Basic changes to the format of financial reports need to be made to keep them relevant and useful, according to a newly released report.

The report, based on interviews with business leaders around the world by the International Federation of Accountants, found that elemental changes need to be made to stem the increasing complexity that has plagued financial reporting in recent years. The report, Integrating the Business Reporting Supply Chain, recommends the development of a new form of financial reporting that integrates an organization’s social and environmental performance with its economic performance, in a simplified manner.

The report is based on IFAC’s interviews with 25 prominent business leaders, representing preparers, directors, auditors, standard setters, regulators and investors. The authors asked what should be done to effectively improve governance, the financial reporting process, audits, and the usefulness of business reports in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The report provides a summary of interviewees’ recommendations in each area and highlights some of IFAC’s related initiatives.

“Society needs successful commercial organizations that act responsibly, and it is important that the business reporting system not only allows but actively promotes this corporate philosophy,” said IFAC Business Reporting Project Group chairman Charles Tilley in a statement. “There is much debate as to whether or not the current reporting system is fit for this purpose, and this report seeks to drive forward the debate in the crucial areas: governance, financial reporting, financial auditing, and the usefulness of business reports,”

Strong governance lies at the core of high-quality business reporting. Interviewees agreed that good governance starts with tone at the top. The report also recommended that governance codes should be principles-based and stakeholder-driven; collaborative, global effort is required to address systemic risk; and more independence should be required of boards of directors.

Improving financial reporting depends on simplifying reports, so they are easily understood by all stakeholders in the reporting supply chain, according to interviewees. Interviewees also called upon regulators and standard setters to limit the financial reporting burden on smaller and non-listed entities.

In the area of auditing, interviewees agreed that limited audit choice is a challenge that needs to be addressed. They also made recommendations to further improve practice development and auditor communication, and recommended that auditors expand the scope of their assurance services to include non-financial information, such as the social and sustainable performance information included in integrated business reports.

The interviewees acknowledged that achieving integrated business reporting will be very hard to accomplish, and will require all stakeholders in the business reporting supply chain to manage the challenges—including litigation risks and regulations that may inhibit change—in a coordinated way.

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