Shift to international standards happening, but slowly

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The financial world may be truly globalised, but the same cannot be said for accounting, the rules of which vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Yes, the sector has been moving, albeit sometimes grudgingly, towards international standards. But this has been a long, arduous process, exacerbated this month by an announcement from the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the US’s Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) confirming they would not meet the June 2011 deadline set by the Group of 20 industrialised nations for global accounting harmonisation.

The news was met with dismay from the EU, which adopted international financial reporting standards (IFRS) in 2005.

Accountancy training, too, is affected by these delays, as providers move from highly localised courses, which limit the areas students can then go on to work in, to something more standardised and internationally accepted. But since this is an ongoing problem, it means trainers are well-equipped to deal with it.

For Professor Katherine Schipper, who teaches accounting at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, “it’s an issue, but it’s not insurmountable. You can manage”.

“We focus on the important differences where we think those arise and could create some issues in analysing financial reports,” she says.

MBA students at Duke learn about US generally accepted accounting principles (Gaap) and IFRS “approximately equally”.

Teachers at Kaplan Financial, an accountancy training provider, also take changing standards and the slow move towards international standards in their stride. Ruth Preedy, head of corporate reporting at Kaplan, says: “Our syllabus is updated annually anyway, and if there is a standard change, we introduce that.”

“Obviously, because we’re going through a period of change at the moment with these global standards, the syllabus will change more over the coming years than in the past,” she says, but this isn’t a challenge so much as an opportunity.

“In accounting, you’re always learning anyway – that’s why IFRS, which changes all the time, is so interesting,” says Ms Preedy.

All accounting trainers, for example, are looking at the teaching of “IFRS 9” at the moment.

“It is very controversial because it’s all about financial instruments, which is quite a technical area,” says Ms Preedy. IFRS 9 is going to start entering the syllabus next year, even though for now students only need a general awareness,” she adds.

Prof Schipper, meanwhile, has to teach several viewpoints in parallel: “The IASB’s decision to promulgate IFRS 9 makes it necessary for me to talk about two different approaches,” she says, because the standard “puts into place authoritative guidance for financial assets that is divergent from the FASB’s proposals”.

Michelle Quest, UK head of people at KPMG, one of the Big Four accountancy firms, is upbeat about IFRS’s effects on training: “It has revolutionised our ability to deliver training. There are still a few countries, notably the US, that are yet to adopt these standards, but progress continues and we are already preparing our people for the change by developing and delivering our training on a global basis,” she says.

The increasingly global nature of accountancy training is prompting innovation in the way courses are delivered. As staff within firms are increasingly deployed with greater geographic disparity, it follows that they need to access the same information and the same training. This paves the way for alternative delivery of courses, and in particular, virtual learning.

“The use of technology is the key to us being able to offer diverse and flexible training which meets our business needs,” says Ms Quest.

Jeremy Bodey is head of virtual learning at Kaplan, a role that was recently created to meet the growing demand for more flexible, non classroom-based training.

“Students are time-poor and don’t have time to commit face-to-face,” he says.

“Companies are often no longer willing, in the current climate, to allow a lot of time away from the office on working days. So, among our corporate clients, the trend is towards something that addresses that.”

So instead of people having to come in to a classroom for four evenings a week, for instance, they can dial in online, wherever they are, for those same sessions. A tutor delivers [a lesson] live from the UK across the globe, ensuring, says Mr Bodey, that “the interaction is not lost”.

This virtual approach to learning is well suited to the globalisation of accounting practices and the eventual adoption of IFRS. Indeed, trainers can finally deliver material that is consistent and applicable anywhere – and learners can be reassured the skills and knowledge they will take away with them will serve them well, wherever they end up working.

“At the standards come in and are embedded across countries, there’s less scope to offer localised training,” says Mr Bodey.

“It makes it a very interesting and exciting time.”

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