Responses to Accountancy Europe cogito paper show strong support for a global solution to non-financial reporting

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30 Apr, 2020

In December 2019, Accountancy Europe published a paper describing and calling for a global solution to interconnected standard-setting that can meet the need for reliable, consistent information in non-financial reporting that is interconnected with financial reporting. The comment deadline for the paper has now ended and the responses received show strong support for a global approach to standard setting in this area.

The paper had noted that the hundreds of non-financial information (NFI) reporting initiatives available are leading to confusion and the potential for greenwashing. For an effective response to these global issues and stakeholder demands, NFI reporting needs to be harmonised and interconnected with financial reporting. The paper then explored four approaches how this can be achieved, being (1) an international non-financial reporting standards board within the IFRS structures, (2) regional consolidation, (3) separate governance structure for financial and NFI reporting; and (4) global corporate reporting structure.

The responses so far made available on the Accountancy Europe website (17 responses that can be accessed here) show strong support for approach number four.

Of the large accounting organisations, ACCA very much supports overall the content and conclusions of the paper and agrees that approach 4 represents the best model for setting the standards needed to address the issues at hand. IFAC states that a global approach to international standard-setting is an optimal solution and notes: "IFAC strongly supports a global, versus regional or local, approach to “non-financial” standard setting, including the process of establishing a conceptual framework and standards, for the same reasons international standards were critical for the maturity of financial reporting. A regional or local approach ultimately leads to inefficiency and increased costs — for both companies and investors and might be challenging to retrofit at an international level."

The majority of national standard-setters also support the global approach. The German standard-setter ASCG states: "[W]e do not share the view of those that believe Europe should be first, go regional and create its own non-financial reporting environment. The reporting requirements are primarily targeting companies that are sourcing, selling and doing business beyond Europe's borders" and the Dutch standard-setter DASB believes that for any global initiative, clear support of major national and international stakeholders and jurisdictions is essential and notes that approach four may be most appropriate given the fact that also the United Nations have made promising progress in developing their SDGs.

The sustainability and integrated reporting organisations, apart from promoting their own standards and frameworks, favour global solutions as well. The CDSB warns that a "regional approach may not be the best method to develop a global standard. This problem is further exacerbated by the issue that jurisdictions outside of Europe may be hesitant to adopt regional concepts", GRI notes that a "globalized system will unlock the value of the information by easing comparability and analysis while minimizing reporting burden", and the IIRC comments: "We endorse the approach taken by Accountancy Europe in encouraging dialogue between stakeholders that will lead to a globally coordinated solution involving many different constituents on an inclusive basis."

Responses from academia offer careful analysis of all approaches and general statements in the paper. One comment letter notes: "Approach 4 has much greater potential with respect to global acceptance. It is unrealistic to expect global adoption of an approach that is designed and controlled locally. [...] This is especially important for NFI because the underlying challenges are global. [...] By creating barriers to global acceptance, Approach 2 risks undermining the EU’s policy ambition in this regard. Conversely, if the EU were to initiate, promote and support Approach 4, and commit to adopting the resulting standards (with appropriate endorsement process), then it would be in a strong position to ensure that the specific implementation of Approach 4 would reflect the EU’s views, against criteria such as public accountability and balanced member ship of the standard-setting body."

The responses from audit firms all support a global solution as well. Our Deloitte comment letter notes: "We agree that there is a need for a global solution in view of the global flow of capital and the urgent need to address issues such as climate change which have no borders. We urge capital market regulators and multi-lateral authorities to engage urgently in putting a robust global systemic solution in place."

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