Chapter 6 - Professional Accounting

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Financial Accounting Theory

Craig Deegan

Chapter 6

Normative theories of accounting

the case
of conceptual framework projects

Slides written by Craig Deegan and Michaela
Rankin


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Learning objectives


In this chapter you will be introduced to


the role that conceptual frameworks (CFs) can play in the
practice of financial reporting


the history of the development of the various existing
conceptual framework projects


the various building blocks that have been developed
within various conceptual framework projects

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Learning objectives (cont.)


perceived advantages and disadvantages that arise from
the establishment and development of conceptual
frameworks


factors, including political factors, that might help or
hinder the development of conceptual framework projects


groups within society which are likely to benefit from the
establishment and development of conceptual framework
projects

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What is a conceptual framework?


‘A coherent system of interrelated objectives and
fundamentals that is expected to lead to consistent
standards’ (Statement of Financial Accounting
Concepts No. 1:
Objectives of Financial Reporting
by Business Enterprises
1978)


Attempts to provide a structured theory of
accounting

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Conceptual frameworks as normative
theories


Conceptual frameworks provide prescription so
they are considered normative theories of
accounting


‘Prescribes the nature, function and limits of
financial accounting and reporting’ (Statement of
Financial Accounting Concepts No. 1:
Objectives
of Financial Reporting by Business Enterprises
,
1978)


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Rationale for conceptual frameworks


To develop the practice of financial reporting
logically and consistently we need to address such
issues as


what we mean by financial reporting and what should be
its scope


which organisational characteristics indicate that an entity
should produce financial reports


the objective of financial reporting


qualitative characteristics financial information should
possess


what are the elements of financial reporting


what measurement rule should be employed

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Rationale for conceptual frameworks
(cont.)


Proponents argue that without agreement on these
issues accounting standards will be developed in
an
ad hoc

manner


Limited consistency between accounting standards
in the absence of a conceptual framework

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The ‘building blocks’ of the conceptual
framework


The framework must be developed in a particular
order


some issues need to be resolved before moving on to
subsequent ‘building blocks’


Refer to Figure 6.1 (p. 179) in the text for an
overview of the IASB
Framework for the
Preparation and Presentation of Financial
Statements

(which in 2005 replaced the Australian
Conceptual Framework)

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History of the development of CFs


CFs were developed in a number of jurisdictions
including


US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, International
Accounting Standards Committee


In recent years many countries have adopted the
IASB Framework given that they have decided to
adopt the accounting standards released by the
IASB


No standard
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setters had developed a complete
CF; measurement issues typically unaddressed


Limited or no progress in recent years, although
efforts underway to update IASB Framework

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Development of frameworks of accounting
in the US


1961 and 1962: Moonitz, and Moonitz and
Sprouse prescribed that accounting practice
should be based on current values


1965: Grady developed theory based on
description of existing practice


led to the release of Accounting Principles Board (APB)
Statement No. 4


however, accounting profession under criticism for lack of
any real framework

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Development of frameworks of accounting
in the US (cont.)


Led to formation of Trueblood Committee in 1971
which produced Trueblood Report


report outlined 12 objectives of accounting and seven
qualitative characteristics which financial information
should possess


objective 1: focused on information needs of financial
statement users


objective 2: need to serve users with limited ability to
demand financial information

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Development of frameworks of accounting
in the US (cont.)


1974: APB replaced by FASB which then
embarked on its CF project


Six Statements of Financial Accounting Concepts
(SFACs) released from 1978 to 1985


Initial SFACs normative in nature, but SFAC No. 5
relating to recognition and measurement largely
descriptive of current practice


received much criticism


since 2005 FASB and IASB have been jointly working
towards the development of a revised conceptual
framework that would be used by both boards

referred
to as the ‘convergence project’

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Development of a CF in Australia


Degree of progression was slow


Only four Statements of Accounting Concepts
(SACs) were released


SAC 1: Definition of the Reporting Entity


SAC 2: Objectives of General Purpose Financial
Reporting


SAC 3: Qualitative Characteristics of Financial
Information


SAC 4: Definition and Recognition of the Elements of
Financial Statements

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Development of a CF in Australia (cont.)


