Accounting & Tax

Progress Report

Could it be that finance executives really don't mind regulation?
Ronald Fink and Don DurfeeSeptember 1, 2006

Judging from the complaints in the press about the compliance burden facing companies, you’d think that finance executives would be up in arms over regulation.

Not so, according to a CFO survey of 213 finance executives. Most respondents have a relatively benign view of the efforts of regulatory bodies such as the SEC and FASB. Might there be a gap between the perceptions of those in the nation’s capital and on Wall Street, and of those on Main Street?

Consider the respondents’ assessment of the impact of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the provision imposing new attestation requirements for internal controls. In contrast to critics’ assertions that 404 has inhibited corporate risk-taking, the vast majority of respondents say they’ve realized some benefits from Sarbox. To be sure, almost no one sees those benefits in the form of a lower cost of capital, belying academics’ claims (see “The Case for Clarity“). But almost 70 percent say they have seen at least some improvement in their business processes as a result of the law.

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Then there are the warnings voiced over FASB’s proposals to put pensions and leases on the balance sheet. A large majority of our readers, it turns out, also support these efforts, though more than 4 in 10 say such changes could hurt their companies’ stock prices. A surprising proportion also favor principles-based accounting, though such rules may lead to more shareholder lawsuits (see “Standing on Principles“). And more than 40 percent approve of fair-value accounting for assets and liabilities, even though the method, increasingly endorsed by FASB, may require wholesale changes in financial management (see “Will Fair Value Fly?“).

The findings suggest that the SEC and FASB may encounter less opposition to further reforms than expected. It’s not as if finance executives have nothing to fear, however. Although the vast majority of our survey respondents say they have never engaged in aggressive accounting during the past three years, a growing proportion keep assets and liabilities off their balance sheets. Moreover, almost all of the additional disclosures respondents have made during that time are relegated to footnotes.

Our readers, in sum, seem prepared for still more reform, and aren’t at all as risk-averse as some believe them to be.