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Fed Governor Duke: Accounting Should Come With Incentives

motivation.jpgEditor’s note: Adrienne Gonzalez is founder and managing editor of Jr Deputy Accountant as well as regular contributor to leading financial/investment sites like Seeking Alpha and GoldmanSachs666. You see all of her posts for GC by going here. By day, she teaches unlicensed accountants to pass the CPA exam, though what she does in her copious amounts of freetime in the evening is really none of your business. Follow her adventures in Fedbashing and CPA-wrangling on Twitter @adrigonzo but please don’t show up unannounced at her San Francisco office as she’s got a mean streak. Her favorite FASB is 166.
What do you get when you cross a Federal Reserve governor and the AICPA? Well I wish I could say unicorns and rainbows but really all you get is Fed Governor Elizabeth Duke on, what else, regulation.
Regulatory Perspectives on the Changing Accounting Landscape doesn’t exactly sound like a party but what do you expect? Unemployment is up, revenues are down and let’s face it, things aren’t looking too good for the short term. You’ve got to give Duke some level of credit for trying.
More, after the jump

Firstly, we feel it prudent to point out that Duke is no CPA. She couldn’t tell a debit from a credit if her life depended on it, at least in j/e form, but we’re willing to bet as a banker she’s probably better at sniffing out capital requirements than, say, that brainiac Bernanke.

Given my background as a community banker, I feel it is crucial that an accounting regime directly link reported financial condition and performance with the business model and economic purpose of the firm. It is difficult for me to comprehend the value of an accounting regime that doesn’t make that link.
To be frank, it has been frustrating to try to assess that viability when the value of an asset is based on the nature of its acquisition rather than the way in which it is managed or the way in which its economic value is likely to be realized.

What’s so frustrating about assessing an asset? Either it’s worth something or it’s worthless. Any idiot can figure that out, even yours truly.
Duke implies in her speech that fair value is only useful if the instrument (read: creative and probably entirely made-up security) is being sold or desired by some third party (read: those gullible Chinese who bought all of our weak ass mortgage-backed securities back in the good old housing bubble days) and entirely useless for anything else. In other words, the proof is in the cash flows.
Leave it to a banker to assume that balance sheets are so easily manipulated by instruments passing from buyer to seller and somehow entirely irrelevant in the time in between. As a banker, we expected better from her. Surely she understands that capital requirements dictate those “useless” securities on the “assets” side of bank balance sheets count towards the bank’s overall viability? Apparently not.
In fact, Duke seems to think that fair value can backfire on smaller institutions who may not have the borrowing leverage of, say, a beast like Goldman Sachs. Or better, Lehman Brothers. Before they went bankrupt that is.
All in all, interesting thoughts from the Fed Board on this one but until they pull out someone with practical accounting experience, it might as well have come from Perez Hilton for all I care. Next!