The heads of the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board say eliminating unnecessary disclosures is high on their priority lists as they wind down a handful of core projects to converge U.S. and international rules.
In separate recent updates on the future direction of accounting standards, FASB Chairman Leslie Seidman and IASB Chairman Hans Hoogervorst said they are turning their attention to demands from stakeholders to address disclosure overload. FASB is developing a disclosure framework that would guide the board in future decisions about what disclosures to require, and IASB is monitoring progress by FASB and other groups to determine how it might address disclosure concerns as well.
During a video webcast to update a variety of FASB initiatives, Seidman said the board has heard widespread concern about disclosures overload, “or often people say it's disclosure ineffectiveness.” The board is developing a framework that would steer board decisions on disclosure requirements, but it also would provide guidance directly to companies, she said. “It would provide a guide about how reporting entities could exercise discretion to make the information presented most relevant at any point in time,” she said. The project also will address interim disclosures, she said.
The board expects to publish a discussion paper in mid-2012. With feedback from that exercise, the board will take a look at existing disclosure requirements and consider what can be done, Seidman said. “We think we should get feedback on our proposed framework before we start that effort,” she said.
At a recent conference in Mexico, Hoogervorst said his board also plans to look more closely at what can be done to address concerns about excessive or burdensome disclosure requirements. “Not all disclosures provide useful information to investors,” he said. “Standard boilerplate responses are more about ticking boxes than helping investors understand what is really going on under the hood of the business.”
The board will look at making sure disclosure requirements are appropriate, Hoogervorst said. “Bottom up, each individual disclosure requirement may have made sense when the standard was first introduced,” he said. “However, from a top-down perspective, do the disclosures in totality improve the clarity of financial reporting? Or do they make it more difficult to really see what is going on?”
The boards are currently focused primarily on finalizing standards on revenue recognition, leasing, financial instruments, and insurance. As those wind down, Seidman said FASB also is giving priority attention to calls in the Unites States for differences in accounting standards that would be appropriate to non-public entities, such as private companies or not-for-profit groups. Hoogervorst said before the IASB gets deep into disclosure issues, the board is hoping to be responsive to calls from its constituents for a period of calm in accounting standards following several years of dramatic change.