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An Executive Guide to IFRS: Content, Costs and Benefits to Business by Peter Walton

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Insurance

There is an insurance standard in force, IFRS 4 Insurance Contracts, but the main thrust of this is to allow companies to continue with their pre-IFRS GAAP. The standard deals with contracts as opposed to insurance companies on the basis that an insurance company might have several lines of business and that many of its assets and liabilities are covered by other standards, notably IFRS 9 on financial instruments. Equally it is hard to define what is meant by an insurance company.

The increasing globalization of business has led companies in different parts of the world but in the same business sector to converge their financial reporting to a degree so that their statements are comparable. The great exception to this is the insurance sector, where different countries have developed quite different approaches and retained them. This is, then, a sector where an international standard-setter could give a lead, and the old IASC started a project which it passed on to the IASB in 2001.

The IASB has devoted countless hours to this subject, but its initial work was greeted with a good deal of opposition by the different major players in the field. After a couple of years of getting nowhere, the IASB realized that it would not finish a standard in time for major European insurers to use in 2004/5. It decided therefore to issue an interim standard. Had it not done so, insurers would in theory have been obliged to follow the hierarchy for accounting policy choice from IAS 8.

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