IFRS Risk: Not What You Think

The switch from U.S. generally accepted accounting principles to international accounting standards is a hot topic. But CFOs of U.S. companies are wasting time and money managing imaginary risks while completely ignoring real ones.

Real Risks

Just because your company won’t be forced to switch standards doesn’t mean you’re immune from the impact of IFRS and convergence. In fact, the real risks are far more numerous and more significant for U.S. CFOs than the imaginary risks that I’ve debunked. They include:
• Both U.S. GAAP and IFRS will undergo profound change as the FASB and IASB replace existing standards with common standards that bear little resemblance to current rules. Private companies that stick with U.S. GAAP, as well as public companies that are stuck with U.S. GAAP, are in for a wild ride. (If it’s any consolation, so are companies that continue to use IFRS.)
• A recently formed “blue-ribbon” panel is currently examining whether it would be appropriate to decouple the standard-setting process for private U.S. companies from the standard-setting process for public U.S. companies [see "Should the U.S. Forget about Private-Company GAAP?"]. The likely result of the panel’s efforts is that private U.S. companies will have even more and better choices of financial reporting standards beyond just future U.S. GAAP and future IFRS. A private company that fails to take advantage of new alternatives may find itself at a disadvantage to competitors that embrace them.
• With few exceptions, college accounting programs and our continuing education system for working professionals are woefully unprepared to maintain a workforce competent in U.S. GAAP given the expected pace and degree of change.
• U.S. companies subject to multiple national statutory financial reporting obligations are likely to have to adopt IFRS in addition to — not instead of — U.S. GAAP. This is a much different challenge than switching from one set of standards to the other, especially given that both U.S. GAAP and IFRS will change rapidly and profoundly in the years to come.

Bottom Line

The risk-management implications for U.S. CFOs are clear:
• Stop preparing for a switch from current U.S. GAAP to current IFRS.
• Start preparing for the roller-coaster ride that sticking with U.S. GAAP will become.
• If you work for a public company, stop worrying about when then switch from future U.S. GAAP to future IFRS will take place. If it takes place, it won’t happen anytime soon and won’t be nearly as big a deal as if the switch were to take place tomorrow.
• If you work for a private company, be on the lookout for additional options in financial reporting standards as they emerge.
• If your company is subject to statutory financial reporting obligations in multiple countries, get ready to start keeping a set of IFRS books in addition to keeping U.S. GAAP books.

Contributor Bruce Pounder is president of Leveraged Logic and chairs the Small Business Financial and Regulatory Affairs Committee of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). His latest book, Convergence Guidebook for Corporate Financial Reporting, is published by Wiley.

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