March 7, 2012 / 4:00 PM / in 6 years

IASB eyes selective reforms after frantic change

* IASB: cutting disclosure overload a key priority

* Work on formal links with national rulesetters to start

By Huw Jones

LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - Tackling company “disclosure overload” will be among cherry-picked projects for accounting standards reform after industry calls to ease the pace of change, a top accounting rule-setter said on Wednesday.

“Now we have most of the world on board, even a small change to a standard can be like dropping a pebble into still water,” International Accounting Standards Board Chairman (IASB) Hans Hoogervorst said in a speech in Mexico.

“Let’s fix what needs fixing, and no more. The most common feedback is a request for a period of stability.”

Over 100 countries have introduced IASB rules for use in listed company reporting over the past decade, during which the board also worked with its U.S. peer to align each others’ standards. The aim was to persuade the world’s biggest economy to adopt IASB rules, too.

But America has delayed its decision, recently prompting Singapore to put back full adoption of IASB rules. Meanwhile, the IASB is finalising work for its next phase.

Andrew Buchanan, a senior official at auditor BDO and a member of the IASB’s advisory council, said work on future rules should only be undertaken where there is a pressing need.

“There should almost be a presumption against change unless there is a clear case,” agreed Nigel Sleigh-Johnson, head of financial reporting at global accounting body ICAEW.

Hoogervorst said future rule changes were likely to include:

** revising the “conceptual framework” that underpins all IASB standards;

** tackling disclosure overload by stopping companies using endless “boilerplate” explanations that can mask what’s really happening;

** what to do with “other comprehensive income” or OCI, a reporting category used to highlight less than certain income but blamed by critics for causing earnings volatility;

** possible new standard on agricultural activities.

Hoogervorst sketched out how such rule reforms would also be handled differently in future in a bid to ease the cost and work burden.

He sketched out a new structure for the IASB to link formally with national accounting standards bodies so they can share the “heavy lifting” early in researching new rules as well as ensuring proper implementation.

This would also help to smooth out the inconsistencies in how approved IASB rules are applied in different countries, a criticism some in the United States have used to argue against adopting the London-based board’s rules.

“An integrated supply chain means that you are better able to guarantee the quality of the product,” Hoogervorst said.

BDO’s Buchanan said such formal links would enable the IASB to use research already being done in places like New Zealand, France, Britain and the EU on cutting disclosures.

A joint New Zealand and Scottish “excess baggage” accounting study last year found that company reports could be cut by a third or more if “immaterial” disclosures that risk hiding key information from investors were scrapped.

“It is possible that national standard setters could also undertake some work on behalf of the IASB to ‘road test’ key proposals during development,” Buchanan said.

Hoogervorst’s “supply chain” plan could help coax the United States on board by ensuring it would have a formal channel to strongly shape rulemaking if it decided to adopt IASB standards.

Monitoring and implementation of rules will also be at the core of the IASB’s next phase, Sleigh-Johnson said.

“I can’t see how the IASB alone can undertake its responsibilities without a huge increase in resources. Having the global standard setter alone would soon get out of touch with reality on the ground,” Sleigh-Johnson said. (Editing by Will Waterman)

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