Fundamental concepts of the IASB framework

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The International Accounting Standard Board herein referred to as the IASB, sets forth standards that outlined in its Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements. The IASB framework applies to general-purpose financial statements. That is, the primary financial statements (income statement, balance sheet, etc.) and the accompanying notes but not additional financial or nonfinancial information, such as directors' reports, management discussion and analysis, etc. The IASB framework because of its more limited scope, discusses objectives in the context of business entities only ("IFRSs and US," 2007).

The IASB framework starts with a broad focus, by discussing the objectives in terms of information useful to a wide range of users in making economic decisions. It lists a wide variety of present and potential users. The IASB framework narrows that focus to a particular group of users. Reasons given include pragmatic reasons (for example, a focus to avoid being vague or highly abstract) and that meeting the information needs of that particular group of users is likely to meet most of the needs of other users.

The objectives of financial statements/reports have significant implications for other parts of the framework. For example, objectives affect the elements, in particular the definitions of liabilities and equity. If the objective of financial reporting is to provide information useful to shareholders in making economic decisions, this points toward defining equity narrowly (for example, common shareholders only). Shareholders are interested in the effect of transactions or events on the value of their shares (for example, dilution). In contrast, if the objective of financial reporting is to provide information to a range of users (for example, shareholders, lenders, suppliers, and various other users), this points toward a focus on reporting the effect of transactions or events on the entity, not on the financial position of one particular group of users.

Fundamental Concepts

Underlying Assumptions

The IASB framework prominently features two underlying assumptions: the accrual basis and the going-concern basis. Accrual accounting and related concepts are reviewed extensively. In contrast, the going-concern basis is disclosed in a footnote only.

Qualitative Characteristics

The IASB framework discusses qualitative characteristics of financial information in terms of attributes that make the information provided useful to users in making economic decisions. The IASB framework discusses fundamental qualitative characteristics, qualitative characteristics and pervasive constraints, an outline of each follows this paragraph. The IASB framework also discusses constraints, such as cost-benefit considerations, and the trade-off between the various qualitative characteristics, such as relevance, and reliability. The IASB framework states that the exercise of prudence or conservatism does not allow the deliberate understatement of net assets and profits.

The Boards have identified two characteristics that it has determined to be "fundamental qualitative characteristics." Those are: relevance and faithful representation. The definitions are below:

Relevant - Financial Reporting information that has predictive value or confirmatory value.

Faithful Representation - Financial reporting complete and free from material error and neutral.

The Boards have identified enhancing qualitative characteristics to be:

comparability, verifiability, timelines, and understandability.

The pervasive constraints identified by the Board:

materiality and costs

("Conceptual framework for, Chapter 2" 2008).

In the IASB framework the assets definition has a central role, in that all other element definitions are based upon the definition of assets. That "asset primacy" is not because information about assets is the most important financial information. Rather, it is because, for a set of definitions of elements of articulated financial statements to be internally consistent and avoid circularity, it has to start by defining one of the elements and base the rest of the definitions upon that definition.

Capital and Capital Maintenance

The concepts of capital and capital maintenance concern how an entity defines its capital (that is, its store of wealth) for the purposes of distinguishing between an entity's return on capital and its return of capital.

The IASB conceptual framework briefly discusses two concepts of capital (and their associated capital maintenance concepts): financial and physical (or operating capability). It does not specify which of the two concepts should be adopted, other than to say that the selection of the appropriate concept of capital are based upon on the needs of users of financial statements.

Pros and Cons of Principles Based-System

The inherent characteristic of a principles-based framework is the potential of different interpretations for similar transactions. Proponents of worldwide adoption of IFRS work to ensure assure that similar transactions would obtain the same treatment by companies around the world, resulting in globally comparable financial statements.

A principle-based system addresses a broad area of accounting that remains consistent with a clear 'Conceptual Framework'. The major benefit of principles-based accounting is that the guidelines can be applied in a variety of situations/industries that avoids the need for managers to manipulate statements to fit a certain requirement (Toppe, Myring, 2009).

In principles-based accounting the guidelines are set but not necessarily dictated for every situation, which is one of the major concerns pertaining to this type of accounting system. This situation implies second-guessing and creates uncertainty and requires extensive disclosures in the financial statements. A lack of precise guidelines could create inconsistencies in the application of standards across organizations. For example sometimes financial information can be inconsistent from one company to the next in the same industry thereby damaging the ability for comparability (Doupnik, Perera, 2009).

In a principle-based accounting system, the areas of interpretation or discussion are clarified by the standards-setting board, and provide fewer exceptions than a rules-based system. However, IFRS include positions and guidance are considered as sets of rules instead of sets of principles.

Stated below are some of the underlying concepts of IFRS that provide a flavor of impacts on the financial statements and therefore on the conduct of businesses.

