Accountants at JSE-listed companies in South Africa need to brace themselves for the introduction of a range of new reporting standards over the next two to three years.
Constant regulatory and legislative change is the new status quo for stock exchange listed companies everywhere in the world, and South Africa is no exception. Accountants and financial directors at JSE-listed companies need to start preparing themselves for the next wave of changes in reporting standards, with a set of major updates to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) due to take effect in 2013.
What's more, they are also coming under pressure to start getting serious about integrated reporting as envisaged by the third King report on corporate governance (King III). We are also starting to see more discussion about the potential benefits of the adoption of XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) in South Africa.
Taken together, these changes have profound implications for business processes and workflows at many JSE-listed companies. Let's look at the three major issues in turn, starting with the drive towards integrated reporting.
Beyond the bottom-line
Worldwide, we are seeing a major drive towards integrated reporting as regulators, stock exchanges and shareholders demand to see sustainability information in companies' financial reports. On the international front, the movement towards integrated reporting is being driven by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), which is striving towards the creation of a globally accepted standard for integrated reporting.
The IIRC is working to create a framework for integrated reporting worldwide, which brings together financial, environmental, social and governance information in a clear, concise, consistent and comparable format.
In South Africa, the King III report strongly recommends the adoption of integrated reporting as a best practice. The King Commission calls on the board to ensure that the organisation has appropriate systems and processes to produce a report that gives a complete picture of the company's financial and non-financial performance.
The upshot is that, whereas JSE-listed companies were once expected only to deliver the annual financial statements to shareholders, they are now asked also to produce annual sustainability and governance reports. An integrated report should be the organisation's primary report to investors and other stakeholders – in effect, its annual report.
An integrated report is meant to give shareholders and other stakeholders a more holistic view of the organisation's strategy, risks and viability, by linking financial and sustainability information and providing forward-looking information on how the company deals with sustainability risks and opportunities. In short, an integrated report should demonstrate, in a clear and concise manner, the organisation's ability to create and sustain value in the short, medium and longer term.
The rapid move towards integrated reporting will demand that companies re-look at and restructure their reporting structures to provide for the non-financial aspects of integrated reporting. They will need to be able to provide material information about their organisation's impact on its environment in a commercial and social context.
Though integrated reporting sounds challenging and may require new IT system investments so that companies can better aggregate information, many companies are seeing it as an opportunity. It is a way to show that one is serious about governance, sustainability and transparency. It can also enable organisations to reduce reputational risk, gain more visibility into their short-to long-term risks, and make better financial and non-financial decisions.
New IFRS standards for 2013
In addition to the changes that integrated reporting will demand, the next significant set of changes to IFRS is due to come into effect next year. The International Accounting Standards Board issued four new standards in 2011 that will be effective for financial years starting on or after 1 January 2013:
Of these, IFRS 10 and IFRS 11 will not have a significant impact, from a disclosure and reporting perspective, for most organisations. However, IFRS 12 and IFRS 13 will demand that many companies disclose information that previously they did not need to report.
The level of disclosure that IFRS 12 demands in subsidiaries and consolidated structured entities is far more onerous than those asked for in its predecessor, IAS 27. Now, a company is required to make detailed disclosures for each subsidiary in which it has a material non-controlling interest. The goal is to give investors and other stakeholders a clear picture of the nature and extent of a company's interests in unconsolidated structured entities, as well as the risks of these interests.
Companies must now disclose for every subsidiary in which they have material non-controlling interest: the nature, purpose, size and financing of entities; the profit or loss allocated to non-controlling interests; accumulated non-controlling interest; dividends paid to non-controlling interests; and assets, liabilities, cash flows, and profit or loss before inter-company eliminations.
Organisations must also disclose the risks that are associated with subsidiaries – for example, if they are providing financial support, these entities, whether they are contractually obliged to provide financial support to a subsidiary company, and their maximum exposure to losses and debts at a subsidiary.
IFRS 13 Fair Value Measurement also has some tough new disclosure demands. It expands on IFRS 7, which limited its scope to financial instruments. The shock here is that the reporting demands of IFRS 13 apply to almost all assets, including investment properties, revalued property, plant and equipment, or assets impaired to a recoverable amount (fair value minus costs to sell). This means that the fair value measurement and disclosure demands of IFRS 13 are applicable to many companies that did not need to concern themselves with IFRS 7.
Financial directors and group accountants at all listed companies and public sector organisations should be considering whether they will need to implement new processes and systems to report on information required by IFRS 12 and 13.
XBRL – what is it good for?
There is a lot of discussion in South Africa about the adoption of XBRL by JSE-listed companies, but not much movement. XBRL is a freely available, open and global standard for exchanging business information.
It is based in XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language), a language used to encode documents in a format that both humans and computers could read. The standard is designed to make it easier for business information to be read and analysed by machines as well as by people. The benefits are numerous in terms of time and cost-savings.
XBRL takes a lot of the drudge work out of compiling, capturing and comparing financial data out of the process. It makes it more efficient and cheaper for organisations to communicate financial and business information with each other. The standard streamlines and automates data collection, saving time and eliminating human error.
Though regulatory bodies, such as the Securities Exchange Commission in the US and HM Revenues and Customs in the UK, are making XBRL mandatory. It is still purely optional in South Africa despite the JSE's involvement in the international XBRL standards body. It seems unlikely that we will see widespread adoption of XBRL in South Africa until SARS, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission or the JSE makes it compulsory.
That is a pity, since we risk falling behind international best practice. XBRL could deliver enormous benefits to companies in South Africa that either need to deliver or consume electronic financial reports: the revenue service, the JSE, the investment community, accounting firms, lenders, listed companies and many other entities.
South African companies need to start looking at their accounting and reporting workflows and look for opportunities to automate and streamline many of the processes. In the past they used to do it manually. This will put them in a good position for the looming introduction of new IFRS standards and the move towards integrated reporting, as well as for any new regulation or changes to reporting standards that the future may bring. asa
Author: Ross Hampton, BCom, is a Director: at CQS Technology Holdings.