Thursday, March 31, 2011

SEC Proposes Requiring Listing Standards For Comp Committees, Comp Consultants

The composition of comp committees and matters relating to comp consultants are addressed in proposed rulemaking approved for release for public comment by the SEC yesterday. As noted in the SEC's press release and the proposed rule; the proposed rule would:
direc[t] the national securities exchanges to adopt certain listing standards related to the compensation committee of a company’s board of directors as well as its compensation advisers, as required by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Among the proposed requirements pertaining to the independence of members of a board of director's compensation commitee, as noted in the SEC's press release:

Under the SEC’s proposal, the exchanges would be required to adopt listing standards that require each member of a company’s compensation committee to be a member of the board of directors and to be independent.

In developing a definition of independence, the exchanges would be required to consider such factors as: - The sources of compensation of a director, including any consulting, advisory or compensatory fee paid by the company to such member of the board of directors. - Whether a member of the board of directors of a company is affiliated with the company, a subsidiary of the company, or an affiliate of a subsidiary of the company.

Other areas covered by the rule proposal include:

- authority and funding of the comp committee

- compensation adviser selection

- disclosure of compensation consultant conflicts.

Certain exemptions are also included in the proposal. The 30-day comment period on the SEC's rule proposal ends April 29.

SEC, Banking Agencies Propose Rules on Risk Retention for Securitizations

At an open commission meeting yesterday, the SEC commissioners voted unanimously to release proposed rules on credit risk retention for securitizations. The action, paralleling that taken by five banking agencies this week, follows from a requirement in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. As summarized in the joint agency press release describing the joint agency proposed rule: Credit Risk Retention, the proposal calls for:

  • Retention of risk by holding at least 5 percent of each class of Asset Backed Securities (ABS) issued in a securitization transaction (also known as vertical retention).

  • Retention of a first-loss residual interest in an amount equal to at least 5 percent of the par value of all ABS interests issued in a securitization transaction (horizontal retention).

  • An equally-divided combination of vertical and horizontal retention.

  • Retention of a representative sample of the assets designated for securitization in an amount equal to at least 5 percent of the unpaid principal balance of all the designated assets.

  • For commercial mortgage-backed securities, retention of at least a 5 percent first-loss residual interest by a third party that specifically negotiates for the interest, if certain requirements are met.
In addition, the proposed rule:

  • Defines, and includes an exception for 'qualified residential mortgages' or QRMs that would not be subject to the risk retention requirments,

  • Has a zero percent risk-retention requirement for Asset Backed Securities (ABS) collateralized exclusively by commercial loans, commercial mortgages, or automobile loans that meet certain underwriting standards, and

  • Recognizes that the 100 percent guarantee of principal and interest provided by Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Mortgage Loan Corporation) meets their risk-retention requirements as sponsors of mortgage-backed securities for as long as they are in conservatorship or receivership with capital support from the U.S. government.
There is a June 10 comment deadline on the joint proposal.

Friday, March 25, 2011

COSO Contemplates Expansion of 5 Component Internal Control Framework Into 20+ Principles; Potential Impact On Sarbox 404 Assertions

In an update provided at the March 24, 2010 PCAOB Standing Advisory Group meeting, COSO Chairman Dave Landsittel described COSO's current project to modernize and update its 1992 Internal Control- Integrated Framework. COSO plans to issue an Exposure Draft of a proposed revision later this year, followed by the release of two final documents in 2012:

1. an updated internal control framework, broadly scoped like the current framework, to include internal control over financial reporting, compliance, and operational controls, and

2. a separate document focusing on application of the guidance to internal control over financial reporting (that portion of the guidance most relevant to Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 internal control attestations).

5 Components To Be Expanded To 20 'Principles,' Additional 'Attributes,' Potential Impact on Sarbox Assertions
Significantly, Landsittel noted that the updated framework "Will focus on 20-plus principles in total, extending over the 5 components [i.e., the 5 components of internal control over financial reporting established in the 1992 framework: control environment, risk assessment, control activities, information & communication, and monitoring], in other words, for each of the 5 components, we’ll have a specific set of principles that support those components, and in each chapter [of the updated framework], we’ll have ‘attributes’ that support those principles."

He noted that the expansion to a 20+ principle and additional attribute approach was first used in COSO's 2006 guidance for small public companies. (Later in the meeting, he noted the small business guidance would likely be superceded by the overall update to COSO's internal control framework, unless the COSO board and advisory task force become aware of a reason to have separate guidance for small companies following the incorporation of a principles based approach and certain other aspects of the 2006 small business guidance into the overall framework update.

Separately, on the question of how this may impact attestations on the effectiveness of internal control by reference to a suitable internal control framework - of which COSO's framework was specifically cited as a suitable framework by the SEC in its Sarbox 404 rulemaking - Landsittel noted, "The fundamental components have not changed, so, on an overall basis, [the Sarbox Section] 404 objectives and focus on the components will not change, but we do believe, with the articiulation of principles, particularly, there will be more guidance that will be helpful in carrying out the guidance in [Sarbox Section] 404. For example, if we have 20 principloes and a conclusion that those [principles] are relevant to any overall conclusion as to the overall effectiveness of internal control, that gives us a a little more concrete area as to what determines an effective system of internal control, and to those who test to it, to determine when it is effective, and when there are shortcomings or weaknesses."

