Concepts — Objectives

Date recorded:

The Boards considered a number of issues in relation to the objectives of financial reporting.

The first issue considered was whether the objective of financial reporting should be to provide information to a wide range of users or only to existing common shareholders. It was noted that the existing frameworks of both Boards, and all others that had come to the attention of the staff defined users very broadly. The staff proposed that the existing understanding of 'users' should be retained, and noted that a limitation to common shareholders would be inappropriate in some countries depending on their corporate governance requirements. It was noted that users are generally those who make risky investments (in whatever form) in an entity, and are not always classified as equity holders for accounting purposes. The Boards agreed that users should be a wide group of people, and noted that information that certain user groups may require that others do not might become apparent later in the project.

The Boards noted that there is an important distinction of those who can and cannot demand financial information from the entity suited specifically to their information needs. However, it was noted that some entities must prepare GAAP accounts because certain of their users who are in a position to demand information for their own needs demand GAAP accounts. It was noted that while these users are part of the broad definition of 'users' no requirements should be put in place specifically in respect of such users (as should they require anything, they may demand it of a specific entity themselves.)

The next discussion was whether the role of financial reporting is to assist users in decision-making or to compile past transactions and it was agreed that the role of financial reporting is to assist with decision-making. The Boards then discussed whether, having agreed the primary objective is to assist decision-making, a sub-objective in relationship to the role of accountability and stewardship should be incorporated. Such an objective is included in most existing frameworks. The Boards had an extensive discussion around the meaning of the term 'stewardship', as there were a number of different interpretations of the term around the table, and it was noted that it does not translate well. A number of Board members believed this objective should not be included, however this was not a majority. Accordingly staff were asked to prepare a paper for the Boards to consider individually articulating the intended interpretation of 'stewardship'.

The Boards agreed that in general purpose financial reports should not seek to provide information useful to management - if management finds it useful this is a positive but not required as management are able to demand their own reports. The Boards considered a question as to whether management's expectations of viewpoint should be reflected in the information that is presented in the financial reports. The Boards agreed that it was impossible to say 'no' to this as management expectations are an essential part of financial reporting - for example in assessing the useful lives of assets, given the use to which a particular entity is putting them (for example the useful life of a plane operating a shuttle service that takes off and lands regularly throughout the day is not the same as that of a plane which is used on longer flights.) The Boards also considered whether financial reports should include management commentary. It was noted that the IASB's preface does note that management commentary is in their remit. The Boards agreed they should not conclude on this point until the boundaries of financial reporting under the frameworks had been better defined.

The Boards considered whether the individual financial statements should provide information to assist users in assessing solvency. The Boards agreed that while such an objective seemed reasonable, it should only be as part of the overall objectives of providing useful information for decision making, which includes but is not limited to an assessment of solvency.

The Boards considered whether developments such as XBRL had eliminated the need for general purpose financial reports, as users are able to extract the information that they require from such reporting formats. The Boards agreed that at this time general purpose financial reports are not obsolete, and should continue to be the type of reporting to which the conceptual frameworks are directed. At this time reporting formats such as XBRL are an excellent analysis tool, but do not represent a comprehensive reporting framework. Therefore the Boards would continue to use general purpose financial reports as the reporting format they mandate and would endeavour to ensure they kept the information needs of users foremost in their mind. The staff also posed a question as to whether financial reports should contain environmental and social information. The Boards were not asked to make a decision, but did observe that it would be hard to leave this out of financial reporting and still be claiming to fulfil a 'stewardship' objective. The Boards noted that there are a number of European projects on such topics at the moment covering issues such as environmental reporting and human resource accounting. The Boards will further consider this issue at a later date.

The Chairman thanked Kimberley Crook, the IASB's project manager on this project, for her work at the IASB and wished her well as she returns to New Zealand, where she will continue to work on this project.

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