International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) workplans have tended to be less reliable sources of information than a dial-a-psychic. A perusal of the May 2010 workplan reveals plans to issue a finalised International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) addressing the classification and measurement of financial instruments by the end of 2010, impairment in Q4 2010, with a third IFRS to deal with hedge accounting by the end of Q1 2011.
Suddenly, with no public explanation or apology, all that changed. First, Tweedie addressed a 21 June meeting of the IFRS Advisory Council and hinted that an updated timetable was on the cards. Then, the IASB and its US counterpart, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) published a revised convergence timetable under the guise of an update for the Toronto meeting of the G20 leaders. It revealed a new set of deadlines for polishing off the work on financial instruments: “The boards expect to complete their joint consideration of feedback received and finalise and issue new standards (previously scheduled for Q1 2011).” Apart from classification, this has yet to happen.
The G20 update also stated: “Although we have demonstrated our ability to work together to resolve differences between our views in many projects, we understand the difficulties we face in reconciling our differing views on this project.” This statement skims over how little effort has gone in to overcoming those difficulties.
In 2006, the IASB and the FASB entered into a memorandum of understanding to converge IFRS and US GAAP. In 2008, the two boards, in the absence of any real progress in completing those MOU projects, decided to embark on a mad dash to converge ahead of Tweedie’s retirement mid-2011.
Ahead of his retirement, Tweedie almost certainly reached the high point of his chairmanship when the SEC dropped the requirement for IFRS-based entities to reconcile certain areas of their financial statements to US GAAP - and this came on top of his pivotal role in gifting the EU a single set of accounting standards.
From mid-2008 onwards, his chairmanship was characterised by a series of disastrous miscalculations. First, largely in secret, a cabal of four Americans updated the boards’ joint workplan in mid-2008. As observers sat through a board meeting with a four-page handout, board members ploughed through a document from which the highest page number called out during the course of the meeting was 189. Open to public scrutiny this process was not, despite the millions of pounds of public money and tax deductions that it would eventually squander.
To his eternal credit, Jim Leisenring, the problem child on the group of four, slammed the proposals as unworkable and unrealistic. He noted that in order to meet the 30 June 2011 deadline, the IASB would need to issue one document every 22.18 days. This assumed, of course, that it could reach agreement on the very issues that standard setters have failed to tackle since 1945.
No-one was listening, not least Tweedie who promised the SEC that he could deliver enough convergence by 2011 to enable them to decide whether the US should adopt IFRS; and promised the east Asian IFRS accession economies that were due to migrate to IFRS in 2011 a stable platform of accounting standards - despite offering to conduct a post-implementation review of any new IFRS after two years; and promised action on financial instruments to the Financial Stability Forum, the Basel Committee and the G20 leaders.
So what precisely did Tweedie’s update to the G20 leaders miss out? Largely the lack of co-ordination across the two boards. Addressing a 15 September 2010 education session of the two boards, FASB member Larry Smith said: “On the most important project in front of these two boards, we are talking about them independently. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
IASB member John Smith added: “We’re way apart on classification and measurement. Unless [the FASB] landed close to where we were, we wouldn’t get together because your model is really founded on your classification and measurement.”
By the time IASB representatives met an EFRAG delegation on 18 March, wholly unrealistic workplans no-longer cut the mustard. Tweedie had to face facts: “[T]his whole thing is out of synch.” As for the finely-honed workplans, all he can offer now is a ‘guess’ that the FASB will have a model in place by the autumn.