Said another way, the core message as to the potential impact on Sarbox 404 assessments stemming from the changes coming to the COSO framework (changes resulting from the 'update' to modernize the framework to take into account changes in the business environment since the 1992 framework was written, including the advent of the internet, email, and other changes, as well as changes resulting from the expansion of the 5 core components of internal control into 20-plus 'principles' and another layer of more detailed 'attributes' supporting the 20 principles) is summed up on the following slides within the COSO slide deck circulated to PCAOB SAG members:

- slide 15: "It is generally expected that all [20+] principles will, to some extent, be present and functioning for a organization to have effective internal control, [and] When a principle is not being met, some form of internal control deficiency exists."[NOTE: Landsittel commented on this point further later in the meeting, regarding issues like the determination of material weakness, as noted further below.]

- slide 19:
"•Updated Framework intended to remain consistent with SEC suitability criteria
• Updated Framework will be an evolution from the original Framework
An appendix to the [framework] will highlight significant changes in the updated Framework as compared with the original framework
•A companion document will assist organizations in meeting financial reporting objectives
Greater clarity contemplated around the basis for determining significant deficiencies and material weaknesses
•COSO anticipates that regulators will provide any needed transition guidance to filers."

Miles Everson, a partner with audit firm PwC (PwC predecessor firm Coopers & Lybrand coordinated the publication of the original 1992 framework for COSO, and PwC is coordinating the current update of the framework, under the auspices of the COSO Board and a COSO Advisory Council), noted some of the feedback received from a survey it released earlier this year - on which over 650 responses were received - pointed out: (1) The need to create greater clarity around the role of the control environment, vs. reliance put on control activities, (2) The role of the monitoring component, and what constitutes appropriate monitoring for Sarbox 404 purposes, and (3) A general sense there is too much reliance on the control activities component.

Key Points Raised in Q&A With SAG Members: Totality/Interrelationship of the Three Objectives of Internal Control; Risk Assessment and ERM; Applicability to/ Filling the Gap for Small Co's Exempted From 404b by Dodd-Frank; Board Responsibilities, Including Qualifications/Quality of Audit Committee 'Financial Expert'

Following are some highlights, but not necessarily a complete listing, of points raised by SAG members during the Q&A with Landsittel and Everson which followed their presentation on the update to the COSO internal control framework. As always, the SAG webcast was very interesting, with a wide variety of experts from the world of accounting/auditing, academia, law, investor representatives, and more, and reference should be made to the complete webcast for details on these and other points made. Some of the major points made once or as a recurring theme are shown in the bold heading immediately above.

- Jim Cox (law school professor, Duke University): Has COSO given any consideration to the fact that small companies received an exemption under the Dodd-Frank Act from providing the Sarbox Section 404(b) auditors attestation on internal control? Summary of Landsittel/Everson response: COSO framework can be applied whether or not a company provides a 404(b) auditors assertion; all auditors are required to consider internal controls in performing an audit, and small co's still have to provide the Sarbox 404(a) management assessment, for which reference can be made to the COSO framework.

- Joe Carcello (accounting/auditing professor, co-founder and director of research, Corporate Governance Center, Univ. of Tennessee): Governance, independence: there are academic studies pointing out that lack of independence in CEO appointment of board members can reduce effectiveness of board. Additionally, some 'financial experts' serving on audit committees do not have sufficient grounding; SEC originally wanted to require an 'accounting expert' but business community objected, settling on broader requirement for a 'financial expert.' Summary of Landsittel/Everson response: will consider these comments and the related studies in the update.

- Jim Doty, Chairman, PCAOB: Thinking about the database you have, and $75 million threshold [exemption for small co's from Sarbox Section 404(b)], to what extent can you find information to direct the [PCAOB] board in Audit Practice Alerts, Studies of Communication with Audit Committees, ... to enable us to better assist the auditor in looking for fraud at a sub-$75 million or sub-$250 million company; can’t we get some free and reliable [advice]..."Landsittel: Joe Carcellos’ study includes some insights that are helpful, we have a separate project that tries to extend that, your comments are well stated and so noted, we should focus on where we can make more robust the guidance in this area."

- Doug Carmichael (professor at Baruch College, former Chief Auditor, PCAOB): "It is important you not lose sight of the fact that although COSO is not a regulator, it is effectively the setter of internal control standards, and those standards play a vital public interest role through the [Sarbox Section] 404 requirements; I undersand why you want to separate the discussion of financial reporting [from operational and compliance controls], but it is important to realize that compliance and operational objecvtives [can effect financial reporting]... an outstanding example in the current financial crisis is New Century Financial, they had operational control deficiencies related to not tracking repurchase claims, and they missed in their repurchase calculation operational claims. The other thing relates to estimates, we discussed at the last SAG meeting, importance of having a formal document for estimates, and the connection between the number companies arrive at for ... [an] estimate and the process [to make that estimate], it would be helpful for the COSO framework to cover that." Landsittel response: "What you are saying, as an internal control measure, you [should] have methodology to rely on that judgements are reasonable." Carmichael: "We hear all the time, 'we have judgments, controls, just not documented' that usually means not effective either." Landesittel: "At 40,000 feet, I can causually say we can split out an application in [internal control over] financial reporting, but at [COSO's] advisory council meeting, that very point was made... it is not so simple, because some of the compliance and operational [controls] have an effect on financial reporting… we have 3 principles that are at this point separated [controls over financial reporting, compliance, and operations]; how we get them to interrelate, is important to us." Everson: "Important distinction: [within the 2 documents that COSO is going to split its current update project into]: 1st document is the integrated framework, all the objective categories [internal control over financial reporting, compliance, operations]; 2nd document is [going to be] guidance on application of that framework over internal controls over financial reporting.

