A progress report: IFRS-U.S. GAAP convergence and its curriculum impact.
In a 1991 article, R.K. Goeltz opined that harmonization of international accounting standards was impractical and not necessarily proven to be valuable. Within twenty years, the world has come to a point where more than 100 countries have adopted IFRS and more, including the United States, will most likely do so before the end of the next decade. The main benefits expected from having one set of accounting standards are better comparability of financial statements of companies from different nation states, facilitation of global trade and world capital markets, and a lower cost of capital (Bolt-Lee & Smith, 2009). It has also been argued that the principles-based approach followed by IFRS may improve quality of financial reporting as earnings management may be reduced. However, others have disputed this claim and found no such significant improvement in earnings quality experienced by countries adopting IFRS (Jeanjean & Stolowy, 2008). Among the negative effects, researchers point out the cost of transitioning to IFRS to be the major impact. In countries with established high quality and stringent accounting standards, such as the U.S., financial reporting improvements from adopting IFRS are anticipated to be minor as a whole (Hail, Leuz, & Wysocki, 2009). These authors even suggest creation of a competing U.S. GAAP-based set of global standards as an alternative to IFRS.
Regardless of the aforementioned varying opinions and study results, convergence of U.S. GAAP with IFRS is now more of a reality rather than a simple conjecture or a forum for discussion. With shifts in political power and leadership changes at the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009, there have been some twists and turns and delays in the proposed roadmap for transitioning into IFRS. Originally, the SEC's roadmap set forth milestones that could have led to the required use of IFRS by U.S. issuers in 2014 while encouraging early adoption by 2011 (SEC, 2008). However, after listening to much debate over the positive and negative effects and the uncertainty of benefits, the newly appointed SEC director has decided to delay the transition to 2016 at the earliest. Nonetheless, the accounting educators, the major accounting firms, the American Institute for CPAs (AICPA), and the accounting textbook publishers have recognized the urgent need for preparing for this shift. For example, the AICPA Board of Examiners have decided to test candidates for the national CPA examination on IFRS topics in three of the four sections of the exam beginning as early as 2011 (AICPA, 2010). The Board wants candidates to be as proficient in IFRS topics as U.S. GAAP and GAAS (Generally Accepted Auditing Standards) regardless of when the SEC determines the effective date for adoption. In addition, the public accounting firms are expecting the new hires to be aware of the convergence process and the differences in IFRS and GAAP.
These events have undoubtedly sped up the process for accounting educators to be trained in IFRS so that adequate coverage in accounting programs is possible. (Kroll, 2009). On the other hand, the IFRS leaves much room for management's judgment in various areas of financial reporting as opposed to the rules-based approach under GAAP. The shift from a rules-based approach to a principles-based approach will require the preparers and auditors of financial statements to utilize more critical thinking skills and to be used to working with ambiguity in the absence of detailed and highlighted accounting standards as in GAAP (Smith & Von Bergen, 2009). Therefore, the convergence and transition process between IFRS and GAAP not only puts tremendous pressure on accounting educators to become proficient in teaching a whole new set of rules but also in changing their teaching method from mainly analytical tools to more broad-based tools that help build skills in applying strategic judgment to identify the substance of economic events.
