Reporting on the Past: A New Approach to Improving Accounting Today

Posted: 29 Nov 1999

See all articles by Russell J. Lundholm

Russell J. Lundholm

University of British Columbia - Sauder School of Business

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Abstract

In the last few years the financial accounting model has been attacked on a number of fronts. Some argue that the model reports irrelevant information in today's knowledge-based economy, while others argue that the model's reporting discretion makes the results unreliable. Accruals allow the model to report wealth creation or depletion in a more timely manner, yet they also allow abuse when the underlying estimates are intentionally distorted. But surprisingly, the accuracy of the estimates underlying the accruals is never examined; rather current accruals are mixed together with the reversals of prior accruals. I propose that the financial reporting model be amended to report on the ex post accuracy of a firm's prior estimates. Doing so will identify firms who have abused their reporting discretion in the past and provide valuable information about the expected credibility of the firm's disclosures in the present. Firms will also have a greater incentive to make accurate estimates and accruals if they know that opportunistic estimates will be explicitly revealed in the future. Finally, accounting regulators might be more inclined to recognize non-traditional assets in the financial statements if a system is in place that gives firms an incentive to accurately estimate the value of these assets. In the paper I give an example of the type of disclosure I am proposing, discuss the benefits it offers to investors, and address some practical implementation issues.

JEL Classification: G18, G28, M41, M43, M44

Suggested Citation

Lundholm, Russell J., Reporting on the Past: A New Approach to Improving Accounting Today. Accounting Horizons. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=190028

Russell J. Lundholm (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia - Sauder School of Business ( email )

2053 Main Hall
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z2
Canada

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