Date posted: 29/10/2020 5 min read

New AASB chair’s virtual kick off

The coronavirus pandemic gave Dr Keith Kendall, the new chair of Australia’s accounting standard setter, a curious start.

In Brief

  • Keith Kendall got his start at Deloitte in the firm’s tax division thanks to his degrees in accounting and law.
  • He sees the not-for-profit arena and the area of non-financial reporting as two key issues.
  • The new chair wants to reduce complexity in reporting where possible.

By Tom Ravlic

Advancing projects on reporting requirements for not-for-profits and grappling with new developments in non-financial reporting are two of the hot topics that Dr Keith Kendall, the chair of the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), whose five-year term commenced in May, is dealing with.

Kendall is a fresh face to the world of accounting standard setting in Australia, having spent much of his career working in accounting, tax and law, as an accountant, academic and barrister.

The passing of the baton to Kendall from his predecessor, Kris Peach, a former KPMG partner, occurred during the coronavirus lockdown and Kendall is yet to spend an extended period in the AASB offices. Nevertheless, he’s getting on with the job, producing publications in association with the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AUASB) on coronavirus-related challenges, such as going concern and the reasonableness of assumptions regarding impairments in the current economic crisis.

During Peach’s time at the helm, one of the core projects completed by the AASB was removing the capacity of for-profit entities to lodge special purposes financial statements (SPFS). Kendall says the SPFS project will need to examine not-for-profit aspects of the reporting regime.

Non-financial reporting interests

Non-financial reporting frameworks, including the latest international developments in sustainability reporting, are also exercising Kendall’s mind.

“I’m seeing a number of different opinions going around related to the merits of particular measures and how they should be incorporated,” he says. “There are a number of interesting conceptual questions that come up.”

Kendall points out that there are lingering questions over what information should be included in non-financial information and whether it must be consistent with the figures derived using international financial reporting standards.

There is also the thorny issue of whether the information, financial or non-financial, is auditable and, Kendall says, anything the AASB does will be looked at in conjunction with its counterparts at the AUASB.

“It’s difficult for us to justify doing something if it can’t be assured and for that reason alone – there are plenty of other reasons – it justifies us working in tandem with the AUASB,” Kendall says.

Another issue that has Kendall’s attention is the reduction of red tape, although the AASB is limited in how far it can make standards less complex, given that the International Accounting Standards Board drives the format and language used in standards for for-profit entities.

“One of the things driving my work agenda at the AASB is the reduction in compliance costs,” Kendall says. “I’m mindful that complexity is the source of those compliance costs and any opportunity to reduce complexity is certainly something I’m in favour of.”

A taxing career

Kendall’s career has seen him acquire expertise in taxation, which he says was partly accidental. With accounting and law degrees in his armoury, he worked in tax practice, was a partner at Rigby Cooke Lawyers and a barrister in Victoria. He also completed a doctorate that examined aspects of insider trading.

“To use something of a cliché: tax chose me rather than me choosing tax,” he says. “I got my first opportunity with Deloitte and it offered me a position in its tax division based on the fact that I had an accounting degree as well as a law degree. It was particularly keen to recruit graduates with law degrees [but] without accounting qualifications. The fact that I had an accounting qualification was a bonus in that respect.”

“I got my first opportunity with Deloitte and it offered me a position in its tax division based on the fact that I had an accounting degree as well as a law degree.”
Dr Keith Kendall, chairman, Australian Accounting Standards Board

A member of the profession

While he has spent most of his working life in what he describes as the intersection of accounting and law, Kendall has always regarded himself as a member of the accounting profession. He has written on tax and other matters in various journals, as well as participating in professional development programs and association committees.

The chairmanship of the AASB, Kendall says, is a chance to play a greater part in shaping regulation that is critical to accounting.

“When the opportunity came up to become the chair of the AASB, for me, it represented one of those rare instances that come along to contribute in a significant way to a profession you’ve given your life to.”