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Discretion in accounting for pensions under IAS 19: using the ‘magic telescope’?

Billings, Mark; O'Brien, Christopher; Woods, Margaret; Vencappa, Dev

Discretion in accounting for pensions under IAS 19: using the ‘magic telescope’? Thumbnail


Mark Billings

Christopher O'Brien

Margaret Woods

Dev Vencappa


We use a panel data set of UK-listed companies over the period 2005 to 2009 to analyse the actuarial assumptions used to value pension plan liabilities under IAS 19. The valuation process requires companies to make assumptions about financial and demographic variables, notably discount rate, price inflation, salary inflation, and mortality/life expectancy of plan members/beneficiaries. We use regression analysis to analyse the relationships between these key assumptions (except mortality, where disclosures are limited) and company-specific factors such as the pension plan funding position and duration of pension liabilities. We find evidence of selective ‘management’ of the three assumptions investigated, although the nature of this appears to differ from the findings of US authors. We conclude that IAS 19 does not prevent the use of managerial discretion, particularly by companies whose pension plan funding positions are weak, thereby reducing the representational faithfulness of the reported pension figures. We also highlight that the degree of discretion used reflects the extent to which IAS 19 defines how the assumptions are to be determined. We therefore suggest that companies should be encouraged to justify more explicitly their choice of assumptions.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 22, 2016
Online Publication Date Jul 11, 2016
Deposit Date Nov 3, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 3, 2016
Journal Accounting and Business Research
Print ISSN 0001-4788
Electronic ISSN 0001-4788
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Actuarial assumptions; IAS 19; Liability valuation; Managerial discretion
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Accounting and Business Research on 11 July 2016 available online:


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