Global regulators pile pressure on banks over accounting rule

LONDON (Reuters) - A new accounting rule forcing banks to set aside capital much earlier in case loans turn sour could have a significant impact on their financial statements, and they should be preparing for the change now, a global regulatory group said on Thursday.

The new rule, known as IFRS9, is being introduced in more than 100 countries from January 2018, including the European Union, while the United States has its own version.

It will force banks to set aside some capital upfront to cover loans from day one. Under current rules, banks don’t have to make provisions until the loan has effectively defaulted.

During the 2007-09 financial crisis, this meant that undercapitalised lenders had no buffer to fall back on when loans defaulted, forcing taxpayers to bail them out.

New book keeping rules on leases and on when revenues can be recorded are also coming and will affect a wider range of firms, while also involving big changes to IT systems.

The impact of the standards on financial statements should not be underestimated, said IOSCO, a global body of market regulators from the world’s main financial centers.

“Now would be the appropriate time for issuers and their audit committees to focus on the possible impact of the new standards on an issuer’s financial reporting.”

Firms must show investors the likely impact of the new standards before they come into force, IOSCO said.

Sam Woods, Britain’s top banking regulator, told UK lawmakers on Wednesday that he had written to big banks to express “some concern about the degree of heterogeneity with which they are approaching IFRS9 implementation, which I worry could create comparability issues for us and for investors”.

The EU’s banking watchdog said last month that lenders in the bloc were not fully prepared for a rule that will force them to increase provisioning by nearly a third.

The Basel Committee of global banking regulators has proposed giving banks time to find the extra capital after 2018, but they still have to implement the rule itself.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Mark Potter