What is IFRS 16?

Understanding the new lease accounting standard for International Financial Reporting


IFRS 16 overview.

IFRS 16 is a lease accounting standard published by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) in January 2016. IFRS 16 changed the way that companies account for leases in their financial disclosures, especially their balance sheets and income statements. It replaced an earlier international lease accounting standard – IAS 17. IFRS 16 closes a major accounting loophole from IAS 17: off-balance sheet operating leases. IFRS 16 is effective for reporting periods that began after 1 January 2019 for entities reporting under international financial reporting standards.

What is IFRS 16?\Understanding the new lease accounting standard for International Financial Reporting

What is lease accounting?

The lease accounting standards define how companies must account for their leases – a specific type of contract that allows one party to use an asset of another party in exchange for consideration.

Leases may be for equipment or real estate and are classified as either operating or capital leases. However, a new lease accounting standard has been introduced that will change how companies account for leases.

Major changes from IAS 17

The major change IFRS 16 makes from IAS 17 is that it removes the operating lease classification for leases, eliminating the ability of corporations to report operating leases in the footnotes of financial statements. The reasoning for the change was that by reporting operating leases in the footnotes, companies were hurting smaller investors that do not have the resources to dig through their financial statements. In response, after a decade of work writing and reviewing exposure drafts, the IASB released IFRS 16. IFRS 16 closes the IAS 17 loophole by requiring that all operating leases now be accounted for as finance leases.

IFRS 16 Handbook: Learn how to comply with the IASB IFRS 16 lease accounting changes while also driving savings.

IFRS 16 Handbook

Learn how to get compliant and stay compliant with the IFRS 16 lease accounting changes while also driving savings.



Three criteria for a contract to qualify as a lease.

The definition of a lease has changed slightly. Under IFRS 16, “A contract, or part of a contract, that conveys a right to use the asset (the underlying asset) for a period of time in exchange for consideration.”

1. Identified asset

There must be an identified asset. An asset can only be identified if it is physically distinct or if the lessee receives substantially all of the capacity of the asset. In addition, the lessor cannot have substantive rights to substitute the asset.

2. Economic benefit

The lessee must receive substantially all of the economic benefit. To determine what qualifies as “substantially all,” the parties must define the economic benefits of the asset and then determine the allocation of economic benefits.

3. Direct use of asset

The lessee must have the right to direct the use of the asset. If how the asset will be used was predetermined, the lessee must have the right to operate the asset or they must have designed the asset in a way that predetermines how it will be used.

Leases that are considered short-term (having a term less than or equal to 12 months in length) or low-value (the underlying asset’s value is less than or equal to $5000) do not need to be reported on the balance sheet.

Impacts to financial statements.

Impact to the balance sheet

With IFRS 16, almost all leases will be reported on corporate balance sheets. A new right-of-use (ROU) asset will be presented separately on the balance sheet, as will a separate lease liability. Under the previous standard, IAS 17, only certain lease arrangements – called finance leases – were listed on the statement of financial position while operating leases were only reported in the footnotes. Under IFRS 16, all leases are now considered finance leases unless they meet certain exceptions. Key financial metrics such as return on assets will be influenced through the addition of these new assets and liabilities to the balance sheet.

Impact to the income statement

Companies must report a depreciation charge for leased assets within the operating costs section of the profit and loss statement. An interest expense must be reported for lease liabilities within the finance costs section of the profit and loss statement. Under the old standard, IAS 17, companies reported a straight-line lease expense that was typically the same in each period of the lease. With IFRS 16, the expenses for leases are front-loaded as the amount of interest is reduced over the term of the contract.


Technical guides from the Big Four and accounting boards.

Since the original publication of a IFRS 16 in 2016, the big four and accounting boards have released multiple guides to help companies understand the technical accounting of the new standard.

IASB’s guide to IFRS 16

The International Accounting Standards Board’s resource page for the new leasing standard includes links to supplemental materials, like webcasts and articles.

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KPMG’s guide to IFRS 16

The KPMG Guide outlines the requirements of IFRS 16, the impacts to the balance sheet and income statements, and the transition options.

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Deloitte’s model of IFRS 16 financial statements

Deloitte models what financial statements would look like for companies under IFRS 16 in this appendix to the International GAAP Holdings Limited Model.

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PwC’s IFRS 16 video series

PwC’s videos review the impact of the new IFRS 16 leasing standards on how the value of right-of-use assets are measured, as well as key performance indicators.

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IFRS 16 challenges to compliance.

If your company is still pre-adoption...

You are likely facing challenges to achieving compliance with IFRS 16. Those challenges may include collecting data, finding embedded leases, calculating the incremental borrowing rate, software selection, and designing the transition plan.

If your company is post-adoption...

You are likely trying to create processes, policies, and controls that will allow you to stay on top of changes to your lease portfolio, including documenting new leases that are signed, tracking data changes, and completing your new monthly close.