It seems fitting to begin with a more formal definition of accounting: Accounting is a set of concepts and techniques that are used to measure and report financial information about an economic unit. The economic unit is generally considered to be a separate enterprise. The information is reported to a variety of different types of interested parties. These include business managers, owners, creditors, governmental units, financial analysts, and even employees. In one way or another, these users of accounting information tend to be concerned about their own interests in the entity.
Business managers need accounting information to make sound leadership decisions. Investors ...view middle of the document...
Their ability to understand and have confidence in reports is directly dependent upon standardization of the principles and practices that are used to prepare the reports. Without such standardization, reports of different companies could be hard to understand and even harder to compare.
Standardization derives from certain well-organized processes and organizations. In the United States, a private sector group called the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is primarily responsible for developing the rules that form the foundation of financial reporting. The FASB’s global counterpart is the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). The IASB and FASB are working toward convergence, such that there may eventually be a single harmonious set of international financial reporting standards (IFRS). This effort to establish consistency in global financial reporting is driven by the increase in global trade and finance. Just as standardization is needed to enable comparisons between individual companies operating within a single economy, so too is standardization needed to facilitate global business evaluations.
Financial reports prepared under the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) promulgated by such standard-setting bodies are intended to be general purpose in orientation. This means they are not prepared especially for owners, or creditors, or any other particular user group. Instead, they are intended to be equally useful for all user groups. As such, attempts are made to keep them free from bias (neutral). Standard-setting bodies are guided by concepts that are aimed at production of relevant and representationally faithful reports that are useful in investment and credit decisions.
Managerial accounting information is intended to serve the specific needs of management. Business managers are charged with business planning, controlling, and decision making. As such, they may desire specialized reports, budgets, product costing data, and other details that are generally not reported on an external basis. Further, management may dictate the parameters under which such information is to be accumulated and presented. For instance, GAAP may require that certain product development costs be deducted in computing income; on the other hand, management may see these costs as a long-term investment and stipulate that internal decision making be based upon income numbers that exclude such costs. This is their prerogative. Hopefully, internal reporting is being done logically and rationally, but it need not follow any particular set of mandatory guidelines.
A Quality System
Both financial accounting and managerial accounting depend upon a strong information system to reliably capture and summarize business transaction data. Information technology has radically reshaped this mundane part of the practice of accounting over the past 50 years. The era of the “green eye-shaded” accountant has been...