Accounting firm leaders, standard-setters and industry accountants called for more certainty in the roadmap to International Financial Reporting Standards.

With the comment deadline having now passed for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed roadmap for transitioning to IFRS from U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, accountants and standard-setters are waiting to find out whether the SEC’s new chair, Mary Schapiro, will be willing to adopt the plan pushed by her predecessor, Christopher Cox.

“I don’t think there is a groundswell coming from Main Street,” said Grant Thornton CEO Ed Nusbaum (pictured) at a forum last Thursday sponsored by Pace University’s Lubin School of Business. Foreign investors and multinational companies would like to see both U.S. and international companies using the same set of accounting standards, but he acknowledged that Schapiro “has a lot on her plate” right now dealing with calls for increased regulation of financial firms.

“The Full Employment Act for Accountants would be to have 60 different sets of standards,” said PricewaterhouseCoopers global CEO Samuel DiPiazza Jr. He took issue with the notion that accounting standards, such as those for fair value measurement, should be adjusted to make it easier for banks to show more positive results. “I don’t think our job is stability, I think it’s transparency,” he said. “Job No. 1 is to create transparency for the investor.”

Meanwhile anticipation for IFRS seems to be flagging in the U.S. “A year ago we felt like we had a lot of momentum,” said Patrick Edgar, an audit and SEC reviewing partner with KPMG. Some of his clients were ready to ramp up their transition efforts back then, but now that there is more uncertainty about the roadmap, they have pulled back and are not investing money in converting to IFRS so quickly.

“They want certainty,” said D.J. Gannon, national leadership partner at Deloitte & Touche’s IFRS Center of Excellence. “Five to seven years is sufficient time for most people to get through what they have to get through.” However, he is seeing more political interference occurring in the process.

Danita Ostling, a partner and Americas IFRS leader at Ernst & Young, sees a heavy cost to the U.S. if it doesn’t convert to IFRS. “You have to look at what the economic cost is to us as a country, if we are the outlier,” she said. “Where is U.S. GAAP going to fit? I don’t see it being economically sustainable.”

The U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board have been working on a variety of convergence issues in recent years and they hope to have most of the remaining major issues, such as revenue recognition and leasing, settled by 2011, when the proposed roadmap faces a critical juncture and the SEC will vote on whether or not to adopt IFRS. But Ostling pointed out that all of the converged standards so far have included key differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS.

Talia Griep, vice president and corporate controller at Honeywell, said the technology company was taking a “wait-and-see approach” but was unable to move to IFRS until issues like revenue recognition were settled. At IBM, director of IFRS policy and implementation Aaron Anderson said the computer maker has seen few differences so far between U.S. GAAP and IFRS in its accounting. “Let’s rip the Band-Aid off and get it done,” he said.

Joyce Joseph-Bell, senior director of Standard & Poor’s Credit Market Services, noted that S&P has been using both GAAP and IFRS to rate companies in the U.S. and abroad, but has not changed the ratings for any companies as a result of them converting to IFRS. She noted that S&P did find more transparency in their IFRS statements, though, allowing it to ask better questions. The ratings agency was able to detect more “grossing up of assets” in the banking industry and saw distinctions in the accounting for goodwill between the two systems.

Tom Jones, vice chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board, emphasized the IASB’s resistance to writing as many rules as those under U.S. GAAP. “When you write rules, smart people can get around them,” he noted.

U.S. GAAP is often compared to IFRS in terms of the number of pages used by the two sets of standards. The more principles-based IFRS runs roughly 2,500 pages, whereas rules-based U.S. GAAP takes up about 25,000 pages, at least until recently. FASB Chairman Robert Herz pointed out that FASB’s new U.S. GAAP Codification reduces the number of pages to 17,000, mainly by eliminating redundant cross-references. However, he believes that there are still hurdles before the SEC will adopt IFRS.

“What needs to happen is the SEC needs to do a very thorough study of the impact on our economy,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of IFRS, but I’m not sure the public policy argument has been made.” In the meantime, he is trying to finish up various convergence projects and get all the “nooks and crannies” filled with the IASB. “Without that, you can’t convince policymakers to make the switch,” he said.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access