Financial statements prepared and presented by a company typically follow an external standard that specifically guides their preparation. These standards vary across the globe and are typically overseen by some combination of the private accounting profession in that specific nation and the various government regulators. Variations across countries may be considerable making cross country evaluation of financial data challenging.
Publicly traded companies typically are subject to the most rigorous standards. Small and midsize businesses often follow more simplified standards, plus any specific disclosures required by their specific lenders and shareholders. Some firms operate on the cash method of accounting which can often be simple and straight forward. Larger firms most often operate on an accrual basis. Accounting standards prescribe in considerable detail what accruals must be made, how the financial statements are to be presented, and what additional disclosures are required.
Some important elements that accounting standards cover include: identifying the exact entity which is reporting, discussing any “going concern” questions, specifying monetary units, and reporting time frames