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Financial Reporting Gets Too Complex

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July 17, 2009

A meeting at the AICPA offices earlier today of the Global Accounting Alliance featured some spirited debate over the growing complexity of financial reporting and how it can be made simpler and more useful.

Turns out, though, that many analysts and investors don’t necessarily want much information to be eliminated from the financial statements, no matter how inscrutable it is. They want to be able to get at all the numbers, and high-level overviews just won’t cut it. All those disclosures and MD&A information may make the financial reports more than a little unwieldy, not to mention all the complex rules of U.S. GAAP that need to be applied. But with the outcry these days over fraud and slippery accounting tricks, amid the aftereffects of deregulation, probably the last thing the economy needs is a streamlined method of financial reporting that allows companies to fudge the numbers even more than they have in the past.

What’s needed is a way to provide an accurate picture of a company’s true financial position in a way that’s understandable to not only sophisticated financial analysts, but also the investor who makes occasional trades through an E*Trade account.

Accounting standard-setters have a lot of work to do to make financial statements more understandable and useful at the same time. The current uncertainty over whether or not the U.S. will adopt IFRS, and exactly when, isn’t helping matters either.

But the Global Accounting Alliance, which is made up of accountancy organizations like the AICPA and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, is at least trying to get the dialogue going. The meeting in New York today was one of a series being held around the world. The GAA plans to issue a report this fall. Stay tuned.

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