Conceptual Framework

Conceptual Framework



Conceptual Framework

Chapter 1 The Conceptual Framework

1.         Objectives

1.1       Describe what is meant by a conceptual framework.
1.2       Discuss whether a conceptual framework is necessary.
1.3       Describe the qualitative characteristics of relevance, reliability, comparability and understandability.
1.4       Define the five elements of financial statements.
1.5       Define what is meant by recognition in financial statements and discuss the recognition criteria.
1.6       Explain the measurement of the elements of financial statements.
1.7       Describe the concept of financial and physical capital maintenance

2.         Conceptual Framework and GAAP

(A)      What is conceptual framework?

2.1       A conceptual framework is:
(a)        a coherent system of interrelated objectives and fundamental principles;
(b)       a framework which prescribes the nature, function and limits of financial accounting and financial statements.

(B)       The HKICPA’s Framework

2.2       HKICPA produced a document, “Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements” (Framework). The Framework is, in effect, the conceptual framework upon which all HKFRSs are based and hence which determines how financial statements are prepared and the information they contain.
2.3       The Framework consists of several sections or chapters, following on after a preface and introduction. These chapters are as follows.
(a)        The objective of financial statements
(b)        Underlying assumptions
(c)        Qualitative characteristics of financial statements
(d)        The elements of financial statements
(e)        Recognition of the elements of financial statements
(f)        Measurement of the elements of financial statements
(h)        Concepts of capital and capital maintenance

(a)       Preface

2.4       The preface to the Framework points out the fundamental reason why financial statements are produced worldwide, i.e. to satisfy the requirements of external users.
2.5       The preface emphasizes the way financial statements are used to make economic decisions and thus financial statements should be prepared to this end. The types of economic decisions for which financial statements are likely to be used include the following.



Information needs

1.   Investors

  • Help to make a decision about buying or selling shares
  • About the level of dividend
  • Whether the management has been running the company efficiently
  • Know about the financial position of the company

2.   Employees

  • Security of employment and future prospects

3.   Lenders

  • Help them decide whether to lend to a company

4.   Suppliers

  • Know whether the company will be a good customer and pay its debts

5.   Customers

  • Know whether the company will be able to continue producing and supplying goods

6.   Government

  • Comply with tax and company law

7.   Public

  • Wish to have information for all the reasons mentioned above


(b)       Introduction – Purpose and status

2.6       The introduction gives a list of the purposes of the Framework.
(a)        Assist the Board of the HKICPA in the development of future HKFRSs and in its review of existing HKASs.
(b)        Assist preparers of financial statements in applying HKFRSs and in dealing with topics that have yet to form the subject of an HKFRS.
(c)        Assist auditors in forming an opinion as to whether financial statements conform with HKFRSs.
(d)        Assist users of financial statements in interpreting information contained in financial statements prepared in conformity with HKFRSs and Accounting Guidelines.
(e)        Provide those who are interested in the work of the Council with information about its approach to the formulation of HKFRSs and Accounting Guidelines..

(c)       Introduction – Scope

2.7       The Framework deals with:
(a)        The objective of financial statements
(b)        The qualitative characteristics that determine the usefulness of information in financial statements
(c)        The definition, recognition and measurement of the elements from which financial statements are constructed
(d)        Concepts of capital and capital maintenance
2.8       The Framework is concerned with general purpose financial statements, but it can be applied to other types of accounts. A complete set of financial statements includes:
(a)        A statement of financial position
(b)        A statement of comprehensive income
(c)        A statement of cash flows
(d)        A statement of changes in equity
(e)        Notes, other statements and explanatory material

3.         The Objective of Financial Statements


The Objective of Financial Statements


The objective of general purpose financial statements is to provide information about the financial position, performance and changes in financial position of an entity that is useful to a wide range of users in making economic decisions.

General purpose financial statements are defined in HKAS 1 as those intended to meet the needs of users who are not in a position to require an entity to prepare reports tailored to their particular information needs.

Financial statements also show the results of the management’s stewardship of the resources entrusted to it.

3.2       Information that enables users to evaluate:
(a)        ability of entity to generate cash and cash equivalents;
(b)       timing and certainty of their generation.

