FASB Tackles Thorny Disclosure Effectiveness Issues

Tweaks and additions to the FASB conceptual framework deal with the definition of materiality and the appropriate content in notes to financial sta...
Vincent RyanAugust 29, 2018
FASB Tackles Thorny Disclosure Effectiveness Issues

The Financial Accounting Standards Board announced some changes on Tuesday designed to potentially put to rest some issues of long-running debate.

One set of changes involved tweaks and additions to its conceptual framework, which identifies the goals and purposes of financial reporting.

The first was designed to improve the effectiveness of disclosures in the notes to financial statements. FASB added a new chapter to the conceptual framework to explain the information that should be included in the notes. The newly added Chapter 8 describes the purpose of notes, the nature of appropriate content, and general limitations. The chapter also addresses  interim reporting disclosure requirements.

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In the second change, the board updated an existing chapter of the conceptual framework to align FASB’s definition of “materiality” with other definitions in the financial reporting system. As a result, FASB’s materiality concepts will be consistent with the definition used by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. judicial system, and the auditing standards of the PCAOB and the AICPA.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of materiality “generally states that information is material if there is a substantial likelihood that the omitted or misstated item would have been viewed by a reasonable resource provider as having significantly altered the total mix of information,” FASB has stated in the past.

FASB has been mulling the materiality issue for a few years. Some investors, lawyers, accountants, and a few corporate executives contended that establishing a legal standard for materiality would be too high a bar, enabling corporations to not report items that were in fact material.

Both changes are part of an effort to tackle “disclosure overload.” According to a 2012 study by Ernst & Young, in the two decades prior, the average number of pages in 10-Ks devoted to footnotes and the Management’s Discussion and Analysis had quadrupled.

Also on Tuesday, FASB also announced two accounting standards updates (ASUs). The first involves the disclosure requirements on fair value measurements, Topic 820. The second ASU concerns disclosure requirements for employers that sponsor defined-benefit pension or other post-retirement plans.

Russell Golden, FASB chair, said, “… the new standards improve fair value and defined-benefit disclosure requirements by removing disclosures that are not cost beneficial, clarifying disclosures’ specific requirements, and adding relevant disclosure requirements.”