AASB paper on materiality in disclosure

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28 Feb 2014

The Australian Accounting Standard Board (AASB) has published a staff paper on materiality in the context of disclosure. The paper considers the 'disclosure overload' criticism often levelled at International Financial Reporting Standards, and provides a series of recommendations for preparers to consider in the short-term.

The AASB staff paper, To Disclose or Not to Disclose: Materiality is the Question, begins by providing a summary of the debate around 'disclosure overload' in recent times, including some of the publications that have analysed the issue. Publications cited include the Managing Complexity in Financial Reporting document released by the Australian Financial Reporting Council, and the Louder than Words and Cutting Clutter publications of the United Kingdom Financial Reporting Council.

The paper goes on to analyse the reasons why 'disclosure overload' is a problem, considering the requirements of standards, an increasingly litigious environment, time pressures, the views of auditors, difficulties in making judgements, a tendency to follow disclosures made by industry peers, and fear of regulators.

In considering accounting standards, the paper notes the following in the context of Australia's transition to IFRSs in 2005:

The obvious scapegoat is the move to IFRSs; but is this really a fair call? Prior to the move to IFRSs in 2005, much of Australian GAAP was already converged with International Accounting Standards, so whilst IFRSs perhaps should shoulder some of the blame, they should not be held responsible for it all.

The paper welcomes the IASB's disclosure initiative projects, but notes they may take some time to be finalised. Accordingly, the paper puts forward a number of immediate "substantive things not to do when making an assessment about what information should be included in the financial statements". These are summarised below:

  • Do not include every disclosure illustrated in model financial statements, as these are a 'cater for all possible scenarios' tool
  • Do not blindly copy what other entities have disclosed, instead exercise judgement in deciding on appropriate disclosure
  • Do not repeat information from prior financial years, but adapt to changed circumstances
  • Do not disclose accounting policy choices made under accounting standards unless they are relevant and necessary to understanding information provided - this includes not disclosing accounting policies for transaction types not in the financial statements
  • Do not assume auditors will require every disclosure required by accounting standards
  • Do not fear regulators, which are increasingly confirming they will not pursue immaterial disclosures.

The staff paper is available on the AASB website.

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