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Finance Execs Fret over Accounting Standards Overload

May 21, 2010

As the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board accelerate their convergence efforts, some financial executives are worried that it might be way too much to absorb.

Financial Executives International sent a letter earlier this month to FASB Chairman Robert Herz and IASB Chairman Sir David Tweedie, expressing “significant concern” over the “unprecedented volume as well as the complexity of proposed standards expected to be issued in the coming months.”

Arnold Hanish, chairman of FEI’s Committee on Corporate Reporting, wrote the letter indicating dismay over the number of exposure drafts that are due to be released by the two boards in the near future about proposed changes in accounting standards. “Our member companies are extremely concerned with the 10+ exposure drafts (EDs) that are in final stages and will be released for public comment through the third quarter of 2010,” he wrote. “During any single period in time in its 38-year history, the FASB has had no more than 3 or 4 significant EDs out for public comment. Moreover, it would be reasonable to characterize a majority of the historical exposure documents as evolutionary proposals rather than the more fundamental changes in accounting and reporting paradigms as are proposed in the forthcoming EDs.”

He is worried about not having enough time to comment on the proposals as well as to absorb them, especially with some of them intricately interconnected. “Collectively, we do not believe we have sufficient technical resources in industry to respond effectively to such a large quantity of complex proposals issued over a very short period of time,” wrote Hanish. “Even if it were not so, it is not clear to us that the FASB and IASB have the requisite resources to absorb and resolve all of the issues that would be posed by all of these proposed standards in such a compressed time period.”

Nevertheless, FASB and the IASB are under considerable pressure to iron out the differences in U.S. GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards, as well as respond to more recently unearthed problems with accounting standards. The repurchase agreements highlighted in the recent report by bankruptcy examiner Anton Valukas on Lehman Brothers’ dubious accounting strategies have prompted concern, and calls for action.

SEC Chief Accountant James Kroeker testified Friday before the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises about how the SEC is dealing with all the changes in financial reporting standards. “It is important for the FASB to continue to work closely with the IASB to raise the quality of financial reporting standards in the United States and around the world,” he said. “Efforts are already underway involving monthly joint meetings of the boards and quarterly progress reports on convergence efforts.”

Kroeker’s office has been developing a work plan for how to go about incorporating IFRS into the U.S. financial reporting system, addressing areas of concern such as enforceability and auditability of the standards, as well as comparability of IFRS reporting across jurisdictions.

The SEC has also written to 19 large public companies about their use of repurchase agreements such as the Repo 105 transactions that Lehman abused.

“Based on the requests, no information has come to our attention that would lead the staff to conclude that inappropriate practices were widespread,” said Kroeker. “Nevertheless, following our evaluation of these responses, the Division [of Corporate Finance] asked several companies to enhance their disclosure about their accounting for repurchase and similar transactions and to expand their discussions of off-balance sheet arrangements in their quarterly reports for March 31, 2010. A number of the companies have already filed the reports with the enhanced disclosure.”

The SEC is going to keep a lookout for such transactions, Kroeker warned. “We will continue to review companies’ accounting and reporting practices to determine if companies are complying with existing requirements and to determine whether changes to those requirements are warranted,” he said.

Comments (1)
I work in the industry and I think it's important that we realize that it wasn't the firms or GAAP that lead to the fiscal crisis but that creating a GAAP that codifies many holes will help prevent companies from using rules to hide their books
Posted by beancountersm | Monday, May 24 2010 at 9:24AM ET
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