International Financial Reporting Standards - IFRS

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DEFINITION of 'International Financial Reporting Standards - IFRS'

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are a set of international accounting standards stating how particular types of transactions and other events should be reported in financial statements. IFRS are issued by the International Accounting Standards Board, and they specify exactly how accountants must maintain and report their accounts. IFRS were established in order to have a common accounting language, so business and accounts can be understood from company to company and country to country.

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BREAKING DOWN 'International Financial Reporting Standards - IFRS'

The point of IFRS is to maintain stability and transparency throughout the financial world. This allows businesses and individual investors to make educated financial decisions, as they are able to see exactly what has been happening with a company in which they wish to invest.

IFRS are standard in many parts of the world, including the European Union and many countries in Asia and South America, but not in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is in the process of deciding whether or not to adopt the standards in America. Countries that benefit the most from the standards are those that do a lot of international business and investing. Advocates suggest that a global adoption of IFRS would save money on alternative comparison costs and individual investigations, while also allowing information to flow more freely.

In the countries that have adopted IFRS, both companies and investors benefit from using the system, since investors are more likely to put money into a company if the company's business practices are transparent. Also, the cost of investments are usually lower. Companies that do a lot of international business benefit the most from IFRS.

IFRS are sometimes confused with International Accounting Standards (IAS), which are the older standards that IFRS replaced. IAS were issued from 1973 to 2000. Likewise, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) replaced the International Accounting Standards Committee (IASC) in 2001.

Standard IFRS Requirements

IFRS cover a wide range of accounting activities. There are certain aspects of business practice for which IFRS set mandatory rules.

  • Statement of Financial Position: This is also known as a balance sheet. IFRS influence the ways in which the components of a balance sheet are reported.
  • Statement of Comprehensive Income: This can take the form of one statement, or it can be separated into a profit and loss statement and a statement of other income, including property and equipment.
  • Statement of Changes in Equity: Also known as a statement of retained earnings, this documents the company's change in earnings or profit for the given financial period.
  • Statement of Cash Flow: This report summarizes the company's financial transactions in the given period, separating cash flow into Operations, Investing, and Financing.

In addition to these basic reports, a company must also give a summary of its accounting policies. The full report is often seen side by side with the previous report, to show the changes in profit and loss. A parent company must create separate account reports for each of its subsidiary companies.

IFRS vs. American Standards

Differences exist between IFRS and other countries' generally accepted accounting standards (GAAP) that affect the way a financial ratio is calculated. For example, IFRS are not as strict on defining revenue and allow companies to report revenue sooner, so consequently, a balance sheet under this system might show a higher stream of revenue. IFRS also have different requirements for expenses; for example, if a company is spending money on development or an investment for the future, it doesn't necessarily have to be reported as an expense (it can be capitalized).

Another difference between IFRS and GAAP is the specification of the way inventory is accounted for. There are two ways to keep track of this, first in first out (FIFO) and last in first out (LIFO). FIFO means that the most recent inventory is left unsold until older inventory is sold; LIFO means that the most recent inventory is the first to be sold. IFRS prohibit LIFO, while American standards and others allow participants to freely use either.

History of IFRS

IFRS originated in the European Union, with the intention of making business affairs and accounts accessible across the continent. The idea quickly spread globally, as a common language allowed greater communication worldwide. Although only a portion of the world uses IFRS, participating countries are spread all over the world, rather than being confined to one geographic region. The United States has not yet adopted IFRS, as many view the American GAAP. as the "gold standard"; however, as IFRS become more of a global norm, this is subject to change if the SEC decides that IFRS are fit for American investment practices.

Currently, about 120 countries use IFRS in some way, and 90 of those require them and fully conform to IFRS regulations.

IFRS are maintained by the IFRS Foundation. The mission of the IFRS Foundation is to "bring transparency, accountability and efficiency to financial markets around the world." Not only does the IFRS Foundation supply and monitor these standards, but it also provides suggestions and advice to those who deviate from the practice guidelines.

The official IFRS website has more information on the rules and history of the IFRS.

The goal with IFRS is to make international comparisons as easy as possible. This is difficult because, to a large extent, each country has its own set of rules. For example, U.S. GAAP are different from Canadian GAAP. Synchronizing accounting standards across the globe is an ongoing process in the international accounting community.

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