PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to study the effects of financial accounting standards on the economic decisions of managers. The primary research question addressed in the paper is whether the hedging behavior of corporate treasurers in France has been affected by the issuance of International Accounting Standard No. 39 and International Financial Reporting Standard No. 9 dealing with financial instruments and hedging.Design/methodology/approachIn all, 48 semi-structured interviews were conducted with French corporate treasurers. The interview instrument is included as an exhibit to this paper. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. In addition, three interviews were conducted with representatives of Big 4 audit firms who are experts in accounting for financial instruments. The empirical findings are interpreted using a theoretical framework derived from Jean Baudrillard who argues that the “map” (accounting results) tends to define the “territory” (economic decision-making) in a period of “hyperreality” (when the underlying economic reality is confused). In other words, accounting standards, and the reported numbers that result from such standards, can influence the economic decisions of managers and not merely represent the outcome of economic decisions already taken.FindingsCorporate treasurers often make decisions based on earnings impact. This finding is similar to findings in prior literature regarding the effects of accounting standards on economic decisions taken by managers. A fear of increased earnings volatility is central to the treasurers’ concerns. Also key is the complexity of the process for qualifying financial instruments for hedge accounting treatment. The authors also find that the behavior of corporate treasurers is neither stable nor homogeneous. The behavior appears to be the outcome of a collective learning process in which the corporate treasurer is only one actor.Research limitations/implicationsThe type of qualitative research undertaken in this study has its limitations. It cannot be demonstrated that the findings are generalizable. There is a contextual specificity to the treasurer’s function, which reinforces a particular focus on accounting results. The CFO is simultaneously the superior of the treasurer and responsible for financial reporting, and consequently subject to a conflict of interest that does not necessarily apply to other types of managers. Therefore the findings cannot apply to all managerial functions.Practical implicationsThe authors found that corporate treasurers focus on accrual-based earnings despite engaging in a function that is supposed to focus on cash flows. Even if the IASB believes that accounting standards should be used primarily by investors and creditors, they should acknowledge that there is a fear of earnings volatility by managers, and that there is an temptation toward increased use of other comprehensive income as an alternative to reporting volatile earnings numbers.Social implicationsThe research provides support for those who argue that international accounting standards that require fair value accounting for financial instruments have had a negative pro-cyclical impact on the real economy.Originality/valueThis paper is a qualitative research study conducted in an area of research where there have previously been only quantitative studies. The access to a large number of French corporate treasurers is unique. The study supports prior findings regarding the influence of accounting standards on managerial behavior, but with an added theoretical interpretation related to Baudrillard’s arguments regarding the nature of the “map” and the “territory” in complex economic systems.
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 15, 2018
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