Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Securities and Exchange Commission to protect the country's investors. The SEC went on to create the Financial Accounting Standards Board to give investors standardized financial reports.And now FASB has taken the next step toward investor protection by establishing an Investor Task Force.
The task force is an advisory group that will provide the board with sector-specific insight and expertise from some of the nation's largest institutional investors. At press time, the six financial concerns on board were The Capital Group Cos., Fidelity Investments, Mellon Financial Corp., Putnam Investments, T. Rowe Price and Wellington Management.
These half-dozen ITF members weigh in with more than $3 trillion in assets under management - and a lot of expertise.
Stephen Byers, vice chairman and chief investment officer at The Dreyfus Corp. - a subsidiary of Mellon Financial - saw the task force as much more than a gesture to the investor community. "FASB is doing a great job of reaching out to the professional investor community with the objective of more deeply involving the interests of public and private investors in their mission of establishing effective standards and dealing proactively with current critical topics that are before FASB."
FASB member Don Young, who came to the board with far more experience as a financial analyst than as a practicing accountant, said that the new task force has a solid foundation in the board's Concepts Statement 1, which establishes the board's objective of serving the users of financial information.
"We're often accused of not really knowing what users want, so we're acknowledging that we need to do more," Young said. "The Investor Task Force is the first of a couple of things."
Young declined to report what might come next.
Two-and-a-half years ago, the board established a Users Advisory Group, which has been advising the board on the needs of those who use financial reports. The new task force, which will report to the board, not the UAG, will serve as a source of industry-specific information. While the role of the UAG is to go to the board and report on what users want from financial reports, the role of the ITF is to help the board when it inquires about specific issues.
Young said that the task force is designed to handle "unstructured, ad hoc issues that come before the board." He offered the board's project on fair value measurement as an example. The board might go to members of the task force to ask something very specific, such as the most useful accounting for discounted block transfers of securities, asking whether the discount on the large volume of shares should be reflected in their fair market value.
When faced with a difficult issue or question, the board will typically contact a representative at each task force firm - in most cases, a director of research - who will then connect them with a senior analyst or portfolio manager with expertise in the relevant industry.
"We'll reach out to them," Young said. "I don't envision having [these analysts] sign up to be on ongoing projects. I see it more as taking care of special-purpose needs as they come up. A project manager or the board will make a decision to go get some investor input, and we'll translate [the issue] from what I'd call our 'Certified Public Accountant language' to a 'Certified Financial Analyst dialect,' then send out an e-mail to member contacts who will then designate a senior portfolio manager or analyst to provide FASB with input."
Young expected the board to assign one of its members as a liaison to the ITF, but none are appointed yet. In the future, board members may attend meetings of top analysts at task force member organizations.
"I think that, at the end of the day, all of us board members should have close relationships with some of the largest money managers," Young said. "I think that's where we need to go. But that's for later. We're still working on getting the ITF working."
Young said that the task force will be up and running very soon. He expected it to be helping the board on average once a month, perhaps more often on certain projects. A dozen task force contacts in a year, he guessed, would likely be dealing with 10 different projects.
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