Pensions Accounting: Don’t hold your breath
In short, the answer is ‘no’. The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) is not going to add a pensions accounting project to its agenda. What it will do, is tinker around the edges. And that tinkering might well affect how sponsors account for pensions obligations in future through work on other comprehensive income and the measurement phase of the conceptual framework.
Addressing a 23 March meeting in London, IASB chairman Hans Hoogervorst said: “People gave us very similar advice and there was a lot of consensus.” Respondents wanted the IASB to:
• Complete the four convergence projects with the US FASB - insurance accounting, leasing, financial instruments and revenue recognition;
• Give the IFRS community a period of calm and move from developing accounting standards towards maintaining them;
• Complete the conceptual framework;
• Address the theoretical basis for other comprehensive income (OCI);
• Cut the disclosure cutter.
Hoogervorst explains: “People need to recover from all the changes, which have caused preparers a tremendous amount of work. They also want us to work on other comprehensive income.” Disclosures is also an issue because “many people” believe users of financial statements are unable to “see the wood for the trees”.
But what of standards generally? The board had received “a considerable list of proposals for new standards”. In line with expectations, those proposals include agriculture and rate-regulation to mention two. But pensions itself emerged only as a medium-ranking priority.
The IASB will try to balance these priorities by looking “at some quick wins, for example, agriculture, which doesn’t impact the whole world,” Hoogervorst says.
The results of the consultation process start to get interesting when it comes to the feedback from users of financial statement. Their views serve to underline where pensions sit in the pecking order.
On the face of it, views among users accord pretty much with the wider population: finish the big four projects, look at OCI, address disclosures and finalise work on the conceptual framework. But there were also some noteworthy differences. Users wanted the board to reanimate its paused project on financial statement presentation, an effort that goes beyond OCI. They also want the board to address discount rates.
Fast forward to Agenda Paper 13A, which the board will discuss during its May 2012 meeting, and the word ‘presentation’ appears just four times in a draft feedback. In fact, staff propose the following as a summary of the board’s views: “We agree that the Conceptual Framework is a priority. We accept the advice of the [IFRS] Advisory Council to update the Conceptual Framework as a priority, but to ensure that this is done through realistic deliverables and within a realistic timeframe.”
So what does this add up to? The healthiest of the four convergence projects is revenue recognition. Leases is trouble. Neither the IASB nor the FASB knows how to amortise the right-of-use asset that they have been so keen to put on balance sheets for over half a decade. Financial instruments and insurance are less likely than revenue to result in convergence. It is arguable whether the board will finalise either of them by mid-2013.
In addition to the ‘quick wins’ - agriculture is certain to make it on the agenda - the board has yet to embark on a post-implementation review of its troubled segment-reporting standard.
Add in concept-level projects looking at measurement, the definition of assets and liabilities, a disclosure framework, not to mention OCI, and a steady drip feed of annual improvements, and there is precious little time for pensions before the next agenda consultation in 2014.