More than 100 countries have already adopted or base their own accounting standards on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Last August, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved for public comment its long-awaited proposed roadmap for the eventual use of IFRS by U.S. companies.
The proposal foresees that early adoption of IFRS could happen as soon as this year for very large companies. For others, mandatory reporting under IFRS could begin in 2014, 2015 or 2016, depending on the size of the company.
Why think about it now?
With the global financial crisis, business owners may backburner IFRS in favor of more immediate issues. That’s understandable, but it may not be the right approach. If you are contemplating new finance systems or software purchases, for example, the systems you implement today will likely require modifications to ensure that the accounting, tax planning and compliance processes continue to operate effectively and efficiently under IFRS.
While CPAs regularly adjust to evolving accounting rules and standards, my experience with some of the largest companies in Arizona has shown that focusing on longer-term issues such as the implementation of IFRS can have a positive impact on the bottom line. Learning to “speak IFRS” may be challenging, but it will lead to increased transparency and investor confidence, and when that happens, everyone wins.
As a general rule, IFRS standards are broader than those of U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (US GAAP), and there are fewer bright lines and less interpretive guidance. In addition, IFRS has far-reaching effects beyond the accounting differences, and will involve every area of the company, beginning with the way data is gathered and processed to how debt covenants are written to the metrics against which executives and employees are measured. Conversion will take focus, planning, time and resources. Getting comfortable with IFRS now will make the transition easier for the entire company.
Timely training will be one key to a successful transition — and not just for staff. Investors and analysts will need to be educated about the effect IFRS will have on financial statements. Audit committee members will need to become familiar with IFRS to function effectively in their oversight roles and to understand management’s strategies. These activities should not wait until the new reporting standards are actually in use.
The first step in any conversion is a gap analysis, or diagnostic, that compares reporting under US GAAP to reporting under IFRS. In addition to the reporting differences, the diagnostic will identify the main business effects of conversion, any tax ramifications and hurdles to conversion that may occur in the present finance structure, and will discover if the company has the resources to carry out the conversion in-house.
The diagnostic will also provide a timeline on who should be trained, when they should be trained and in what they should be trained. In designing a training program, your primary question should be, “What do we need to do to be ready on time?” As with all decisions, it’s important to be strategic. Educating the accounting and finance organizations is a given, as well as the information technology team. But it’s also important to involve other departments affected by the conversion early on in the process (e.g., investor relations, HR, sales and marketing) to make sure conversion is embedded in your business.
Human resources will need to understand how key performance criteria for incentive compensation may be affected by the conversion. In addition, accounting for stock-based compensation is significantly different under IFRS than under US GAAP. Tax professionals will require training on the conversion methodology, as well as on new IFRS accounting principles, to ensure appropriate tax planning and reporting of the tax provision, balance sheet accounts and tax return information. The legal team will need to examine debt, equity and lease financing arrangements; long-term customer contracts and long-term sourcing agreements, among others. The internal auditor’s enterprise-wide purview positions it well toprovide consistency, oversight and control to all areas throughout the conversion process.
IFRS conversion most likely will be the largest, single change of accounting policies and procedures ever undertaken by U.S. companies. It is also an interesting challenge for businesses and provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to review and synchronize the processes and procedures that touch the entire organization. Ultimately, the business “owns” the conversion, and the more fluently it “speaks IFRS,” the better off it will be.