- Marty Baumann (Chief Auditor, PCAOB) I’d like to build on that, and I think it’s a very important point, [there are] 3 components of COSO (internal control over compliance, financial reporting, and operational controls); we spend a lot of time talking about Internal Control over Financial Reporting, [Sarbox Sections] 404a, 404b, but [not as much about weaknesses in] the other components: compliance controls, operational controls... maybe one of the greatest causes of the financial crisis was financial companies that advertised world class risk management, that maybe didn’t understand risk, and didn’t have risk management… my question would be, do you think there were deficiencies in operational controls over risk management, or maybe - because internal controls over financial reporting are subject to auditor review and reporting, whereas operational controls are not - were those operational controls subject to auditor review, might that have had a better impact on (stopping ) the next financial crisis from happening?"Landsittel: Marty and I [and Keith] met early on [to discuss the COSO project]... the notion that one real opportunity/benefit for the refresh/update of the COSO framework is in the operational area, and not get so narrowly focused... are there implications from the financfial crisis or otherwise, that we can provide benefit in terms of guidance in the control area; your earlier comments [when project began] were very influential to us."

- Mary Hartman Morris (investment officer, global equity, CalPERS): Importance from investors' perspective strengthing governance and risk... [re: Dodd-Frank] carve out [of smaller companies on Sarbox Section] 404, investors lost out, we still appreciate management has to make an opinion on that. Since CalPERS is becoming more global, question about reducing US-centric perception [of the COSO framework]? Summary of Landsittel response: We have 2 people on advisory council whose roots are outside US, one thru IFAC, another rep from Switzerland, they have already been very helpful to us in providing a perspective that we need to be sensitive to, in terms of not inadverteluy writing the guidance in such a manner that people outside the U.S. will say ‘this is American, doesn’t apply to us.” [We don't] feel obligated to fully harmonize our guidance with other models, but it is important we present our guidance as meaningful and helpful and aren't automatically discounted because of inadvertent editing. [Additionally] we have a responsibility to our sponsoring organization's [AAA, AICPA, FEI, IIA, IMA] stakeholders to look outside the U.S. I assure you we don’t want to unnecessarily make mistakes that result in our credibhility suffering unnecessarily." Additional comment by Morris: As we comment to others, even the European Union, we point out it is important to elevate the idea of COSO or other internal control frameworks.

- Gaylen Hansen (audit partner, and board member of NASBA): Given that 60% of public companies may become exempted from Sarbox 404(b) reporting under Dodd-Frank, couldn't the [PCAOB's] risk assessment standards require the auditor to look at whether management did a risk assessment, not to audit it, but even to have the auditor [just] read it? Reply from Keith Wilson, PCAOB Deputy Chief Auditor: "We looked through .. SAS AU 550 [the relevant auditing standards for] Other Information in a Document Containing Audited Financial Statements ... it's something we could go back and look at in the context of what we would do in AU 550, that would more likely be the place."

- PCAOB Chairman Jim Doty: "We ought to think about how the risk assessment standards require that the auditor scope the audit, to take into account whether or not management has applied the modernized COSO standards." PCAOB's Wilson: Opportunity to incorporate this into the standards.

- Gary Kabureck, VP and Chief Accounting Officer, Xerox: I would suggest, in prioritizing focus on updating the COSO framework, that extra time be spent on: (1) Companies are much more reliant on outsiders than in 1992, consultants, outsourcing, business processing, I.T.; it's one thing to outsource a process; shouldn’t outsource reponsiblity; (2) Where the value in companies continues to change, what more and more companies value today, is intellectual property, whether intangibles, software, IT; the original (1992) COSO framework more industrial age society; suggest you look into there; (3) a couple of [SAG members] talked about Enterprise Risk Management at the board level, that’s where a lot of the action is; the more you can tie the framework to the most modern practices for ERM, would be well served for everybody; (4) The true independence of governance, accounting, ethics office, tone at the top, role of getting by doing more with less people; these groups need to be independent and effective. Landsittel reponse: Your comments are helpful. The risk assessment component is one where, at the end of the day, [the framework] may be most effected, where we may have the opportunity to enhance its robustness, that directly relates to your ERM comment, interestingly touches upon your intellectual property and outsourcing in today’s environment too.

- Arnie Hanish (VP Finance, Chief Accounting Officer, Eli Lilly & Co.): In same spirit as Gary [Kabureck], I don’t know if this is within the ‘authority’ of COSO or the framework of what you are doing, seems like can fit in governance and tone at the top issue, I still believe there is some need to beef up the issue of 'financial experts' on boards, you mentioned we have financial experts on boards as result of SOX [the Sarbanes-Oxley Act], there is no real definition of financial expert in my view; you see a wide variety of individuals that hold themselves out as financial experts, I think Congress fell short [in defining 'financial expert']; I don’t know if there is any opportunity for your framework to provide guidance, thoughts, on individuals on boards who have the right expertise to pose questions to company executives and auditors; we talk about communication with auditors, [but it] ha[s] to go the other way .. do they really [i.e. board members] understand questions to ask of us [i.e. for board members to ask questions of management and the auditors] ... if there is some way to build meat around that in the framework, it would be helpful from a control perspecvtive. Landsittel response: I chair two Audit Commitees, I know there is a wide difference among people designated as 'financial experts,' it was alluded to earlier, if we [COSO] could put guidance in terms of good governance as to what a financial expert is."

