Peeling away financial reporting issues one layer at a time

And Our IFRS Survey Says…

This is the first of a series to discuss the results of our IFRS opinion survey. The idea for a survey originated with yours truly, and I was moved to do so (more like propellled with outrage) by the ersatz pro-IFRS "research" coming out of the Big Four and the AICPA propaganda machines. I also decided to seek a collaborator from the ranks of academia through the AECM listserv, and I consider myself very fortunate that Pat Walters, herself an IFRS proponent, volunteered to work with me. Pat's association with this effort should lend, at the absolute minimum, a semblance of balance; which is, ironically, completely absent from published views of the Big Four and their shills.

But, thankfully, I can report that not all CPAs have behaved like pigs at the trough. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gaylen Hansen, who has provided us with a clear-eyed compilation of the response letters to the SEC's Roadmap proposal; and to Grant Thornton for their survey, which was published as we were conducting ours. GT asked a question of import ("Ideally, who should set U.S. accounting standards?") properly, and received proper responses from CFOs and senior comptrollers in return. GT reports that only 18% of more than 800 respondents from public companies are of the opinion that the IASB should be setting accounting standards for U.S. companies.

Full Disclosure and Caveats

We received a total of 289 responses. We can't beat GT on sheer number of responses, but we did ask a broader set of questions regarding the perceived relationships between IFRS and GAAP: (1) quality differences; (2) costs and benefits of IFRS adoption; and (3) how the SEC should act on its Roadmap proposal. You can view all of our response data in a spreadsheet format here, and the text of the online questionnaire here. Twenty-seven responses came from non-U.S. residents and 13 from students. Our analysis excludes these two groups, and the tabulation at the end of this post breaks down the respondents we analyzed by all of their occupations.

Before we proceed to the major takeaways from our survey, two further caveats are in order.

First, we sure were hoping to generate a larger number of responses. GT excepted though, our level of participation is well within the range of other "studies" conducted by the IFRS proponents, including the number of comment letters received by the SEC in response to the Cox-instigated Roadmap Proposal. We left our survey open for three weeks; the SEC's comment period extended for months.  

Second, one should always take with a grain of salt unsolicited responses, as opposed to a random sample. But, no study that we are aware of has employed a more open self-selection process than ours. For example, I was solicited for Deloitte's survey apparently because I subscribed to one of their IFRS information services; if that was Deloitte's only method for soliciting responses, the self-selection bias therefrom is self-evident.

The Major Takeaways from Our Survey

As with GT, we asked for opinions regarding IFRS adoption; and our results were very similar to theirs:

My initial interpretation was that 71% of respondents do not agree with the proposition that IFRS should replace U.S. GAAP. Pat pointed out that this may be somewhat of an overstatement—since we don't know why 16% of respondents "neither agree nor disagree." Those respondents, according to Pat, could very well be indifferent to the prospect of IFRS adoption. My own take on that is: if one took the trouble to take the survey and to answer the question, then indifference would not be the most likely sentiment being expressed. Nevertheless, Pat and I agree to this interpretation:  respondents who disagreed with the proposition outnumbered those who agreed by a margin of about 5:3. Anyway you look at it, especially in light of GT's results, it should give the SEC pause before proposing to supplant the FASB with the IASB.  That's as mildly as I can put it.

When I took a closer look at the answers to this question, I was not surprised to see that the frequency distribution of responses from Fortune 500 companies and the Big Four appeared to be negatively correlated with all of the other occupations. To evaluate their impact on the full results, I decided to disaggregate each question by three subgroups: (1) Fortune 500 + Big 4; (2) academics; and (3) everyone else. The chart below repeats the results from above and adds these subgroups:

See that tall blue bar on the left? That's Big 4 and Fortune 500 money talking. Notice also that academics (the ascetic purists J), are the least inclined to adopt IFRS (as indicated by the short green bar on the left).

Given these results, it should come as no surprise that a significant majority of respondents do not believe that the benefits to investors of IFRS adoption would exceed the costs of conversion:

77% of all US respondents do not believe that benefits to investors will exceed the cost of conversion. Indeed, although a majority of the Fortune 500 accountants and Big Four auditors believe that the SEC should adopt IFRS, only 44% believe that the benefits to investors would exceed the cost of adoption. Figure that one out.

The bottom-line question we asked pertain to how the US should approach adoption of, or convergence, to IFRS:

These results are, admittedly, somewhat difficult to interpret with precision, but they clearly indicate that few respondents would like to see IFRS adopted before 2014. Moreover, 54% of respondents (including the Fortune 500 and Big 4) would either prefer not to adopt IFRS, or to adopt it starting with 2020 at the earliest. Although an in-depth analysis of the "other" category of responses was not undertaken, my brief analysis strongly indicates that a comfortable majority of the "other" responses more closely resemble those who stated a specific preference to either delay in IFRS adoption beyond 2020, or to abandon IFRS altogether.  If you don't believe me, you can look at the data for yourself.

And, as one might expect, the Fortune 500 accountants and Big Four auditors were strongly in favor of relatively fast-paced IFRS adoption, although it must be said that less than 10% favored adoption by 2012-2013. But, take those folks out, and you have even less interest among respondents for adopting IFRS anytime soon … or ever.

Act II

Thus far, I have discussed the results of only three of the ten questions that we asked about IFRS vs. U.S. GAAP. I promise you, more drama is to come. Also, Pat has agreed to write a guest post with the working title, "How the Survey Result Informs an IFRS Proponent." I'm sincerely looking forward to that.

4 Comments

  1. Reply Mark Holtzman, Seton Hall U November 3, 2009

    I’d be interested to hear what users think.

  2. Reply Francine McKenna November 9, 2009

    Wow Tom. Your respondents are heavily skewed towards academics. I’m looking forward to talking through this and SOX with you in person. I will also publish my answers to the survey and my take on results in a blog post later this week.

  3. Reply Georg Merkl November 13, 2009

    The BIG disadvantage of surveying people about their perception of IFRS versus US GAAP and any costs and benefits of switching to IFRS, is that you do not know how much the survey respondents actually know about IFRS and US GAAP, their differences and about the costs and benefits of swichting to IFRS. Most likely they are just guessing because they do not have the information to make a truly informed assessment.
    Fortune 500 companies and the big audit firms are more likely to have subsidiaries/offices, employees and investors in countries that already use IFRS. As a consequence, it is more likley that they know more about IFRS and its differences to US GAAP than others. The only countries that have experience in the cost and benefits of switching to IFRS are the ones that have actually done the switch and thus have the experience. Academics should study the experience of those companies and investors in those companies rather than ask people to make uneducated guesses based on no or little experience about the subject matter.
    Personally, I do not know whether the cost of switching to IFRS would outweigh the benefits, but I doubt the value of the survey. In fact, the cost-benefit equation may be depend on company size and other factors. In addition especially under the assumption of ignorance about a subject matter, I would not underestimate the human tendency to favor the known over the unknown and to favor the national identity and national control over things over foreign or international things (e.g. the US does not take part in international agreements to limit CO2 emissions, the US does not acknowledge the International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes although practically all western democratic countries do so).

  4. Reply Independent Accountant November 14, 2009

    I can’t help but think the Big 87654 favor this because it gives them a new non-SOX product to sell: IFRS conversion studies.

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