Sir Bryan takes on the world

Why do different countries have different accountancy rules? Roger Trapp meets the former fair trading chief who aims to bring in a single international system

A couple of months into his job as secretary-general of the International Accounting Standards Committee, Sir Bryan Carsberg is in expansive form. He gave up being Director General of Fair Trading for a position that few outside the accountancy profession have heard of - but he insists the move was not born of frustration at the Government's attitude to competition. It is clear he is now in his natural milieu.

Accounting is his "intellectual tool-bag", he says, and accordingly he is apt to be more interested in problem-solving than negotiations. He is aware that a job like this one requires more than a little discussion, but there is also "a strong element of analysis". He says: "I still believe that good analysis will win some points."

Few areas need as much analysis or negotiation as international accounting standards. Sir Bryan, an accountancy academic who has had spells at both the US and British standard-setting bodies, is the first to admit that the general public probably thinks there is one set of accounting rules the world over.

"It suggests we're not very good at it yet," he says with a chuckle, adding that it is not as if there are, say, different rules of physics in Germany.

More seriously, the divergence of approaches "actually brings accounting into disrepute". The Daimler-Benz episode, in which what appeared to be a healthy profit under seemingly conservative German accounting rules became something quite different when the industrial giant was subjected to US scrutiny, opened people's eyes.

With cross-border shareholdings becoming common, it is essential that investors understand the basis on which reports are prepared. "And the only way we'll solve the problem," says Sir Bryan, "is if we all do it the same way."

Over the past decade the London-based IASC has made great strides in encouraging the development of international accounting standards. More than 250 multinational companies adopt them - for example, Greek law requires companies to comply with the standards, and emerging nations such as Cambodia are seeking the organisation's guidance in developing rules.

But hitherto international standards have been regarded as something of an irrelevance to the leading nations. For companies looking to raise funds on the international capital markets, there are really only two systems - British and US - and they adopt one or other according to inclination or expedient. As far as Sir Bryan is concerned, this cannot continue. "It's just not acceptable for a company in France or Germany to say, we'll let the UK or US write the rules for us."

For a while it was thought that the European Commission would attempt to enter the standard-setting arena. But recent developments suggest that the field will be left to the IASC. The organisation's hand has been further strengthened by an agreement this month with the securities organisation Losco on a programme for developing a core set of international standards. Sir Bryan sees it as a milestone that will enable his group to urge companies to adopt the rules sooner rather than later.

It will also change the shape of the body, currently housed in run-of- the-mill offices in Fleet Street. Sir Bryan is seeking more money and staff to help him to build on this recent achievement. He envisages increasing the pounds 1.1m annual budget, - largely funded by the profession and multinational companies - by about 50 per cent. Sir Bryan, who has three professional colleagues and about six support staff, is also looking to employ another three or four technically qualified personnel.

The task looks onerous. Sir Bryan puts great emphasis on communication - oral rather than written - with all those involved and is keen to build links in France and Germany as a way of demonstrating that the organisation is genuinely international.

Thanks to his background, Sir Bryan knows many of the individuals involved with the national standard-setters at Britain's ASB and the US FASB, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the balance of power shifts and he moves from heading a somewhat fringe body to being a genuine force in international accounting.

It is a long way from seeking to co-ordinate agendas so that the same issues are examined at much the same time to the aim of having just one body setting out one set of accounting rules for the whole world. Sir Bryan, who is 56, does not expect to see this achieved in his working lifetime - but he would certainly have an answer to those who wondered why he gave up a key job at the OFT if he is even close by the time he hands on the baton.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones