Introduction to Accounting Standards in Hong Kong

According to the provisions set out in the Hong Kong Companies Ordinance, companies that are incorporated in Hong Kong must maintain proper books of accounts and must also satisfy statutory audit requirements on an annual basis. The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) is responsible for regulating the accountancy profession in Hong Kong.

Since January 2005, Hong Kong has adopted a Financial Reporting Standards (FRS) framework that has been modelled on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

Hong Kong Accounting Standards

Accounting standards are a set of rules that govern the treatment of financial transactions, by specifying certain fundamental principles, defining the meanings of terms and demanding minimum levels of disclosure.

Accounting standards in Hong Kong are known as Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards (HKFRS) and set out recognition, measurement, presentation and disclosure requirements dealing with transactions and events that are important in general purpose financial statements. It is the application of HKFRS that gives us a “true and fair view” of financial statements.

The HKICPA has also issued a Financial Reporting Standard (SME-FRS) for certain qualifying SMEs. Since 30 April 2010, the Institute issued the Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standard for Private Entities (HKFRS for Private Entities) for Hong Kong companies that do not have public accountability. The HKFRS for Private Entities will eliminate some accounting treatments permitted under full HKFRSs, remove topics and disclosure requirements that are not generally relevant to private entities, and simplify requirements for recognition and measurement.

Scope of HKFRS

  • The term Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards includes all Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards, Hong Kong Accounting Standards (HKAS), and Interpretations issued by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA).
  • According to the HKICPA, HKFRS are designed to apply to general purpose financial statements and other financial reporting of all profit-oriented entities.
  • Profit-oriented entities include those that are engaged in commercial, industrial, financial and similar activities. They include mutual insurance companies and other mutual cooperative entities that provide dividends or other economic benefits directly and proportionately to their owners, members or participants.
  • HKFRS are not designed to apply to non-profit activities in the private sector, public sector or government.
  • HKFRS apply to all general purpose financial statements that are directed towards the common information needs of a wide range of users such as shareholders, creditors, employees and the public at large. The objective of financial statements is to provide information about the financial position, performance, and cash flows of an entity that is useful in making economic decisions.
  • A complete set of financial statements includes:
    • A statement of financial position (previously known as balance sheet) as at the end of the period;
    • A statement of comprehensive income (previously known as income statement) for the period;
    • A statement showing either all changes in equity or changes in equity other than those arising from capital transactions with owners and distributions to owners;
    • A statement of cash flow; and
    • Accounting policies and explanatory notes.

Accrual basis of accounting

One of the main principles of Hong Kong accounting standards is that an entity prepares its financial statements, except for cash flow information, using the accrual basis of accounting. Under the accrual basis of accounting, the effects of transactions and other events are recognized when they occur and are reported in financial statements of the periods to which they relate. Financial statements prepared on the accrual basis of accounting inform users not only of past transactions involving the payment and receipt of cash, but also of obligations to pay cash in the future and of resources that represent cash to be received in the future.

Standards of HKFRS

The HKFRS consists of 41 distinct accounting standards, 15 financial reporting standards and several interpretations. Each standard relates to a specific topic such as presentation of financial statements, inventories, statement of cash flows, income taxes etc. Some examples of the standards set out in the HKICPA’s HKFRS Handbook include:

HKAS 1: Presentation of financial statements

Hong Kong Accounting Standard 1 Presentation of Financial Statements (HKAS 1) specifies the overall requirements for presentation of financial statements, guidelines for their structure and minimum requirements for their content.
According to HKAS 1:

  • When preparing financial statements of an entity, the management shall make an assessment of the entity s ability to continue as a going concern, unless the management intends to liquidate the entity or cease trading. When an entity does not prepare financial statements on a going concern basis, it shall disclose this fact, together with the basis on which it prepared the financial statements and the reason why the entity is not regarded as a going concern.
  • An entity shall prepare its financial statements, except for cash flow information, using the accrual basis of accounting.
  • An entity shall not offset assets and liabilities or income and expenses, unless required or permitted by a HKFRS.
  • An entity shall present a complete set of financial statements (including comparative information) at least once in a year.

HKAS 2: Inventories

Hong Kong Accounting Standard 2 Inventories (HKAS 2) specifies the accounting treatment for inventories. One of the main issues in accounting for inventories is the amount of cost to be recognized as an asset and carried forward until the related revenues are recognized. HKAS 2 offers guidance on the determination of cost and its subsequent recognition as an expense, including any write-down to net realizable value. It also provides guidance on the cost formulas that are used to assign costs to inventories.
According to HKAS 2:

  • Inventories shall be measured at the lower of cost and net realizable value.
  • The cost of inventories shall comprise all costs of purchase, costs of conversion and other costs incurred in bringing the inventories to their present location and condition.
  • The cost of inventories shall be assigned by using the first-in, first-out (FIFO) or weighted average cost formula.