Fifth SAC relating to measurement was never
released


Had a number of similarities to the US CF project


2005: Australia adopted the IASB Framework as a
result of the decision by the Financial Reporting
Council that Australia would adopt IAS/IFRS by
2005


SAC 3 and SAC 4 were abandoned


SAC 1 and SAC 2 were retained until such time
that a revised IASB Framework was developed

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Development of a CF in the UK


Early moves towards guidance relating to
objectives and identification of users provided by
The Corporate Report (1976)


concerned with addressing the rights of the community in
terms of their access to financial information (broader
than notion of users adopted in other frameworks)


ultimately contents generally not accepted by the
accounting profession


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Development of a CF in the UK (cont.)


1991: ASB adopted the IASC’s CF


IASC framework was generally consistent with the
US and Australian frameworks

subsequently
became known as the IASB Framework

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Building blocks of the CF


Building blocks of the various CFs have addressed


definition of the reporting entity


objectives of general purpose financial reporting (GPFR)


perceived users of GPFRs


qualitative characteristics that GPFRs should possess


elements of financial statements


possible approaches to measuring the elements

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Definition of the reporting entity


The Conceptual Framework provides a definition
of entities required to produce GPFRs


known as reporting entities

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General purpose financial reports


GPFRs are defined as reports


‘… intended to meet the information needs common to
users who are unable to command the preparation of
reports tailored so as to satisfy, specifically, all of their
information needs’ (SAC 1, para. 6)


GPFRs are reports that comply with accounting
standards and other generally accepted
accounting practices (GAAPs)

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Special purpose financial reports


Special purpose reports are provided to meet the
information demands of a particular user, or group
of users


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Entities required to produce GPFRs


Not all entities are classed as reporting entities


SAC 1 states that GPFRs should be prepared
when there are users


‘… whose information needs have common elements,
and those users cannot command the preparation of
information to satisfy their individual information needs’
(para. 8)

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Factors indicative of a reporting entity
(SAC 1)


Separation of management from those with an
economic interest in the entity


The economic or political importance/influence of
the entity to/on other parties


The financial characteristics of the entity

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Objectives of GPFR


Traditional objective was to enable outsiders to
assess the stewardship of management


Recent commonly accepted goal of financial
reporting is to assist report users’ economic
decision making


less emphasis placed on the stewardship function

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Objective embraced within CFs


Objective of GPFRs in SAC 2 is deemed to be


to provide information to users that is useful for making
and evaluating decisions about the allocation of scarce
resources


Objective of decision usefulness calls into question
usefulness of historical cost information





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Other objectives of GPFRs


Another objective is to enable reporting entities to
demonstrate accountability between the entity and
those parties to which the entity is deemed
accountable


Accountability is defined as


the duty to provide an account or reckoning of those
actions for which one is held responsible


accountability is not generally embraced by CFs


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Users of financial reports


SAC 2 identifies three primary user groups for
GPFRs


resource providers


employees, lenders, creditors, suppliers, investors and
contributors


recipients of goods and services


customers and beneficiaries


parties performing review or oversight function


parliaments, governments, regulatory agencies, analysts,
labour unions, employer groups, media and special interest
groups

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International

perspectives

on

users

of

GPFRs


The IASB Framework


identifies GPFRs users as investors,

employees,

lenders,

suppliers, customers,

govt.

agencies and the public


states that information designed to meet the needs of
investors will usually meet the needs of the other groups


US: SFAC 1


main focus is present and potential investors and other
users with either a direct financial interest or related to
those with a direct financial interest


UK: The Corporate Report


all groups impacted by an organisation’s operations have
rights to information about the reporting entity, not
necessarily related to resource allocation decisions

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Level of expertise expected of financial
report readers


Generally accepted that readers are expected to
have some proficiency in financial accounting


IASB Framework (para. 25)


‘… users are assumed to have a reasonable knowledge
of business and economic activities and accounting and a
willingness to study the information with reasonable
diligence’

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Qualitative characteristics of financial
reports


To ensure financial information is useful for
economic decision making, we need to consider
the attributes or qualities that financial information
should have


According to IASB Framework


primary qualitative characteristics are understandability,
relevance, reliability and comparability


related to relevance is materiality


IASB Framework appears to give greater prominence to
relevance and reliability


there are issues associated with the ‘trade
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off’ between
relevance and reliability

