The task of making financial reporting simpler and more useful isnt so simple as one might hope, according to several influential accounting officials who met to discuss the problem.
The Global Accounting Alliance, a group of accountancy bodies from various countries, held a meeting Friday at the New York offices of the American Institute of CPAs to talk about the issue of complexity in financial reporting. While there was widespread agreement about the need to make financial statements less complex and more understandable to investors, participants in the roundtable noted that many investors and analysts also want to have access to all the details, and they dont like it when any information that they are used to seeing on financial statements is missing.
Financial Accounting Standards Board Chairman Robert Herz noted, There has been a pushback on anything being deregulatory or giving companies more latitude. He noted that the SECs Advisory Committee on Financial Reporting made a distinction between avoidable and unavoidable complexity. Theres lot of avoidable complexity weve built into accounting, he said.
However, he worried that if too many of the rules are eliminated, then the guidebooks from the Big Four firms will become the default source of information. Then if the guidance diverges among the various major firms, it will once again be up to the standards-setters to resolve the matter.
Wayne Carnall, chief accountant of the SECs Division of Corporate Finance, declined to predict when or if the SEC would adopt International Financial Reporting Standards and its principles-based framework, which relies more heavily on professional judgment. However, he noted that the SEC has been studying the 240 comment letters it received. He said that the SEC was surprised that it didnt receive more comments, even after extending the deadline, considering how many public companies are out there.
Arleen Thomas, senior vice president of member competency and development at the AICPA, said that she had heard from several accountants that they preferred to have the complex rules in GAAP. I dont need to fight with my CEO if I have the rules, one practitioner told her.
However, Paul Cherry, chairman of the Canadian Accounting Standards Board, said that he has heard the opposite. From my discussions with preparers, they are quite comfortable with using judgment, he said.
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