- Steve Homsa (Managing Director of Internal Audit, Legg Mason, Inc.):As external auditor and internal auditor, for large part of my career, one area of greatest opportunities is where we could find linkage between ERM and both internal and ext auditors, and to strengthen that and leverage ERM process; I believe that generally out there in the business community, that is, I won’t say a weakness, but a potential soft spot, and also, once ERM engages in that process of identification of business risk, operational risk, a def. of what may be ’auditable’ with what could potentially be ‘unauditable’ and so forth could potentially be helpful. Landsittel:
My experience on audit committee, more than once I’ve commented that the ERM group and external auditors need to make sure they are in synch, e.g. in fraud area, auditors need to do brainstorming.

- Brian Croteau, (Deputy Chief Accountant, SEC; observer at SAG meeting): As always, these remarks are my own, I'll comment on a couple things here; I appreciate those who reminded those about requirements for Internal Control over Financial Reporting and the management report, and Keith’s remarks on AU 550, and auditor’s responsibility to read management's report and consider whether anything inconsistent in mgmt report with anything they’ve encountered in conducting the audit… surely under exception from 404b and whether anything .. and in terms of AU 550, reasonable to consider, but don’t forget we’ve got standards today... In internal control over financial reporting context, companies will continue to need statements about effectiveness of internal control in context of internal control over financial reporting, to the extent the framework begins to combine some of those things in ways they don’t today, important to be sufficiently clear, what that means, in context of internal control over financial reporting... Dave, you’ve teed that up as a separate document .. Some guidance for smaller public co’s that might be important and should continue to be relevant in context of co’s complying with 404a, that guidance is still very important and useful. Landsittel: On the latter comment, we do plan to supersede the 2006 small bus guidance, and integrate that in some way to this guidance, that’s a tentative conclusion, one reason that drives us to that, we want to be explicit in articulating the principles, that’s such an important part of the 2006 small bus guidance, it would make it awkward if the 2 documents are both out there, we there need to get guidance , if truly relevant to small co’s as opposed to relevant to everybody, need to get it out there someplace. Another point you touched on, the issue of what constitutes ‘effectiveness,’ e.g. when we have 20 principles, and we presume each of those principles should be supported in a determination of the effectiveness of the controls, then, if one of those principles isn’t supported adequately, does that mean the controls are ineffective, and if the answer is yes, then is it a material weakness, so it is that kind of effectiveness question we are beginning to touch on, .. can take it offline.. what constitutes material weakness, what constitutes effectiveness, particularly as 20 principles articulated explicitly as opposed to implicitly

- Lynn Turner (Senior Advisor and Managing Director, LECG; former Chief Accountant, SEC): Back when the original COSO framework was being developed in the late '80s, early '90s, the Commission staff said one major principle was missing: nothing talked about the need for companies to identify changes going on in business, industry, trend, or the company, and that needed to be a very fundamental part of framework, COSO decided to leave it out. I think one of the lessons we learned in the financial crisis, was that indeed, that pillar should have been at the forefront as businesses changed and became more active in securitization, changed in no longer skin in the game. I would (1) urge you to go back and reconsider that [i.e. identifying and considering change in the business environment and the company], and put it in as one of the pillars; unless you’ve got some kind of control in business to look at changes and that you are reacting to them, you’ll always be behind the eight ball, always have that problem (2) Chairman Doty’s comment about scoping audit very good (3) Comment from Arnie Hanish, Joe Carcello, we’ve given way too much credit to corporate directors, I’ve recently had conversations with people at NACD, too many people [directors] don’t know what to ask; I would encourage you to put a whole chapter in there for audit committees; as we’ve seen in recent revelations from the FCIC [Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission], a number of audit committees in these large banks were literally clueless, and that’s the best you can say of them, if you have audit committee that is that clueless, raises question, how can you ever have effective internal control, let alone tone at the top. (4) On fraud side of things, I’d suggest you go back and build into it something along lines of the ACFE on whistleblowers, that is the one thing that seems to detect fraud, and yet today, we still see auditors that don’t’ have understanding whether that works or not, don’t know if independent or not, I think you should build in something about whistleblowers, very important; while there’s a lot of discussion today about sec rules, I don’t think that’s where a lot of whistleblower complaints will go, I think they’ll go to WikiLeaks, guarantee confidentiality, as we move into facebook world, internet, WikiLeaks guarantees confidentiality, as that becomes more prominent, whistleblower will become thing to watch (5) as Gary said, outsourcing, you could make chapter just on outsourcing ; and Gary’s point about you can outsource the work but not the responsibility; so very important. Landsittel: Whistleblowing, particularly interesting to me, chairing an audit committee, we’ve looked pretty hard at whistleblowing, it's not easy to assess whether effective or not, you can have things in the program that on paper, look great…Turner: I’ve chaired 3 audit committees, I have a different view; you can get it up and running, you can make it somewhat effective in today’s environment with all the tools you have, got to dedicate time and resources, not all of them are effective.

