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Why Consistency of Accounting Standards Matters: A Contribution to the Rules‐Versus‐Principles Debate in Financial Reporting

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  • JENS WÜSTEMANN
  • SONJA WÜSTEMANN

Abstract

A cross‐firm consistent application of accounting standards is sought in all major accounting regimes. Since many transactions and events are only vaguely or not explicitly addressed in the standards managers must often use judgment when applying accounting standards to particular transactions or events. This analysis concludes that a consistent application of accounting standards can only be ensured if the accounting standards themselves are internally consistent. By contrast, inconsistent standards—in the absence of clear guidance—permit managers to (more or less arbitrarily) choose between different accounting methods. Moreover, it is found that a consistent application presupposes the existence of specific guidance (‘rules’) in order to frame management's judgment. It is argued that the reliance on principles only—as requested by many in the accounting literature—fails to ensure a consistent application because it allows management to exert judgment differently in identical cases. The assessment includes arguments and propositions from the international discussion in the accounting literature and also refers to other related fields of research, such as legal theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Jens Wüstemann & Sonja Wüstemann, 2010. "Why Consistency of Accounting Standards Matters: A Contribution to the Rules‐Versus‐Principles Debate in Financial Reporting," Abacus, Accounting Foundation, University of Sydney, vol. 46(1), pages 1-27, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:abacus:v:46:y:2010:i:1:p:1-27
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6281.2010.00304.x
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