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Reliability


Information is considered to be reliable if it
‘faithfully represents’ the entity’s transactions and
events


Should be free from bias and undue error


Reliability is a function of representational
faithfulness, verifiability and neutrality

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Reliability

implications for traditional
accounting


Traditionally, the doctrine of conservatism and the
acceptance of ‘prudence’ has been adopted


bias towards understating asset values and overstating
liabilities


This doctrine is not consistent with notions of
reliability or freedom from bias

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Relevance


Something is relevant if it influences decisions on
the allocation of scarce resources


if it is capable of making a difference in a decision


For information to be relevant it should have


predictive value, and


feedback value

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Materiality


A limiting factor on the disclosure of relevant and
reliable material is the notion of materiality


An item is material if (IASB Framework, para. 30)


‘... its omission or misstatement could influence the
economic decisions of users taken on the basis of the
financial statements …. Materiality provides a cut
-
off
rather than being a primary qualitative characteristic
which information must have if it is to be useful’

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Uniformity and consistency


Uniformity and consistency imply advantages in
restricting the number of accounting methods that
can be used by reporting entities


has been argued that firms adopt particular accounting
methods because they best reflect their underlying
performance


restricting available methods imposes costs on reporting
entities

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Costs vs benefits


Need to consider whether the cost of providing
certain information exceeds the benefits to be
derived from its provision


costs include collection, storage, retrieval, presentation,
analysis and interpretation


benefits come from sound economic decision making by
users


Measuring potential costs and benefits involves
professional judgement

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Can GPFRs provide unbiased accounts of
performance?


The practice of accounting is heavily reliant on
professional judgement


Prior to accounting standards being released,
standard setters attempt to determine the
economic consequences of following the
standards


if consider economic consequences then standards
cannot be considered objective or neutral

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Can GPFRs provide unbiased accounts of
performance? (cont.)


If we accept the notion that preparers will be driven
by self
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interest (from Positive Accounting Theory)
notions of objectivity or neutrality are unrealistic


Political nature of standard setting process also
affects neutrality and objectivity


In communicating reality accountants construct
reality (Hines 1988)

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The elements of financial reporting


The next building block considers the definition
and recognition criteria of the elements of financial
reporting


Definition criteria

what attributes are required
before an item can be considered as belonging to
a particular class of element


Recognition criteria

employed to determine
whether the item can be included in the financial
reports

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Five elements of financial reporting in the
IASB Framework


Assets


Liabilities


Equity


Expenses


Income


in the IASB Framework, income is further subdivided into
revenues and gains


ten elements identified in the US by FASB

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Definition of assets


‘… a resource controlled by the entity as a result of
past events and from which future economic
benefits are expected to flow to the entity’ (IASB
Framework, para. 49(a))


Three key characteristics


must be an expected future economic benefit


the reporting entity must control the future economic
benefit


the transaction or other past event giving rise to the
reporting entity’s control must have occurred

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Definition of assets (cont.)


The definition refers to the benefit and not its
source


in the absence of future economic benefits, the object or
right will not qualify as an asset


The benefits can result from ongoing use, not
necessarily a value in exchange


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The characteristic of control


Control relates to the capacity to benefit from the
asset and to deny or regulate others’ access to the
benefit


Legal enforceability is not a prerequisite for
establishing the existence of control


control (and not legal ownership) is required, although
controlled assets are frequently owned

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Recognition of assets


An asset

and all the other elements of
accounting

shall be recognised when


it is probable that any future economic benefit associated
with the item will flow to or from the entity, and


the item has a cost or value that can be measured with
reliability (IASB Framework, para. 83)


Probable is generally considered to mean ‘more
likely rather than less likely’

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Definition of liabilities


Liabilities are defined as




a present obligation of the entity arising from past
events, the settlement of which is expected to result in an
outflow from the entity of resources embodying economic
benefits’ (IASB Framework, para. 49(b))


present obligations not only refers to legally enforceable
obligations but also those imposed by notions of equity
and fairness, or by custom or other business practices

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Recognition of liabilities


Recognition criteria consistent with those of assets
and the other elements of accounting


