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New Ways to Present a Financial Statement

by Sue Harding, European Chief Accountant, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services

Following the recent proposals published by the International and U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Boards for the presentation of financial statements, Sue Harding, European Chief Accountant for Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, discusses how helpful the proposed changes would be for credit analysis.

Having debated this issue for a number of years, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) have now published a joint discussion paper entitled ‘Preliminary Views on Financial Statement Presentation’. The discussion paper (DP) advocates a radical change to the decades-old presentation of basic financial statements – the balance sheet and the income and cash flow statements - without changing any of the underlying accounting requirements. However, in the opinion of Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, if the proposals described in the DP are introduced, the implications for the analysis of financial statement information would be no less significant. The question S&P would raise, therefore, is whether simple enhancements could be made to the current format of company financial statements that might better resolve concerns than a complete replacement of the format.

The proposal from the two boards aims to cohesively link classification of items across the balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flows. This entails a complete redesign of the three statements so that all assets, liabilities, earnings and cash items are categorised as relating to either operating, investing, financing, income tax, or discontinued operations.