HKAS 18: Revenue

Hong Kong Accounting Standard 18 Revenue (HKAS 18) sets out the accounting treatment that is accorded to revenue arising from certain types of transactions and events. The primary issue in accounting for revenue is determining when to recognise revenue.
According to HKAS 18:

  • Revenue shall be measured at the fair value of the consideration received or receivable.
  • Revenue from the sale of goods shall be recognized when all the following conditions have been satisfied:
    • The entity transfers to the buyer the significant risks and rewards of ownership of the goods;
    • The entity retains neither continuing managerial involvement to the degree usually associated with ownership nor effective control over the goods sold;
    • The amount of revenue can be measured reliably;
    • It is probable that the economic benefits associated with the transaction will flow to the entity; and
    • The costs incurred or to be incurred in respect of the transaction can be measured reliably.

For a complete set of HKFRS, please refer to the HKICPA’s HKFRS Handbook.

Financial Reporting Standards for SMEs (SME-FRS)

The new Hong Kong Companies Ordinance (Cap. 622) (“new CO”), which becomes effective on 3 March 2014, contains an optional reporting exemption for certain private companies and companies limited by guarantee which satisfy the conditions set out in section 359 of the new CO. The Small and Medium-sized Entity Financial Reporting Framework and Financial Reporting Standard which are effective for annual periods beginning on or after 3 March 2014 (the “revised SME-FRF and FRS”) are the accounting standards issued by the HKICPA that are to be followed in accordance with section 380(4) by those Hong Kong incorporated companies which are entitled to, and decide to, take advantage of this reporting exemption in the new CO.

In accordance with the revised SME-FRF, an entity which is not a company incorporated under either the new CO or the predecessor CO (Cap. 32), subject to any specific requirements imposed by the law of the entity’s place of incorporation and subject to its constitution, qualifies for reporting under the SME-FRF when the entity meets the same requirements that a Hong Kong incorporated entity is required to meet under section 359 of the new CO.

A company incorporated under the new or predecessor CO qualifies for reporting under the SME-FRF if it satisfies the criteria set out in section 359 of the new CO and the sections and Schedules to which that section refers. Specifically:

(a)   Section 359(1)(b) brings forward the qualifying criteria that were previously found in section 141D of the predecessor CO, relating to private companies which do not have subsidiaries and are not a subsidiary of another company. These companies (unless they fall within the types of companies listed in the paragraph below) are eligible for the reporting exemption provided that each year they obtain 100% approval in writing from their shareholders.

(b)  The remainder of section 359 introduces 3 additional categories of entities (or groups) that fall within the reporting exemption if they meet certain criteria relating to the type of entity, the size of the entity and in certain cases the need for shareholder approval. Further details on these criteria are set out in the paragraphs below.

The new Company Ordinance carries forward the exemption criteria in s141D as one category of exempt company. In addition, simplified reporting can be adopted by private groups, private companies which are subsidiaries of other companies, and companies/groups limited by guarantee provided that:

  • they fall within the new size tests; and
  • in the case of larger private companies, they obtain at least 75% shareholder approval, with none objecting.

The size tests can be summarized as follows:

  Small guarantee company/ group1 Small private company/ group1 Larger (“eligible”) private company/ group1
Annual revenue ≤ $25m ≤ $100m2 ≤ $200m2
Total assets No limit ≤ $100m2 ≤ $200m2
Average employees No limit ≤ $1002 ≤ $1002

1 In groups, the size tests must be met for each company in the group and for the group as a whole

2 Must meet 2 out of these 3 criteria to qualify as “small” or “eligible”

The following private companies are not permitted to take the reporting exemption:

(a) the entity is an institution authorised under the Banking Ordinance to carry out banking business;

(b)  the entity accepts, by way of trade or business (other than banking business) loans of money at interest or repayable at a premium, other than on terms involving the issue of debentures or other securities;

(c)   the entity is licensed under Part V of the Securities and Futures Ordinance to carry on a regulated business; or

(d)  the entity carries on any insurance business, other than solely as an agent.

Simplified financial statements are exempt from the requirement to give a true and fair view and are prepared under the HKICPA’s Simplified Financial Reporting Framework and Financial Reporting Standard (SME-FRF and SME-FRS), rather than HKFRSs. Typically these financial statements are prepared on a simplified historical cost basis and do not include any assets or liabilities at fair value, or deferred tax. The disclosure notes also contain less information on the reporting entity’s affairs compared to full financial statements.

The remainder of Hong Kong incorporated companies will continue to prepare financial statements which give a true and fair view and comply with HKFRSs.

The SME-FRS are simplified accounting principles based on the HKFRS. Certain topics of the HKFRS have been omitted in the SME-FRS, as they are not relevant to typical SMEs. The SME-FRS consists of 22 accounting standards that cover topics such as presentation of financial statements, accounting policies, leases, etc. Topics such as interim financial reporting, segment reporting, business review, etc. have been omitted in the SME-FRS. For a complete set of SME-FRS, please refer to the HKICPA’s SME-FRS.

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