This week I read an article, Convergence Flaws, by David Reilly on the problems or "flaws" with the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). It is David's perspective that achieving a functional adoption of IFRS is not a realistic goal for the U.S. or the global community.
On the surface, a single, binding international accounting standard is a provocative and lofty goal. It would allow accountants, companies, and investors world wide to speak a common accounting language where the rules of reporting structure were known and followed by everyone. It would easily allow comparability between companies the world over. And it would make the accounting for multinational companies much simpler by eradicating the question of which nation's accounting principles to use during the reporting process. However, in his commentary against the practicality of the U.S. adopting IFRS, David brings up a number of valid points that, as a fledgling member of the accounting community, I had not considered.
It seems, as with many of the global issues that all nations now face, cultural context is an important factor of the reporting standards that different nations now use. Unbeknownst to me, not all countries view the purpose of markets in the same light. In some European countries, it is believed that the point of markets is to help companies, which is often another way to further national policy while the Anglo-American view believes the purpose is investors. With these different consumers in mind, David asks us, how does one create a singular reporting system that caters to both?
Another reason that he believes IFRS may be more pipe dream than reality is who is going to police or watchdog companies and ensure they are meeting the IFRS's standards? Auditors, whose internal and legal structure hampers such behavior? The countries themselves? There is no system set up to ensure that all participants of the IFRS are actually doing the things they are supposed to with equal quality across all nations.
In academia, where the concept of international standards was first introduced to me, the adoption of IFRS appears like an obvious choice. It's a fairly elementary decision. All of us doing different things and generally making accountants lives more difficult or everyone doing the same thing and easing the lives of corporate accountants everywhere? In reality, however, the adoption of IFRS is a more complicated implementation that I originally considered it.
While David brings up very good points, ones that the international accounting community will have to address if IFRS is to work, I still feel that a singular accounting system shouldn't be a pipe dream. We should be able to come together, the change the global rules and find common accounting ground. We should be able to find ways to regulate, adapt and police global accounting practices. And after reading David's article, I also believe we may be a long way from that eventual dream come true.
Reilly, D. (2011). Convergence Flaws. Accounting Horizons, 25(4), 873-977.