- Damon Silvers (Director of Policy and Special Counsel, AFL-CIO): (1) Seems to me, behind some of this conversation, is that we have a framework here that is, to some degree, built and has in mind a world of discrete organizations, and we live increasingly in a world of networks, or people who think they have networks, and that you can see this at play in phenomenon as diverse as the mortgage irregularities that are currently being negotiated by state attorneys general, and the economic impact of the earthquake in Japan, on firms that had no idea they had Japanese operations, or in fact don’t have Japanese operations, but yet are significantly affected by a set of networks that go beyond their line of sight. The implications of that for internal control go right to this issue of, raised several comments back, Lynn reflected on somewhat, question of, what’s the relationship between fin reporting and systems of internal control around supposedly nonfinancial activity. There is no better example of how these things completely intertwine than the mortgage irregularity situation, where, you now have, I believe all 4 major banks have filed with SEC statements to the effect they expect material regulatory costs associated with that problem, I suspect they would have denied that 6 months ago, I assume they may even have denied that honestly 6 months ago, it does not appear any of these large organizations have any idea the true nature of variety of absolutely critical contractual arrangements inside their organizations or inside their networks, so again, this is a network problem. (2) Also to Jim Cox’s point about, what are the implications of exempting folks, because part of what went on here, in the mortgage irregularities matter, was that there were no full-fledged audits of the securitization vehicles, but there were audits of servicers; so, you can sort of say, well, this is an issue of people being exempted from the audit process, but they actually weren’t, and that would seem to raise some pretty significant questions. (3) Finally, all these issues require governance systems and boards that are substantively able to understand the organizations and networks they are operating in, and I can tell you from the interactions that union pension funds had with some of the boards of major banks, even long before the irregularities issue arose, from firsthand experience talking to those board members that one of two things is true, either (1) key decision makers in those firms had no idea the nature of the firms and networks they were overseeing, or else (2) they thought they could fool us into believing that they didn’t; I’m not sure which one it was, I don’t think it really matters; I suspect it was the former, sadly enough, I suspect it was true, that the leaders of audit committees at major financial institutions simply didn’t understand the nature of the businesses they were overseeing. And I think all of this goes to the wisdom of questions discussed earlier, and the general path you are on.. But I want to enforce these points so that anyone who suggests these were minor matters, or insignificant to financial reporting, these are the biggest matters facing our countries economy, and our system of financial regulation today.

Baumann closed this section of the SAG meeting, noting that representatives of PCAOB and SEC staff serve as observers on the COSO Advisory Council working on the update of COSO's internal control framework.

Landsittel thanked the PCAOB and SAG members for their thoughtful input, and invited additional feedback at any time, through COSO's website or by emailing him directly.

The notes above are highlights based on my listening to this portion of the SAG webcast; for futher detail, tune into the SAG webcast.

Other Topics Discussed By SAG:PCAOB Update; Implications of FASB-IASB Convergence; Auditing Disclosures

Other topics discussed at the March 24 PCAOB SAG meeting, as noted on the SAG agenda, include: PCAOB Standard-Setting update; Potential Audit Implications of FASB-IASB Joint Projects, Related effective dates and Transition methods, and Auditing Financial Statement Disclosures. There was also an update on the board's discussion earlier in the week on the Auditors' Reporting Model; the PCAOB board met with its staff in an open meeting earlier in the week to discuss possible approaches to a Concept Release that would propose changes to the auditor's reporting model.

According to this PCAOB press release issued following the March 22 PCAOB board meeting, a Concept Release on the auditor's reporting model is slated to be issued for public comment later this year.

Friday, March 11, 2011

U.S. Needs To Commit To IFRS This Year, Says Tweedie

In remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Future of Financial Reporting-Convergence or Not? conference yesterday, International Accounting Standards Board Chairman Sir David Tweedie "ma[d]e the case...on the pressing need for the United States to commit itself this year to a clear, defined, and workable timetable for the incorporation and use of IFRSs, as published by the IASB."

The Case for U.S. Adoption of IFRS
Tweedie gave three overarching reasons for the U.S. to make the decision to adopt IFRS this year - that is, reach a decision in 2011 to incorporate IFRS in the U.S., with that incorporation to take place over a specified period of time. His points were: (as detailed further in his remarks):

  • With over 100 countries having currently adopted or committed to adopt IFRS, it is in the United States’ economic interest to be part of the global system.

  • Delaying the adoption of IFRSs imposes unnecessary costs and risks on US companies.

  • The window of opportunity will close if a decision is delayed.
No Appetite to Work Exclusively With FASB Beyond 2011

On the last point above, that "the window of opportunity" would close in 2011, Tweedie met some of the objections to U.S. adoption of IFRS head-on, including arguments about the cost of changing over the reporting system, and arguments for continued work on convergence as opposed to wholesale adoption of IFRS. He said:

First, on the issue of cost, it is important to distinguish between the decision to incorporate and the date of implementation. It is the unambiguous commitment to IFRSs in 2011 that is essential. The SEC has already indicated that the earliest implementation date when IFRSs would be required for the largest US public corporations will not come until 2015 or 2016 at the earliest. Implementation for smaller companies could come later. In my view, such a commitment would be sufficient. It would also provide ample time for planning, education and training. Change is never easy. The goal is for all of us to work together to implement the benefits of global standards while minimising, as best we can, the costs of getting there. Indeed, many US companies have already begun preparations for IFRSs. What they need now is certainty and a date that they can work towards.

