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FASB Reaching its Capacity

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By Michael Cohn
November 14, 2011

The Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board have tried to winnow down the priority projects on their convergence agenda to just three or four, but that hasn’t stopped interested parties from trying to get them to add more work to their to-do list.

On Monday, the two boards jointly re-exposed the latest proposal for revenue recognition standards (see FASB, IASB Revise Revenue Recognition Proposal).

At Financial Executives International’s Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference in New York on Monday, Seidman noted that the two boards are also working on fine-tuning other standards besides revenue recognition, particularly financial instruments, leasing and insurance contracts.

Ian Mackintosh

FASB has come under pressure recently to add standards for hedging instruments such as derivatives to its agenda (see SEC Chief Accountant Blasts AICPA Private Company Resolution). But Seidman said the board is reaching its capacity to deal with so many different projects at the same time. While the IASB is ahead on revising its hedging standards, FASB is taking more of a wait-and-see attitude. However, they are giving investors a kind of workaround way to compare the differing results under U.S. GAAP and IFRS.

“We believe the classification and measurement and impairment phases of financial instruments to be the priority,” said Seidman. “My view is that hedging follows those other things. We need to know what our basic approach is, and then the hedging model should complement it. And we’re facing a real capacity issue here. Hedging is extremely complex, so for us to dive into this before the model itself has settled down just does not seem to be the most productive way to proceed in my view. So the plan is for us to settle down on classification, measurement and impairment, and then the FASB will take a look at the comments that we get on our own exposure draft, the wraparound that we did with the IASB’s approach, and look at the changes that the IASB has made in response to the comments that they got. Then we’ll be in a position to decide how we move forward.”

The IASB is willing to do the work of seeking comments on the proposed standards, but the IASB is hesitant to issue a final standard until the two boards are closer. “We have the conflict of our constituents wanting us to complete and us wanting to converge,” said IASB vice chairman Ian Mackintosh, who spoke alongside Seidman during a session at the conference. “That’s the conflict we’ve had to deal with.”

He noted that the two boards have tried to get to a converged standard on offsetting, but were not able to reach one. “But we have agreed on disclosures that will enable users to compare IFRS with U.S. GAAP so that users will be able to work it back if they wish to get a comparable answer,” he said.

Mackintosh confirmed reports that the IASB has agreed to re-open the IFRS 9 standards on financial instruments to try to resolve lingering differences. “The world wants a converged standard on financial instruments,” he said. “This seems to be one topic where we should be doing the utmost to get as close together as we possibly can. We need to look at FASB’s model and see which parts of it we think we might be able to get closer to them on.”

However, he added that re-opening the standards to further changes could pose problems for companies that had become early adopters.

“The problem we’ve got that FASB hasn’t got is that some of our constituents have adopted the existing IFRS 9 early, which they are allowed to do,” said Mackintosh. “If we start making changes, we’re going to have some people that are not very happy, so we have to keep that in mind and we have to work with our constituency. But I think convergence in this area is a very high priority.”

There is a silver lining, however, in the standards boards being stretched so thin nowadays, as it gives users time to take in all the changes and proposed changes in standards. “I’m not anticipating the FASB having significant amounts of capacity for a while,” said Seidman. “So everybody can breathe a sigh of relief out there.”

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