Eyes on Financial Accounting and Reporting Standards – IASB & FASB Consider “Convergence” and Separate Actions

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

March 2021

Investors Call For More Non-Financial Standards for Corporate Reporting, Less Confusion in “Voluntary” Disclosure.

Should there be more clarity in the rules for corporate sustainability accounting and reporting as many more investors embrace ESG/Sustainable analysis and portfolio management approaches?

Many investors around the world think so and have called for less confusion, more comparability, more credible and complete corporate disclosure for ESG matters.

Accounting firms are part of the chorus of supporters for global non-financial disclosure standards development.

Where and how might such rules be developed? There are two major financial accounting/reporting organizations whose work investors and stakeholder rely on: The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and in the United States of America, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Both organizations develop financial reporting standards for publicly traded companies.

There are similarities and significant differences in their work. The US system is “rules-based” while the IASB’s approach has been more “principles-based” The differences have been diminishing to some degree with the US Securities & Exchange Commission more recently embracing some principles-based reporting.

By acts of the US Congress, FASB (a not-for-profit) was created and has governmental authority to impose new accounting rules — while the IASB rules are more voluntary.

The US system has “GAAP” – Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for guidance in disclosure. The adoption of IFRS is up to individual countries around the world (144 nations have adopted IFRS).

The IASB standards are global; these are the “IFRS” (International Financial Reporting Standards) issued by the IASB.

The FASB standards are used by US-based companies. For years, the two organizations have tried to better align their work to achieve a global financial reporting standard – “convergence”.

The IFRS Foundation is based in the United States and has the mission of developing a single set of “high-quality, understandable, enforceable and globally-accepted accounting standards (the IFRS), which are set by IASB.

In 2022 IASB and FASB will have a joint conference (“Accounting in an Ever-Changing World”) in New York City to “…strengthen connections between the academic and standard-setting communities…” and explore differences and similarities between US GAAP and IFRS Standards.

Consider that the Financial Stability Board (FSB), which launched the TCFD, is on record in support of a single set of high-quality global accounting standards.

Convergence. In the USA, the “whole of government” approach to the climate crisis by the Biden-Harris Administration may result in encouragement, perhaps even rules for, corporate ESG disclosure. The IASB is not waiting.

The IFRS Foundation Trustees are conducting analysis to see whether or not to create another board that would issue global standards for sustainability accounting and reporting.

A proposal will come by the time of the UN Climate Change Conference this fall. Should the IFRS foundation play a role? The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) thinks so.

Many questions remain for IASB and FASB to address, of course. This is a complex situation, and we bring you some relevant news in the newsletter this week.

TOP STORIES

Here’s an update from the IFRS Foundation and what is being considered:

Meanwhile, the European Commission separately is exploring how to strengthen “non-financial” reporting – there’s the possibility that there could be EU standards developed:

Helpful information about the FASB-IASB differences:

“Sustainable Investing” or Just Plain “Investing” – Where Are We in 2021? Important Milestones Provide Answers…

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

February 22, 2021

About Sustainable / or ESG Investing: We have traveled a far distance over the past four decades, beginning with “ethical” and “faith-based” and the more frequent “socially responsible investing” (SRI), morphing over time into “sustainable & responsible investing” (still SRI for the traditionalist) and on to “ESG investing”.

And now to… how about “investing”? That is, just plain investing, as our friend and colleague Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group has been long saying.

At various conferences, Erika (a former head of UBS research) would often say to the crowd, “one day it will be ‘investing’ without the adjectives”. That day appears to be here! Let’s see how and why.

We can start making that “just plain investing” case with the results of the US SIF biannual survey of professional asset managers in the United States (2020) – $1-in-$3 of professionally-managed AUM follows some type of ESG/sustainable investing approach. That is $17 trillion of a $55T market and growing in leaps and bounds. We can expect the next survey to report $1-in-$2 or better. (Source: US SIF.)

More recent news: Morningstar looked at “sustainable funds” for 2020 and determined that more than $51 billion flowed into new investments (double the record year of 2019) …accounting for one-quarter of all newly invested money.

Morningstar’s Jon Hale (author of the report) explains that the worsening climate crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement are among the many reasons for this apparent flight to safety investing trend.

And, the sustainable funds outperformed (on average) more than conventional funds, with three out of four sustainable equity funds ranked in the top half of their Morningstar category in 2020. (There are about 400 “sustainable funds” available for investment, says Morningstar, up from 139 in 2015 as the firm began to separate sustainable funds for close examination from the usual mutual funds.)

Morningstar applies a Sustainability Rating for funds to help investors measure portfolio level risk from ESG factors, using Sustainalytics ratings to measure a company’s material ESG risk; the scores are rolled up to company level scores to come up with the portfolio score.

