Financial Accounting Standards Board chairman Leslie Seidman and International Accounting Standards Board chairman Hans Hoogervorst appeared side by side at an AICPA conference Tuesday in a joint appearance to discuss what went awry in U.S. support for International Financial Reporting Standards.
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The Securities and Exchange Commission has yet to make a decision on whether to allow U.S.-based companies to file their financial reports in accordance with IFRS, even though the FASB and the IASB are nearing the end of their 10-year convergence efforts to harmonize U.S. GAAP with IFRS.
Seidman countered that U.S. preparers require detailed guidance on applying the standards, while the principles-based standards of IFRS are often open to interpretation.
“As the ‘boots on the ground in the United States,’ we are in a unique position to understand the needs of U.S. stakeholders, and sometimes those needs are not shared by others,” she said.
“The bottom line is that our stakeholders will demand clarity from somebody,” she added. “It’s in everyone’s best interests to have that interpretive process conducted in a transparent way, rather than individually through audit or enforcement. That doesn’t mean we want to take the judgment out of accounting. But we should try to take the judgment out of what the principle means, especially when we are introducing a new concept, such as business model or expected loss.”
Seidman noted that U.S. stakeholders frequently need support in interpreting standards, even after they have been issued. “When a question arises about the intent of a standard or the application of a standard, the FASB or the EITF [Emerging Issues Task Force] is expected to address it in a timely manner,” she said.
“I am not apologizing for our demanding culture, nor do I expect other countries to accept or aspire to these aspects of our culture,” she said. “Clearly, sometimes we have gone too far in providing guidance, and sometimes, not far enough. I am simply trying to explain, from my own experience, why we emphasize certain points and what might be the ongoing issues for the United States relating to the IFRS [standards] themselves."
Hoogervorst noted that when the IASB and FASB signed the Norwalk Agreement in 2002, establishing the convergence process, IFRS was considered by many to be a bilateral project between Europe and the U.S. “Today, the standard-setting environment looks different,” he said. “Many emerging economies driving global growth are supporting IFRS. Understandably, they want a seat at the table of accounting standard-setting. We are seeing the emergence of regional accounting standard-setting forums in Asia and Latin America to complement that of Europe.”
He noted that as the convergence projects come to an end, the IASB is looking at new, multilateral ways to engage with such groups. Last month, the IASB published proposals for a new mechanism known as the Accounting Standards Forum to allow the global standard-setting community to be more deeply engaged in standard-setting processes. “We would like—and expect—the FASB to become a fully engaged partner in this new global forum,” he added. “We will continue to need the greatly appreciated expertise of our American colleagues. “
Hoogervorst noted that the G20 has called time and again for global accounting standards. “The United States has had a proud role in this pursuit of a single set of global standards,” he acknowledged. “In 1973, the United States played a crucial role in creating the IASB’s predecessor. When the organization was restructured to become the IASB, the SEC made sure that the IASB looked very much like the FASB. The first chairman of the trustees was Paul Volcker. A quarter of my board and a third of our trustees are North Americans."
He noted that the IASB and its parent organization, the IFRS Foundation, recently appointed some prominent Americans to their organization. Mary Tokar from KPMG, and formerly from the SEC, will join the IASB in January, while Heidi Miller, a JP Morgan executive, will become an IFRS Foundation trustee. “Apart from this direct participation, the United States has had enormous influence on our standard setting through the decade of convergence between the FASB and the IASB,” he noted. “As a result, our own analysis shows that the U.S. is very well prepared for a successful transition to IFRS.”
Hoogervorst noted that in his speech to the same AICPA conference last year, he recognized that it would not be an easy task for the SEC to make up its mind about adoption of IFRS. “I was not so naïve to expect wholesale adoption of IFRS for all companies from day one,” he said. “But there was a reasonable expectation around the world that the SEC would plot a course towards IFRS. Yet, as you know, the SEC’s intention to make a decision, originally planned for 2011, was postponed again in 2012. Self-imposed deadlines frequently slip, as we standard-setters know all too well. I also recognize that the enormous pressures of Dodd-Frank and the elections were not a perfect background for the SEC to make up its mind."
Hoogervorst observed that five years ago, a standstill in the United States would have had very serious consequences for the IASB. “The risk was that without the U.S. on board, Europe would go its own way and Asia would develop its own regional standards,” he said. “Today, such talk has gone. For the many countries I referred to, the cost of transition to IFRS is behind them. There is no appetite to undo this work and revert to national or regional standards. IFRS already has a global impact and that will not change. So there is no longer any risk of IFRS disintegrating as a result of a standstill in the United States.”