Second, the alternative of delay or further intensive convergence work is not a viable option. The IASB and the FASB have worked together for nearly 10 years on the convergence programme. We have made significant progress in improving accounting and eliminating major differences. The countries that have adopted IFRSs, or that have committed themselves to adopting IFRSs, have already accepted convergence with the FASB as a necessary step to facilitate US adoption. However, there is no appetite internationally for the IASB to work in exclusive partnership with the FASB beyond 2011. Consequently, putting off adoption could impose unnecessary costs in the future. The completion of our joint convergence work provides the moment in history when transition to IFRSs will be easiest. At that moment, IFRSs and US GAAP will be most closely aligned with each other. On the other hand, without an SEC decision, the clear risk is that having once converged, standards could then diverge.

Tweedie also emphasized the roles of IASB oversight bodies such as the IFRS Foundation and the IFRSF's Monitoring Board - consisting of international regulators, including SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro - and noted the governance structure of the IASB and its overseers parallels that of the FASB.

After Convergence MOU Complete: The "Calm" (after the Storm?); FASB's Continued Role; IASB's Future Work Programme
Noting that seven of the ten major convergence projects (outlined in the FASB-IASB Memorandum of Understanding) have been completed, with the final three (revenue recognition, leasing and financial instruments) in process (as well as a standard on insurance accounting), Tweedie observed, "We are in the final stretch of our convergence work with the FASB."

As to the June, 2011 'deadline' for convergence set forth in the original MOU and in more recent recommendations of the G-20, Tweedie commented:
"[While] a June 2011 completion target [i.e. target for completion of the convergence program] remains our goal... we will not sacrifice quality in the process. Keep in mind that the two boards have been working on these remaining convergence projects for more than five years. This is no rush job. Both the IASB and the FASB have followed, and will continue to follow, their due process fully.

Regarding implementation of the new standards, he added:
when the convergence programme is finished...[w]e will provide sufficient time to implement the new standards and a period of calm for investors and companies to get used to the new standards resulting from the Memorandum of Understanding

Additionally, as to the potential ongoing role of FASB in a world in which IFRS is the accepted standard for U.S. public companies, Tweedie once more invoked the term 'exclusive' partnership to describe the past and current relationship between the IASB and FASB, but explained how that relationship would have to change (some may say 'evolve') post-2011:

even though the conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding formally ends the exclusive partnership between the IASB and FASB, we want to retain a strong partnership with the FASB, which we would expect to continue to play a leading role in the international standard-setting process.

(NOTE: the separate issue of private company accounting was not specifically addressed in Tweedie's remarks, as the focus was on formal adoption by the SEC of IFRS by public companies. The IASB has published a stand-alone set of standards available for use by private companies, called IFRS for SMEs, and the U.S. Financial Accounting Foundation (overseer of the FASB) is presently conducting outreach among its constituents regarding the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Standard-Setting for Private Companies.)

Regarding the future work programme of the IASB after the completion of the FASB-IASB Convergence MOU - Tweedie noted that, "Later this year, the IASB will launch a consultation on its future work programme. I encourage all with an interest in accounting standards to participate in this consultation."

Principles Rely on Professional Judgment; 'Ring Fences' Possible; Sovereignty

Noting he is set to retire in June, 2011, Tweedie stated "my hope is that the IASB will remain firmly committed to the principles-based approach." He added that is the approach that the two boards (FASB and the IASB) have used in their convergence program.

"I understand that there is some trepidation in the United States about principle-based standards," said Tweedie, in what some corners, not yet comfortable with IFRS, may say is the understatement of the year.

"A principles-based system," noted Tweedie, "relies on judgements." NOTE: The SEC's Advisory Committee on Improvents in Financial Reporting or CIFiR, aka the "Pozen Committee," chaired by Robert Pozen, noted in its recommendations a few years ago that a "professional judgment framework" should be developed by the SEC for registrants, and by the PCAOB for auditors, to support the increased use of principles-based standards.

Indirectly, Tweedie provided his thoughts on what such a framework could include, to shore up (or at least document) those judgements:

Disclosure of the choices made and the rationale for these choices will be essential. If in doubt about how to deal with a particular issue, preparers and auditors should refer back to the core principles. The basis for conclusions should also include, in particular, the question of whether there is only a single view on how to tackle the economics of the situation. Often there are competing views—is one deemed to be more relevant? If so, the reasons for choosing that particular view should be explained in the basis for conclusions and the reasons for rejecting the others should be clearly stated.

My two cents: (please see disclaimer posted on the right side of this blog): as discussed in this blog when CIFR's recommendation for a professional judgment framework first came out, some may argue that, depending how "in the weeds" any professional judgement framework authored by the SEC, PCAOB, or suggested by others gets, the more of a 'check the box' or paper-building exercise it could become, without necessarily providing the promised protection for litigation; in fact, it could potentially provide a more detailed roadmap for a challenge. Relying on a 'professional judgement framework' may seem like a panacea in concept but the flipside is it could potentially be a costly and diversionary excercise that may be challenged in meeting its stated goal; somewhat of a deja vu of the post-Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 exercise of determining how much and what type of documentation or action is too much or off the mark, in terms of being an efficient - and effective - means of adding comfort to management's certification and the auditor's opinion on the effectiveness of internal control; a regulatory and implementation exercise that was dialed back after implemented at significant cost and effort in practice, to make it more efficient and effective.

Turning to the U.S. legal and accounting environment, Tweedie acknowledged:

is this principle-based approach practical in the United States? My first answer is that we already have it through the new convergence standards.