The World Economic Forum (WEF, the Davos meetings folks) points out an important factor in 2020 investing growth – 10 million new individual investors began investing since the start of the pandemic. The newcomers to investing are often younger, and Millennial Generation (born 1980-2000 by most definitions).

The post-Baby Boomers (born after 1965) stand to inherit an estimated US$30 trillion as their Boomer parents pass along their wealth in coming years. (Boomers are categorized as the post-WWII baby boom born 1946 to 1964.)

Asks WEF: “As this great wealth transfers, what might this mean for wealth inequality and long-term sustainable value creation?”

An important “add” here to note is the moves by Goldman Sachs to issue $750 billion in sustainable financing, investing and advisory activity by 2030 (according to the firm’s CEO).

In this issue we share four Top Story items that add considerable information to the above. Are we ready yet to follow Erika Karp’s advice – just call all of this ‘investing’?

TOP STORIES

Expanding Public Debates About the “What” & “How” of Corporate ESG Disclosure

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

March 2, 2021

Corporate sustainability / ESG reporting — What to disclose? How to frame the disclosures (context matters!)? What frameworks or standards to use?  Questions, questions, and more questions for corporate managers to consider as ESG disclosures steadily expand.

We are tuning in now to many more lively discussions going on about corporate ESG / sustainability et al public disclosures and structured reporting practices — and the growing complexity of all this disclosure effort, resulting often in disclosure fatigue for corporate practitioners!

Corporate managers ponder the important question:  which of the growing number of ESG frameworks or standards to use for disclosures? (The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes some 600 ESG guidelines, 600 reporting frameworks and 360 accounting standards that companies could use for reporting.  These do vary in scope, quantity, and quality of metrics.)

In deciding the what and how for their reporting, public companies consider then the specifics of relevant metrics and the all-important accompanying narrative to be shared to meet users’ rising information needs…in this era of emergent “stakeholder capitalism”.

Of course, there is the question for most companies of which or what existing or anticipated public sector reporting mandates will have to be met in various geographies, for various sectors and industries, for which stakeholders.

We here questions such as — how to get ahead of anticipated mandates in the United States if the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) does move ahead with adoption of new rules or at least strong guidance for corporate (and investor) sustainability reporting.

The European Union is today ahead in this area, but we can reasonably expect the USA to make important moves in the “Biden Climate Administration” era.  (The accounting standards boards are important players here as well as regulatory agencies in the sovereign states.)

Company boards, executive committees, professional staff, sustainability team managers wrestle with this complex environmental (for ESG disclosure) as their enterprises develop strategies, organize data flows, set in place data measurement protocols, and assemble the ESG-related content for public disclosure. (And, for expanded “private sharing” with ESG ratings agencies, credit risk agencies, benchmark/index managers, to meet customer ESG data requests, and more).

The list of issues and topics of “what” to disclose is constantly expanding, especially as institutional investors (asset owners and their managers) develop their “asks” of companies.

Climate change topics disclosure is at the top of most investor lists for 2021. Human Capital Management issues have been steadily rising in importance as the COVID-19 pandemic (and spread of variants) affects many business enterprises around the globe.

In the USA, SEC has new guidance for corporate HCM disclosures.  Political unrest is an issue for companies.  Anti-corruption measures are being closely examined.

Diversity & Inclusion (including in the board room and C-suite) is growing in importance to investors.

Also, physical risk to corporate assets in the era of superstorms and changing weather patterns – what are companies examining and then reporting on?  Exec compensation with metrics tied to performance in ESG issues is an area of growing interest.

We are monitoring and/or involved in multiple discussions and organized initiatives in the quest to develop more global, uniform, comparable, reliable, timely, complete, and assured corporate sustainability metrics, and accompanying narrative.  And, to provide the all-important context (of reported data) – what does the data mean?  It’s a complicated journey for all involved!

This week we devote the content of this week’s Highlights newsletter to various elements of the public discussions about the many aspects of the journey.

Here at G&A Institute, our team’s recommended best practice:  use multiple frameworks & standards that are relevant to the business and meet user needs; these are typically then disclosed in hybridized report where multiple standards are harmonized and customized for the relevant industries and sectors of the specific company’s operations and reflect the progress (or even lack of) of the enterprise toward leadership in sustainability matters.

This approach helps to reduce disclosure fatigue for internal corporate teams challenged to choose “which” framework or standard and the gathering of data and other content for this year’s and next year’s ESG disclosures.

We shared our thoughts in a special issue of NIRI IR Update, published by the National Investor Relations Institute, the important organization for corporate investor relations officers:


Here are our top selections in the content silos for this week that reflect the complexity of even the public debates about corporate ESG disclosure and where we are in early-2021.

TOP STORIES

The ever-evolving world of ESG investing from a few different points of view. What are the providers of capital examining today for their portfolio or investable product decision-making?  Here are some shared perspectives: