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The Pros and Cons of Adopting IFRS by Lei Shi

IFRS has been adopted by more than 12,000 companies in over 100 nations and is becoming the global standard for the preparation of financial statements of public companies throughout the world.

Market Press Release – October 9, 2010 6:46 am
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International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) is a set of accounting standards developed by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). IFRS has been adopted by more than 12,000 companies in over 100 nations and is becoming the global standard for the preparation of financial statements of public companies throughout the world. However, in the U.S., GAAP (General Accepted Accounting Principles) is applied. Recently, the G20 leaders have called for significant progress towards moving to one set of high-quality global accounting standards. President Obama also called for one set of standards and substantial progress to be made in 2009. Now SEC is working on an updated “roadmap” that will layout a schedule and major milestones for moving U.S. towards its adoption by all U.S. public companies. There are advantages and disadvantages of converting to IFRS, and various arguments have made for and against its adoption.

A single set of accounting standards will provide comparability, and enable companies from different parts of the world to apply the same standards. It increases transparency, allowing easier cross-border investment with greater liquidity and low cost of capital. It will also cut down the time and costs of preparing financial statements according to different standards and regulations, achieving enormous savings of capital in the longer term. The transition cost is estimated to be 8 billion dollars for the entire U.S. economy, with average one-time cost of $3.24 million dollars for multinational corporations. Since the financial reports were reduced from three to one, they will save money in the long run. The adoption of IFRS and use of uniform accounting standards will also eliminate the possible different accounting results from applying different standards and help investors to pursue various strategies including global investment diversification.

Many companies may soon be required to report in multiple accounting standards if the US does not either accept or move toward IFRS. Maintaining multiple standards reporting only increases accounting and auditing costs and provides no value to any country. Over 100 countries have adopted or in the process of adopting IFRS. Delays in adopting IFRS by the US will make multi-national companies to report their primary reports in IFRS, resulting in parallel reports in US GAAP. This will create more auditing fees and possible errors. The US should move towards the IFRS standards as a matter of urgency. As more and more countries adopt IFRS, it is in the U.S. interests to apply the same accounting standards. Most of the U.S. companies will benefit from one set of accounting standards since are multinational companies and they operating globally. IFRS will make it easier to control and monitor their subsidiaries in foreign countries and achieve cost savings from maintaining several accounting standards. It can also help to eliminate potential financial misunderstandings and simplify investment decisions.

With its strong moral standard, intolerance for unethical behavior, the US has been a world leader for centuries. Its financial and accounting standards have been used by other countries as a yardstick to measure their economic and financial success until recently. We need to be a leader and the driving force in establishing and adopting international standards. It is the time for us to get involved and play an important role in shaping the international standards. Otherwise, it will hurt us in the long run.

Competition works and is a good thing because it will ensure better quality with lower price. Competition between different sets of standards will offer the advantage of getting better information. There is really no one size fits all standards. The uniform single accounting standard can stifle innovation, ingenuity, competition, creativity and capitalism entrepreneurship. The differences between GAAP and other countries’ standards can be very useful and provide insight into the reasons and values they conduct financial reporting in a particular way. By focusing on our differences, we will benefit from increased productivity, higher quality, technological innovation, thus better meet the demands of the marketplace. Switching to IFSB will give IASB monopoly status, with the potential to compromise the quality of the IASB standards.

A recent survey shows that to convert to IFRS, U.S. companies have to pay more than their European counterparts. The added benefits of comparability versus cost to implement IFRS will not justify the adoption. According to the SEC, it will cost .12% of revenues to implement the standards nationwide, which means the cost can be as high as several billion dollars. The cost to achieve the additional comparability is not worth several billion dollars. It will drain on our slowly recovering economy. From a cost benefit perspective, convergence is obviously superior to adoption.

Transition to IFRS itself can present be a lot of challenges. The economy of the U.S. is the largest in the world and nobody knows exactly the scope and magnitude of applying IFRS to such a large economy. IFRS has not been tested in any country like the U.S. On the other hand, U.S. GAAP has been evolving with various changes in the U.S. and stands the test of time, especially the frauds such as Enron and Tyco International. Enforcement can also create some problems. While the U.S. has effective enforcement, it is very challenging to implement stringent enforcement among those member countries due to the differences in economic and political system among the adopting nations and their financial reporting practices.

In summary, adopting IFRS will provide comparability, increased audit efficiency, reduced information misunderstanding and cost savings as more and more economic activities become globalized. The flip side is it will eliminate competition and incentives to innovate. The quality will suffer since compromises have to be made to achieve consensus due to various political pressures and economic interest. However many support for a move to a single set global accounting standards and it is believed that the U.S. will ultimately IFRS or have IFRS and U.S. GAAP coexist.

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