Supporting the global profession
Corporate reports form an important source of information about a business for its stakeholders. They help businesses access equity, debt and trade finance and they can affect a firm's share price.
There are a number of well-established frameworks for corporate reporting, which establish the objectives of the reporting and the qualitative characteristics of good corporate reporting.
ACCA supports these frameworks and the qualitative characteristics of good reporting that they set out. Many of these characteristics are common across these frameworks, are widely accepted and can be applied to both the financial and non-financial elements of corporate reporting.
Key qualitative characteristics
Relevance and materiality
A report should include relevant information, that is, information that is capable of making a difference to decisions made by the users of the report: for example should they buy or sell the company's shares, or contract with the company? Materiality is a measure of relevance specific to the reporting entity. Information would be 'material' if its omission or misstatement would influence the decisions that users make on the basis of that report.
A report should contain all relevant information allowing a user to understand the position, performance and, where appropriate, the prospects of the reporting entity. As with relevance and materiality, because separate corporate reports may be produced for different user groups, what constitutes 'completeness of information' may differ from one report to another.
Reliability – neutral and free from error
For users to be able to rely on the information in the report it should be unbiased in its presentation. A report will most often have to include estimates. Some of those may turn out to be inaccurate, but to be free from error those estimates should be based on the best evidence available at the time. Significant estimation uncertainties should be disclosed.
Users want to be able to understand the similarities and differences between items and between reporting entities. Consistency can be identified separately as meaning comparability between different reports of the same entity or between different reporting periods. Comparative information from previous years is often an aid to understanding trends. Standardised information may provide an inherent comparability from year to year or between companies.
Information should, as far as possible, be objective and open to testing. Knowledgeable and independent observers should be able to reach a reasonable consensus on that information, even if absolute agreement may not be possible.
Generally, the more up to date information is, the more useful it is.
Reports should aim to communicate complex matters clearly. Reasonable assumptions may have to be made about the users' level of understanding.
About Richard Martin, ACCA lead author
ACCA would like to acknowledge the significant input from the members of its Global Forum for Corporate Reporting in preparing the full report.
Supporting the global profession
Issues important in good corporate reporting
1. The users of corporate reports are not just the shareholders
2. Standards for reporting should be global
3. Global standard setting needs good governance
4. Global standards are needed for SMEs
5. National standards should converge on global standards
6. Reporting should be timely, within limits
7. Requirements for small entities’ reporting need to balance costs of preparation with transparency
8. Accounting standards should be based on principles and not merely comprise rules
9. Accounting needs a mixture of fair value and historical cost
10. Performance may need more than one measure
11. Accounting should be prudent, in some respects
12. Intangibles need to be included when appropriate
13. Disclosure overload should be avoided
14. Reporting has to go beyond the financial statements