Chapter 1: Financial Accounting and Accounting Standards (Questions)
Differentiate broadly between financial accounting and managerial accounting.
Financial accounting measures, classifies, and summarizes in report form those activities and that information which relate to the enterprise as a whole for use by parties both internal and external to a business enterprise. Managerial accounting also measures, classifies, and summarizes in report form enterprise activities, but the communication is for the use of internal, managerial parties, and relates more to subsystems of the entity. Managerial accounting is management decision oriented and directed more toward product line, division, and profit center reporting.
Differentiate between “financial statements” and “financial reporting.”
Financial statements generally refer to the four basic financial statements: balance sheet, income statement, statement of cash flows, and statement of changes in owners’ or stockholders’ equity. Financial reporting is a broader concept; it includes the basic financial statements and any other means of communicating financial and economic data to interested external parties. Examples of financial reporting other than financial statements are annual reports, prospectuses, reports filed with the government, news releases, management forecasts or plans, and descriptions of an enterprise’s social or environmental impact.
How does accounting help the capital allocation process?
If a company’s financial performance is measured accurately, fairly, and on a timely basis, the right managers and companies are able to attract investment capital. To provide unreliable and irrelevant information leads to poor capital allocation which adversely affects the securities market.
What is the objective of financial reporting?
The objective of general purpose financial reporting is to provide financial information about the reporting entity that is useful to present and potential equity investors, lenders, and other creditors in decisions about providing resources to the entity through equity investments and loans or other forms of credit. Information that is decision-useful to capital providers (investors) may also be useful to other users of financial reporting who are not investors.
Briefly explain the meaning of decision-usefulness in the context of financial reporting.
Investors are interested in financial reporting because it provides information that is useful for making decisions (referred to as the decision-usefulness approach). When making these decisions, investors are interested in assessing the company’s (1) ability to generate net cash inflows and (2) management’s ability to protect and enhance the capital providers’ investments. Financial reporting should therefore help investors assess the amounts, timing, and uncertainty of prospective cash inflows from dividends or interest, and the proceeds from the sale, redemption, or maturity of securities or loans. In order for investors to make these assessments, the economic resources of an enterprise, the claims to those resources, and the changes in them must be understood.
Of what value is a common set of standards in financial accounting and reporting?
A common set of standards applied by all businesses and entities provides financial statements which are reasonably comparable. Without a common set of standards, each enterprise could, and would, develop its own theory structure and set of practices, resulting in noncomparability among enterprises.
What is the likely limitation of “general-purpose financial statements”?
General-purpose financial statements are not likely to satisfy the specific needs of all interested parties. Since the needs of interested parties such as creditors, managers, owners, governmental agencies, and financial analysts vary considerably, it is unlikely that one set of financial statements is equally appropriate for these varied uses.
In what way is the Securities and Exchange Commission concerned about and supportive of accounting principles and standards?
The SEC has the power to prescribe, in whatever detail it desires, the accounting practices and principles to be employed by the companies that fall within its jurisdiction. Because the SEC receives audited financial statements from nearly all companies that issue securities to the public or are listed on the stock exchanges, it is greatly interested in the content, accuracy, and credibility of the statements. For many years the SEC relied on the AICPA to regulate the profession and develop and enforce accounting principles. Lately, the SEC has assumed a more active role in the develop-ment of accounting standards, especially in the area of disclosure requirements. In December 1973, in ASR No. 150, the SEC said the FASB’s statements would be presumed to carry substantial authoritative support and anything contrary to them to lack such support. It thereby supports the development of accounting principles in the private sector.
What was the Committee on Accounting Procedure, and what were its accomplishments and failings?
The Committee on Accounting Procedure was a special committee of the American Institute of CPAs that, between the years of 1939 and 1959, issued 51 Accounting Research Bulletins dealing with a wide variety of timely accounting problems. These bulletins provided solutions to immediate problems and narrowed the range of alternative practices. But, the Committee’s problem-by-problem approach failed to provide a well-defined and well-structured body of accounting theory that was so badly needed. The Committee on Accounting Procedure was replaced in 1959 by the Accounting Principles Board.
For what purposes did the AICPA create the Accounting Principles Board?
The creation of the Accounting Principles Board was intended to advance the written expression
of accounting principles, to determine appropriate practices, and to narrow the differences and inconsistencies in practice. To achieve its basic objectives, its mission was to develop an overall conceptual framework to assist in the resolution of problems as they became evident and to do substantive research on individual issues before pronouncements were issued.
Distinguish between Opinions of the Accounting Principles Board and Accounting Standards Updates.
