A blue ribbon panel on private company accounting is holding its inaugural meeting Monday, to assess how financial reporting standards can best meet the needs of users of US private company financial statements, which are mostly for bankers and other types of lenders.
The panel, formed by the Financial Accounting Foundation, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, will meet five times throughout the year and will issue a report with recommendations on the future of standard setting for private companies by the end of the year.
The debate has resurfaced after the International Accounting Standard Board issued international standards for private companies last July (called IFRS for SMEs). Financial experts have been discussing this topic for decades. For instance, in 1996, the Financial Executive Research Foundation issued a paper titled “What do users of private company financial statements want?”
Some of the old and new questions the panel will address:
• What is the key, decision-useful information that the various users need from GAAP financial statements?
• Are current GAAP financial statements meeting those needs?
• How does standard setting for private companies in the US compare to standard setting in other countries, both those that have adopted IFRS for small and medium-size entities and those that have not?
To the extent that current GAAP is not meeting user needs in a cost-beneficial manner, what are some possible alternatives or private company standards?
Even if GAAP is found wanting, however, the panel might not be all that keen on IFRS as an alternative, given the limited experience of US companies with the international regime and rising skepticism on the part of the Securities and Exchange Commission about the independence of the body setting international standards.
Not that public or private US companies are eager to switch to IFRS, which will be costly and cumbersome. At this point, it seems as if private ones would rather have the accounting devil they know, except they no doubt wish it were a bit less hellacious on their results. And that’s been pretty much a forlorn hope for years.