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The Future of IFRS

The ICAEW Financial Reporting Faculty’s latest thought leadership report has attracted international attention, as stakeholders around the world ponder where the project to create a global set of accounting standards goes from here.

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A universal ‘financial language’ offers many well-documented advantages. Cross-border businesses benefit from reduced preparation costs, and cross-border trading in securities increases as international investors can more readily compare the performance of companies based in different countries. In turn, it is argued that this results in increased market efficiency and a reduction in the cost of raising capital for companies, which ultimately helps to boost growth.

The rapid spread of IFRS around the globe in the past decade means that those benefits are no longer theoretical as a growing body of research shows they are increasingly evident in practice. Today well over 100 countries – including more than two-thirds of the G20 – require or allow their listed companies to prepare annual financial statements based on  IFRS. But momentum has slowed as major projects have stalled and the US and other significant economies have become hesitant as they consider whether or not to commit to IFRS. Against this backdrop, a range of important questions are now being asked about where the IFRS project goes from here.

At this important juncture ICAEW’s Financial Reporting Faculty has published a seminal report entitled 'The Future of IFRS' that takes stock of the progress made towards developing a global financial language, identifies barriers and challenges that must be overcome if the use of the standards is to continue to spread, and provides recommendations for moving forward.

Key recommendations from the report

The report sets out a number of key recommendations, including:

  • Improve G20 leadership – standard-setters create the standards, but adoption is determined by governments. The G20 should end its calls for convergence and play a more active role in promoting adoption of IFRS. As a minimum, all listed companies should be given the option of reporting under IFRS.
  • Get regulators behind IFRS – the IASB needs more active and consistent support from regulators, including through the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO). Regulators worldwide should collaborate to deliver consistent enforcement, while ensuring that the exercise of professional judgement is not stifled.
  • End convergence – the 10 years of work to align IFRS with US accounting standards has brought the two sets of standards much closer together. But it’s time for the IASB to listen more closely to its other global stakeholders.
  • Accept less than 100% uniformity – the goal of the IFRS project should be to ensuring that financial reporting facilitates international investment and trade by meeting the evolving needs of international investors and businesses, rather than achieving complete uniformity across the globe.
  • Minimise complexity – the IASB must remain committed to principles-based standards and simplify its standards wherever possible. The complexity of some IFRS requirements may discourage some countries from fully embracing the standards.
  • Innovate the IASB institution – the IASB must become a truly global organisation. It must decentralise its responsibilities, experimenting with ways of demonstrating that it is a global body that belongs to and is responsive to its national stakeholders, without embedding inefficiencies or layers of due process that in time might paralyse effective decision-making.

Some conclusions

We stand at an important crossroads. Success is not guaranteed. But if the IASB evolves into the type of organisation we envisage, listening and learning as much as leading, and backed by the G20 governments and the right sort of regulation, we may well in due course look back on the IASB’s second and third decades and conclude that they were was just as successful – if not more so – than its first.

Information For Better Markets

Find out more about ICAEW’s Thought Leadership Programme in financial reporting "Information for Better Markets"