Monday, July 20, 2009

Can We Simplify Financial Reporting?

Last Friday, the Global Accounting Alliance (GAA) and the AICPA held the third of three roundtable discussions about simplifying financial statement disclosures. The roundtables were held in New York, London and Beijing and had the goal of determining whether financial reporting can be made simpler and more useful.

One suggestion was to design financial statements with different levels of disclosure so that users would only get what they want. For example, the first level could be general accounting policies, followed by a level around movement within accounts, then changes in estimates and assumptions and finally forward-looking statements.

If you don’t want the full report you could just have Level 1 with collapsible sections, It was suggested that XBRL can help make that possible.

Quotable quotes:

  • It seems (in the U.S.) we’re constantly making changes. If we could step back and look at issues on a longer-term basis, it would help.
  • The profession needs to look not only at the disclosure of information, but how information is presented, because people have their own biases around how to develop financial reports
  • Companies will put additional information on their own Web sites, but not in their financial statements because of legal liability concerns. There are different liability concerns for each approach.
  • Even when companies include more information, it’s not always useful.
  • It’s not just more information, but starting a better communication document. More does not equal better.
  • Add a brief summary at the front of the financial statement to provide an overview of the bigger picture. An additional summary must be concise, candid and insightful.
  • Can we change the equation from being a compliance vs. communication exercise?
  • (Financial reporting) comes with a label. ‘Buyer beware,’...for the SME or small, small companies, it’s not something people will feel uncomfortable with given that they understand what’s in the package.
  • Companies should be allowed to focus on what’s best for them but the fundamental building blocks should be the same.
  • People confuse uniformity with consistency.
  • There may be some incremental differences from day one, but eventually a system will converge.

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