Accounting Research Bulletins were pronouncements on accounting practice issued by the Committee on Accounting Procedure between 1939 and 1959; since 1964 they have been recognized as accepted accounting practice unless superseded in part or in whole by an opinion of the APB or an FASB standard. APB Opinions were issued by the Accounting Principles Board during the years 1959 through 1973 and, unless superseded by FASB Statements, are recognized as accepted practice and constitute the requirements to be followed by all business enterprises. Accounting Standards Updates are pronouncements of the Financial Accounting Standards Board that are incorporated into the FASB codification and therefore represent the accounting profession’s authoritative pronouncements on financial accounting and reporting practices.
If you had to explain or define “generally accepted accounting principles or standards,” what essential characteristics would you include in your explanation?
The explanation should note that generally accepted accounting principles or standards have “substantial authoritative support.” They consist of accounting practices, procedures, theories, concepts, and methods which are recognized by a large majority of practicing accountants as well as other members of the business and financial community. Bulletins issued by the Committee on Accounting Procedure, opinions rendered by the Accounting Principles Board, and statements issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board constitute “substantial authoritative support.”
In what ways was it felt that the pronouncements issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board would carry greater weight than the opinions issued by the Accounting Principles Board?
It was believed that FASB Pronouncements would carry greater weight than APB Opinions because of significant differences between the FASB and the APB, namely: (1) the FASB has a smaller membership, (2) full-time compensated members; (3) the FASB has greater autonomy, (4) increased independence; (5) the FASB has broader representation than the APB.
How are FASB preliminary views and FASB exposure drafts related to FASB “statements”?
The technical staff of the FASB conducts research on an identified accounting topic and prepares a “preliminary views” that is released by the Board for public reaction. The Board analyzes and evaluates the public response to the preliminary views, deliberates on the issues, and issues an “exposure draft” for public comment. The preliminary views merely present all facts and alternatives related to a specific topic or problem, whereas the exposure draft is a tentative “statement.” After studying the public’s reaction to the exposure draft, the Board may reevaluate its position, revise the draft, and vote on the issuance of a final statement.
Distinguish between FASB Accounting Standards Updates and FASB Statements of Financial Accounting Concepts.
Statements of financial accounting standards contained in Accounting Standards updates constitute generally accepted accounting principles and dictate acceptable financial accounting and reporting practices as promulgated by the FASB. The first standards statement was issued by the FASB in 1973.
Statements of financial accounting concepts do not establish generally accepted accounting principles. Rather, the concepts statements set forth fundamental objectives and concepts that the FASB intends to use as a basis for developing future standards. The concepts serve as guidelines in solving existing and emerging accounting problems in a consistent, sound manner. Both the standards statements and the concepts statements may develop through the same process from discussion memorandum, to exposure draft, to a final approved statement.
What is Rule 203 of the Code of Professional Conduct?
Rule 203 of the Code of Professional Conduct prohibits a member of the AICPA from expressing an opinion that financial statements conform with GAAP if those statements contain a material departure from an accounting principle promulgated by the FASB, or its predecessors, the APB and the CAP, unless the member can demonstrate that because of unusual circumstances the financial statements would otherwise have been misleading. Failure to follow Rule 203 can lead to a loss of a CPA’s license to practice. This rule is extremely important because it requires auditors to follow FASB standards.
The chair of the FASB at one time noted that “the flow of standards can only be slowed if (1) producers focus less on quarterly earnings per share and tax benefits and more on quality products, and (2) accountants and lawyers rely less on rules and law and more on professional judgment and conduct.” Explain his comment.
The chairman of the FASB was indicating that too much attention is put ofn the bottom line and not enough on the development of quality products. Managers should be less concerned with short-term results and be more concerned with the long-term results. In addition, short-term tax benefits often lead to long-term problems.
The second part of his comment relates to accountants being overly concerned with following a set of rules, so that if litigation ensues, they will be able to argue that they followed the rules exactly. The problem with this approach is that accountants want more and more rules with less reliance on professional judgment. Less professional judgment leads to inappropriate use of accounting procedures in difficult situations.
In the accountants’ defense, recent legal decisions have imposed vast new liability on accountants. The concept of accountant’s liability that has emerged in these cases is broad and expansive; the number of classes of people to whom the accountant is held responsible are almost limitless.
Explain the role of the Emerging Issues Task Force in establishing generally accepted accounting principles.
The Emerging Issues Task Force often arrives at consensus conclusions on certain financial reporting issues. These consensus conclusions are then looked upon as GAAP by practitioners because the SEC has indicated that it will view consensus solutions as preferred accounting and will require persuasive justification for departing from them. Thus, at least for public companies which are subject to SEC oversight, consensus solutions developed by the Emerging Issues Task Force are followed unless subsequently overturned by the FASB. It should be noted that the FASB took greater direct ownership of GAAP established by the EITF by requiring that consensus positions be ratified by the FASB.
What is the difference between the Codification and the Codification Research System?
