The Corporate Reporting Dialogue – talk faster!

Here’s the full text of a news release recently issued by the IFRS Foundation:

  • The world’s leading financial and non-financial corporate reporting frameworks have the same common foundations, based on the key objectives of transparency and accountability, according to a position paper published by the framework providers today. The position paper sets out the seven key principles report preparers should follow for achieving such transparency and accountability.
  • Participants of the Corporate Reporting Dialogue—an initiative convened by the International Integrated Reporting Council bringing together the major international reporting frameworks—identify transparency and accountability as critical to achieving high-quality governance mechanisms and empowerment of stakeholders in modern societies and markets.
  • Furthermore, such transparency and accountability enables better decision-making by market parties and serves the public good.
  • In the paper, entitled “Understanding the value of transparency and accountability”, CDP, the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Accounting Standards Board, the International Integrated Reporting Council, the International Organization for Standardization and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board set out seven principles of transparency and accountability that they commonly believe are fundamental to corporate reporting: materiality, completeness, accuracy, balance, clarity, comparability and reliability.
  • The paper states:
    • These common principles are a reminder that the Dialogue participants have similar expectations from companies in preparing and disclosing information. This implies an alignment at the fundamental level of the frameworks.
  • The position paper acknowledges a commonly agreed need for companies to go beyond disclosure and demonstrate accountability to stakeholders, stating:
    • …transparency needs accountability in order to drive effective behaviour or performance: disclosing in itself is not enough if those holding to account do not have the power to influence the behaviour or performance.
  • Participants of the Dialogue have committed to promoting the application of these principles for the wider reporting landscape in future interactions or partnerships, as part of their commitment to providing greater clarity to the reporting landscape on how to use the individual frameworks of Dialogue participants to achieve effective, holistic reporting.

So that’s all pretty good I suppose. And yet, I find the “Dialogue” more disheartening than encouraging. You might recall that it was founded in 2014, at which time its then-Chair issued the same kind of noises:

  • The corporate reporting landscape is changing. For too long, reporting has been fragmented and disconnected from the strategic drivers of value. In an interconnected world, isolated change is insufficient to reflect the complexities of modern business and investment practice. The CRD is a collaboration that will promote greater cohesion and efficiency, rebalancing reporting in favour of the reader, helping to re-establish the connection between a business and its principal stakeholders.

So it’s taken five years to get to the frankly rather modest findings of the latest release. Whatever one might think of this, it doesn’t seem to speak to any great urgency. The finding that the “world’s leading financial and non-financial corporate reporting frameworks have the same common foundations, based on the key objectives of transparency and accountability” could only be taken as “good news” in a world where we’ve come to take it for granted that, basically, financial reporting is a disconnected mess, and where it was therefore plausible that the frameworks wouldn’t share such common foundations. Even then, the report itself comes with various caveats – for example, a table summarizing the terminology used by each framework says:

  • It is noted that the table shows the similarities and does not intend to suggest that the frameworks would have exactly the same definition and understanding of the principles in all detail. In fact, the principle of materiality in particular appears to show different explanation and application.

(NB the CRD issued an earlier publication on materiality across the frameworks, although the findings on that occasion were even more tentative, the then-Chair noting that “Whilst each Corporate Reporting Dialogue participant will need to tailor any definition of materiality to its respective mission, most participants have acknowledged through this paper a foundational principle of materiality.”)

(And then, of course, while the participants may constitute the “world’s leading financial and non-financial corporate reporting frameworks,” they’re certainly nowhere near to being all the frameworks – recall Hans Hoogervorst’s recent observation that there are at least 230 corporate sustainability standards initiatives across more than 80 sectors…)

Not that I would know, but it’s hard to imagine that the participants at the time the initiative was established didn’t have something more dramatic and less incremental in mind. As it stands, it reminds me of the calls for “dialogue” (or “healing,” or “coming together” and so forth) that often follow various kinds of horrors, as often as not then leading to no meaningful response until the same thing happens again, and so on, and so on. No question, “isolated change is insufficient to reflect the complexities of modern business and investment practice.” But when interconnected change is as slow as this, it’s hard to say it’s much better…

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author

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