By Romano Dzinkowski, economist and business journalist
2012 brought CFOs in the US so much to get to grips with on financial standards and mandatory auditor rotation that precious little headspace was left for strategic direction of business.
2012 was a tough year for US corporate accountants. With heads down, eyes focused on managing risk, and more often than not buried in compliance and tax issues, there was little room for strategic growth for the finance C-suite. While most CFOs would claim their role is to be a true business partner and a critical forward-looking thinker on the C-level team, last year was full of distractions.
First, the US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued up to 15 new exposure drafts (13 at the time of this writing) and seven freshly linked new standards. CFOs were also anxiously awaiting the final revisions to several big memorandum of understanding projects with the FASB and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) – on financial instruments, impairment, hedge accounting, accounting for macro hedging, leases, and, last but not least, revenue recognition. Many finance folks were busy figuring out exactly what the proposals would mean for them.
Also on the standards agenda, the FASB and newly formed Private Company Council (PCC) proposed a new, simplified framework for modifying US GAAP for private companies. There was much debate on whether what many are calling a two-GAAP system would ultimately be good for corporate America as a whole. That argument continues.
Also in 2012, the coming of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) was again a source of confusion for public company CFOs who would have liked some direction one way or another. An announcement regarding adoption (or not) was expected at the end of 2011, and again in 2012…but none was forthcoming. This has angered many US finance chiefs who would like a heads-up for their planning cycle and have already started going down the IFRS adoption path.
Against the backdrop of a fairly heavy accounting standards agenda came the threat of mandatory auditor rotation in the US, which many CFOs say would make their life much more complicated, not to mention expensive. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is now deliberating on what, if anything, it is going to do about changing the rules on mandatory auditor rotation in 2013. Currently, most votes are in the nay camp.
At the same time, COSO – the Committee of Sponsoring Organisations of the Treadway Commission – released a significant update to its original risk management framework, which many SOX 404 filers have adopted. The new model has been criticised for being prohibitively large for all but the bigger public companies with the resources to adopt it. COSO is revising the document; the hope is that the new framework will be ready for CFOs to start implementing in 2013.
So what does it all foreshadow for the role of the CFO this year and beyond? More of the same, says a recent ACCA/IMA study released in October 2012. CFOs, predicts the study, will continue to be challenged by the tug of war between their role as senior strategist and business partner and the ever-increasing demands of greater compliance,control and regulatory complexity.