The idea of international financial reporting standards as a single global financial reporting language has come to stay. There is no doubt that developing accounting standards can be a difficult and expensive exercise. The substantial cost associated with the development of international accounting standards seems to be borne by only a handful of actors where as other actors (users of the standards) are free riding.

Who pays and who free rides?

The International Accounting Standard Setter i.e the IFRS Foundation thrives as a non-profit private organization who’s business is to commit its rather limited resources solely to the development and promotion of the use of high quality global financial reporting standards. These resources largely come from the generosity of member countries, international organizations, international accountancy firms, accounting regulators, capital market regulators, multinational firms, transnational and national accounting standard setting bodies, international banks and in rare cases governments. Given these rather limited sources of financing and the lack of obligation on the part of these sponsors, it is hard to say how much funding the IASB actually needs to enable it develop credible global accounting standards. However, a quick look through the financial statements of the IFRS Foundation suggests that majority of its funding turns to come from accountancy practicing firms, national accounting regulatory authorities and accountancy bodies that share the dream of a single global accounting standard. These sources of funding got me thinking about the wide usage of the standards as to the number of user countries and the limited funding the IASB currently has.

As many as 120+ countries currently use IFRS globally. However, very few of these countries actually contribute financially to the development of these standards. What is even more surprising is the number of developing countries (especially countries from Africa, Asia and South America) that continue to use the standards without any financial contribution to the development of the standards. Take Africa for a test case. There are 57 countries in the continent and out of this number; about 21 countries currently use IFRS in one form or another either as full scale adopters or users of modified versions of the standards. Nevertheless, only two of these countries have contributed very small amounts to the overall development of the standards. In 2010, South Africa became the only African country to have contributed 45,112 British pounds sterling representing only 0.27% of the income of the IASB.  This example was followed by Nigeria in 2011 who contributed 62,445 British pounds sterling representing 0.30% of the annual income of the IASB. The table below indicates the sources of funding for the development of International Financial Reporting Standards.


The one who pays the piper calls the tune!

I have often wondered how non-paying users of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) could have influence on the work of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). As more countries continue to apply IFRS without contributing to its development, their ability to influence the work of the IASB become weak. Neither can they communicate problems with specific standards nor can they determine the direction or pace of international accounting standards.  Accounting standards by their nature are public goods i.e. the consumption of which by one party can not diminish the consumption of another party of the same good.  Nevertheless, what constitutes how a public good is constructed is on the bases that a common contribution is made by consumers or potential consumers of the same good. But this contribution is only made by a cross-section of the consumers while the others only wait to enjoy the benefits. On this basis, economists define public goods to mean any good from whose enjoyment non-contributors cannot be excluded.  Like many other public goods, the problem of free riding exists where some others pay to finance its construction while others do not pay but enjoy its use as much as those who paid for its construction.

IFRS has come along with such economic problem. IFRSs on this basis have equally come to represent public goods which only a handful of financial contributors make commitments towards the development of the standards while others only apply the standards without any contribution. As many developing countries look to enhance their financial informational needs, they turn to embrace the idea of IFRS and adopt these standards in some cases without the knowledge of the IASB.

The price for free riding the use of these standards is that, actors that contribute the development of these standards turn to dictate the direction of the standards. Non-paying actors will have no influence on how these standards are designed. With little or no voice on the IASB standard setting process by non-paying members, this group of users of the standards stands the chance of applying standards not designed to meet their needs.