A liability shall be recognised when


it is probable that the sacrifice of economic benefits will
be required, and


the amount of the liability can be measured reliably


Has implications for disclosure of various
provisions

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Approaches to determining profit


Two common approaches to determining profits


asset/liability approach links profit to changes in assets
and liabilities


revenue/expense approach relies on concepts such as
the matching principle


The definition of expenses and revenues in the CF
based on asset/liability perspective

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Definition of expenses


‘… decreases in economic benefits during the
accounting period in the form of outflows or
depletions of assets or incurrences of liabilities that
result in decreases in equity, other than those
relating to distributions to equity participants’ (IASB
Framework, para. 70(b))

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Recognition of expenses


An expense shall be recognised when


it is probable that the consumption or loss of future
economic benefits resulting in a reduction in assets
and/or an increase in liabilities has occurred, and


the consumption or loss of economic benefits can be
measured reliably

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Definition of income


‘… increases in economic benefits during the
accounting period in the form of inflows or
enhancements of assets or decreases of liabilities
that result in increases in equity, other than those
relating to contributions from equity participants’
(SAC 4, para. 70(a))

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Definition of income (cont.)


Income can be recognised from normal trading
relations, as well as from non
-
reciprocal transfers
such as grants, donations, bequests or where
liabilities are forgiven


IASB Framework further subdivides income into
revenues and gains


revenue arises in the course of the ordinary activities of
an entity


gains represent other items that meet the definition of
income and may, or may not, arise in the ordinary
activities of an enterprise


not clear why there is a need to break income into two
components

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Recognition of income


As with the other elements of accounting, income
is recognised when


it is probable that the inflow or other enhancement or
saving in outflows of future economic benefits has
occurred, and


the inflow or other enhancement or saving in outflows of
future economic benefits can be measured reliably

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Definition of equity


Equity is defined as ‘the residual interest in the
assets of the entity after deducting all of its
liabilities’ (IASB Framework, para. 49(c))


As a residual interest it ranks after liabilities in
terms of claims against the assets


Definition is a direct function of the definitions of
assets and liabilities

6
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53

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㈰〶 M捇r慷
-
䡩汬HAu獴牡s楡iPty Ltd

PPT猠t⽡/
Financial Accounting Theory 2e
by Deegan

Measurement principles


To date very little prescription in relation to
measurement provided by CFs


FASB statement provides description of various
approaches to measuring elements without
providing prescription

6
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54

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㈰〶 M捇r慷
-
䡩汬HAu獴牡s楡iPty Ltd

PPT猠t⽡/
Financial Accounting Theory 2e
by Deegan

Benefits associated with conceptual
frameworks


Accounting standards should be more consistent
and logical


Increased international compatibility of accounting
standards


Standard
-
setters should be more accountable for
their decisions


Communication between standard
-
setters and
their constituents should be enhanced

6
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㈰〶 M捇r慷
-
䡩汬HAu獴牡s楡iPty Ltd

PPT猠t⽡/
Financial Accounting Theory 2e
by Deegan

Benefits associated with CFs (cont.)


The development of accounting standards should
be more economical


Where conceptual frameworks cover a particular
issue, there might be a reduced need for additional
standards


Emphasise the ‘decision usefulness’ role of
financial reports rather than restricting concern to
stewardship

6
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56

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㈰〶 M捇r慷
-
䡩汬HAu獴牡s楡iPty Ltd

PPT猠t⽡/
Financial Accounting Theory 2e
by Deegan

Disadvantages of conceptual frameworks


Smaller organisations may feel overburdened by
reporting requirements


Typically economic in focus so ignore transactions
that have not involved market transactions or
exchange of property rights


further reinforces the importance of economic
performance relative to social performance


Represent a codification of existing practice

6
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57

Copyright


㈰〶 M捇r慷
-
䡩汬HAu獴牡s楡iPty Ltd

PPT猠t⽡/
Financial Accounting Theory 2e
by Deegan

CFs as a means of legitimising standard
-
setting bodies


Some (e.g. Hines and Solomons) have suggested
that CFs have been used as devices to help
ensure the ongoing existence of the accounting
profession


Increase the ability of the profession to self
-
regulate, thus counteracting government
intervention