Feathers in the wind

Over the last week or so I have been teaching classes about the Conceptual Framework that underpins financial reporting. I am not sure that my students find its details as fascinating as I do. Perhaps its one of those topics that you develop a taste for? Anyway it always gets me thinking.

The version of the conceptual framework I have been teaching is a work in progress. The original Framework was published in 1989 and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) have been working on updating it for a number of years. At the moment there is a new version of the ‘Objectives of Financial Statements’ and the ‘Qualitative Characteristics of Financial Statements’.

In both versions the objective of financial statements is to help users make economic decisions. The thing that has changed between the 1989 version and the current version is that users of financial statements are now more narrowly defined. Users used to ‘include present and potential investors, employees, lenders, suppliers and other trade creditors, customers, governments and their agencies and the public’ (IASB, 2010, pB1714, para 9). Since the changes they are now limited to ‘existing and potential investors, lenders and other creditors’ (IASB, 2011, p77, para OB2).

So employees, suppliers, customers, governments and their agencies and the public have disappeared.

The thoughts that have occurred to me from this change are that it marks the influence of the FASB the American standards setting body for financial reporting. One of the long term goals of the IASB is to converge international financial reporting with financial reporting in the US (US GAAP).

The users of financial statements identified, the providers or owners of capital, fit a pristine capitalist view of business, whereas the old list of potential users allowed the scope to view businesses as a social enterprise. While it probably didn’t accommodate more radical perspectives, it left some room for the idea of the social contract.

On the face of it this narrowing of the defined audience for financial statements seems at odds with the increasing awareness within the business community of the importance of sustainability and the need to be socially responsible. However perhaps it is not as bad as I first feared. Financial Statements used to be the only information published on issues of stewardship. Now companies are encouraged (by the GRI for instance) to publish on wider stewardship issues. There is a growing call for integrated reporting (see the IIRC discussion paper). Perhaps in that context it is not unreasonable to be more focussed in what the financial reporting is trying to achieve. Nonetheless I still have a certain level of disquiet about what looks like a retrograde step.

References

IASB, (2010), International Financial Reporting Standards; Part B the accompanying documents, IASB, London
IASB, (2011), International Financial Reporting Standards; Consolidated without early application, IASB, London

Acronyms

GAAP: Generally Accepted Accounting Practice
GRI: Global Reporting Initiative
FASB: Financial Accounting Standards Board
IFRS: International Financial Reporting Standards
IIRC: International Integrated Reporting Council

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Why I’m flibitygibity

Over the last few months I have been studying a module on Discourse Analysis as part of an MSc course. I have been a bit reticent about posting up my reflections about what I was learning or about using any of the ideas that I came across.
I thought that I could try and use some of the ideas about Discourse Analysis (DA) to unpick the name I have for this blog and on Twitter – Flibitygibity.
One of the tools available in DA is to consider why alternate words are not used in a particular circumstance. The name I normally use to label writing I do is “Amanda” or “Amanda Williams” and in the past I used my maiden name. I didn’t use that for purely practical reasons, my name is not unique. Some people get round that by adding letters, like CPA or MD afterwards. If I had gone down that route I would have to choose which of my letters to put after my name and I didn’t want to pin it down to a particular identity. One feature of DA is the way that the words we choose place us within different groups.
Picking specific letters would not just have placed me as “a chartered accountant” or “a teacher” to give two of the possible identities I could have selected, it would also have placed my blogs and tweets on a specific footing, as someone speaking from a professional perspective, or an educational perspective. It might have made it harder to post reflections where I was speaking as a student, for example.
So why select “Flibitygibity”. This name might make you think of Maria in The Sound of Music ‘a flibbertigibbet! a will-o’-the wisp! a clown!’ as most of the nuns see her. That is not why I chose the name, but nonetheless, that specific use of the word creates some of the meaning associated with its use in other circumstances. I was called a flibbertigibbet by a female relative when I was a 19 year old university student. That wasn’t necessarily how I saw myself (or how the character of Maria saw herself). One of the aspects of DA that I find both interesting and challenging to understand is the idea of subject positions. We have a part to play in creating our own subject positions but they are also constructed through how others see us. And describe us.
There are different types of DA and I am particularly interested in exploring Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) further. FDA looks at the history of a Discourse so that you can understand big themes like criminality or madness. Old ideas inform current ones.
When I write about “serious matters of business” one voice sitting on my shoulder as I write is that of a Harry Enfield sketch from around 1990. It is set in the 1950’s. There is a group of be-suited men and their wives at a dinner party. One of the women starts to comment on role of the gold standard. The dinner party ends in embarrassment. The punchline flashed up like a health warning is “Women! Know your place!”
Flibbertigibbet is not a particularly flattering way to describe someone. It can be defined as a gossiping, chattering, young woman. The derivation of the word is unknown but one possibility is that it is the name of the shrieking banshee-like spirits that flew past a gallows – fly-by-the-gibbet.
I have also clearly spelled it wrong – this came down to the issue of unique user names on Twitter, and my own poor spelling.
So why have I stuck with it? Partly as a way to subvert the things that might keep me quiet (including my spelling!); mainly assumptions about who has authority to speak about corporate governance, financial reporting and other serious matters of business. I like the way that a word like flibitygibity has meaning that not only changes through use, but conveys its opposite, so perhaps a punishing gallows ghost also conveys understanding judgement, and a youthful chatterbox has seeds of serious reflective comment.