Annual ECON exchange of views with Hans Hoogervorst and Erkki Liikanen

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18 Feb 2020

At the annual exchange of views this morning between the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) of the European Parliament and representatives of the IASB and the IFRS Foundation, IASB Chairman Hans Hoogervorst and Erkki Liikanen, Chairman of the IFRS Foundation Trustees, stood ready to answer questions of the Parliamentarians. IFRS 17 'Insurance Contracts' and wider corporate reporting dominated the exchange.

On IFRS 17, Mr Hoogervorst first stressed that IFRSs are the global accounting language with one big exception where the economy still uses a wide variety of mostly outdated standards and historical cost, so that insurers discount their pension liabilities at historical interest rates that in no way reflect the negative interest rates of today. He stressed that the International Monetary Fund calls for the new standard urgently as does the Financial Stability Board. Mr Hoogervorst also pointed out that the IASB listens very closely to outside comments and expertise - much of it from the EU and the European Financial Advisory Group (EFRAG). Of the ten proposed amendments to IFRS 17 the IASB is currently considering, six were brought forward by EFRAG and five of those have been dealt with.

The other big topic Mr Hoogervorst spoke about was the IASB's role in wider corporate reporting. He noted that not all non-financial information can be captured easily in financial statements as it is difficult to measure and recognise, and yet he also acknowledged that this information can be important to investors. As last year, Mr Hoogervorst pointed to the IASB's project to update the management commentary practice statement and noted that management commentary provided the space for information that does not naturally fit into the financial statements but can have a financial effect nonetheless. He stated that the IASB's role is not to set sustainability reporting standards as there are already many standard-setters ("too many") active in the field, but to provide a framework through the management commentary that would give preparers the opportunity to connect financial and non-financial information.

There were more Parliamentarians at this meeting than in the previous years and IFRS 17 and wider corporate reporting were exactly the topics they commented on. On IFRS 17, one Parliamentarian wanted to know that if this was so important why did not the US apply the standard. Mr Hoogervorst explained about the US decision in 2011 to stop convergence with IFRSs, but he also noted that IFRSs are accepted as accounting standards (for foreign private issuers) in the US, and IFRS adoption continues to be spreading around the world. On IFRS 17, he especially noted Korea, who will "courageously" adopt IFRS 17 and use it coupled with strict regulation as an opportunity to recapitalise its insurance market. He also stressed that he wished that the EU would speed up its IFRS 17 adoption process, because, he said, the standard can help deal with some of the present problems, especially in the context of negative interest rates.

The questions around wider corporate reporting were mostly linked to the European Commission's "Green Deal". There were questions regarding more quantitative not only qualitative information, more forward-looking information, and the expression of frustration that the IASB was not doing enough quickly enough. Mr Hoogervorst once more explained that the IASB's expertise was not in sustainability standard-setting, even though it was happy enough to provide a platform through the updated management commentary practice statement, which will include guidelines how sustainability information can be included in the management commentary and will provide space for such information, but it will not contain any standards for doing so. He acknowledged that not everything was "hunky-dory" in sustainability reporting, especially the huge fragmentation in that space was discouraging. Mr Hoogervorst allowed himself the hope that at some point the many players in the filed would merge into one global standard-setter. However, he warned of two aspects in the field one would need to be aware of. One would be that current sustainability standards face in two different directions: information on risks and opportunities for companies and thus investors (this would include all the non-financial information that can become financial information in the long run) and information on risks for society at large. And the other would be that sustainability information while it is much needed is much less precise than financial information and it is much more political.

A recording of the exchange of views is available on the European Parliament website.

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