Sample Accounting and Finance Masters Assignment

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ANNUAL REPORT-BASED RISK DISCLOSURE PRACTICES

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Listed Organisations around the world are required to prepare annual reports presenting their financial condition and disclosures. They are required to present important issues that are likely to affect the economic decisions of users of financial statements, including investors, shareholders, suppliers, and management, and government.

Part of these overall disclosures is the risk reporting disclosure, in which risks faced by an organisation are required to be reported because every organisation is likely to face risks in the achievement of its organisational objectives.

This essay intends to focus on risk reporting of listed organisations in England and Whales to assess how they disclose risk and why they are required to improve their risk reporting. Based on findings through literature, recommendations have been provided before the conclusion based on new principles for risk reporting.

Introduction

Deumes (2008, p.123) stated that disclosure is an act to release all relevant information of a company that is likely to impact an investment decision. For being listed on the stock exchange of Australia, organisations are required to follow all disclosure requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

To present a fair view of a company’s financial position, it must include both good and bad information associated with the company. Disclosure items include many perspectives such as the financial condition of the firm, its operating results, and compensation to management, and risk disclosures.

This essay is particularly related to risk disclosures that companies must follow so that stakeholders get to know how much stock of a company is risky to make investment and other decisions. The purpose of presenting risk disclosures is a fair representation of the company’s risk position so that stakeholders base their decision on fair information.

This essay includes seven sections; first is information disclosed in the annual report by companies, second is associated with risk disclosure in the annual report, third is different risk perspectives, fourth represents incentives and disincentives to provide disclosures, the fifth section provides reasons as to why regulators encourage risk disclosure, sixth provide recommendations to companies for their risk disclosures and last is the conclusion of the whole essay.

Information Disclosed in Annual Report

Companies publish an annual report for the use of shareholders to communicate information through it. Directors use this mode of communication to relay vital information about the operations and affairs of the company. It may contain brief information about the vision and mission of the company. Secondly, it contains information about the products and/or services offered by the company.

Recent developments are mentioned in the report. It displays the strategies, communication from the chairman/CEO, financial review and other business details, risk review and corporate governance requirements, directors’ report, financial statements about the period along with auditors report, and other support information.

The literature about disclosure in the annual report states that shareholders and prospective shareholders use the annual report to aid in their decision-making. In the early days of corporate reporting, the information pertained in the annual report use to contain financial information only, with details on financial decisions made by the company during the year.

Further, in the words of Arshad (2011), it has been mentioned that the current requirements of annual reports have expanded and include a lot of information as listed in the previous paragraph. In addition to this, companies also provide environmental reports and sustainability reports.

These days risk review forms an integral part of the annual report. It explains various kinds of risks faced by the company and measures adopted to address those risks. The shareholders and prospective shareholders are interested in information about business risks faced by the company.

Risk disclosure in annual reports

Companies appoint a separate head of risk, sometimes called the name of Chief Risk Officer, to assess and evaluate risks faced by the company. The designated person prepares and attaches to the annual report a separate report called risk review (Abdallah et al. (, 2015).

In the article published by Arshad (2011), risk disclosure is defined as the communication of strategic information and other operational and external information that impacts the company’s progress. The information included is usually vital for the shareholders’ decision-making.

It can be categorized into mandatory information and voluntary information. The article states that non-mandatory information is preferred by the users of the annual report in taking financial decisions and assessing risk exposure.

Risk disclosure in annual reports is affected by certain factors, which include the country in which the company is located, size of the company operating the business, managerial ownership, and independence of the board of directors. The disclosure requirements are affected by the laws applicable in the country, which define the extent of voluntary disclosure to be made as per Nur Probohudono (2013).

The author further states that regulations developed in the U.K. and U.S. have different effects because of varying regulatory environments. This means that country is a major factor in determining the level of risk disclosures.

Secondly, as mentioned in the article by Nur Probohudono (2013), the company’s size is also a governing factor in determining the level of risk disclosure in the annual report. The voluntary disclosure depends on the firm size. The fact of whether the company is listed also impacts the quantity of voluntary risk disclosure. It is also mentioned that the responsibilities of companies, larger in size, are high. The same is also mentioned by Elshandidy et al. (2013).

Another factor, as also mentioned in the same article, is the level of managerial ownership. If there are higher levels of hierarchies in the company, the quantity of risk disclosure is less, and there are fewer chances of communication of risk-related disclosure.

The article stated that several studies conclude that there is a negative relationship between the level of management and risk disclosure made by the company. The structure of ownership is a major factor in determining the level of disclosure.

Lastly, the factor, the board of directors’ independence determines the number of risk disclosures be made. If the board is not independent and is rather on the company’s payroll, the level of risk disclosures will be high, as mentioned by Khan et al. (2013). Voluntary disclosure needs to be made. The studies referred to in the article by Nur Probohudono (2013) state that independent directors on the boards emphasize more voluntary information in the annual report.

