Microsoft is right to tell it like it is

This week we reveal that technology giant Microsoft believes the financial
reporting model is “broken” and that the current arrangements belong to the
post-industrial age, not to the information technology age.

A cursory examination of annual reports might support that view. Virtually
without exception they are produced in print and online but the work companies
then do with the information in terms of presentation and access ends there.
Online information usually appears in the form of a straight pdf of the print
version, leaving users browsing through the report page by page. This is hardly
a modern way to bring together key financial data and make them accessible to
the user and analyst.

Companies must embrace the possibilities for presenting information, even if
it enables users to easily put together the sensitive numbers that add up to bad
news. They must embrace developments such as computer languages that aid
comparability and the break down of reports into their critical figures. If they
don’t do that, companies risk being perceived as holding out on transparency and
accountability and denying the opportunity for stakeholders to better understand
the business in which they have invested. Quite rightly, they could also be
accused of defying progress.

Accountancy Age runs an annual award to reward good reporting. Without doubt
the issue that vexes our judges more than any other is the blatant dodging in
these descriptive passages of anything that remotely smells of a difficult
issue. Risks to the business are poorly mentioned. Bad news is under-reported or
ignored and there is a general feeling that many executives use the report to
put their spin on the results. Needless to say, these are not the reports that
win our award. The reports that do are frank, open and revealing.

All quiet in the pub

There are fears that draft legislation could criminalise casual advice
offered by a friend that could lead to a tax loss for the Treasury. George
Orwell’s 1984 really would come to pass if the law attempted to regulate such
innocuous conversation in the pub. Individual taxpayers must feel free to
discuss their affairs and not feel threatened if they offer well-intentioned
advice. Couple this with new HMRC powers and you can’t help wondering whether
the taxman might choose to place bugs and listening devices on barmen or behind
the pumps.

This is clearly an absurdity and shouldn’t survive the early stages of this
bill. If not, Accountancy Age will back campaigners who challenge such an
invasive measure. Legislators need to develop a sense of proportion. We should
not allow the aggressive scramble for tax revenues to overcome good sense.

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