• Consolidation - IFRS favors a control model whereas U.S. GAAP prefers a risks-and-rewards model. Some entities consolidated in accordance with FIN 46(R) may have to be shown separately under IFRS.

• Statement of Income - Under IFRS, extraordinary items are not segregated in the income statement, while, under US GAAP, they are shown below the net income.

• Inventory - Under IFRS, LIFO (a historical method of recording the value of inventory, a firm records the last units purchased as the first units sold) cannot be used whereas under U.S. GAAP, companies have the choice between LIFO and FIFO (is a common method for recording the value of inventory).

• Earning-per-Share - Under IFRS, the earning-per-share calculation does not average the individual interim period calculations, whereas under U.S. GAAP the computation averages the individual interim period incremental shares.

• Development costs - These costs are capitalized under IFRS if certain criteria are met. Under U.S. GAAP development costs are expensed.

FASB

The Financial Accounting Standard Board herein referred to as the FASB, sets forth standards that outlined in its collection of Concept Statements. The FASB framework applies to general-purpose external financial reporting. This includes not only the financial statements but also other financial and nonfinancial information. Examples include other financial and nonfinancial information contained in company annual reports, company prospectuses and service performance information in the annual reports of non-business entities ("IFRSs and US," 2007).

Objectives

The FASB framework contains two statements on objectives-one relating to business entities (Concepts Statement 1) and another relating to non-business entities.

Measurement

Measurement is one of the most underdeveloped areas of the two frameworks. Both the IASB and FASB frameworks contain lists of measurement attributes used in practice. Those lists are broadly consistent, and are composed of historical cost, current cost, gross or net realizable (settlement) value, current market value and present value. Both frameworks indicate that the use of different measurement attributes will continue. However, neither provides guidance on how to choose between the different measurements attributes that exist. In other words, the framework lacks fully developed measurement concepts. Those measurement concepts would need to cover both initial measurement and subsequent measurement. Subsequent measurement includes revaluations, impairment and depreciation.

The Boards also will need to consider whether the conceptual framework should include not just measurement concepts but also guidance on the techniques of measurement. For example, the FASB conceptual framework includes Concepts Statement 7, on the use of cash flow information and the present value measurement technique to estimate fair value for the purposes of initial recognition and fresh-start accounting.

One cross-cutting measurement issue seems to be the unit of account-whether items are grouped at some level of aggregation rather than measured individually (Leuz, 2003).

Display-Presentation and Disclosure

The display section of the conceptual framework would cover concepts for determining both in which and how recognized information are presented in the primary financial statements and what information are disclosed in the notes or elsewhere in the financial reports.

At present, neither framework explicitly sets out definitive concepts of display. Some discussion of presentation and disclosure in the frameworks (for example, both frameworks contain discussion of how information is reported to meet the objectives of financial reporting, by briefly describing the statements that comprise a full set of financial statements and the roles of notes and supplementary information). However, that commentary needs to be pulled together and developed further, to develop concepts of presentation and disclosure useful to the Boards in setting standards for presentation and disclosure (Benston, Bromwich, Wagenhofer, 2006).

Fundamental Concepts

Underlying Assumptions

The accrual basis and the going-concern basis are not listed as underlying assumptions in the FASB framework.

Qualitative Characteristics

Both frameworks discuss qualitative characteristics of financial information in terms of attributes that make the information provided useful to users in making economic decisions. Both frameworks have similar qualitative characteristics, for example, understandability, relevance, reliability and comparability. Both discuss constraints, such as cost-benefit considerations, and the trade-off between the various qualitative characteristics, such as relevance and reliability.

However, there are some differences between the two frameworks. For example, the FASB Concepts Statements set out the characteristics in a hierarchy, treating understandability as a user-specific quality separate from the others, relevance and reliability as the primary qualities and comparability as a secondary quality. In contrast, the IASB framework treats all four as primary qualitative characteristics.

Some improvements could be made to the qualitative characteristics of both frameworks. For example, both include neutrality but also prudence or conservatism. Although both frameworks state that the exercise of prudence or conservatism does not allow the deliberate understatement of net assets and profits, some argue that any concept of prudence or conservatism is inconsistent with the concept of neutrality.

Discussions with constituents of both Boards suggest that important qualitative characteristics common to both frameworks may be misunderstood. For example, some constituents seem to equate reliability with auditability or verifiability, overlooking the frameworks' meaning of correspondence between the accounting information and the real-world economic conditions or events that it purports to represent. Misunderstandings and other difficulties with reliability seem to cut across several present and potential projects at one or both Boards, including revenue recognition, insurance contracts, and fair value measurement (IASB, 2006).

Conceptual Framework Project Exposure Draft - Some History

The first steps taken were to update existing concepts to reflect changes in markets, practices and the economic environment that have occurred in recent years. It was concluded early in the joint project that major reconsideration to all areas of the IASB and FASB frameworks were not needed. They were largely similar. The focus was directed on improving and reaching a convergence between the existing frameworks of each. The convergence process began with a series of exposure drafts.

