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FASB Chairman speaks out on convergence

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15 Dec 2003

Convergence of IFRS and US GAAP was one of the major themes in a presentation by FASB Chairman Robert H.

Herz at last week's AICPA Conference on Current SEC Developments. Another major theme was undue political pressure on controversial topics such as accounting for stock options. Below is an excerpt from Mr. Herz's comments. Click to Download the Full Text (PDF 72k).

While getting the [IASB and the FASB] to agree on a common answer to particular issues can be quite challenging, that is not, in my view, the greatest hurdle facing international convergence. Rather, the biggest challenge and potential obstacle thus far has seemed to come from particular constituent groups who have lobbied heavily against particular proposals from either the FASB or the IASB that would move our standards closer together. We have seen this here with the campaign in Congress and elsewhere by the hi-tech lobby against expensing stock options and in Europe with certain financial institutions who have lobbied the European Commission and national governments against the introduction in Europe of international standards on the accounting for financial instruments that are in many respects similar to those in U.S. GAAP. Let's be clear, convergence is a two-way street. If you are truly in favor of international convergence, then inevitably there will be changes on both sides. Convergence does not mean convergence to my way, rather it must mean convergence to the better approach. And while U.S. GAAP may be more highly developed and tested than international standards, we don't have a monopoly on all the right answers. Indeed in some cases, the international folks have addressed a subject more recently than we have and may have come up with a higher quality approach. And in some cases (like revenue recognition), neither U.S. GAAP nor international standards are particularly good in my view and thus we need to work together to find a better approach.

So can we get to convergence? I believe so but it will take time, a lot of hard work, and a relentless determination. And, as I just suggested, the biggest potential obstacle I see is the political one. That is whether the politicians on either side of the Atlantic will have the vision and political will to restrain themselves from intervening into what are supposed to be the independent and objective processes of either the FASB or the IASB each time a powerful lobbying group asks them to block a particular proposal they don't like.

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