In a classic episode of The Bob Newhart Show, Bob and his wife Emily have mapped out a three-month cruise around the globe when Bob begins to have second thoughts: "I'm not saying we're going," he mutters to his now-seething bride. "But then again, I'm not saying we're not going."
In the opinion of some, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently performed a fair impression of Bob Newhart via its tepid re-assurance to the U.S. and international community that it was still sort of on course with International Financial Reporting Standards.
Back in February, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and the regulator's commissioners hammered out a statement affirming their support for a single set of high-quality globally accepted accounting standards, as well as kind of agreeing to incorporate IFRS into the U.S. financial reporting system.
But the SEC's embrace of IFRS appears somewhat chillier than it was back in 2008, when then-Chairman Christopher Cox proposed an aggressive strategy for transitioning from U.S. GAAP to IFRS by 2014. However, Cox's exit from the commission and the installment of a new chair derailed, or at least braked somewhat, that ambitious timeline until February's announcement.
The SEC's most recent plan generally follows its previous roadmap, in that it delays a decision on whether or not to adopt IFRS until 2011. That ruling is also contingent on whether a series of milestones have been met, including convergence between U.S. GAAP and IFRS, improved governance of the International Accounting Standards Board, and IFRS education and training for filers.
Questions also remain about the costs of conversion, an issue that, along with the above-mentioned, will be examined by SEC Chief Accountant Jim Kroeker and prepared in a detailed report.
If and when the commission gives a thumbs-up to proceed, filers would be granted up to five years to prepare for the transition, which would push the date back to 2016.
The reaction domestically to the SEC's announcement was generally positive, but the sentiment for IFRS obviously depends on the size of the firm and the type of clients they service.
Currently, about 120 countries have adopted or agreed to adopt IFRS, and U.S. firms have, in general, accepted a "not if but when" philosophy regarding IFRS. But international patience appears to be growing somewhat thin regarding the U.S. appetite for IFRS. Recently the head of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales Financial Reporting Faculty said that many may view the SEC's work plan as one that "fails" to provide re-assurance that the march toward adoption is on a deliberate track.
But as many in the profession have pointed out, there are other considerations regarding IFRS adoption than a basic timeline. One is that while many have accepted the inevitability of IFRS, a number of firms are not particularly accelerating their IFRS training. As one member of a Big Four firm asked rhetorically, why should a firm shoulder the cost of training thousands of people before they have to?
There's also the elephant in the room about the fate of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, should the U.S. adopt IFRS.
"I'm not saying we're converting, but then again, I'm not saying we're not converting."
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