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Accounting Convergence Unachievable

August 6, 2014

Hans Hoogervorst, chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board, reportedly told an audience in Singapore last week that full convergence is no longer an achievable project.

The Business Times in Singapore reported the remarks last week in discussing why the IASB was unable to come together with the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board on the financial instruments standard they had been working to harmonize in U.S. GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards for over a decade.

“The FASB decided to stick to current American practices and leave the converged position," said Hoogervorst at the Singapore Accountancy Convention last Thursday. “It’s a pity. Convergence would have allowed the U.S. to make the ultimate jump to IFRS. But nobody can force it to do so; if it wants to stick with US GAAP, that’s its choice. But IFRS moves on—we have a large part of the world to take care of.”

Hans Hoogervorst

Unfortunately the full text of the article is only available to subscribers to the publication, and the IASB has not posted a transcript of Hoogervorst’s speech, as it often does. According to an IASB spokesman, though, Hoogervorst spoke from his own notes rather than a prepared speech, and the comments about convergence came in response to a question from the audience.

Still, it should come as no surprise that Hoogervorst feels this way. Although the IASB and FASB managed to come together and produce a mostly converged standard for revenue recognition in May, they have yet to produce converged standards for their other major joint projects: financial instruments, leasing and insurance contracts. Last month, the IASB appeared to finally give up on trying to reach agreement with FASB on the important issue of how to treat impaired bank loans and credit losses, releasing the final elements of its IFRS 9 standard on financial instruments (see IASB Releases Its Own Financial Instruments Standard).

FASB’s “current expected credit loss” model would require companies to reflect on day one when they put a loan on the balance sheet any losses they expect to incur over the lifetime of the loan, even if the loan is fully performing. In contrast, the IASB’s expected credit loss model only would require impairments when there are signs of deteriorating credit quality.

Unlike the case with the revenue recognition standards, the IASB also set up its own transition resource group to help companies and their accountants adjust to the new standards, instead of the joint group that FASB and the IASB formed for the revenue recognition standards.

In a project summary, the IASB acknowledged the work that it had done with FASB since they signed an agreement in 2002 to converge accounting standards. “The IASB has worked closely with the FASB throughout the development of IFRS 9. Although every effort has been made to come to a converged solution, ultimately these efforts have been unsuccessful. Throughout the lifecycle of the project the IASB has consulted widely with constituents and stakeholders on the development of the new standard.”

FASB, for its part, is forging ahead with development of its own financial instruments standard under U.S. GAAP and expects to issue a final standard by the end of the year.

The two boards also remain at odds over key parts of the leasing and insurance standards, and the prospects of them coming together look uncertain. FASB chairman Russell Golden has said the board’s priority will be to improve U.S. GAAP, but it is continuing to work with other regional and national standard-setters through an international group that the IASB set up, known as the Accounting Standards Advisory Forum, providing input to the IASB on developing International Financial Reporting Standards. However, the days of FASB and the IASB collaborating closely together on a one-on-one basis to converge U.S. GAAP and IFRS appear to be at an end.

Do you think FASB and the IASB should still work on converging accounting standards?


Comments (6)
Further to my comment below, I refer readers to the recent speech by Mr. Ian Mackintosh, Vice-Chairman of the IASB,at the IFRS Foundation conference in Johannesburg, today 13 August 2014.

Mr. Mackintosh says, inter alia that "globalisation created the need for global accounting standards" "... the continued melding of national capital markets into one big, globally interconnected market presents a compelling case for
a global language of financial reporting." and ".......using convergence to achieve globally comparable standards cannot provide that language".

The speech can be found at www dot ifrs dot org/Alerts/Conference/Documents/2014/Ian-Mackintosh-speech-Are-global-standards-achievable-August-2014 dot pdf. Replace "dot" with "." to get the web address.
Posted by GlobalTrini | Wednesday, August 13 2014 at 10:57AM ET
I wonder whether david6242 and others remember the SEC mandating FASB to work more closely with the IASB towards developing principles-based standards after the dismal failure of rules-based standards in Enron and other fiascos? In my view, global, converged standards are essential in our increasingly "global village". Some measure of give and take is required by all concerned in establishing such a regime.
Posted by GlobalTrini | Monday, August 11 2014 at 8:21PM ET
It's only taken Hoogervorst about two years to admit the obvious: FASB/state boards of accountancy/USA are not compelled to converge with any set of international standards particularly those which are inferior to the challenges that Americans face. Perhaps a little less ego invested in IFRS and much more sincerity in achieving harmony with U.S. standards would better serve Hoogervorst and company.
Posted by david6242 | Thursday, August 07 2014 at 3:51PM ET
Yes, they should attempt to converge, on future issues, as long as the converged position represents an improvement to US GAAP. But it was not do-able on financial instruments. The IASB wanted to move on, rather than continue to work with FASB on financial instruments, and so here we are.

"The FASB decided to stick to current American practices and leave the converged position"...HUH? Is he reading the same impairment proposal from the FASB that I am reading? And, "leave the converged position"? There never was an agreed-upon converged position. FASB's constituents said "no" to the joint proposal. Me-thinks his real meaning is "convergence" equals "adopt the IASB's position".
Posted by CPA in US | Thursday, August 07 2014 at 3:23PM ET
This has played out reminiscent of the "metric conversion" decades ago.

Interesting the tone taken by Hoogervorst. "IFRS moves on" and "FASB decided to leave the converged position". Maybe it's just me, but this tone suggest IFRS was unwilling to move toward convergence, expecting to be converged toward rather than with. If such was the case, FASB had few other options to care for THEIR constituency.

I'm not disturbed by it anyway. With codification and the high capital resources in the US, we should be fine. Sorry about your luck IASB.
Posted by ShammahRama | Thursday, August 07 2014 at 11:19AM ET
I am certain it is just me, but given the amount of money paid to the FASB directors and their support staff, the amount of control over the marketplace, the egos that are involved - I would have been much more surprised if the FASB had found a way for the accounting standards to converge into the IASB.
FASB came into existence after the Gregory Commission in the early 70's in part because of the "Big GAAP / Little GAAP" conversation, now the profession is back to the same regulatory overload issues, but this time there is far to much money and control to even consider any reasonable options, so in order to justify its existence the FASB will continue to turn out esoteric pronouncements.
Posted by WAcpa | Thursday, August 07 2014 at 10:54AM ET
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