The exposure drafts relating to the joint conceptual framework project are a product of a shared goal of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), herein referred to as "the Boards." Their shared goal is to develop a common conceptual framework for financial reporting. The exposure drafts are open for public comment. All comments received by FASB are public information and have been posted on their website.

The first discussion paper issued in July 2006 eventually became the first in a series of joint publications that ultimately became the first exposure draft. To date there has been many subsequent drafts published on not only the conceptual framework but also on subsequent issues such as Disclosures, Borrowing Costs, Discontinued Operations, Revenue Recognition, Consolidation, Fair Value Management, Liabilities and many others.

As part of the IASB's due process, the Boards consult with practitioners by publishing discussion papers and Exposure Drafts on each of the proposed chapters of the common framework. The new framework is anticipated to be a single document rather than a series of Concept Statements as is the current FASB framework.

The Current Exposure Draft- Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting

The latest conceptual framework exposure draft published in May 2008 and like its predecessor was open for public comment. It is anticipated that an additional exposure draft on the topic will follow incorporating inputs from various sources and changes needed after future exposure drafts are published on the various topics such as revenue recognition, liabilities, and disclosures among others.

Differences between GAAP and IFRS

The most common question one could expect to have regarding the new framework is "what are the changes?" The potential impact and resulting costs on businesses could be huge is there is a large shift away from the current FASB standards. A huge shift appears unlikely as the two are basing their shared framework largely upon the current FASB concept statements, athough there will be some differences. Some of those be addressed in the pages that follow. This list is not by any means an all-inclusive list of the difference, merely a highlight of some of the more notable difference. These differences are subject to change in the future with publication of new exposure drafts concerning the conceptual framework. An an excellent article published by Deloitte that can found at the following link: http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/issues/ifrs-reporting/assets/ifrs_usgaapsep09.pdf. This article is a more comprehensive list of the differences between IFRS and GAAP that exceeds the scope of this research paper ("Conceptual framework for, para.BC1.3" 2008), ("Current situation and," 2010).

Authoritative Status of the Framework

Currently FASB's Concept Statements have the same authority as articles and textbook These are surpassed in authority by common accounting practices. The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) requires entities preparing financial statements under its authority to consider the IASB Framework when there is no standard or interpretation that specifically applies to an event, transaction or similar issue. This would give more authority to the material sourced by the preparers of United States financial statements ("Conceptual framework for" 2008).

General Purpose Financial Reporting

The focus of the IASB Framework is on the preparation of financial statements. Currently FASB Statement of Concepts focuses on financial reporting. The disparity between the two becomes less when one considers that the primary focus of FASB's conceptual framework is on the financial statements ("Conceptual framework for, para.BC1.3" 2008).

First-time Adoption

Full retrospective application of IFRSs in force at the time of adoption. FASV has no specific standard for first-time adopters. The general practice of U.S. GAAP has been full retrospection application unless a specific standard states otherwise ("IFRSs and US," 2007).

Consolidation

IFRS favors a control model whereas U.S. GAAP prefers a risks-and-rewards model. Some entities consolidated in accordance with FIN 46(R) may have to be shown separately under IFRS (Forgeas, 2008).

Statement of Income

Under IFRS, extraordinary items are not segregated in the income statement, while, under US GAAP, they are shown below the net income (Forgeas, 2008).

Inventory

Under IFRS, LIFO (a historical method of recording the value of inventory, a firm records the last units purchased as the first units sold) cannot be used while under U.S. GAAP, companies have the choice between LIFO and FIFO (is a common method for recording the value of inventory) (Forgeas, 2008).

Earning-per-Share

Under IFRS, the earning-per-share calculation does not average the individual interim period calculations, whereas under U.S. GAAP the computation averages the individual interim period incremental shares (Forgeas, 2008).

Development costs

These costs are under IFRS if certain criteria are met, while they are expensed under U.S. GAAP (Forgeas, 2008).

Similarities between IFRS and GAAP

Below is a list of a few of the similarities between IFRS and GAAP. This list, as with the list of differences, is not an all-inclusive list but a selection of a few of the similarities.

Entity Perspective

The Boards are similar on the topic of users of financial statements. They both agree that the list of potential users is broad and includes investors, lenders, creditors, employees, suppliers, customers, governments and governmental agencies. They address the entity perspective as the corporation possessing a distinct separateness from its sources of capital providers ("Conceptual framework for, para.BC1.11" 2008).

Primary User Group

Again the topic of who the primary users of financial statements are is essentially the same of both Boards. IASB Framework, paragraph 10 says:

"As investors are providers of risk capital to the entity, the provision of financial statements that meet their needs will also meet most of the needs of other users that financial statements can satisfy."

FASB Concepts Statement One focuses on the users of financial information being those whom use the information for investment and credit decisions ("Conceptual framework for, para.BC1.3" 2008).

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