Moving the Conceptual Framework Forward: Accounting for Uncertainty

Posted: 26 Jun 2018

See all articles by Richard Barker

Richard Barker

University of Oxford - Said Business School

Stephen H. Penman

Columbia Business School - Department of Accounting

Date Written: May 24, 2018

Abstract

To meet the objectives of financial reporting in the International Accounting Standards Board’s Conceptual Framework, the 'balance-sheet approach' embraced by the Framework is necessary but not sufficient. Critical, but largely overlooked, is the role of uncertainty, which we argue defines the role of accrual accounting as a distinctive source of information for investors when investment outcomes are uncertain. This role is in some sense paradoxical: on the one hand, uncertainty undermines both the balance sheet (because uncertain assets are unrecognized) and the income statement (because mismatching is unavoidable). However, these inevitable accounting effects can be exploited to provide information about uncertainty, though not by a balance-sheet approach alone. Rather, balance sheet recognition and measurement criteria are established by consideration of the impact of uncertainty on matching and mismatching in the income statement. This combination of balance-sheet and income-statement approaches enhances the communication of information to investors under conditions of uncertainty, thereby giving greater clarity and purpose in satisfying the objective of the Framework to provide information about "the amount, timing, and uncertainty of future cash flows."

Keywords: Conceptual Framework, IASB, Uncertainty, Financial Statement Presentation, Recognition, Measurement

Suggested Citation

Barker, Richard and Penman, Stephen H., Moving the Conceptual Framework Forward: Accounting for Uncertainty (May 24, 2018). Contemporary Accounting Research, Forthcoming; Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 18-54. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3193333

Richard Barker (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

Stephen H. Penman

Columbia Business School - Department of Accounting ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-9151 (Phone)
212-316-9219 (Fax)

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