Even so, I acknowledge that it will be more difficult to implement and sustain a
principle-based system in the United States, given the propensity for litigation. I believe that this challenge is overstated and that it can be mitigated by the careful generation, collection and retention of documentation and by seeking of expert advice and the views of professional colleagues throughout the life cycle of transactions. Above all, those who make such judgements, document them and make an honest and fair attempt to meet the principle should be defended.

I would also make the point that many in the United States believe that the status quo of rule-based systems cannot be maintained. There is a realisation that if a rule-based system is pursued, financial reporting will be governed by the search engine, rather than skilled professional judgement seeking to reflect the economics of a particular situation.

However, if the United States struggles with the degree of judgement applied by other countries that use IFRSs, then the FASB may have to issue requirements in addition to those of the IASB. The IASB would then have to consider ways of ring-fencing the additional US guidance to prevent such guidance being deemed compulsory for other followers of

The issue of reliance on implementation of principles-based standards also relates to the enforcement of application of those standards. Tweedie had spoken earlier in his speech on a related conern voiced by some in the U.S. regarding adoption of standards promulgated by a multinational body (the IASB), specifically, the role of Sovereignty. He noted that the FASB could serve the role of coordinating acceptance or 'endorsement' of IFRS in the U.S., and that the SEC would remain the enforcement body for application of IFRS by U.S. registrants, as it is now for foreign filers that are U.S. registrants.

He added:

global adoption of IFRSs does not require an abdication of a country’s sovereignty in the field of accounting standards. In most countries, there is an endorsement mechanism in place to bring IFRSs into national law or regulation. In Australia and Canada, the national standard-setter plays this role, and IFRSs are being introduced without modification. The assumption in both jurisdictions is that standards are to be accepted without change. Without prejudicing the outcome of the FASB’s deliberations, I would expect FASB to play a similar role in the United States.

My two cents on the Sovereignty issue
My two cents (again I remind you of the disclaimer posted on the right side of this blog): in what some may say is a highly choreographed, and others may say improvisational, dance of the accounting standard-setters around the world - with cameo parts played by various legislative and regulatory bodies around the world, including but not limited to the European Commission, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Congress -there is a careful need to recognize that, as noted at the top of this post, citing Tweedie's remarks, the current focus is on whether the U.S. SEC will "commit itself this year to a clear, defined, workable timetable for the incorporation and use IFRS, as published by the IASB."

That is, as noted in an additional reference Tweedie made in his speech (not in the written text of his speech) - and consistent with SEC policy for the use of IFRS by foreign filers in the U.S. - without any exceptions or 'carve-outs' by jurisdictions adopting IFRS.

I believe one of the most important issues that will receive attention vis-a-vis the U.S. decision whether to permit or require the use of IFRS (vs. U.S. GAAP aka FASB standards) in SEC filings by U.S. public companies, will be this almost Catch 22 situation of the need to accept IFRS without exception or carve-outs, and the right of sovereignty, as expressed through the national accounting standard setters (or others designated to perform this role) to "endorse" the set of IFRS as of the point of adoption by that country, and on an ongoing basis.

This is where the rubber meets the road; one could view it as a carefully orchestrated interplay between and among standard-setters, and the smoothness of this interaction is assisted by the IASB, the IFRS Foundation, and the IFRS Foundation Monitoring Board retaining sufficient input by a representative group from among its worldwide constituencies, both within the formal appointments on those bodies, as well as formal and informal outreach or 'consultation,' and demonstrating good governance and due process, points emphasized in Tweedie's speech.

His bottom line recommendation, or at least implication, given his multiple references to time being up this year (at conclusion of the FASB-IASB convergence MOU) for the 'exclusive' partnership between IASB and FASB, is that the IASB is going to continue to expand its dance card, and that the time is now for the U.S. to ensure that, potentially through the FASB, it will continue to have a prominent role on that card.

FASB Chairman, Others on Webcast

I highly recommend direct reference to Tweedie's speech in its entirely; for observers of international accounting standard-setting, this is a seminal speech. (And, if you can listen to the webcast of the program, you'll receive the added bonus of hearing Tweedie's well-known sense of humor in some unscripted jokes. For example, you can hear about some concerns he had about what was growing in his garden, and his performance as a soccer player.)

Also speaking at the U.S. Chamber program, as noted on this agenda, who you can see on the webcast of the program, were FASB Chairman Leslie Seidman, and a concluding panel featuring Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu CEO Jim Quigley, U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Market Competitiveness Chair Richard H. Murray, CFA Institute former President and CEO Jeff Diermeier, and GNAIE Executive Chair Jerry de St. Paer.

FEI Comment Letters
Read FEI's comment letters to the FASB, IASB, and SEC on matters relating to convergence with international accounting standards, the potential timetable for implementation thereof, on the SEC's 'roadmap' and 'workplan' for its decision whether to permit or require IFRS by U.S. public companies, as well as other matters.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

FASB To Broadcast Ed Sessions

* video credit: Pearl Jam performing "Education" live at Lollapalooza 2007, via "gndc404" aka "Gary's" post on youtube

Financial Accounting Standards Board groupies will be celebrating today's announcement by the board's parent body, the Financial Accounting Foundation, that FASB Education Sessions (aka 'Ed Sessions') - will henceforth be available via live (and archived) webcast, starting with tomorrow's Ed Session.

FASB Ed Sessions, generally held immediately after FASB board meetings (and sometimes on additional days of the week, as is the case with this week's additional Ed Session this Thursday) have always been open to the public, but never before broadcast.