In light of the above, this paper attempts to identify the main areas of concern for accounting educators and is divided in four sections: 1) a brief history of IFRS, 2) a summary of reports from countries that have adopted IFRS, 3) a summary of two surveys performed with accounting educators in the U.S. regarding curriculum impact, and 4) a discussion on curriculum and human capital impact.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF IFRS
It is now common knowledge that national accounting rules and practices vary widely around the world because of cultural, linguistic, religious, educational, and ideological/political differences (Nobes & Parker, 2008, p. 37; Nobes & Schwencke, 2006; Choi & Meek, 2005; Radebaugh & Gray, 2002; Doupnik & Salter, 1995). Nobes (1998) proposed that differences in the rigor of financial reporting and disclosure regulations exist because in some countries equity markets are very important, and many outside shareholders rely on financial information disclosed by companies. In other countries, a credit-based financial system pervades and outside shareholders are not as important. Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom with prominent equity/outsider systems demand decision-useful accounting, a separation between tax and accounting rules, and elaborate auditing professions. Since the end of World War II, however, liberalization and privatization of markets, reduction of trade and investment barriers, and advancement in information technology and transportation have resulted in a tremendous growth in cross-border trade and foreign direct investment (Hill, 2009, p. 35). These events have necessitated an honest effort toward harmonization of international accounting standards and financial reporting across the globe. In an attempt to move toward this harmonization, the International Accounting Standards Committee (IASC) was created (www.ifrs.org).
Much progress has been made by the IASC since its inception in 1973, as demonstrated by the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by the European Union and Australia and the recent proposed roadmap suggested by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the convergence of IFRS with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) (Nobes & Parker, 2008). Progress has also been noted in the context of harmonization of the regulations for qualifications of practicing professional accountants (Hall & Sen, 2004). However, events since 2009 including the changes in the U.S. presidency and in SEC administration have slowed down development toward the harmonization of standards. Nevertheless, the authors believe that this is the right time to consider the potential effect of the proposed convergence on accounting programs offered by U.S. colleges and universities that prepare future accountants. The remainder of this overview section explains these events in more detail.
As globalization is taking place rapidly in the business world, capital markets are no longer the domain of the United States. In 2002, the European Union (EU) adopted legislation that required companies that are listed on the European market to comply with IFRS in their consolidated financial statements. The effective date for compliance was 2005 and applied to 8,000 companies in 30 countries including countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United
Kingdom (Mirza, Orrell, & Holt, 2008). In November 2007, the SEC in the United States agreed to accept foreign corporations' financial statements prepared in accordance with IFRS as published by the IASB without reconciliation to U.S. GAAP (Larson, 2009).
In November 2008, under the guidance of then chair Christopher Cox, the SEC published a "Roadmap For The Potential Use of Financial Statements Prepared In Accordance With International Financial Reporting Standards By U.S. Issuers" (SEC, 2008). This document outlines the steps needed to converge U.S. GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards. This 'roadmap' would apply to public companies and had two important dates: in 2011 a decision by the SEC would be made to determine whether to proceed with rulemaking to require IFRS adoption. If the decision were affirmative, adoption would be required in 2014.
In January 2009, during the confirmation hearing for her appointment as SEC chair, Mary Schapiro stated, "I will take a big deep breath and look at this entire area again carefully and will not necessarily feel bound by the existing roadmap that's out for comment" (IFRS Reporter, January 2009, p. 1). Subsequent comments indicated that investor protection was her first and foremost priority, and that she would deal with other more pressing issues before international accounting standards. At the same time, other comments she made indicated that she was in favor of a single-set of high-quality accounting standards (Millman, 2009).
Comments also indicated that one group preferred a convergence (as opposed to a certain time for adoption) of IFRS. This group was of the opinion that the SEC and the IASB should let the convergence process work and publish future standards that are jointly adopted by both organizations. This would allow U.S. companies to transition to IFRS in a natural progression. Others believed that an adoption deadline is the only way to proceed since IFRS would never remain intact if convergence were to be chosen. However, even this group thought the timeline was not long enough. They believed that it would take at least four years to get ready for IFRS. They suggested either delaying the adoption date to later than 2014 or have the SEC make the decision to require adoption earlier than 2011 (www.ifrs.com/updates/aicpa/ifrs, 2009). Overall, while there were concerns about the IFRS standards and the timeline of the convergence, the majority believed the ultimate goal should be one set of high-quality, globally accepted accounting standards. However, without a clear SEC mandate, it would be impossible to reach that goal (Gannon, 2009).
