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The financial regulatory framework in the UK went through significant reforms in 1990-91 and has remained stable for ten years thereafter. Changes are being proposed to the regulatory framework arising out of three major reasons (a) the move by the European Commission towards developing a single capital market (b) the Enron scandal which has stimulated political interest in the regulation of accounting and (c) changes in UK's domestic laws and regulation (Fearnley and Hines, 2003).
There have been several changes in the international arena that have also necessitated changes in the financial regulatory framework. Due to globalization, many UK companies are now acquiring subsidiary companies in other countries, which function under different financial parameters and there may be a need to modify the existing regulatory and financial frameworks (Haller and Walton, 2003). When different financial accounting standards exist in different countries, it may be necessary to harmonize them and this can only be achieved through modification of the financial regulatory networks. In this context, a report published by the Institute of chartered accountants in Scotland offers the view that the current position in the context of globalization is such that there is an "ever increasing volume of accounting rules", which is not sustainable in the long run (ICAS, 2006:2). It's only principles based accounting is likely to be beneficial
Domestic law and regulation has changed in different ways. First, the London Stock exchange was once self regulatory but it is no longer the Listing authority within the U.K. The UKLA (UK Listing Authority) which is a part of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is now the responsible authority for this purpose. Second, professional bodies which are a part of the UK Accountancy profession, have set up their own private regulatory framework - the Accountancy Foundation - to provide independent oversight of their auditing standards, ethical standards and regulatory activities, including disciplinary procedures. New regulations have also been issued in respect of limiting the remuneration paid to directors and the Companies Act has also been modified (Fearnley and Hines, 2003). These changes in the domestic law mean that the framework which existed earlier and was largely self-regulatory may no longer be adequate.
Bullen and Crook (2005) have explained why a conceptual framework is needed. Both the FSAB and IASB, share a common goal of ensuring that their standards are "principles based", which requires that such standards must not be a mere collection of conventions but must be rooted in fundamental concepts. For instance, when the FASB members first attempted to set up a regulatory framework, they experienced considerable difficulty in attaining agreement on standards, which led them to work towards the development of a conceptual framework. If such standards are to produce a coherent financial reporting system, they must be compiled in such a way that they constitute a framework that is sound and consistent internally. Bullen and Crook (2005) have also pointed out differences in concepts and conventions through assets, wherein the concept of a piece of equipment as an asset is based upon viewing it as a source of economic benefits for the future, while the straight line depreciation of that asset would be viewed as a convention.
According to Bullen and Crook (2005), a consistent regulatory accounting framework is required to converge different aspects of expressing the same concepts. The development of an accurate and well developed regulatory framework is essential to prevent accounting fraud and deception such as the financial scandal that erupted at Enron. Secondly, it also provides advantages for investors, such as the ISAB framework for example, which Ball (2005:9) has spelt out as follows: (a) a more efficient valuation in equity markets (b) reduced costs to process financial information because GAAP adjustments are not required (c) reduced costs for being informed in a timely manner and (d) ability to create standardized financial databases. If these standards are implemented consistently, then it provides better comparability and therefore ensures that there is less risk for investors. Thirdly, it enables certain objectives of financial reporting to be met, such as (a) usefulness in making economic decisions (b) useful in assessing cash flow prospects and (c) providing information about enterprise resources, the claims of these resources and the changes that are required.
Using ISAB Standards:
The existing ISAB framework is similar to the FSAB framework in terms of its structural components, i.e., setting out the objectives, the qualitative characteristics of the information, elements of financial statements, their measurement and display in the statements as well as elements of disclosure. The qualitative characteristics listed for example, include understandability, relevance, reliability and comparability (Zeff 2007:291).
There are two specific challenges arising where worldwide financial reporting is concerned: comparability and convergence. Most companies are using the International Financial reporting Standards in order to prepare their financial statements (Zeff, 2007). The differences in business customs and corporate structures, such as the kieretsu in Japan and chaebol in Korea which are actually networks of holding companies with interlocking relationships, raises the question of whether a standard on consolidated financial statements would ensure comparability. It must be noted that there are some factors interfering with worldwide comparability, such as the business and financial culture, the accounting culture, the auditing culture and the regulatory culture (Zeff, 2007). Different countries have different legal frameworks in place to tackle issues of financial regulation and the functioning of companies. For example, in the United States, the Sarbanes Oxley Act tries to regulate the functioning of companies, while in the UK, it is the Turnbull report which has guided corporate governance. Achieving similarity between the different legal national systems and their effective implementation across geographical boundaries is also difficult.
While there are similar provisions among the laws of different countries, it must be noted that statutory provisions tend to set out legal parameters which may be adequate to express what financial actions would be considered illegal. The Companies Act of 2006, for example, has recently been amended to allow companies greater latitude and flexibility in their operations, such as decision making, company formation, director duties, etc, as well as spelling out limits on remuneration allowable to them. The components of the legal provisions thereby set out detailed parameters about how the company functions and how it is to carry out its business operations. The Companies Act of 2006 also requires that companies establish risk assessment and accountability measures, such as setting up independent auditor function to monitor and check accounting procedures within the Company. But all these aspects are dealt with in generalities rather than specifics in so far as statutory provisions are concerned.
But the ISAB framework is much more comprehensive from the perspective of establishing and defining financial parameters. For instance, the ISAB framework defines assets, liabilities and equity clearly. Other information contained in the frameworks includes the characteristics of financial information, such as the elements of financial statements and their recognition, as well as measurement of assets and liabilities.
As Ball (2005) points out, investors require high quality financial statements, which would necessitate (a) an accurate depiction of economic outcomes (b) timeliness and (c) a low capacity for manipulation by managers. None of these elements are likely to be components of the law (Ball, 2005:5). The ISAB framework on the other hand, does place an emphasis on reliability and relevance. The objectives spelt out under ISAB include the development of high quality, understandable and enforceable global accounting standards, promoting the rigorous application of those standards and bringing about a convergence in these standards.(Ball, 2005:6). Moreover, the regulatory frameworks place emphasis on reliability and consistency of accounting frameworks which helps to ensure that there is comparability and relevance across geographical boundaries.
In conclusion therefore, a regulatory framework for financial reporting is necessary to ensure that there is consistency across financial standards in various countries. Regulatory frameworks also help to define financial parameters more clearly as compared to statutory provisions, which provide a more generalized set of rules and laws that companies are expected to adhere to. It is only when there is a violation in financial conduct that a legal provision can be applied and contested, in order to establish how it applies in the context of the specific incident or allegation that has been brought before the Courts. A financial regulatory framework such as the ISAB framework however, clearly defines financial parameters and allows for the preparation of accurate financial statements which are likely to be more informative for investors, based upon an accurate depiction of economic outcomes.