.

 

So, with this looming threat, what should a holder do to manage the multi-state audit process?

 

First, be proactive. If a multi-state audit has not yet been initiated, conduct a risk assessment to understand potential exposure. Identify holes in existing procedures that could lead to potential unclaimed property issues – small dollar balance write-offs, stale-date check write-offs and lack of documentation to support voided checks, for example. Evaluate the level of risk so you can address areas likely to cause significant problems. Consider signing up for states’ voluntary disclosure agreement (VDA) programs to come into compliance voluntarily, rather than waiting for an audit notice.

 

If it’s too late for proactive measures and you’ve already received a multi-state examination notice, get organized. Appoint a lead person to manage the audit process, serve as the point of contact for the auditors, compile documentation and review materials before submission to the auditors. Evaluate whether to hire an experienced advocate to help manage the process.

 

Get legal counsel involved early. Because a significant amount of litigation surrounding unclaimed property audits has occurred, legal counsel may be able to identify industry-specific legal defense issues to help mitigate the audit.

 

The first 12-18 months of a multi-state audit are especially critical. Expect frequent document requests from the auditors, each with a 30-60-day timeline. The initial requests will be used to establish the audit scope – which entities and property types will be included. Auditors will then likely review trial balance and general ledgers, disbursement bank account information, accounts receivable reports and aging reports.

 

Depending on the holder’s industry, record requests may fall outside of the accounts payable, payroll and accounts receivable departments. For example, retailers may need to supply gift card records, or manufacturing companies may be asked for customer rebate records.

 

It is critical for the person managing the audit process to review all information before submitting it to the auditors, ensuring they receive exactly what they need but nothing more that could complicate the process.

 

As the audit proceeds, the holder should recognize its exposure in additional states not covered as part of the audit. If a company doing business in 40 states undergoes an audit covering 10 of them, there may be existing exposure in the other 30. The audit provides an opportunity to manage that additional risk, enter into VDA programs and enact processes to prevent the problem from spreading.

 

Undergoing a multi-state audit is never pleasant, but it provides an incentive for holders to improve their practices. Through the hard work required to complete the audit, best practices can be implemented to ensure better procedures and controls in the future. Executives are more likely to remain aware of unclaimed property issues following an audit, increasing the likelihood of increased support to prevent another such audit in five, six or 10 years.

 

To get a more in-depth look at navigating the challenges of a multi-state audit, join UPPO for the Multi-State Audits webinar on Dec. 12, 2017, at 1 p.m. EST. Matt Hedstrom from Alston & Bird LLP and Heela Popal from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP will provide insight into managing the process, tackling business continuity challenges and preparing for a potential audit. 

Tags:  audits  VDAs 

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Delaware Makes a Case for Converting Audits to VDAs

Posted By Contribution from Carla McGlynn, 2017/18 UPPO president, Thursday, November 30, 2017

With Delaware’s Dec. 11, 2017, deadline for converting existing audits to state’s Voluntary Disclosure Agreement Program fast approaching, the Secretary of State’s Office recently held a webinar for eligible unclaimed property holders. Alison Iavarone, Delaware’s unclaimed property VDA administrator provided background on the VDA Program and addressed frequently asked questions about the conversion option.

 

The VDA conversion option originates from S.B. 13, legislation intended to shift the state’s unclaimed property compliance efforts away from audits, while promoting voluntary and continued compliance, according to Iavarone. Holders that received an examination notice before July 22, 2015, are eligible. Those that were under audit as Feb. 2, 2017, also have the option to choose a fast-track audit, administered by state’s Department of Finance.

 

Why Convert?

Iavarone suggested several reasons why eligible holders should consider converting their audits to VDAs:

  • The VDA Program is intended to be a more business-friendly method than an audit for holders to come into compliance.
  • The VDA Program is designed to be faster and less expensive than an audit.
  • The holder manages the VDA process and presents its findings to the state for validation. After completion, holders that meet future reporting obligations are protected from audit for historic liabilities for the property types and entities reviewed under the VDA.
  • The state waives interest and penalties for holders participating in the VDA Program.
  • Holders are not expected to begin their internal VDA review from scratch. They can use any review information gathered before converting to the VDA to ensure greater efficiency.
  • Work papers from the audit will not transfer to the Department of State as part of the conversion. The only shared information pertains to the scope of the audit – a summary of entities, property types and audit population periods.

Frequently Asked Questions

Iavarone addressed several key questions related to the state’s VDAs.

 

What is the look-back period?

The look-back period is 10 report years (15 transaction years) from the date the original examination notice was sent to the holder.

 

What is the scope of the VDA from a converted audit?

The scope, for most eligible holders, was determined by the auditor. At a minimum, holders are expected to use the same scope as the audit for the VDA. If they choose, holders may expand the scope.

 

How is the state handling bifurcated audits, covering securities and general ledger items?

Under Delaware law, only the general ledger portion of the audit may be converted to a VDA. Securities are not eligible.

 

What if a holder already settled part of an examination?

If holders have settled and closed portions of the audit before conversion, only the remaining entities and property types will be covered under the VDA.

 

What is the statute of limitations?

S.B. 13 includes a 10-year statute of limitations from when the reporting duty arose. It will not be applied retroactively, as the previous six-year statute of limitations applied before S.B. 13 was effective.

 

How is estimation applied?

The estimation process continues to use second-priority or gross estimation, as it has in the past.

 

What if a settlement cannot be reached?

The audit will refer back to the Department of Finance if a settlement cannot be reached for a particular property type or some other aspect of the VDA.

