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Moving the Conceptual Framework Forward: Accounting for Uncertainty

Barker, Richard; Penman, Stephen H.

To meet the objectives of financial reporting in the IASB'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, criteria for balance sheet recognition and measurement, and for income statement presentation, 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".

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Center for Excellence in Accounting and Security Analysis
Publisher
Columbia Business School, Center for Excellence in Accounting and Security Analysis
Series
Center for Excellence in Accounting and Security Analysis Occasional Paper Series
Published Here
August 3, 2017
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