Embedding a single company case in an IFRS course

Alice Shepherd is an Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance at Leeds University Business School, Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and an award winning teacher with specialised knowledge of online and distance learning.

Alice Shepherd talks to Toby York

Embedded case study

A single company case study is embedded into the course, so that when a technical topic is covered (e.g. leases, provisions, group accounts) the students can see how it is recognised and disclosed in a real set of IFRS listed company financial statements.

Course context

The cohort is approximately 200 students and the module is delivered to second year (Level 5) undergraduate students over two semesters. It is compulsory for all BSc Accounting and Finance and BSc Banking and Finance students. Non-specialist students study a different module.

This is particularly important as scaffolded preparation for students’ final year projects as many choose an applied financial analysis project.

Wm Morrison Supermarkets Ltd (Morrisons) is an appropriate choice for our students because:

  • It is local to Leeds and one that students know and are likely to be customers.
  • It’s a listed company so provides full annual report disclosures.
  • Its business model is relatively straightforward.
  • Its reporting year end is January, so the release of the most recent annual report coincides with my preparation for the module over the summer.
  • For several years before the pandemic, the finance team was kind enough at the end of the first semester to give a guest lecture and answer students’ questions.

One or two weeks before each seminar, a set of questions is released on the virtual learning environment which students are expected to answer in advance of the class. These require students to find and sometimes reflect on information provided in the annual report.

The first exercise is a “hide and seek” quiz with about 30 questions designed to help students become familiar with the report and the business as a whole.

Since I took over as module leader in 2019/20, the course initally moved to full online delivery which consisted of pre-recorded videos, quizzes and activities, and online live seminars fortnightly.

In 2021/22 we moved to hybrid delivery: pre-recorded videos, periodic live online lecture/clinic sessions, quizzes and activities, live fortnightly face to face seminars but with a partial online cohort taught in separate online seminars.

I have retained the case as an element tying the module material together and have continued to update the seminar questions to reflect the most recent annual report and current business news about the company. Our ratio analysis topic is also based on Morrisons’ financial statements.

I only teach some of the seminar classes. Others are taught by an experienced colleague. I created brief teaching notes indicating areas to explore within the class discussion on the Morrisons questions to provide students with a consistent approach.

Here are some of areas that are explored:

Taxation

You will see from the consolidated income statement on p.86 of the annual report 2020/21 that the tax expense was £69m in 2021, after exceptional items. This was against profit before tax of £165m, giving an effective tax rate of (69/165) = 42% (the UK corporate income tax rate in that year was 19%). In the notes you will find a reconciliation to show the main reasons for this difference.

  • Of the £69m tax expense, how much was current tax and how much was deferred tax?
  • What are the main reasons for the difference between the corporation tax rate of 19% and the effective tax rate of 42%?  

Leases

Morrisons implemented IFRS 16 for the first time in their 2019/20 financial statements, so 2020/21 was the second implementation of the standard.  Have a look at the general information section on leases on p.92 of the annual report, note 6.1 on p.117, note 6.4 on p.119-120 and the financial statements and answer the following questions. 

  • What is Morrisons’ approach to deciding on the lease term that is appropriate to use?
  • Did Morrisons use the exemptions allowed under IFRS 16?
  • What was the cash outflow for leases in 2020/21?
  • Are the majority of Morrisons’ lease obligations short or long term?

Topicality

Morrisons was particularly high profile in 2021/22 because of their activities during the pandemic, and subsequently as the subject of a private equity-backed takeover battle. This has led to class discussions about some highly commercial aspects such as why private equity firms are interested in buying the company, linking this to coverage in the Financial Times, exploring what differentiates it from other supermarket chains etc.

Of course, now that Morrisons has been taken over and is going private, I will no longer be able to use this company as the case study, but I will retain the idea for 2022/23 and choose a different company.

Assessment

Within the constraints of professional accreditation requirements, there has been some assessment of the Morrisons content as part of a larger exam question. However, students are encouraged to use Morrisons examples throughout their narrative question answers.

Student feedback

The students do find these activities challenging — but they enjoy seeing what they can find out, and the activities allow the students to link financial accounting with their commercial awareness and get ‘under the bonnet’ of the business.

Student feedback has discussed how the application helps them to understand what financial accounting might be like in a workplace context.


This is part of the Teaching tips series of articles

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3 thoughts on "Embedding a single company case in an IFRS course"

  1. Samantha Bell says:

    What an engaging idea – I like the way this challenges students to work in a different direction (from competed financial statements back to the standards) – rather than preparing extracts from financial statements themselves. I can see how this would encourage students to think more critically – a refreshing change and I can see how this would provoke more discussion than traditional approaches. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lisa Wakefield says:

    What a great idea Alice. I’ve used supermarkets when teaching IFRS too but usually to debunk the “expected” quick and current ratios of 2:1 and 1:1 that many of our students are taught as part of the BTEC qualification.
    I love the idea of using a published set of accounts in full rather than snippets as showing the integration of the various elements would be really useful.

  3. Alice Shepherd says:

    Thanks Lisa and Samantha. Thinking it through took my colleague and myself a bit of time one summer, but generally now it’s just small updates year to year so the investment in time does pay off in later years.

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