Since the roadmap has been published, much debate has taken place at all levels (government, industry, and academics). Some are not happy with the freedom IFRS offers, thinking that the international standards are subject to varying interpretations based on what type of information is needed. Bogoslaw (2008) explains that the main difference between U.S. GAAP and IFRS is that U.S. standards are based on precise rules while the international standards are more general and principles based, providing companies more flexibility to use judgment in revenue recognition and other key areas. Others are concerned about the cost of implementing IFRS. According to an SEC estimate, those adopting IFRS early would each incur about $32 million in additional costs in filing financial statements (10-Ks) in 2010. Intel has quoted an estimate of $50 million for IFRS conversion and asked the SEC to revisit the proposed mandate and roadmap (Johnson & Leone, 2009).
Although discussions proliferate and confusion intensifies about the timing and the roadmap of international standards, several questions arise regarding the academic training of accounting graduates. What should academics do in this fluid regulatory environment? This uncertainty was evident among educators in 2009 (McGee & Bandyopadhyay, 2009). However, it is clearer that more educators are preparing for including IFRS at various levels of accounting courses (Kroll, 2009). This has led us to write a progress report regarding IFRS-GAAP convergence and its accounting curriculum impact in higher education.
REPORTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Published examples of studies completed in other countries such as Australia (Crosling, Edwards, & Schroder, 2008), and Russia (Preobragenskaya & McGee, 2003) on internationalizing the business/accounting curricula resonate similar challenges being faced by accounting educators and the need for institutional support. In a Norwegian study (Gjerde, Knivsfla & Saettem, 2008), the researchers concluded that countries with a less developed accounting system may experience a net benefit over implementation costs by adopting IFRS compared to countries with an already developed and elaborate accounting system. In emerging markets, where established quality accounting standards did not exist before IFRS were adopted, implementation was easier because no other option was available, such as in Kazakhstan (Tyrrall, Woodward, & Rakhimbekova, 2007) and Jordan (Al-Akra, Jahangir Ali, & Marashdeh, 2009).
Another example of a more comprehensive study is by Daske, Hail, Leuz and Verdi (2008). These researchers examined the economic effects of IFRS for both early and mandated adoption with 3100 firms in 26 countries that have adopted IFRS. Their findings reinforce the economic impact of voluntary early adoption along with a strong regulatory environment emphasizing transparency and financial reporting quality. As mentioned earlier, Jeanjean and Stolowy (2008) performed their research on 1100 firms from the United Kingdom, Australia, and France to measure financial reporting quality after implementing IFRS. These three countries were selected because they were unable to adopt IFRS before the mandatory adoption date and thus any early adoption benefits could be eliminated. These authors did not find an overall improvement in earnings quality by adopting IFRS. They suggested that standard-setting bodies should focus on improving IFRS adoption reporting incentives and strict enforcement, not just harmonization of accounting standards. In the context of preparing for the transition, Goodwin, Cooper and Johl (2008) concluded most firms included in their research in Australia and their auditors were unprepared for IFRS at transition. Ding and Su (2008) suggest from their observations in China that enforcement of newly adopted international standards will be more important than simple adoption of IFRS as weak corporate governance is a problem in that country. Therefore, from a survey of a myriad of published work, one message is clear: numerous uncertainties are present both in measuring results from adoption of IFRS and effects on accounting education around the world (Sunder, 2008).
