Private Company Financial Reporting Initiative Achieves Another Milestone

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AICPA & FICPA Staff Report

The past year's focus on the lack of relevance and increased complexity of too much of the information in private company GAAP financial statements has culminated in the Blue Ribbon Panel on Private Company Financial Reporting presenting its recommendations to the Financial Accounting Foundation (the oversight body of the Financial Accounting Standards Board). FAF's Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss the report at a meeting on February 15. Passing of the report from the panel to FAF represents a significant step in the process to bring historic change to private company financial reporting, making it more meaningful for owners, lenders, investors and other users of private company financial statements.

The panel proposes two major shifts:

  • A separate board with standard-setting authority under FAF's oversight. The new board would consist of 5-7 members with private company constituent experience and work closely with the FASB, which would continue to set accounting standards for public companies and not-for-profit organizations and report into FAF.

  • Changes and modifications to existing U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, where appropriate, for private companies to reflect their financial statement users' unique needs. All such changes would reside in the one GAAP Codification.

The blue ribbon panel was formed in early 2010 by the AICPA, the FAF and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to explore how to address problems with standard setting for private companies. The panel's 18 members came from a top level cross-section of financial reporting constituencies, including lenders, investors, owners, preparers and auditors. AICPA President and CEO Barry C. Melancon, CPA, also served on the panel. The panel's mission was unlike other prior committees or groups created to study the issue over the past few decades because it looked at the standard-setting process from a policy level, rather than at specific changes to individual standards. 

For many years, CPAs who work for private companies in the United States have been saying that the financial information needs of private businesses are different from those of large public entities. In recent years, the situation has worsened, as the paperwork associated with preparing even the simplest financial statement has become daunting, particularly for small private businesses without the resources of a larger company. Contributing to this problem is that too many standards do not pertain to private companies – they were developed in response to issues that occurred in the public company environment.

"The situation has reached a tipping point," explains Kathy Anderson, CAE, CEO-Executive Director of the FICPA. "Much of the complexity in accounting and reporting relates primarily to the 15,000 or so public companies, yet any time a new standard is issued, it also applies to many of the approximately 28.5 million private companies. The result is that too much of what's included in private company financial statements is not useful to anyone who uses them. Users of private company financial statements need straightforward, understandable information that addresses what they need to know – no more, no less."

FAF is expected to issue a proposal for public comment in the spring. CPAs are a critically important stakeholder in transforming the panel's recommendations into reality. To achieve success in changing private company financial reporting, CPAs should provide comment letters in support of the panel's recommendations and urge small business owners, lenders/bankers, investors (such as private equity and hedge fund managers) and other users to respond to FAF's proposal as well.

For more information and resources, visit the AICPA's webpage, www.aicpa.org/privateGAAP.