The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) has agreed to pause work on its proposals to revamp pensions disclosures in the face of mixed feedback from constituents.

During an informal discussion of project feedback during its May meeting round, the board instructed staff to bring a paper back in September detailing options for deciding on the project’s future.

IASB chair Andreas Barckow said: “I think we have to be really careful [about] what the objective of this project was. It was not to see whether IAS 13 and IAS 19, are working as intended.

“These were not [post-implementation reviews]. It was a different articulation of existing disclosure requirements.”

He went on to warn of the danger of extending the scope of the project beyond that originally envisaged at the start of the project.

He continued: “It wasn’t primarily meant to see whether there are any deficiencies in existing disclosures. [If we go down that route], I think we have a cross-cutting impact on our decisions on the agenda of consultation.

“I would just remind us that actually we voted against putting on a project on pension accounting, for instance.”

The IASB issued an exposure draft trialling a new approach to disclosures about pensions obligations in March 2021.

The approach focused on a series of objectives aimed at teasing out the most relevant information, alongside a catch-all or high-level disclosure.

The board hoped this new approach would encourage preparers to take a broader view of disclosures, which have tended to emerge on a piecemeal basis across the board’s many standards.

IPE reported in March that the board’s disclosure revamp had met with a largely mixed response.

As a test bed, the board decided at its July 2018 meeting to make a series of proposed targeted amendments to both IAS 19 and International Financial Reporting Standard 13, Fair Value Measurement.

As part of their work to develop the proposals in the draft, staff consulted with the board’s Capital Markets and Advisory Committee (CMAC).

In a March 2019 summary of CMAC feedback, the board reported that the view among “most of the users that we spoke to is that today’s pension disclosures based on IAS 19 are often not effective in meeting their objectives.”

“Most users”, the summary continued, “would like to see different information about employee benefits”, such as “better information about the expected cash flow effects of a pension plan would be more useful than the information they typically receive today.”

In September 2018, the IASB cleared staff to use a draft guidance document on disclosure objectives as the starting point for their future work on the disclosure project.

At the heart of the debate during the 25 May discussion is a fundamental disagreement over how far-reaching the changes to the disclosure requirements in IAS 19 – whether of necessity or choice – will be.

On the one hand, while Barckow said the project was not “primarily meant to see whether there are any deficiencies in existing disclosures,” IASB member Mary Tokar disagreed and said the project was about “improving the disclosures”.

She told the board: “[W]e were actually aiming to improve the disclosures. That might have been a bad decision in terms of how ambitious it was, but it was on that basis that we went out to users and said ‘Spend lots and lots and lots of time with us to help us understand what information you need’.”

Former analyst Nick Anderson said the “totality” of the feedback the board had received on the project represented an opportunity “to improve what we do”.

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