Commencing this week, the Ed Sessions, like the FASB board meetings, will be webcast. Ed Sessions are opportunities for the FASB staff, and sometimes outside experts, to provide information for discussion purposes, on subjects the board is currently addressing.

As noted in the FAF press release: "Education sessions are usually held one week before a public Board meeting is held on that same topic..." Thus, by listening to the Ed Session, you may (or may not) be able to get a glimpse into board member's thinking on a particular subject, in advance of the board's formal consideration at a board meeting. However, before you get too carried away, it is also important to note, and the FAF reminds us of this: "no official FASB decisions are made at education sessions."

According to FASB's calendar, topics slated for tomorrow's Ed session include financial instruments and leases; Thursday's Ed session will address revenue recognition and insurance contracts.

My two cents: (I remind you of the disclaimer posted on the right side of this blog) I think the webcasting of FASB Ed sessions is a great development in expanding access to the Ed sessions for interested parties ('groupies' or otherwise) online, real time, and through the archives. This can benefit those in practice, investors and others who closely follow FASB developments, and can be beneficial in the education of students as well.

While you are waiting for the FASB Ed Session to begin, you may wish to listen to Education by Pearl Jam (here are the lyrics). (Any other song suggestions relating to accounting, regulation or education are welcome, feel free to post in the comments section of our blog. As always, you can post a comment anonymously if you wish, so don't be shy.)

AAA Annual Meeting Aug. 6-10 in Denver
Speaking of Education: the American Accounting Association's (AAA) Annual Meeting will be held Aug. 6-10 in Denver, CO. AAA is the professional association for professors of accounting. The AAA annual meeting always includes a plethora of highly regarded keynotes from accounting standard-setters, regulators, and others, as well as CPE sessions conducted by professors and others. Of particular note, for those of you contemplating entering the teaching profession in the immediate or distant future, is AAA's Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting (CTLA), held in conjunction with the AAA Annual Meeting. Watch AAA's website as further information is posted about their Annual Meeting and CTLA. Questions about CTLA can be directed to Dee Harris at AAA: deirdre[AT]aaahq[DOT]org.

SEC's SAB 114 Released; Conforms SAB Codification to FASB's Cod.

Yesterday, the SEC released Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 114, which:
revises or rescinds portions of the interpretive guidance included in the codification of the Staff Accounting Bulletin Series. This update is intended to make the relevant interpretive guidance consistent with current authoritative accounting guidance issued as part of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Accounting Standards Codification [ASC].
Weighing in at 358 pages, SAB 114 states upfront (pg. 2 of the SAB) that it:
  • amend[s] [the Staff Accounting Bulletin Series] to update authoritative accounting literature references to the FASB ASC throughout,
  • [makes] several conforming formatting changes ... for consistency across SAB topics, and that
  • due to the number of these changes, the SAB Series is represented in its entirety in this release.
Importantly, SAB 114 states:
All of the changes are technical in nature, and none of the changes are
intended to change the guidance provided in the SAB Series.

My two cents (I remind you of the disclaimer posted on the right side of this blog): Although the intent of SAB 114 as stated by the SEC staff in the sentence copied above was to make conforming, technical changes - and not to change any of the (substantive) guidance provided in the SAB Series - those applying, auditing, or otherwise making use of the SAB's and the resulting accounting treatment should consult SAB 114 directly. And, props to the ever-watchful Broc Romanek of Blog for flagging this new SAB earlier today.

Friday, March 4, 2011

SEC Adopts 2011 U.S. GAAP Taxonomy; PCAOB Investor Advisory Group To Meet

Recent developments on the public company financial reporting, auditing and regulatory front include the March 1 announcement by the Financial Accounting Foundation that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted the 2011 U.S. GAAP Taxonomy developed by the FAF. The GAAP taxonomy refers to the interactive tags used for purposes of submitting certain required financial information to the SEC (or for other purposes) as interactive data by using eXtensible Business Reporting Language or XBRL. See the FAF's press release. Additional information about SEC XBRL reporting requirements can be found on the SEC's XBRL portal.

Separately, the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board recently announced that it will hold its next Investory Advisory Group meeting on March 16. According to the PCAOB's press release, matters to be addressed by the IAG include: audit lessons to be drawn from the financial crisis, possible amendments to the auditor's report, and the implications of global networks for audit firm governance.

FAF Working Group To Conduct Outreach, Seek Input, On Private Co. Standard Setting

Following on its receipt in January of the report and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Standard-Setting for Private Companies --a panel jointly sponsored by the Financial Accounting Foundation (which oversees the FASB), the American Institute of CPAs, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, the FAF announced earlier today the formation of a Working Group among the FAF Trustees to focus on the issue of private company standard-setting.

Specifically, the FAF Working Group will be charged with conducting outreach and seeking input on the recommendations made by the BRP, to help inform the FAF Trustees as they give further consideration to those recommendations. Among the recommendations made by the BRP were to form a separate standard-setting board dedicated to private companies, to operate alongside FASB, under the aegis of the FAF. View the list of FAF Trustees.

Read more in today's FAF press release and our previous post on the BRP report.

IFRS For SMEs Implementation Group Seeks Comment On Draft Guidance
In other news relating to private companies, the IASB's Small and Medium Sized Entities Implementation Group (SMIEG) published draft guidance last week on Use of IFRS for SMEs in Parent's Separate Financial Statements. The comment deadline on the draft guidance (representing the first set of draft guidance released by the SMIEG), is April 4. View the list of SMIEG members.