SEC Chairman-designate is cautious about IFRSs

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19 Jan 2009

On 15 January 2009 the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on the nomination of Mary L Schapiro as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ms Schapiro indicated some concerns about the near-term adoption of IFRSs in the United States and said she would 'not necessarily feel bound by the existing roadmap that is out there for comment'.

Click here for the Webcast of the Hearing. Below is an unofficial transcript of Senator Reed's question about IFRSs and Ms Schapiro's reply.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI): Much of what you are going to do will have complications and consequences overseas as well as here in the United States. One of the areas is the IFRS roadmap. We have repeatedly written to Chairman Cox to try to determine and develop a very deliberate roadmap, and I think there's a rush to judgment on this issue. In fact, I met with the CEO of the Honeywell Corporation who has similar concerns over disparate treatment under international rules that can be used to change income, that can be used to treat R&D expenses differently. There's a potential for arbitrage between the two systems that I think we have to avoid. Can you give us a notion of how you wish to proceed with this international accounting movement – with recognition that eventually we'll have that in a global economy and hopefully we will converge to a set of high level standards.

Mary Schapiro: Well, I would proceed with great caution so that we don't have a race to the bottom. I think we all can agree that a single set of accounting standards used around the world would be a very beneficial thing, would allow investors to compare companies around the world. With that said, I have some concerns with the roadmap that has been published by the SEC and is out for comment now. I have some concerns about the IFRS standards generally. They are not as detailed as the US standards. There's a lot left to interpretation. Even if adopted, there will still be a lack of consistency, I believe, around the world in how they are implemented and how they are enforced. The cost to switch from US GAAP to IFRS is going to be extraordinary, and I've seen some estimates that range as high as $30 million for each US company in order to do that. This is a time when I think we have to think carefully about whether imposing those sorts of costs on US industry really make sense. Perhaps my greatest concern is the independence of the International Accounting Standards Board and the ability to have oversight of their process for setting standards and the amount of rigor that exists in that process today. So, I will tell you that 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 is out there for comment.


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