 

Who is managing the VDA process for Delaware?

Drinker Biddle continues to manage the VDA Program on behalf of the Delaware VDA administrator, who ultimately has final review and approval responsibilities. 

 

Eligible holders must file Form NOI CONV with the Department of State by Dec. 11, 2017, to participate. For more information, visit http://vda.delaware.gov

Tags:  audits  Delaware  VDAs 

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Deadline Approaches for Converting Delaware Audits to VDAs

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Under Delaware Department of Finance regulations that became effective on Oct. 11, 2017, unclaimed property holders that received an examination notice from the department on or before July 22, 2015, have the option to convert the audit to the state’s Voluntary Disclosure Agreement Program. The deadline for submitting the Notice of Intent to Convert Audit to VDA form is Dec. 11, 2017. Holders undergoing a securities examination are not eligible to convert.

 

Converting from an existing audit to a VDA holds several potential benefits for holders.

 

Waived interest and penalties

Delaware officials have stated that waiving the mandatory 25 percent interest charge and other penalties is intended to be a significant incentive for holders to come into compliance via the state’s VDA program.

 

Limited carryover of audit work

“The only aspect of the audit that will have precedential impact on the VDA is the scope of the examination,” said Kendall Houghton, partner with Alston & Bird. “That includes any determination by the Department of Finance and its contract auditors about which entities will come under review, and the applicable property types and years. Other than that, holders that convert to a VDA have the option to incorporate other aspects of work performed during the audit, but are not required to do so.”

 

This limited carryover of audit work has two noteworthy advantages to holders:

  1. They don’t have to start over, redoing every aspect of the audit. Holders that qualify for the VDA conversion have been under examination for at least two years and have likely dedicated significant resources to the process. They can choose to use completed work as they prepare their VDA analysis, submission and quantification of liability.
  2. They are not required to use the audit firm’s work papers and determinations made during the examination.

Closing and release agreement

Upon completing the VDA program, holders have the opportunity to secure a closing and release agreement from the secretary of state. That can be quite valuable, as it protects holders from liability for the period covered under the VDA, as long as there was no willful misrepresentation or fraud, and they meet future reporting requirements.

 

Flexibility

Holders that elect to convert their examinations to VDAs are not required to complete the VDA program. If they are unable to reach acceptable terms or anticipate that the results of an unclaimed property lawsuit may deem Delaware’s estimation practices unconstitutional, for example, holders may choose to withdraw from the VDA program. This gives them the option to challenge their liability or litigate it later, which would not be an option once the VDA closing and release agreement is finalized.

 

Control

Undergoing a self-directed review under the VDA process gives holders greater control of the process than completing an audit. The self-directed review is typically more targeted, freeing holders from overly broad information requests from the auditor. They also have the ability to set their own timelines.

 

“If you’re engaged in yearend closing and need to put the VDA process aside for a few weeks, you can do that without the constant tension of having to fulfill the auditor’s record requests,” Houghton said.

 

Relaxed review standards

The VDA’s review standards are generally less stringent than those imposed during an audit. For example, under an audit, checks voided after 30 days need to be researched and remediated. Under the VDA process, the standard increases to 90 days for voided checks. This standard is more in line with common business practices and is likely to generate a lower error rate for liability estimation.

 

“The remediation standards employed in the VDA program are more appropriate because the holder knows its policies and procedure, and is in the best position to assess whether an item on the books has been proven not to be unclaimed property,” said Houghton. “There is effectively a presumption in the audit process that anything on the books is unclaimed property, and the level of documentation required to rebut that presumption is more rigid.”

 

Greater cooperation

The VDA program is designed to give holders the opportunity to complete the self-directed examination, secure a release and move forward with proactive compliance. As such, even when issues between holders and the VDA administrators are contested, they are generally able to discuss, vet and settle the differences. Everyone involved typically approaches challenges with the common goal of collaborating on a solution.

 

Potential downsides

Despite the advantages available to holders through the audit-to-VDA conversion, opting to convert is not a clear-cut decision for everyone. As mentioned previously, upon execution of a closing and release agreement, holders forfeit the right to challenge the liability or later litigate it. In the event of a significant lawsuit that changes the unclaimed property audit landscape, holders that completed the VDA would not have the right to file a refund claim or dispute the estimated liability they paid.

 

For some holders that have substantially completed the audit process, the VDA process may represent an additional burden. Although not starting from scratch because they can use material from the examination period when preparing their VDA analysis, the self-directed review process still requires dedication of resources. A holder may decide that completing the audit process is more prudent than dedicating additional consultant, outside counsel and staff resources to the VDA program.

 

Finally, if the holder is subject to a multi-state audit, converting to a VDA in Delaware would not affect the audit from the other states. So, entering into the VDA could effectively shift the holder from a single process to multiple processes, posing potential resource issues.

 

The third option

In addition to completing the examination or converting to a VDA, holders may instead elect to convert to an expedited audit. Much like the VDA, this option includes a waiver of interest and penalties. However, very little information regarding the expedited audit process has been published, and the waiver is subject to the escheator’s determination that a holder cooperated with the auditor.

 

“The VDA and audit processes have been around a long time, but the expedited audit process is new and has a lot of unknowns,” said Houghton. “The administrative comments and guidelines don’t exist yet. That creates a lot of questions that aren’t yet answerable.”

 

For more information about Delaware’s VDA conversion initiative, refer to Delaware’s Convert Audit to a VDA web page.

Tags:  audits  Delaware  VDAs 

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