The use of international financial reporting standards (IFRS) as a universal financial reporting language is gaining momentum across the globe. Over a 100 countries in the European Union, Africa, West Asia and Asia-Pacific regions either require or permit the use of IFRS. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) has recently released a concept paper on Convergence with IFRS in India, detailing the strategy for adoption of IFRS in India with effect from April 1, 2011. This has been strengthened by a recent announcement from the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) confirming the agenda for convergence with IFRS in India by 2011. Even in the US there is an ongoing debate regarding the adoption of IFRS replacing US GAAP.
Adopting IFRS by Indian corporates is going to be very challenging but at the same time could also be rewarding. Indian corporates are likely to reap significant benefits from adopting IFRS. The European Unions experience highlights many perceived benefits as a result of adopting IFRS. Overall, most investors, financial statement preparers and auditors were in agreement that IFRS improved the quality of financial statements and that IFRS implementation was a positive development for EU financial reporting (2007 ICAEW Report on EU Implementation of IFRS and the Fair Value Directive).
There are likely to be several benefits to corporates in the Indian context as well. These are:
Improvement in comparability of financial information and financial performance with global peers and industry standards. This will result in more transparent financial reporting of a companys activities which will benefit investors, customers and other key stakeholders in India and overseas;
The adoption of IFRS is expected to result in better quality of financial reporting due to consistent application of accounting principles and improvement in reliability of financial statements. This, in turn, will lead to increased trust and reliance placed by investors, analysts and other stakeholders in a companys financial statements; and
Better access to and reduction in the cost of capital raised from global capital markets since IFRS are now accepted as a financial reporting framework for companies seeking to raise funds from most capital markets across the globe. A recent decision by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permits foreign companies listed in the US to present financial statements in accordance with IFRS. This means that such companies will not be required to prepare separate financial statements under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in the US (US GAAP). Therefore, Indian companies listed in the US would benefit from having to prepare only a single set of IFRS compliant financial statements, and the consequent saving in financial and compliance costs.
However, the perceived benefits from IFRS adoption are based on the experience of IFRS compliant countries in a period of mild economic conditions. The current decline in market confidence in India and overseas coupled with tougher economic conditions may present significant challenges to Indian companies.
IFRS requires application of fair value principles in certain situations and this would result in significant differences from financial information currently presented, especially relating to financial instruments and business combinations. Given the current economic scenario, this could result in significant volatility in reported earnings and key performance measures like EPS and P/E ratios. Indian companies will have to build awareness amongst investors and analysts to explain the reasons for this volatility in order to improve understanding, and increase transparency and reliability of their financial statements.
This situation is worsened by the lack of availability of professionals with adequate valuation skills, to assist Indian corporates in arriving at reliable fair value estimates. This is a significant resource constraint that could impact comparability of financial statements and render some of the benefits of IFRS adoption ineffective.
Although IFRS are principles-based standards, they offer certain accounting policy choices to preparers of financial statements. For example, the use of a cost-based model or a revaluation model in accounting for investment properties. This could reduce consistency and comparability of financial information to a certain extent and therefore reduce some of the benefits from IFRS adoption. IFRS are formulated by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) which is an international standard-setting body.
However, the responsibility for enforcement and providing guidance on implementation vests with local government and accounting and regulatory bodies, such as the ICAI in India. Consequently, there may be differences in interpretation or practical application of IFRS provisions, which could further reduce consistency in financial reporting and comparability with global peers. The ICAI will have to make adequate investments and build infrastructure to ensure compliance with IFRS.
In addition to the above, there are several impediments and practical challenges to adoption of and full compliance with IFRS in India. These are:
The need for a change in several laws and regulations governing financial accounting and reporting in India. In addition to accounting standards, there are legal and regulatory requirements that determine the manner in which financial information is reported or presented in financial statements. For example, the Companies Act, 1956 determines the classification and accounting treatment for redeemable preference shares as equity instruments of a company, whereas these may be considered to be a financial liability under IFRS. The Companies Act (Schedule VI) also prescribes the format for presentation of financial statements for Indian companies, whereas the presentation requirements are significantly different under IFRS. Similarly, the Reserve Bank of India regulates the financial reporting for banks and other financial institutions, including the presentation format and accounting treatment for certain types of transactions.
The recent announcement by the MCA is encouraging as it indicates government support for the timetable for convergence with IFRS in India. However, the announcement stops short of endorsing the roadmap for convergence and the full adoption of IFRS that is discussed in ICAIs concept paper. In the absence of adequate clarity and assurance that Indian laws and regulations will be amended to conform to IFRS, the conversion process may not gain momentum.
There is a lack of adequate professionals with practical IFRS conversion experience and therefore many companies will have to rely on external advisers and their auditors. This is magnified by a lack of preparedness amongst Indian corporates as this project may be viewed simply as a project management or an accounting issue which can be left to the finance function and auditors. However, it should be noted that IFRS conversion will involve a fundamental change to an entitys financial reporting systems and processes. It will require a detailed knowledge of the standards and the ability to consider their impact on business transactions and performance measures. Further, the conversion process will need to disseminate and embed IFRS knowledge throughout the organisation to ensure its application on an ongoing basis.
Another potential pitfall is viewing IFRS accounting rules as similar to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in India (Indian GAAP), since Indian accounting standards have been formulated on the basis of principles in IFRS. However, this view disregards significant differences between Indian GAAP and IFRS as well as differences in practical implementation and interpretation of similar standards. Further, certain Indian standards offer accounting policy choices which are not available under IFRS, for example, use of pooling of interests method in accounting for business combinations.
There is an urgent need to address these challenges and work towards full adoption of IFRS in India. The most significant need is to build adequate IFRS skills and an expansive knowledge base amongst Indian accounting professionals to manage the conversion projects for Indian corporates. This can be done by leveraging the knowledge and experience gained from IFRS conversion in other countries and incorporating IFRS into the curriculum for professional accounting courses.
Ultimately, it is imperative for Indian corporates to improve their preparedness for IFRS adoption and get the conversion process right. Given the current market conditions, any restatement of results due to errors in the conversion process would be detrimental to the company involved and would severely damage investor confidence in the financial system.