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Bending the Rules

The world of corporate finance is not known for its flexibility, but that's what has been tested lately.
Julia Homer, CFO Magazine
February 1, 2008

As a general principle, no one wants to advocate bending the rules in matters concerning corporate finance, especially these days. But we seem to be in the midst of a spree of rule-bending, and much of it may be positive — if challenging.

Take the so-called millennial generation, those freshly minted college grads now entering the workforce. They have very different ideas about career goals, job conduct, and the appropriate length of a workweek. While this development has been widely reported, nowhere is it more jarring than in the finance department, with its strong traditions of loyal service and long hours. In this issue's special section on human capital, CFO explores the challenges that managers face in trying to establish order among a generation that has decided that the old rules no longer apply.

Other rules are also up for debate. The weakening of the dollar against other currencies is prompting companies around the globe to move beyond financial hedges to operational ones, a trend senior writer Kate O'Sullivan tracks in "How Companies Cope with the Declining Dollar."

Even rule-making bodies seem willing to bend. In a little noticed but potentially significant move, reported in this month's Insight, the SEC is helping banks ease the fallout from the subprime-mortgage mess by flexibly interpreting FAS 140, which governs accounting for securitizations. Meanwhile, FASB is deep into a project that won't bend rules so much as rewrite them. Its financial statements project aims to profoundly alter the way companies report their numbers. How profoundly? As senior writer Alix Stuart explains in "A New Vision for Accounting," you may be saying good-bye to net income.

All of this might lead you to recall the old adage "Rules are made to be broken." But former WorldCom VP Cynthia Cooper's insider view of the company's collapse offers a vivid reminder of what can happen when the rules that govern accounting practice are bent too far. Things break.




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