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Harmonisation of accounting standards: disclosure policies and practices of european commercial banks

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par Michael Forzeh Fossung
Gothenburg University - Master of Science (MSc) Accounting 2002

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Chapter 6


It is important to note the compatibility of theory with our findings. European countries have been grouped in to cultural groups (Nordic, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon) by Radebaugh and Gray (1997) of based on a similar reporting tradition. The findings show that it is no longer the issue of cultural groupings. Banks reporting practice is now very much influenced by the regulations of the stock markets where they seek listing or where they are listed. This assertion matches with Nobes and Robert's (1998) findings that although the Netherlands practices Roman law, its reporting culture is similar to the UK. It is in this light that we fit the relevance of our findings that three very significant factors; namely, company culture, laws and regulations, and international business environment affect, very much, the company reporting practice.

The banks are building a strong culture based on their reporting needs. Although laws and regulations hinder this cultural building, most banks are very much interested in gaining protection against the high competition within the international banking industry of today. Most banks are gradually shifting from geographical groupings to market oriented, and acting in the company's interest. The practice differs from theories to some extent.

Another significant difference between practice and theory is seen in the `Art' of reporting. Although two banks may use the same accounting standards16(*), many differences arise from the interpretation and application of these standards. Also, we have discovered that compatibility is not achievable when the standards give room for too many optional principles.

It is difficult to draw a line on whether the annual accounts provided by a particular bank is the best. This is because a satisfactory information to be obtained from any financial statements depends greatly on the needs of the user of such statements. Any conclusion on this aspect is therefore subjective. Considering that quality it self means fitness for purpose, the user who does not find specific information of interest on the annual report considers such a report to be of low quality. There are too many variables to draw a line on this issue.


As a concluding note, the statement that «Standards have brought about uniform reporting within the EU banking sector» is untrue. However, standards have helped to increase harmonization and reduce divergence-reporting policies. Banks within one country and within one-security markets have proven to have more comparable reporting policies and practices.


MNEs local enterprises

IASs EC Directives


The figure above illustrates that by 2010 the accounting Directive of the European Commission will be redirected to regulating reporting practices of Banks operating within the EU territory. This is because the standards will be inappropriate to be used by global Banks as most of them will be using the International Accounting Standards (IASs) of the International Accounting Standards Committee. The use of IASs has already been expressed in our case by the German banks. Another probability is for the EC to completely duplicate the IASs into the EC Directive. (See projectile in above diagram). An activity like this will not be helpful in that it will only increase the amount of paper work and papers available; yet, another waste of the limited resources. Consequently, it is most likely that the International Accounting Standards will be used by all global Banks.

* 16 As in SEB and FöreninsSparbanken, Deutsche and Dresdner, HSBC and Barclays.

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