4.         Underlying Assumptions

4.1       Accruals and going concern are the two underlying assumptions in preparing financial statements.


Accruals Basis


An entity should prepare its financial statements, except for cash flow information, using the accrual basis of accounting. Under this basis, the effects of transactions and other events are recognized when they occur (and not as cash or its equivalent is received or paid). Transactions and other events are recorded in the accounting records and reported in the financial statements of the periods to which they relate.


Going Concern


The entity is normally viewed as a going concern, that is, as continuing in operation for the foreseeable future. It is assumed that the entity has neither the intention nor the necessity of liquidation or of curtailing (削減) materially the scale of its operations.

When an entity does not prepare financial statements on a going concern basis. It should disclose that fact, together with the basis on which it prepared the financial statements and the reason why it is not regarded as a going concern.

5.         Qualitative Characteristics of Financial Statements

5.1       For financial reporting information to be useful, it must possess the four principal (or primary) qualitative characteristics:
(a)        relevance,
(b)       reliability,
(c)        comparability, and
(d)       understandability.

(A)      Relevance




To be useful, information must be relevant to the decision-making needs of users. Relevant information is capable of making a difference in decision-making by virtue of its:
(a)      predictive value – helps users to evaluate past, present or future events of the entity;
(b)      confirmatory value – helps users to confirm or change their past (or present) expectations based on previous evaluations.

5.3       Relevance depends largely on materiality. Materiality should be considered when deciding whether information has sufficient predictive or confirmatory value to be relevant to users.




Information is considered material if its omission or misstatement can influence the economic decisions of users taken on the basis of an entity’s financial information.

5.5       Materiality depends on the nature (e.g. remuneration of management, provisions, etc.) and amount of the item judged in the particular circumstances of its omission or misstatement.

(B)       Reliability




Information has the quality of reliability when it is free from material error and bias (or neutrality) and can be depended upon by users to represent faithfully that which it either purports to represent or could reasonably be expected to represent.

5.7       There is a risk that the information may not be represented faithfully, not due to bias, but due to inherent difficulties in identifying the transactions or finding an appropriate method of measurement or presentation. Where measurement of the financial effects of an item is so uncertain, entities should not recognize such an item, e.g. internally generated goodwill.


Substance over Form


Faithful representation of a transaction is only possible if it is accounted for according to its substance and economic reality, not with its legal form.


Example 1


One party may sell an asset to another party and the sales documentation may record that legal ownership has been transferred. However, if agreements exist whereby the party selling the asset continues to enjoy the future economic benefits arising from the asset, then in substance no sale has taken place.


Prudence (or Conservatism)


Under conditions of uncertainty, judgement must be exercised cautiously of hidden in making the estimates required, such that assets or income are not overstated and liabilities or expenses are not understated.




The information must be complete subject to materiality and cost. An omission may cause to be false and misleading and thus unreliable to the users of financial statements.

(C)      Comparability




Information about an entity is more useful if users are able to compare its financial statements:
(a)      across time periods
(b)      with other entities

5.13     Hence, accounting treatments and presentation of similar transactions must be carried out in a consistent way over time for the entity and in a consistent way for different entities. Compliance with financial reporting standards, including the disclosure of accounting policies, is particularly important, in order to achieve comparability.

(D)      Understandability




Information should be readily comprehended by users with a reasonable knowledge of business and economic activities and accounting, and a willingness to study the information with reasonable diligence.

5.15     Information that is relevant should not be excluded from financial statements only because it may be too complex or difficult for some users to understand without help.

6.         Constraints on Relevant and Reliable Information

(A)      Timeliness

6.1       Information may become irrelevant if there is a delay in reporting it. There is a balance between timeliness and the provision of reliable information.


Example 2


Companies listed on the Main Board must issue their half-yearly interim financial reports not later than three months after the end of the first half-yearly period in the financial year.

The release of interim financial reporting information will provide timely and relevant information to improve the users’ ability to understand an entity’s up-to-date earnings-generating capacity and cash-flow-generating capacity, as well as its financial condition and liquidity. However, the interim figures may be less reliable as they use more estimates than annual financial reports.

(B)       Cost considerations

6.3       Balance between benefits and cost – when information is provided, its benefits must exceed the costs of obtaining and presenting it.
6.4       Balance between qualitative characteristics – a trade-off between qualitative characteristics is often necessary, the aim being to achieve an appropriate balance to meet the objective of financial statements. It is a matter for professional judgement as to the relative importance of these characteristics in each case. One usual trade-off is between relevance and reliability.


