Holger Daske, Professor for Accounting and Capital Markets at the University of Mannheim, is principle investigator of the project A08 “Standardization of Accounting Language in Financial Disclosures”. In his project he investigates how a common set of accounting standards affect transparency of financial reporting information through the standardization of accounting language.
Accounting: “to keep capitalism honest”
For me, being open and honest is a guiding principle when dealing with others – both professionally and privately. In a private context this may not always be appreciated, people sometimes feel offended. But especially in the scientific discussion this principle is the standard. And that is incredibly important: it allows us to shift away from personal sensitivities towards ideas and subjects. Being open and honest is a principle that also specifically suits my academic discipline. As Hans Hoogervorst, Chairman of the IASB (The International Accounting Standards Board) often explains it: “The job of accounting is to keep capitalism honest”. To ensure this postulated honesty, corporate transparency is needed. And this is exactly where the TRR 266 comes in.
With our findings we would like to contribute to a more precise language of business to ensure that international accounting standards are easily comprehensible for users worldwide.
Shaping the language of business
In my TRR 266 project A08 I focus on accounting as the language of business. Just like natural languages, the language of business has a grammar: the accounting standards. And it also has a lexis: the technical terms that are used, for example in annual reports. The problem is, as in regular language, that there may be different terms for the same constructs, even though accounting is a “language for special purposes”. This can lead to terms not being understood or misinterpreted by different users, such as analysts or investors.
In our project we assess the variation in these terms and interpretations among countries. As a next step, we analyze to what extent the introduction of IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) has contributed to a standardization of terminology. After all, IFRS can be considered the “Esperanto of accounting”. We are examining whether it deserves this label or not. To this end, we scan around 700,000 annual reports for thousands of technical terms. This has not been done before. Currently, only qualitative studies mostly at the level of individual terms exist. With our findings we would like to contribute to a more precise language of business to ensure that international accounting standards are easily comprehensible for users worldwide. We also want to prepare our data set in such a way that it is also available as a tool to other researchers and standard setters alike
After all, scientific progress can only be
Methodologically sound and institutionally profound
For me, research must be methodologically sound and institutionally profound. All in all, I set high standards for myself and the “quality” of my studies. In May, for example, a paper I wrote together with Jannis Bischof and Christoph Sextroh appeared in the Journal of Accounting Research. In this paper, we examine the reasons why politicians actively intervene in something as specific and technical as the regulation of accounting. Most of the studies I published are ambitious projects we worked on for years – placing very high value on reliability and precision. Sometimes, even a footnote, which summarizes weeks of empirical testing, could take several hours to improve. But the effort is worth it. Especially if you can make an important contribution to the scientific community or to practice – for example, with a new approach that other researchers can use for their own research. After all, scientific progress can only be achieved collectively.
TRR 266: a great opportunity for young researchers
This is why I see the TRR 266 as a great opportunity – especially for our young researchers. Within our community they have the opportunity to work closely with German top researchers: presenting their research and receiving valuable feedback. From personal experience, I know how helpful such a research network can be. I did my doctorate in the pan-European Marie Skłodowska-Curie research network “Harmonia” funded by the European Commission. For me, this was a real career booster. Through the network, I was able to establish contacts with many renowned researchers at an early stage and I had the chance to work on my first international publication. After completing my Ph.D., as a result, Wharton – one of the world’s leading business schools – was the next step in my career.
I personally gained a lot from international exchange – especially new perspectives.
New perspectives, new impulses
I also consider it very important that the doctoral students can draw on a broad international network through the cooperation with the experienced TRR 266 researchers. At the University of Mannheim, I made a decisive contribution to building up the doctoral program. From the very beginning, we placed a great emphasis on the international placement of doctoral students and promoted research stays abroad. Carol Seregni, a doctoral student who is also involved in my TRR 266 project, is currently on a research stay at Chicago Booth. This is an exciting opportunity for her leading to new insights, which of course also benefits our project. I personally gained a lot from international exchange – especially new perspectives. As a keynote speaker at the African Accounting and Finance Association in Nairobi or at the Doctoral Colloquium of the Korean Accounting Association in Seoul, I gained unique and new perspectives that provided me with important impulses for my research in project A08.