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'Tragic consequences' if IFRS fails

Monday 13 December 2010 - by Andrew Hickley

International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation trustee Harvey Goldschmid has claimed that the goal of implementing a single set of high quality global accounting standards hinges on the US Securities and Exchange Commission adopting IFRS standards in 2011.

At a keynote speech at the Financial Executives International conference in New York, the 70-year-old former SEC commissioner admitted that this agreement is necessary to see a worldwide code to be realised "in the lifetimes of most of us in this room".

Goldschmid, who in 2006 was referred to as the most influential commissioner never to chair the SEC, believes that the SEC must adopt the standards next year to be able to fully implement them by 2016.

While foreign issuers in the US are allowed to comply with IFRS, gaps remain between the standard and the US's generally accepted accounting principles.

Goldschmid claimed that adoption must happen in order for firms to have ample time for "planning, education, training and retooling" of the system, stating that a study has found that 94 per cent of 900 firms feel they can effectively implement the IFRS standards by 2016 if agreed next year.

He warned that failure to apply the standards by this time could have two different "tragic consequences" towards the alliance of nations that already have them in place.

"First, the coalition of nations supporting IFRS could break apart. Rather than two sets of accounting standards, we could go back to pre-2000 fragmentation," he said. "The cost, in terms of lack of transparency and comparability, higher accounting expenses, etc., would be extremely large.

"The second basic scenario is even worse from a US perspective. The coalition in support of IFRS could hold and the US would become isolated. The US would no longer play the large and constructive role it now plays in IFRS development and oversight.

"I believe that without active US participation the overall quality of the international accounting standards would deteriorate."

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2011-01-08 20:28:51 | Dr. Khamis Bilbeisi
Yes, we need a period of transition to IFRS via convergence (i.e. replace US GAAP with IFRS based standards). Immediate change to will be more confusing, and might affect financial reporting in a negative way, which we cannot affored at this economy.
2010-12-15 19:06:46 | Anonymous
Wouldn't a transition to IFRS via convergence (i.e. replace US GAAP with IFRS based standards) instead of adoption (i.e. toss out US GAAP and adopt IFRS as issued by IASB) relieve some of the issues you raise? If US GAAP and IFRS were the same regulators, investors and corporations would all benefit, no?
2010-12-14 20:05:01 | Paul B. W. Miller
With all due respect, Mr. Goldschmidt is mistaken on several counts, even severely so. The most important is his assumption that the current set of IFRS represents high quality accounting standards. It does not (and neither does GAAP). The second mistake is his presumption that the IASB is adequately equipped to develop high quality accounting standards. It is not (and neither is FASB, but the latter is better positioned than the former to produce the reforms that are sorely needed to produce truly useful financial statements). The third is his threat that the U.S. would be isolated in the capital markets for failing to adopt a minimally different but not demonstrably better set of standards. It will not be (in fact, IASB will be the one that is isolated without its current support from the U.S.). The fourth is that the SEC is in the position to snap its fingers and adopt IFRS. It is not because its authority to set standards is created by the Securities Acts (33 and 34) and its ability to delegate that authority to an external agency is spelled out in Sarbanes. That Sarbanes provision requires the SEC to exercise oversight over the designated standard setting agency and fund its budget through fees levied against SEC registrants in proportion to their market capitalization. This leaves two possibilities: either the IASB agrees to accept the funding and submit to the SEC’s oversight, which is totally infeasible, or the Congress agrees to give up the SEC’s control (and protection) over the standard setting process and turn it over to an international body that is beyond its oversight and protection as well as immersed in a political milieu characterized by interests that are often inimical to the U.S. This latter change is even more infeasible because it would have to be justified as being better for U.S. investors and capital markets.

I will leave it to others to explain why Mr. Goldschmid, as a former Commissioner, and as a key participant in standard setting, would seemingly be oblivious to these insurmountable obstacles. I am also mystified as to how he can read the information being released by the SEC on this topic and not conclude that adoption is out of the question in the near or intermediate future.

There is more to be said, but I’ve said enough, I’m sure.
2010-12-14 16:53:31 | Anonymous
As a CPA, Controller and masters program student, I'm continually being educated on the subject of IFRS. After taking a semester on IFRS at SDSU by a European professor who was touting IFRS as the thing that was going to save us all from future financial meltdowns etc. I began to understand that its really just a political power game. There's no real comparability when IFRS allows for even more management judgement than GAAP. GAAP started as a principles based set of standards, however, the greed of man historically necessitated the buildup of rules and current gold standard GAAP we have. We need competition even with accounting standards. One monopoly of standards does not sound like a good idea for continual improvement and keeping people 'on their toes'. Currently IFRS is allowing different nations to carve out their own special brand of IFRS to suit its needs. How does this give us comparability? The list why we should move to convergence instead of adoption could go on and on. It behoves all CPA's and professionals that have a stake in this to educate themselves on the subject and not just regurgitate the talking points the proponents continually try to shove down our throats. Many have much to gain from adoption, particularily the Big Four who are frothing at the mouth for the next full employment SOX404 act. We may in the end be doing untold damage by a switch to IFRS. For me, the extra rules for PP&E seem overboard. However, revenue recognition is more lack under IFRS. Hmmm. Sounds a bit backwards in terms of financial statement risk. Again, there is little comparability to be gained and we will give up soverign powers by a switch to IFRS as an international body, the IASB, will now promogulate our accounting standards. Let's keep it Red White and Blue people!
2010-12-14 16:49:27 | Anonymous
As the leader of the free world, the USA is already isolated so that threat rings empty. The threat of fragmentation costs are a consequence of promoting a class of global citizens to become global deciders of economic value.

Prepare for both because mark to market accounting, a cornerstone of IFRS, is bad for free enterprise capitalism enjoyed in the USA.