Different Risk Perspectives

The risk reporting is not emphasised by any of the applicable accounting standards in the United Kingdom. The mandatory requirements of disclosure of risk are hence not enforced by any of the regulations. As mentioned in the article by Elshandidy (2013), some voluntary disclosures are required by the ICAEW.

There are majorly two perspectives of voluntary disclosure of risk information to stakeholders (Klumpes et al.  (, 2017). whenever the managers have positive news about the disclosure, they tend to communicate the risk information if it is beneficial as per the cost-benefit analysis.

The reason behind more information disclosed is due to demand from the general public for more transparency. Larger firms are in a better position to disclose information. The mentioned theories presume that one of the largest stakeholders in the disclosure requirement, to be met by managers, is the shareholder.

Secondly, the risk disclosure perspective for the banking sector is higher than any other sector in the business industry. The banks take huge credit risks in dispersing their lending. There are few theories of risk disclosure, as mentioned by Muzahem (2011), one of which, called information asymmetry theory, states that risk disclosure is of great use to investors, analysts, and other firm stakeholders.

This disclosure promotes transparency and reduces information asymmetry. On the other hand, agency theory suggests relevant information be disclosed, which helps investors ensure compliance with agreements as per the contract. The risk information is disclosed as shareholders pressurize the managers.

They appoint high-quality auditors to enable correct information to be presented in the annual report. Some authors state that there are reasons why managers would disclose risk information, as this would disclose that they have systems of risk management.

The signaling theory emphasises that directors may want to signal profitability to investors and disclose risk information to attract better investments. Lastly, political costs theory means that companies disclose risk information to overcome contracting and political costs and pressure generated from them.

Incentives/Disincentives to Provide Disclosures

Companies must provide disclosures; however, they hesitate to do so because there are also drawbacks of presenting risk disclosures. After all, they may act against the company. This section of the essay is related to incentives that encourage companies to present risk disclosures and disincentives to doing the same. Following are the incentives and disincentives of presenting risk disclosures in the annual report;

Incentives

Dobler (2008, p.186) stated that any company and its operations are said to be transparent if it has disclosed all the required information required to disclose; however, companies that do not provide complete disclosures can be seen with a doubtful eye.

Stakeholders may think that its risk position may be weak due to which it has not disclosed the information so that stakeholders do not take any decision against the company. Therefore, companies are encouraged to show all necessary and required information in their annual report to ensure transparency.

On the other hand, according to Woods and Humphrey (2008, p.47), companies with strong positions and lower risk specifically are encouraged to present risk disclosure because there is no risk that stakeholders will take any decision against the company. Further, the company’s position becomes strong on the stock exchange because its share value is enhanced due to transparency.

Additionally, companies receive and retain the trust of independent auditors as they think that it responsibly reports what it is required to report, so there is no need for detailed scrutiny. Furthermore, risk disclosure enables management to critically look at its risk position and compare it to the previous year’s risk position to assess whether the risk is enhanced or deteriorated.

Based on which it can design and implement relevant policies. Listed companies in England and Whales are required to follow the requirements of ICAEW in which demand risk disclosures in detail so that transparent information is presented to the stakeholders. This requirement of ICAEW encourages companies to present risk disclosure.

Disincentives

Even though there are many benefits of disclosing risk; organisations hesitate to present a complete position in form of its stakeholders because of their decisions that may go against the company. According to Elzahar and Hussainey (2012, p.135), if an organisation and its position is in risk, stakeholders will withdraw their stake in the company.

This is the most common disincentive for risk disclosures because companies try to attract stakeholders through its annual reports rather than disappointing them. Any stakeholder will look for any positive information and prefer to invest in a company with lower risk.

Major goal of a listed company is to attract stakeholders for its benefit. Still, stakeholders look for their benefit and therefore prefer a company with lower risk to secure their funds. Furthermore, high risk disclosure may compromise its position at stock exchange and its shares may go down if the company is highly risky.

Furthermore, Said Mokhtar and Mellett (2013, p.839), stated that sometimes it may be difficult for a company to measure risk appropriately when case is complicated yet important, such complication may also discourage the company to report risk or the fear that investors will withdraw their investment.

Reason why Regulators Encourage Risk Disclosure

Ryan (2012, p.297) stated that two main purposes for risk disclosures are risk assessment and decision making according to the regulators. This decision making is associated to all stakeholders of the company including management.

Risk assessment is very important for organisations as it enables them to become aware of their actual position; they may generate high profits and are also highly risky due to their capital structure or any other issue. According to Vandemaele and Michiels (2009), Risk reporting has been an issue over which ICAEW did pioneering work between 1997 and 2002, when it called that risk reporting should be significantly improved.

Since the time, there has been material expansion in risk reporting and its quality. Regulators say that risk in business is more than likelihood of corporate failure. There may be unexpected collapses that inevitably require a focus on quality of reporting of risk and may enhance unrealistic expectations, for instance, that risk reporting enables organisation to prevent failures in future.

