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Panel Weighs in on Financial Regulatory Overhaul

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August 5, 2009

The American Accounting Association’s annual meeting featured a thought-provoking panel discussion Wednesday on the impact of financial regulatory reform on the profession.

Much of the discussion, moderated by Grant Thornton CEO Ed Nusbaum, centered on the Treasury Department’s recommendations for changes in fair value accounting, loan loss provisioning, and global accounting standards in its financial regulatory reform plan, as well as legislation regulating executive compensation and setting up a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Nusbaum made the point that one of the little-recognized benefits of fair value accounting is that, rather than being blamed for so-called “procyclicality” and exacerbating the effects of the financial crisis, fair value could help accelerate the recovery by lowering the prices of assets and making them more attractive to buy.

Jeff Mahoney, general counsel at the Council of Institutional Investors, praised the say-on-pay legislation that the House passed last week, but he said the legislation should have gone farther and given shareholders proxy access and majority voting rights. Michael Young of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher criticized the tendency to overregulate in reaction to a financial crisis, likening the proposed regulations to speed limits.

Gary John Previts of Case Western Reserve University looked at the financial crisis from a historical perspective and noted that after the 1929 stock market crash, the market remained relatively flat between 1929 and 1970, discouraging small investors from participating. He later suggested that if regulators could start with a blank sheet of paper, they might consider combining the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant with the PCAOB and FASB, although the panelists seemed to agree that it was important to safeguard the independence of the accounting standard-setting process.

The panel was also asked about what they thought of the prospects for the IFRS roadmap being approved by the SEC. Young said he had spoken to a former SEC official at the conference who thought it more likely that the U.S. would arrive at IFRS via convergence rather than adoption. UBS analyst Janet Pegg also noted that the reception at the SEC seemed to be “lukewarm” toward IFRS these days. Noting IASB chairman Sir David Tweedie’s insistence Tuesday at the conference that the U.S. must decide by 2011 on adopting IFRS, one panelist observed that the year also happened to coincide with the end of Tweedie’s term.

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