CURRICULUM IMPACT STUDIES
Introducing a new set of principles into the accounting curriculum raises many questions. Faculty in U.S. colleges and universities have a wealth of expertise in teaching U.S. GAAP, however, expertise in IFRS is limited. Even a year ago, the following questions were being asked: Since IFRS has been adopted by more than one hundred countries, should U.S. universities be incorporating IFRS in the curriculum? Who will teach the material and how will the faculty be trained? Will faculty be willing to introduce the new standards into their classes? Adding international standards to an already complex and robust accounting curriculum would require the teaching of two sets of standards. A year later, it is clear that until the convergence becomes mandatory, both standards must be covered. The big four accounting firms are now requiring that new hires be familiar with IFRS, while some of the regional firms are also expecting the students to be aware of IFRS at some level (Kroll, 2009). As noted earlier, the AICPA Board of Examiners will be testing candidates on IFRS in three of the four sections of the national Uniform CPA exam beginning as early as 2011. These events now will force universities to fully incorporate IFRS into the accounting curriculum as soon as possible. For generations in the U.S., GAAP has been the basis for training, education, and examinations of accountants, in schools and in practice. IFRS is barely known and rarely taught. So the entire U.S. training, education, and examination system requires revision (Cunningham, 2008).
Based on a national survey of accounting faculty performed in the summer of 2008, Munter and Reckers (2009) report on significant impediments in integrating IFRS in U.S. collegiate accounting curriculum. This survey, of course, was performed before Chair Shapiro declared the delay in the proposed roadmap as described in the previous section. The authors found that accounting faculty shortage, outside (employers) pressures in covering other relevant topics such as ethics cases, forensic accounting, and inadequate support from educational institutions and textbook publishers were the main challenges for integrating IFRS in the curricula by 2011. The respondents in their survey had high expectations from accounting textbook publishers in meeting their training and course coverage needs. However, Munter and Reckers (2009) point out that it will not be feasible for publishers to meet such high expectations. They ask for leadership intervention in meeting these challenges. In short, faculty responding to the survey did not appear to be prepared to implement IFRS into the curricula earlier than was anticipated, i.e., 2014 (Munter and Reckers, 2009).
Another researcher (Kroll, 2009) also reports on the same survey with 535 professors conducted jointly by the one of the big global accounting firms, KPMG, and the American Accounting Association, a professional group for accounting educators. Approximately twenty percent of the respondents stated that they would incorporate IFRS into their courses in a significant way for the 2008-09 academic year. However, the survey did not ask to what extent or in what way the educators would cover IFRS. Based on subsequent inquiries with various professors in different colleges/universities across the nation, Kroll (2009) finds wide variations in coverage. Some schools are taking a wait-and-see approach while others are informally integrating IFRS at the undergraduate level and still others are actively partnering with large CPA firms in offering a separate IFRS course to graduate-level students. Some professors are planning to cover IFRS in the intermediate accounting courses. However, intermediate accounting courses are already saturated with detailed GAAP standards and there is very little room for additional materials. Kroll (2009) received suggestions from accounting professors that the number of credits for intermediate accounting courses be increased to four credits from three. Educators seem to rethink the way accounting is taught. The pedagogy may have to change from teaching students the detail rules and to research the reasons behind GAAP to help them understand the economics of transactions and develop more broad-based conceptual thinking.
In 2009, the authors of this paper performed a nation-wide survey of the accounting chairs of the top ranked accounting programs (both at undergraduate and graduate levels). Schools accredited by the American Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International were deemed a relevant platform for the sample, as AACSB-accredited accounting programs are recognized as the leading providers of quality accounting education. In addition, these institutions normally attract faculty with expertise in all fields including the international arena and would be expected to allocate funds for faculty training and research. At the time of this study, one hundred and fifty nine institutions in the U.S. were accredited by the AACSB according the organization's website (www.aacsb.edu).
Survey questions covered the following areas:
* General characteristics such as college or university, undergraduate, or graduate programs,
* The introduction and coverage of IFRS-GAAP (already covering and/or future academic years),
* Where IFRS are being covered, i.e., the level of accounting course(s) beginning with introductory courses,
* Training of faculty, and
* Chairs' perceptions on the impact of conversion to IFRS on financial reporting and analysis, and on student preparation and resulting job opportunities.
