Why It Matters

New Acra rule helps investors

More red tape? Some observers fretted over new powers unveiled last week that mean firms can be forced to restate, re-audit and refile financial statements if they commit severe reporting breaches.

After all, sifting through all those numbers again is a gruelling process that some industry practitioners think may even lead to lawsuits.

But the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority's (Acra) new rule, which kicks in on April 1, is an important step that improves the quality and timeliness of financial information for retail investors.

Yes, failure to comply will see Acra holding company directors accountable - potentially resulting in fines or even criminal charges, depending on the severity of the breaches - but the focus of this new approach is not on deterrence and penalty. Rather, it is to ensure that investors will get the most accurate and up-to-date financial information, as soon as possible.

This is crucial as retail investors may not have the expertise to analyse complex financial reports, let alone report breaches. The more information for investors to make informed decisions, the better.

Other new rules, such as a requirement starting this year for a more in-depth auditor's report to highlight areas with bigger risks of misstatement, will have similar benefits.

The enhancements also complement a string of new investor-protection policies rolled out by regulators in recent times. Last week, Parliament passed a law to bring wide-ranging changes to the Securities and Futures Act, including the tightening of accredited investor criteria so that uninformed investors face a smaller chance of being exposed to sophisticated and risky investment products.

As the Government continues to improve its regulatory regime, it bodes well not only for investors, but also for Singapore as a financial services hub, which relies very much on a strong reputation and transparency to stay competitive on the global stage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'New Acra rule helps investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe