SEC Commissioner compares convergence with the search for the Holy Grail

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10 Sep 2015

In a speech to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and BritishAmerican Business, SEC Commissioner Kara M. Stein remarked that the focus of financial reporting should be on expanding timely access to information and understanding differences between accounting standards rather than directing efforts to converge.

In her speech entitled "Accountants and Capital Markets in an Era of Digital Disruption", Commissioner Stein discussed many ideas around technological change, transforming business models, and instantaneously available data. One of her points was the effect this might have on financial reporting. She commented that while there has been an effort over the last years to find a globally accepted, single set of high-quality financial reporting standards, which would be attactive in view of borderless business and instantaneous movement of data, the practical challenges of the task seem to be overwhelming: "Quite frankly, it often feels like we are searching for the Holy Grail. But I am not sure it is there." Commissioner Stein even questioned whether the convergence efforts so far have contributed to improved quality at all. She therefore advocated rather than trying to overcome differences to make use of technological developments to further timely access to information and bridge gaps in understanding:

I think we should go back to first principles. Information provided to investors must be relevant, reliable, and timely, to be decision-useful. How that is achieved may vary across cultures and reflect deeply entrenched political and economic structures. And that is appropriate – indeed, unavoidable. Advances in communications, technology, and data analytics can contribute to improvements in financial reporting, and this too can help bridge those gaps. The key in my mind is not necessarily to converge for the sake of convergence, but rather to expand timely access to information and provide for understanding differences.

Please click for access to the full text of the speech on the SEC website.

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