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IFRS: Can you handle the risk?

Global If you didn't catch Bruce Pounder's recent column on CFO.com, drop what you're doing and give it a read now.

In it, Pounder takes a different tack in the IFRS argument -- one that focuses on risk analysis rather than pros and cons.

"Usually," writes Pounder, immediate past chair of the Small Business Financial and Regulatory Affairs Committee of the Institute of Management Accountants, "risk analysis is conducted to identify outcomes that are highly probable because companies should prepare for such outcomes. But risk analysis can also be done to identify outcomes that are highly improbable so that companies do not waste time and effort preparing for them."

In this case, Pounder focuses on the generally accepted worst-case IFRS scenario -- that the SEC would force U.S. public companies to switch from GAAP to IFRs "without substantial standard-level convergence having been attained between the two sets of rules."

That scenario presents very little risk to U.S. companies. And why? Because it won't happen. Writes Pounder:

"First, the SEC has clearly communicated that the less standard-level convergence between U.S. GAAP and IFRS is attained, the less the SEC will be inclined to even consider a switch from one to the other.

"Second, the SEC is simply not stupid enough to saddle U.S. companies with avoidable costs while we remain in the shadow of the global financial crisis. The SEC and its staff have their strengths and weaknesses, but in my experience, their weaknesses do not include a lack of intelligence. The political fallout for the SEC would be devastating at a time they can ill afford more negative attention.

"Third, and most significantly, for the SEC to order a switch from future U.S. GAAP to future IFRS despite substantial differences between those sets of standards, the SEC would have to conclude that FASB and its standard-setting predecessors completely failed to get U.S. GAAP 'right.' That would be despite nearly eight decades of trying and in light of the commission's staunch support during that time."

According to Pounder, U.S. companies are better off focusing on the "profound changes to U.S. GAAP" that convergence efforts have already started to produce.

Pounder is not the only person chiming in on IFRS these days. Sir David Tweedie, chair of the International Accounting Standards Board, has some rather blunt views on the subject. To wit:

  • If it does not adopt international accounting standards, Tweedie says the United States will lose its influence on the world accounting stage.
  • Tweedie is "not terribly sympathetic" to those who complain of too many new accounting standards being rolled out in advance of the June 2011 convergence deadline. "It’s not as thought these have sprung out of nowhere," he told Accountancy Age.

Don't hold back, Sir David. Tell us what you really think.

Of course, lots of questions about GAAP and IFRS have arisen now that Robert Herz has stepped down as chair of the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

It seems there are a lot of IFRS risks to analyze these days.

Want to learn more?
Don't miss the International Business Forum, slated for Oct. 4 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the MACPA, the Virginia Society of CPAs and the Greater Washington of CPAs, this one-of-a-kind event will focus on the issues that impact your international business interests or your plans to expand beyond our borders, including Standard Business Reporting (SBR), eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), how to begin working internationally and, of course, IFRS. Get complete details and register here.


Bill Sheridan