Business Leaders Call for Fundamental Changes to Financial Reporting

Elemental changes to the current format of financial reporting need to be made to increase its relevance and stakeholder value and stem the increasing complexity that has plagued financial reporting in recent years, according to key business leaders from around the world interviewed by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).

Developing a new form of reporting that integrates an organization’s social and environmental performance with its economic performance, in a simplified manner, would benefit all stakeholders, according to interviewees. These and other recommendations are summarized in the report, Integrating the Business Reporting Supply Chain, released by IFAC.

The report is based on IFAC’s interviews with 25 prominent business leaders, representing preparers, directors, auditors, standard setters, regulators, and investors, on what should be done to effectively improve governance, the financial reporting process, the audit, and the usefulness of business reports in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The report provides a summary of interviewees’ recommendations in each area and highlights some of IFAC’s related initiatives.

“Society needs successful commercial organizations that act responsibly, and it is important that the business reporting system not only allows but actively promotes this corporate philosophy. There is much debate as to whether or not the current reporting system is fit for this purpose, and this report seeks to drive forward the debate in the crucial areas: governance, financial reporting, financial auditing, and the usefulness of business reports,” said Charles Tilley, chair of the IFAC Business Reporting Project Group.

Strong governance lies at the core of high-quality business reporting. Interviewees agreed that good governance starts with tone at the top. Additional recommendations to strengthen governance in organizations include:

  • Governance codes should be principles based and stakeholder driven;
  • Collaborative, global effort is required to address systemic risk; and
  • More independence should be required of boards of directors.

Improving financial reporting depends on simplifying reports, so that they are easily understood by all stakeholders in the reporting supply chain, according to interviewees. Interviewees also called upon regulators and standard setters to limit the financial reporting burden on smaller and non-listed entities.

In the area of auditing, interviewees agreed that limited audit choice is a challenge that needs to be addressed. They also made recommendations to further improve practice development and auditor communication, and recommended that auditors expand the scope of their assurance services to include non-financial information, such as the social and sustainable performance information included in integrated business reports.

Interviewees acknowledged that achieving integrated business reporting will be very hard to accomplish, and will require all stakeholders in the business reporting supply chain to manage the challenges—including litigation risks and regulations that may inhibit change—in a coordinated way.

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