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Accounting Standard-Setters Will Get Much Chummier

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October 29, 2009

The news that the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board are going to meet on a monthly basis from now on to work out their differences is likely to mean that the U.S. will play an even more dominant role in setting the pace of international standardization.

IASB Chairman Sir David Tweedie was asked at a joint AICPA/IASC Foundation conference in New York today how that would affect standard-setters in other countries (see IASB and FASB to Meet Monthly on Standards Overhaul). He noted that he would be journeying to Japan to meet with regulators in that country, and he also praised the worked of the international Monitoring Board, chaired by Hans Hoogervorst of the Netherlands. The Monitoring Board oversees the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation, which in turn oversees FASB.

However, the U.S. plays a special role in setting accounting standards, according to Tweedie. Other standard-setters, such as the Accounting Standards Board of Japan, operate at a different level than FASB. No other country is as exacting as the U.S. about delineating the various rules, rules that the IASB aims to greatly simplify in principles-based IFRS, even as the IASB is essentially forced to incorporate or at least take into account those rules in the various accounting standards drafts it exposes to the world.

The approach now will be to work jointly on developing many of the most controversial standards, such as for financial instruments and loan impairments, and try to issue joint standards with similar wording. In some instances, the IASB will be issuing both boards’ versions of the standards and giving constituents an opportunity to comment. Then the boards will work together on stitching together the versions, while also bearing in mind the objections of the various interests at play, whether in the banking, government, accounting or other fields.

The approach may or may not work, and Tweedie acknowledged that some of the standards may take several years to be finalized. In many cases, they will be moving targets. But the goal of achieving a June 2011 convergence of the two sets of standards still seems doable, he insisted, and it would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Exactly how it’s going to be achieved is questionable, though, in light of the political pressures that both boards are facing on either side of the Atlantic. Perhaps once the fallout from the financial crisis settles down, the task will be a little easier. But no matter how many face-to-face meetings and video conferences the two boards hold, coming to an agreement on decades-old accounting problems is still not going to be an easy task.

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