3 ways in which IFRS is a change for the better

3 ways in which IFRS is a change for the better

Indian GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles), like any other GAAP, also recognizes the importance of substance over form. Accounting Standard 1 (AS-1) on “Disclosure of Accounting Policies" states that substance rather than form should be the guiding principle in selection and application of accounting policies. However, the true application of this principle will happen only under IFRS. That’s because IFRS is more contemporary and has prescribed the treatment for evolving issues. Also, unlike Indian GAAP, it does not recognize the concept of a legal override. Thus, IFRS will always go by the core substance of the transaction.

That will mean several changes. For instance, under Indian GAAP, redeemable preference capital (shares that do not come with voting rights but which have a higher priority over ordinary shares in terms of dividend payments, and which can be redeemed at the discretion of the issuer or shareholder) has to be treated as equity. IFRS, however, will require it to be treated as debt. Based on substance of terms, instruments such as convertible debentures are likely to be shown partly under debt and partly under equity, since the embedded warrant option in such instruments will be separately identified and presented at its fair value. Contracts for supply of goods and services may get concluded (wholly or partly) as leases (and it could be financial lease as well)!

IFRS will bring with it the concept of functional currency. Indian entities may need to maintain their books in US dollars and report in the same currency to the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange if the dollar is determined to be the currency for the primary economic environment in which it is operating, subject to regulatory approvals. In rare circumstances, IFRS even allows users to adopt a policy contrary to IFRS principles if the management believes the treatment prescribed under IFRS would be misleading and the policy proposed to be adopted better represents the substance of the underlying transactions.

These concepts are unheard of in most other GAAP frameworks.

The use of fair value in measuring assets and liabilities will increase considerably upon adoption of IFRS, which mandates the use of fair value in measurement of financial instruments, employee compensation, share-based payments, and assets and liabilities acquired in a business combination, to name a few. It will allow use of fair value, as opposed to cost, in relation to property, plant and equipment, intangible assets and investment properties.

The application of these fair value principles would require a company’s management to use considerable judgment in making estimates about the future, and the role of valuation experts in the preparation of financial statements would increase significantly.

Thus, IFRS will be far more complex and challenging in its application compared with the existing regime of accounting standards. In the case of derivatives, held-for-trading investments and investment properties, IFRS allows gains or losses on fair valuation to be recognized in profit or loss accounts for the period. Undoubtedly, this is quite a bold move to allow even unrealized gains to be captured in profit or loss accounts. In such a situation, there will be extra onus on the management to exercise better financial discipline; otherwise, the company may end up declaring dividends out of unrealized profits.

IFRS recognizes that value of money changes with time. It will either be a cost or income, but there is a difference in Rs100 of today and Rs100 two years back or three years later. Hence, IFRS requires receivables and payables, that is, financial assets and liabilities or monetary items to be reflected at current value. Thus, the value of Rs100 payable in three months will be different from Rs100 payable after 36 months.

Consequent to these aspects, IFRS will focus on reflecting the working results and state of affairs of a business more on a current state basis rather than on a holistic long-term or historical cost basis. It will not place undue premium on prudence but push for recording of market gains and reflection of market-related realities over the reporting period. IFRS will allow flexibility in choosing the right accounting policy, but will also lead to enhanced disclosure requirements. Therefore, estimation efforts, subjectivity and judgment will increase manifold in preparing IFRS financial statements. And timelines and costs will also go up accordingly.

That said, the benefits of IFRS are expected to far outweigh the costs and hassles. It will integrate domestic businesses with the global investor and financial community so that there is no language gap and barrier. It will enhance the global competitiveness of Indian businesses as well as finance professionals. And IFRS-literate people will fuel the next wave of the knowledge processing outsourcing boom.

India will move to IFRS starting 2011. Navin Agrawal is a director with Ernst & Young India Pvt. Ltd. This is the second of a series that will analyse the impact of IFRS on industries and regulatory issues pertaining to its convergence with Indian GAAP.

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