The Financial Accounting Standards Board Accounting Standards Codification (Codification) is a compilation of all GAAP in one place. Its purpose is to integrate and synthesize existing GAAP and not to create new GAAP. It creates one level of GAAP which is considered authoritative. The FASB Codification Research Systems (CRS) is an-on-line real time data base which provides easy access to the Codification. The Codification and the related CRS provide a topically organized structure which is subdivided into topic, subtopics, sections, and paragraphs.
What are the primary advantages of having a Codification of generally accepted accounting principles?
Hopefully, the codification will help users to better understand what GAAP is. If this occurs, companies will be more likely to comply with GAAP and the time to research accounting issues will be substantially reduced. In addition, through the electronic web-based format, GAAP can be easily updated which will help users stay current.
What are the sources of pressure that change and influence the development of GAAP?
The sources of pressure are innumerable, but the most intense and continuous pressure to change or influence accounting principles or standards come from individual companies, industry associations, governmental agencies, practicing accountants, academicians, professional accoun-ting organizations, and public opinion.
Some individuals have indicated that the FASB must be cognizant of the economic consequences of its pronouncements. What is meant by “economic consequences”? What dangers exist if politics play too much of a role in the development of GAAP?
Economic consequences means the impact of accounting reports on the wealth positions of issuers and users of financial information and the decision-making behavior resulting from that impact. In other words, accounting information impacts various users in many different ways which leads to wealth transfers among these various groups.
If politics plays an important role in the development of accounting rules, the rules will be subject to manipulation for the purpose of furthering whatever policy prevails at the moment. No matter how well intentioned the rule maker may be, if information is designed to indicate that investing in a particular enterprise involves less risk than it actually does, or is designed to encourage investment in a particular segment of the economy, financial reporting will suffer an irreplaceable loss of credibility.
If you were given complete authority in the matter, how would you propose that GAAP should be developed and enforced?
No one particular proposal is expected in answer to this question. The students’ proposals, however, should be defensible relative to the following criteria:
(1) The method must be efficient, responsive, and expeditious.
(2) The method must be free of bias and be above or insulated from pressure groups.
(3) The method must command widespread support if it does not have legislative authority.
(4) The method must produce sound yet practical accounting principles or standards.
The students’ proposals might take the form of alterations of the existing methodology, an accoun-ting court (as proposed by Leonard Spacek), or governmental device.
One writer recently noted that 99.4 percent of all companies prepare statements that are in accordance with GAAP. Why then is there such concern about fraudulent financial reporting?
Concern exists about fraudulent financial reporting because it can undermine the entire financial reporting process. Failure to provide information to users that is accurate can lead to inappropriate allocations of resources in our economy. In addition, failure to detect massive fraud can lead to additional governmental oversight of the accounting profession.
What is the “expectations gap”? What is the profession doing to try to close this gap?
The expectations gap is the difference between what people think accountants should be doing and what accountants think they can do. It is a difficult gap to close. The accounting profession recognizes it must play an important role in narrowing this gap. To meet the needs of society, the profession is continuing its efforts in developing accounting standards, such as numerous pronouncements issued by the FASB, to serve as guidelines for recording and processing business transactions in the changing economic environment.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted to combat fraud and curb poor reporting practices. What are some key provisions of this legislation?
The following are some of the key provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act:
• Establishes an oversight board for accounting practices. The Public Company Accounting Over-sight Board (PCAOB) has oversight and enforcement authority and establishes auditing, quality control, and independence standards and rules.
• Implements stronger independence rules for auditors. Audit partners, for example, are required to rotate every five years and auditors are prohibited from offering certain types of consulting services to corporate clients.
• Requires CEOs and CFOs to personally certify that financial statements and disclosures are accurate and complete and requires CEOs and CFOs to forfeit bonuses and profits when there is an accounting restatement.
• Requires audit committees to be comprised of independent members and members with finan-cial expertise.
• Requires codes of ethics for senior financial officers.
In addition, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires public companies to attest to the effectiveness of their internal controls over financial reporting.
What are some of the major challenges facing the accounting profession?
Some major challenges facing the accounting profession relate to the following items:
Nonfinancial measurement—how to report significant key performance measurements such as customer satisfaction indexes, backlog information and reject rates on goods purchased.
Forward-looking information—how to report more future oriented information.
Soft assets—how to report on intangible assets, such as market know-how, market dominance, and well-trained employees.
Timeliness—how to report more real-time information.
How are financial accountants challenged in their work to make ethical decisions? Is technical mastery of GAAP not sufficient to the practice of financial accounting?
Accountants must perceive the moral dimensions of some situations because GAAP does not define or cover all specific features that are to be reported in financial statements. In these instances accountants must choose among alternatives. These accounting choices influence whether particular stakeholders may be harmed or benefited. Moral decision-making involves awareness of potential harm or benefit and taking responsibility for the choices.