Even risk reporting is not a guarantee that it will provide reliable early warning regarding any failure. However, risk reporting is necessary because there is always a risk that an organisation may fail to achieve its objectives.

ICAEW has focused on the benefits of investors by stating that they face various kinds of risks on their investment and are willing to face such risks in exchange for higher returns. Because they are willing to take these risks, they deserve to know all uncertainties within an organisation because they have stake in the company.

If a material risk is not disclosed to them, they lose their money and may not trust the organisation again. It implies that non-disclosure of risk can be harmful for both organisation and investor or other stakeholders. Rajab and Handley-Schachler (2009, p.226) stated that investors consider business risk so far as they are aware of them.

Most investors are risk seeking to achieve higher returns so management should not think that the company will lose its investors by reporting risks. However, hiding the existence of risk from stakeholders will result in losing their trust and such act is more likely to lose stakeholders. That is why regulators encourage companies to disclose risk because it helps gain and retain stakeholders’ trust.

According to Hill and Short (2009, p.755), regulators believe that risk reporting is a product of risk appetite of the company determined through extent and nature of principle risks faced and such risks that a company is willing to take for achievement of organisational objectives.

Reporting requirement should not drive risk appetite itself, some executives are likely to suspect that whenever stakeholders and regulators ask for detailed and robust risk reporting, they are asking organisations to take fewer risks.

However, there doesn’t need to be a correlation between sensitivity of company performance and quality of risk reporting and robustness of process that produces the risk. It implies the importance of risk reporting to companies, it is even said by regulators that it helps encourage companies to take fewer risks.

Recommendations

Recently, risk reporting has been a noticeable topic for organisations because ICAEW has increased its requirements regarding risk reporting and demand that companies disclose risk transparently (Elshandidy and Hussainey, 2013, p.323).

This consideration of ICAEW implies that risk reporting is something significantly important for companies and their stakeholders. Two basic purposes of risk reporting as stated by ICAEW are risk assessment and decision making.

A company must assess its risk position because there is always some risk in achieving organisational objectives. There are levels and extents of these risks, they may or may not be material but ban organisation is required to disclose all material risks which it thinks can impact decisions of stakeholders.

Regulators, professional bodies, and stakeholders expect that organisations report what is happening internally and externally because risk reporting is beneficial for stakeholders and the company itself.

Current requirement to improve risk reporting requires companies to be even more transparent in presenting their risk position and regulators view that risk becomes lower when a company reports it properly. Therefore, it is recommended that all listed companies on stock exchange of England and Whales shall present risk disclosures appropriately.

The improvements required by ICAEW included seven principles through which risk reporting could be improved, they are; company should tell users what they want to know, it should focus on quantitative information, integrate into other disclosures, management should think beyond annual reporting cycle, list of principle risks should be short, current concerns should be highlighted, and report on risk experience (Linsley and Shrives, 2006, p.389).

Every organisation listed on the stock exchange of England and Whales must follow these seven principles to make its risk reporting transparent and reliable. Even in absence of regulatory requirements, external auditors challenge organisations and its executives on these disclosures, now when regulation requires companies to improve these disclosures then auditors will be even more cautious.

It is recommended that every listed company must keep these seven new principles into consideration while making disclosures.

Conclusion

This essay is associated with risk disclosures and current requirements of risk disclosures by regulators and professional bodies including ICAEW. The essay focuses on the importance of risk disclosures for the company and its stakeholders by stating that stakeholders base their financing decisions on annual report and its components and a very integral component of annual report is risk disclosure.

Risk disclosure is made for risk assessment and decision making. Risk assessment is mandatory for organisation to devise policies to bring down the level of risk. High level of risk shows that the company is likely to suffer loss which can result in fall in share price of the company and ultimately it can lose its market share and reputation.

Therefore, risk must be minimized and regulators view that reporting risk appropriately can itself be a measure to bring down the risk. The essay includes a section in which effect on risk disclosures is determined. It is found that country, company size, managerial ownership, and board independence can affect risk disclosure in annual reports.

This essay also talks about different perspectives of risk and incentives and disincentives of organisations to disclose risk which says that stakeholder trust is gained and retained through proper risk reporting. Still, disincentive is that the company fears losing its stakeholders that are not ready to take risks.

However, there are risk seekers who are willing to invest in organisations with higher risks. It should be noted that regulators are now giving more importance to risk reporting because it has become a necessity of both organisation and stakeholders.

It require organisations to follow seven principles mentioned in previous section associated with risk reporting to make it transparent and reliable so that stakeholders can rely over such disclosures.

References

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Arshad, R. and Ismail, R.F., 2011. Discretionary Risks Disclosure: A Management Perspective. Asian Journal of Accounting and Governance2, pp.67-77.

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Elshandidy, T., Fraser, I. and Hussainey, K., 2013. Aggregated, voluntary, and mandatory risk disclosure incentives: Evidence from UK FTSE all-share companies. International Review of Financial Analysis30, pp.320-333.

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