Example 3


The following shows two situations where there is a trade-off between relevance and reliability:
(a)      historical cost for valuation of property, plant and equipment (reliability) versus market value (relevance)
(b)      depreciation (reliability) versus impairment loss (relevance)

7.         Elements of Financial Statements

7.1       The Framework identifies five elements of financial statements:
(i)        assets
(ii)       liabilities
(iii)      equity interest
(iv)      income
(v)       expenses

(A)      Asset




An asset is a resource controlled by an entity as a result of past events and from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the entity.

7.3       Controlled by enterprise – Control is the ability to obtain the economic benefits and to restrict the access of others.
7.4       Past events – The event must be “past” before an asset can arise. For example equipment will only become an asset when there is the right to demand delivery or access to the asset’s potential.
7.5       Future economic benefits – These are evidenced by the prospective receipt of cash. This could be cash itself, a debt receivable or any item which may be sold.


Example 4


Suppose a business owns a building in an abandoned radioactive area. It is of no use to the enterprise and cannot be sold. Since it can’t provide future economic benefits, it is not an asset.

(B)       Liability




A liability is a present obligation of an entity arising from past events, the settlement of which is expected to result in an outflow of resources from the entity embodying economic benefits.

7.8       Obligation – An obligation is a duty or responsibility to act or perform in a certain way. Obligation may be legally enforceable as a consequence of binding contract or statutory requirement. Almost all liabilities stem from legally enforceable obligations, for example, with amounts payable for goods and services received.
7.9       Outflow of economic benefits – This could be a transfer of cash, or other property, the provision of a service, or the refraining from activities which would otherwise be profitable.

(C)      Equity




Equity is the residual interest in the assets of an entity after deducting all its liabilities.

7.11     Equity is sub-classified into:
(a)        Funds contributed by shareholders;
(b)        Retained earnings;
(c)        Reserves.

(D)      Income




Income is increases in economic benefits during the accounting period in the form of inflows or enhancements of assets or decreases in liabilities that result in increases in equity, other than those relating to contributions from equity participants.

(E)       Expenses




Expenses are decreases in economic benefits during the accounting period in the form of outflows or depletions of assets or incurrences of liabilities that result in decreases in equity, other than those relating to distributions to equity participants.

8.         Recognition of the Elements of Financial Statements

8.1       Items which meet the definition of assets or liabilities may still not be recognized in financial statements because they must also meet certain recognition criteria.




It is the process of incorporating in the statement of financial position or statement of comprehensive income an item that meets the definition of an element and satisfies the following criteria for recognition:
(a)      it is probable that any future economic benefit associated with the item will flow to or from the entity; and
(b)      the item has a cost or value that can be measured with reliability.

8.3       The stages of recognition – The recognition of assets and liabilities falls into three stages:
(a)        Initial recognition (e.g., of a non-current asset by purchase transaction)
(b)        Subsequent remeasurement (e.g., revaluation of the above asset)
(c)        Derecognition (e.g., sale or destruction of the asset).

9.         Measurement of the Elements of Financial Statements

9.1       The Framework identifies four possible measurement bases:
(i)         historical cost
(ii)        current cost
(iii)       realizable value
(iv)       present value


Historical Cost


Assets are recorded at the amount of cash or cash equivalents paid or the fair value of the consideration given to acquire them at the time of acquisition.

Liabilities are recorded at the amount of proceeds received in exchange for the obligation.


Current Cost


Assets are carried at the amount of cash or cash equivalents required to acquire them currently.

Liabilities are carried at the undiscounted amount currently required to settle them.


Realisable (Settlement) Value


Assets are carried at the amount of cash or cash equivalents that could currently be obtained by selling an asset in orderly disposal.

Liabilities are carried at their settlement values – the amount to be paid to satisfy them in the normal course of business.


Present Value


Assets are carried at the present discounted value of the future net cash inflows that the item is expected to generate in the normal course of business.

Liabilities at the present discounted value of the expected outflows necessary to settle them.

9.6       Although historical cost is the commonest basis, the others are often used to modify historical cost. For example, inventories are usually carried at the lower of cost and net realizable value, investments may be carried at market value and pension liabilities are carried at their present value.

