I sat in on part of a meeting of the Financial Accounting Foundation and heard that many in Europe are taken aback at the swift pace of convergence in the U.S. with international accounting standards, but they are still waiting for us to set a deadline.
"Everybody in Europe is surprised at the pace you have been making," said Gerrit Zalm, former deputy prime minister and finance minister of the Netherlands, and now the chairman of trustees of the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation.
However, he noted that it was still an open question about the date when the U.S. would begin to require companies to move to International Financial Reporting Standards from U.S. generally accepting accounting practices.
Nevertheless, the convergence process has been a long time coming. The Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board have been working since at least 2002 on an agreement. But there have been sticking points, including "carveouts" by European countries that wanted to continue to set some of their own accounting rules. Zalm believes that the European Commission has finally taken the position of getting rid of carveouts and not permitting any new ones.
He said that the SEC had made the right move with insisting on sticking to the IASB version of the IFRS when allowing foreign companies to submit financial statements in IFRS without reconciling them to GAAP. "Some Europeans were not happy with that, but this European was," he said.
Zalm also warned against mergers of the IASB and the FAF, saying they would be viewed with suspicion by some countries, such as China and India, that are also in the process of adopting IFRS. "Anything that looks or smells like a merger will be received very badly," he said.
The main news to come out of the Financial Accounting Foundation meeting was an extensive overhaul of the structure of the FAF as well as its two-standards-setting boards, the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. The FAF will get more input from investors, accountants, businesses and professional organizations. The FAF is also changing the current term of trustees from one three-year term with a possible second three-year term to one five-year term. In addition, the FAF is changing the size of its board of trustees from 16 trustees to a range of 14 to 18 trustees.
The board also voted to reduce the size of FASB from seven members to five, effective July 1. FASB members will now need to possess investment experience, according to a bylaw change. The FAF trustees have changed FASB's agenda-setting process to a "leadership agenda process." The FASB chair now has the authority, after appropriate consultations, to set the FASB project plans, agenda and priority of projects. As for GASB, the GASB chair now also has a similar "leadership agenda process."
The FAF trustees voted to secure a stable and permanent funding source for GASB. But they want to retain the current size, term length and composition of GASB.
As the various standards-setting bodies struggle to reposition themselves for the era of convergence, it seems a safe bet that we'll see more changes to come in the functions and structures of these organizations.
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