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Accounting Standards: How They Work, Types, and Real-World Examples

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Silas Bamigbola

Edited by

Fact checked by

Accounting standards, such as GAAP and IFRS, are crucial in financial reporting, ensuring transparency and accuracy. This article explores the purpose and significance of accounting standards, their history, and their impact on businesses and investors.

Understanding accounting standards

Accounting standards, a vital aspect of financial reporting, play a central role in the world of finance. They provide a common set of principles, standards, and procedures that define the basis of financial accounting policies and practices. These standards are essential for ensuring transparency, consistency, and accuracy in financial statements.

The role of accounting standards

Accounting standards are a set of practices and policies used to systematize bookkeeping and other accounting functions across firms and over time. They apply to the full breadth of an entity’s financial picture, encompassing assets, liabilities, revenue, expenses, and shareholders’ equity.

Types of accounting standards

In the United States, the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) are the cornerstone of accounting standards. These principles are widely accepted for preparing financial statements and are crucial for public and private entities alike. On the international stage, companies follow the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), set by the International Accounting Standards Board, to guide non-U.S. GAAP companies in reporting financial statements.

Historical development of accounting standards

The evolution of accounting standards is a fascinating journey through time. The American Institute of Accountants, now known as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the New York Stock Exchange made early attempts to establish accounting standards in the 1930s. Subsequently, the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 created the Securities and Exchange Commission, which further contributed to the formation of accounting standards.
Today, accounting standards are also established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board for accounting principles governing state and local governments.

Comparability and credibility

One of the key advantages of accounting standards is that they make financial statements from different companies comparable. Since all entities follow the same rules, accounting standards enhance the credibility of financial statements, allowing for more informed economic decisions based on accurate and consistent information.

The role of Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

An independent nonprofit organization, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), has the authority to establish and interpret generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in the United States. GAAP refers to a set of standards that guide companies, nonprofits, and governments in how they should present their financial statements.

Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)

In the United States, GAAP serves as the primary set of accounting standards for preparing financial statements. GAAP’s aim is to enhance the clarity, consistency, and comparability of financial information communication. Essentially, it provides a common set of accounting principles, standards, and procedures issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Public companies in the United States must follow GAAP when their accountants compile their financial statements.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)

International companies follow the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), established by the International Accounting Standards Board. IFRS serves as the guideline for non-U.S. GAAP companies in reporting financial statements. It was created to bring consistency to accounting standards and practices, regardless of the company or the country. IFRS is considered more dynamic than GAAP as it is regularly revised to adapt to the ever-changing financial environment.

Importance of consistency in accounting standards

Consistency in accounting standards is a fundamental concept that ensures that financial information remains reliable over time. When a company consistently applies accounting principles, it allows for accurate comparisons of financial data from one period to another. Let’s explore this with an example:

Challenges in applying accounting standards

While accounting standards provide a structured framework for financial reporting, they are not without challenges. Companies often face difficulties in implementing and adhering to these standards, which can lead to complexities and discrepancies in financial statements. Let’s delve into these challenges:

1. Complex revenue recognition

Accounting standards require companies to recognize revenue when it is earned and realizable. However, determining when revenue is earned can be intricate, particularly in long-term projects or when sales involve multiple deliverables. Companies must assess these situations carefully to comply with the standards while providing accurate financial information.

2. Evolving financial environments

The business world is dynamic, and financial environments continuously evolve. Accounting standards, like IFRS, must adapt to these changes. For example, the rise of cryptocurrencies and digital assets presents new challenges for accounting standards. Companies must remain updated and compliant with evolving regulations.

3. Interpretation and judgment

Accounting standards often require judgment calls in interpretation, which can lead to differences in how companies apply the standards. For instance, determining the fair value of assets or estimating bad debt allowances involves a degree of judgment. This subjectivity can result in inconsistencies, even among well-established companies.

The role of technology in accounting standards

The world of accounting is undergoing a technological revolution, and this extends to the application of accounting standards. Technological advancements are reshaping how companies maintain their financial records, report their transactions, and ensure compliance with accounting standards.

1. Automation and financial reporting

Automation software and accounting systems have made it easier for companies to apply accounting standards accurately. For example, accounting software can automatically calculate depreciation and amortization, reducing the risk of manual errors and ensuring consistent application of standards.

2. Blockchain and transparency

Blockchain technology is enhancing transparency and security in financial reporting. It allows for tamper-proof records and real-time auditing, making it more challenging for companies to manipulate financial data and deviate from accounting standards.


Accounting standards are the bedrock of financial transparency and accuracy in today’s business world. They have a rich history and a profound impact on how businesses, investors, and regulatory bodies function. Whether it’s the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in the United States or the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) worldwide, these standards ensure that financial information is credible and comparable, driving sound decision-making and bolstering trust in financial reporting.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the main differences between GAAP and IFRS?

GAAP and IFRS represent two major sets of accounting standards used globally. The main differences between them include their geographical scope, approach to inventory costing, and treatment of development costs, among others.

2. How do accounting standards impact financial reporting?

Accounting standards play a pivotal role in financial reporting by ensuring consistency, transparency, and accuracy. They dictate how financial transactions are recorded, measured, and presented in financial statements, affecting how external entities assess a company’s financial health.

3. Can companies choose between GAAP and IFRS for financial reporting?

While companies operating in the United States primarily use GAAP, international companies have the option to follow IFRS. The choice often depends on the company’s geographical presence and reporting requirements, but there may be specific instances where companies can switch between the two.

4. What challenges do businesses face when implementing accounting standards?

Implementing accounting standards can be challenging due to complex revenue recognition rules, evolving financial environments, and the need for interpretation and judgment in certain areas. These challenges may lead to discrepancies in financial reporting.

5. How is technology influencing the application of accounting standards?

Technology, such as automation software and blockchain, is revolutionizing the application of accounting standards. Automation enhances accuracy and consistency in compliance, while blockchain ensures transparency and security in financial reporting. These technological advancements are shaping the future of accounting standards implementation.

Key takeaways

  • Accounting standards ensure transparency and accuracy in financial reporting.
  • GAAP and IFRS are the primary accounting standards in the United States and internationally, respectively.
  • These standards make financial statements comparable and credible for external entities.

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