A response rate of 23 percent (37 institutions out of 159 in the U.S.) was achieved. Responses were received between April and May of 2009. Seventy-six percent of respondent schools were already covering IFRS. Fourteen out of the thirty-six graduate institutions reported that they would continue coverage in the Academic Year 2009-2010. From the responses, it appeared that faculty from a majority of the institutions were relying on training themselves by taking continuing professional education (CPE) courses offered by Big Four CPA firms (Deloitte, 2008). Faculty from fifty-one percent of the schools were getting ready to train themselves by studying new editions of textbooks which would have extensive coverage of IFRS and differences from U.S. GAAP. It was noteworthy that most schools in this survey were preparing for IFRS coverage even though the current SEC administration postponed the implementation of IFRS until further investigation.
When asked about coverage of IFRS in specific courses, the majority (31 out of 37) referred to the Intermediate Accounting courses. Respondents were allowed to identify more than one course. Fourteen of the schools were covering IFRS in introductory accounting courses. However, the question did not inquire about the depth of coverage. It is quite possible that coverage of the history of IFRS and GAAP convergence without in-depth content coverage resulted in affirmative answers for Introductory Accounting courses. Of those reporting coverage in Introductory Accounting courses (14), all but one were also covering IFRS in Intermediate Accounting courses. Another noteworthy observation was that none of the respondents reported that they were relying on IFRS coverage in Advanced Accounting solely. In fact, those mentioning the Advanced Accounting course also reported coverage in the Intermediate Accounting course first. Historically, any international accounting topic has been left for limited coverage in Advanced and/or separate International Accounting courses. The Intermediate accounting course has always been heavily loaded with in-depth coverage of the ever growing number of Statements of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS) as required by U.S. GAAP making it difficult to leave room for other topics such as international accounting. However, due to the current regulatory environment, it appears that now chairs/deans are and will be relying on faculty teaching Intermediate Accounting courses for in-depth training of students. Interestingly, only 20 out of the 32 schools with graduate accounting programs indicated that IFRS would be covered in graduate level courses. This could mean that the remaining 12 schools are planning to utilize undergraduate courses (such as Intermediate, Advanced, and International Accounting) for comprehensive coverage of IFRS. In general, regarding curriculum impact, this survey echoed the findings reported by Kroll (2009).
A majority (59 percent) believed that the convergence will provide easier access to world markets for global companies. However, it could not be ignored that 22 percent did not have such a positive opinion, and that 19 percent felt neutral. While an astounding 70 percent of the respondents believed that there should be a single-set of globally accepted accounting standards, the thirty percent who felt either neutral or were in disagreement cannot be ignored. From the comments for this question, it appeared that respondents had significant doubts about the likelihood of one set of standards. They expected that certain adjustments would be negotiated by different nations due to cultural and economic differences even if one standard were to be adopted. These comments reflect the perception of the near impossible reality of one global set of standards. As mentioned in the previous section, research reports from around the globe also support similar concerns and outcomes.
Eighty-three percent felt that footnotes would be more important under IFRS than under GAAP. Forty-nine percent agreed that IFRS will offer more freedom and opportunities for earnings manipulation than GAAP while thirty-eight percent disagreed. These perceptions perhaps reflected the degree of confusion in the current environment and lack of in-depth understanding of the effect of IFRS. The responses to the question on whether transition to IFRS would be more costly than that of Sarbanes-Oxley were also evenly distributed. This could also be an indication of the above mentioned confusion that exists because it is too early to predict such conclusions.
The authors also conducted in-person interviews with several colleagues across the nation as recently as spring 2010. The responses on coverage varied. One faculty covered a brief history and the need for IFRS and some of the main differences in the introductory course and assessed awareness among students by assigning a brief paper that included a cursory review of two financial statements under GAAP and IFRS. Another faculty introduced IFRS and GAAP concepts in general in the auditing course. One other colleague stated that she covers a chapter in Advanced Accounting called Worldwide Accounting diversity and International standards which follows the history of international standards, the roadmap, convergence, key differences, and impact on income and equity. In addition, she covered specific issues on IFRS-GAAP differences when teaching consolidations and pension accounting. This professor plans to test students of Advanced Accounting with objective type questions and short essay questions from readings of various research articles published in trade journals many of which are referred to here. A faculty from a southern university teaches IFRS in detail in a standalone and required course in international accounting and thus eliminates coverage in intermediate accounting.