10.       Concepts of Capital and Capital Maintenance

10.1     The concepts of capital maintenance provide linkage between the concepts of capital and the concepts of profit because they provide the point of reference with which profit is measured. Definitions of profit may refer to the need to maintain the capital of the enterprise. In fact there are two main concepts of capital maintenance:
(a)        financial capital maintenance
(b)        physical capital maintenance


Financial Capital Maintenance


Under this concept a profit is earned only if the financial (or money) amount of the net assets at the end of a period exceeds the financial (or money) amount of net assets at the beginning of the period.


Physical Capital Maintenance


Under this concept a profit is earned only if the physical productive capacity of the business at the end of the period exceeds the physical productive capacity at the beginning of the period. The physical capital maintenance concept requires the adoption of the current cost basis of measurement. For example, instead of looking at Simon’s opening capital as $400, we should look upon it as being the ability to buy 10 box files, i.e. $500.


Examination Style Questions

Question 1
(a)     The IASB’s Framework for the preparation and presentation of financial statements (Framework) sets out the concepts that underlie the preparation and presentation of financial statements that external users are likely to rely on when making economic decisions about an enterprise.


Explain the purpose and authoritative status of the Framework.             (5 marks)

(b)     Of particular importance within the Framework are the definitions and recognition criteria for assets and liabilities.


Define assets and liabilities and explain the important aspects of their definitions. Explain why these definitions are of particular importance to the preparation of an entity’s statement of financial position and statement of comprehensive income.                                                 (8 marks)
(ACCA 2.5(INT) Financial Reporting June 2006 Q3(a) & (b))

Question 2
(a)     The qualitative characteristics of relevance, reliability and comparability identified in the IASB’s Framework for the preparation and presentation of financial statements (Framework) are some of the attributes that make financial information useful to the various users of financial statements.


Explain what is meant by relevance, reliability and comparability and how they make financial information useful.                                                                                   (9 marks)

(b)     During the year ended 31 March 2006, Porto experienced the following transactions or events:
(i)      entered into a finance lease to rent an asset for substantially the whole of its useful economic life.
(ii)     a decision was made by the Board to change the company’s accounting policy from one of expensing the finance costs on building new retail outlets to one of capitalising such costs.
(iii)    the company’s income statement prepared using historical costs showed a loss from operating its hotels, but the company is aware that the increase in the value of its properties during the period far outweighed the operating loss.


Explain how you would treat the items in (i) to (iii) above in Porto’s financial statements and indicate on which of the Framework’s qualitative characteristics your treatment is based. (6 marks)
(Total 15 marks)
(ACCA F7 (INT) Financial Reporting Pilot Paper Q4)

Question 3
An important requirement of the HKICPA’s Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements (Framework) is that in order to be reliable, an entity’s financial statements should represent faithfully the transactions and events that it has undertaken.


Explain what is meant by faithful representation and how it enhances reliability.
(5 marks)
(ACCA F7 (HKG) Financial Reporting December 2007 Q4(a))

Question 4
Product development costs are a material cost for many companies. They are either written off as an expense or capitalised as an asset.


Discuss the conceptual issues involved and the definition of an asset that may be applied in determining whether development expenditure should be treated as an expense or an asset.             (4 marks)
(ACCA F7 (HKG) Financial Reporting December 2007 Q5(a))
Question 5
(a)     The HKICPA’s Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements requires financial statements to be prepared on the basis that they comply with certain accounting concepts, underlying assumptions and (qualitative) characteristics. Five of these are:

Substance over form


Briefly explain the meaning of each of the above concepts/assumptions.
(5 marks)
(b)     For most entities, applying the appropriate concepts/assumptions in accounting for inventories is an important element in preparing their financial statements.


Illustrate with examples how each of the concepts/assumptions in (a) may be applied to accounting for inventory.                                                                                                (10 marks)
(15 marks)
(ACCA F7 (HKG) Financial Reporting June 2008 Q4)

Question 6
An assistant of yours has been criticised over a piece of assessed work that he produced for his study course for giving the definition of a non-current asset as ‘a physical asset of substantial cost, owned by the company, which will last longer than one year’.


Provide an explanation to your assistant of the weaknesses in his definition of non-current assets when compared to the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ view of assets. (4 marks)
(ACCA F7 (HKG) Financial Reporting December 2009 Q4(a))
Question 7
(a)     Explain and give an example of the effect on a set of published financial statements if the going concern convention is held not to apply.
(b)     Explain in general terms what the IASB Framework is trying to achieve.
(10 marks)



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Conceptual Framework


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Conceptual Framework