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Former FASB Chairman Herz Sees Advances in Private Company Reporting

May 28, 2013

Robert Herz, the former chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, stopped by the Accounting Today offices last week to talk about his new book, “Accounting Changes,” and film a video interview.

We’ve posted the first part of the video on our site today (see Robert Herz on His Experience in Standard Setting) and part 2 on Wednesday (see Robert Herz on the Aftermath of the Financial Crisis and the Future). The many accountants who are familiar with Bob Herz may be surprised to see him sporting a goatee nowadays, but as he explained, one of his jobs these days is teaching at Columbia University, and the beard helps him blend in with the academic setting.

After the video, Herz sat down with Accounting Today editors to talk a little more about some of the subjects not covered in the video. I was curious to hear more about the softball and volleyball teams that he described in his book. FASB and its sister organization, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board and their parent, the Financial Accounting Foundation, play in their hometown of Norwalk, Conn. Herz explained that the team is mixed, so FASB isn’t playing against GASB, but they’re together part of a local league. I didn’t ask if they ever played softball against the International Accounting Standards Board, but they might need to take up cricket to do that.

Robert Herz

Herz also talked about the state of private company accounting standards. I had just returned from the American Institute of CPAs’ Spring Meeting of Council, and I was curious to hear what he thought of the AICPA’s plans for introducing next month a Financial Reporting Framework for Small and Medium-sized Entities, which the Institute has branded as FRF for SMEs, as well as the Private Company Council that recently began meeting under the FAF’s auspices.

Herz sees promise in both initiatives. He pointed out that the FAF’s Private Company Council has the potential to have a more robust process than its predecessor, the Private Company Financial Reporting Committee. The PCFRC was part of FASB, but also had some AICPA administrative involvement. He noted that there is a difference in user needs and cost/benefit considerations for private companies and public companies, and there has long been a debate over “Little GAAP” versus “Big GAAP.”

Herz noted that he doesn’t advocate having two different languages, but he pointed out that the AICPA’s framework is supposed to be OCBOA, an “other comprehensive basis of accounting” outside of GAAP, like tax basis or modified accrual basis.

“What the AICPA is doing isn’t intended to be GAAP,” he said. “It might be more cost effective to have that kind of accounting in OCBOA. I’m in favor of that.”

However, he does see some danger in having multiple financial reporting systems, with foreign registrants filing their financials in International Financial Reporting Standards, in addition to U.S. GAAP. The private company GAAP that the Private Company Council is developing, and the FRF for SMEs that the AICPA is getting set to launch, would provide further alternatives.

“Will it create a bilingual system?” he asked. But he sees different ways that the various systems could work together successfully.

I also asked Herz about his involvement with integrated reporting. He sees the potential for using technologies such as XBRL, or Extensible Business Reporting Language, to analyze financial statements and make them more easily accessible. He is on the board of an XBRL technology developer, WebFilings, which is used by many of the major public companies for their SEC filings.

Herz noted that XBRL could be used in integrated reporting to relate financial and nonfinancial information such as corporate sustainability reports. Ideally it would also provide a way out of the problem of resolving differences between U.S. GAAP, IFRS and all the variations on them, which was one of the original visions behind the technology. With XBRL, investors should be able to look at a view of a company’s financials under U.S. GAAP and then under IFRS. XBRL hasn’t yet been able to achieve that goal, but then, if it did, we never would have needed convergence.

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