Regarding employment and human resources, although a majority (65 percent) responded that graduating accounting students needed to be as familiar with IFRS as with U.S. GAAP, an even distribution was noted among those who agreed, disagreed, and felt neural that students' job opportunities would increase from any specialty acquired in IFRS. However, the survey did not inquire about faculty opinions on specific skill sets needed for preparation and auditing of financial statements. Smith and Von Bergen (2009) touches upon the need for new traits necessary for accounting graduates as GAAP converges with IFRS. Accounting educators have been training accounting students with analytical skills, attention to detail, and adherence to detail and clear rules as promulgated by GAAP for decades. However, IFRS will require more critical thinking skills and making judgmental decisions facing ambiguity as the international standards do not provide clear guidance but broad principles. The international standards will force individuals and auditors to take more aggressive steps in interpreting hidden economic events and apply intuitive skills and be able to work under the stress of making decisions in uncertain environments. Case studies that deal with real world uncertainties in finding solutions may become a more popular pedagogy among university educators.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
As evident from the discussion above, the urgency of curriculum change in light of IFRS-GAAP convergence is now felt by the accounting teaching profession in the U.S. Regardless of the uncertainty of the roadmap to IFRS convergence, the majority of accounting professors are either currently covering or will be covering IFRS along with U.S. GAAP in the upcoming academic year. For most universities the new material is or will be covered in Intermediate Accounting courses. This means more pressure on faculty to cover additional complex material in these already comprehensive accounting courses. Some schools are also covering the standards in Introductory Accounting courses that are required for all business majors and not just accounting majors. However, the extent of coverage in the Introductory Accounting courses will most likely be just awareness. Some schools are reinforcing IFRS in upper level courses. Publishers of accounting textbooks have released new editions with better coverage of IFRS.
Regarding pedagogical training, most chairs/deans expect faculty to train themselves through CPE courses offered by the larger public accounting firms and from reading the newer edition textbooks. As the Uniform CPA exam will have questions on IFRS in 2011, this could mean added revenue generation opportunities for textbook publishers, companies offering CPA Review courses, and accounting education consultants. We believe that significant leadership involvement and cooperation from the accounting profession, FASB, IASB, colleges and universities, and government agencies such as the SEC is critical in the current environment.
It will be worthwhile to investigate how four-year schools of business not accredited by the AACSB and community colleges offering accounting courses are dealing with the coverage of IFRS and GAAP convergence. Furthermore, a survey involving accounting firms and publicly traded companies should be conducted to shed more light on this topic. The current environment also is ripe for pedagogical publications as in cases (with real companies and simulated ones) demonstrating IFRS and GAAP differences in controversial topics such as revenue recognition, goodwill and pension accounting. Such cases may be the appropriate tools for training accounting students with skills needed for preparing and auditing the broader principles-based approach under IFRS. If and when a more definite roadmap is determined by the SEC, a longitudinal study to examine the effect of adopting IFRS on curriculum and future accounting graduates will also be meaningful.
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Jayanti Bandyopadhyay: Assistant Professor of Accounting at the Bertolon School of Business at Salem State University, 352 Lafayette Street, Salem, Massachusetts 01970-5353. (email@example.com)
Paul F. McGee: Professor of Accounting at the Bertolon School of Business at Salem State University, 352 Lafayette Street, Salem, Massachusetts 01970-5353. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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|Title Annotation:||International Financial Reporting Standard and United States Generally Accepted Accounting Principles|
|Author:||Bandyopadhyay, Jayanti; McGee, Paul F.|
|Publication:||Advances in Competitiveness Research|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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