International Accounting Controversies

By Bloom, Robert | The Government Accountants Journal, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

International Accounting Controversies


Bloom, Robert, The Government Accountants Journal


International accounting encompasses many themes, including standard setting frameworks, comparative generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and auditing standards. This is an overview of selected issues and controversies in the international arena.

Accounting is very much the function of a country's culture. Since each country has a unique culture, each has a somewhat different accounting system. The term "culture" according to Hofstede is the "collective programming of the human mind." 1Culture can be viewed in terms of the economic, historical, legal and social traditions within a country.

Despite the accounting differences among countries, there are three fundamental worldwide accounting frameworks: (1) Anglo-Saxon, (2) continental and (3) mixed market.

In the Anglo-Saxon framework, investors and creditors are the two main users of financial reports, which are employed in decision-making. Extensive disclosures are furnished in these reports. Accounting principles and tax regulations are not the same. Standard setting is performed to some extent jointly by the private and public sectors, by bodies such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States, although the private sector usually predominates.

Under the continental framework, the main users are bankers and governments-not necessarily in that orderaccording to country. Emphasis is on providing accountability for lending purposes and developing national economic policy. As a result, the accounting principles and tax laws are similar, if not the same. Standard setting is usually performed by a governmental body such as a ministry of finance.

The third framework, mixed market, applies to the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. This model is characterized by two systems: traditional socialism and capitalism. In the traditional system, emphasis is on stewardship and form, with budgets and fund accounting as the key elements along with the government as the user of accounting data. In capitalism, privatization is stressed by reaching out for foreign investment and promoting private ownership and profit-making. In this case, investors and creditors are the principal users of accounting information contained in financial reports.

International Investment

In view of the significant differences among accounting systems worldwide, there are major harmonization challenges in the course of international competition for funds. Growth in cross-country trade has increased the need for compatibility in financial reporting worldwide. This is an important issue. To invest in foreign countries, an individual or analyst should be able to examine and understand the financial statements in those countries, including their underlying principles and polices. To the extent that such comprehension cannot be readily achieved, foreign investment transactions are not undertaken.

A related issue is whether to have internationally recognized accounting standards or country-specific, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) applied in financial reports for companies listed on the major stock exchanges worldwide-or to allow both sets of principles to coexist for different purposes. …

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