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New bookkeeping rule to priprizese open insurers' 'black box' accounts

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - An international bookkeeping regime being unveiled on Thursday will iron out national variants in insurers' "black box" balance sheets although the transition will take several years and the United States will keep its own, very different rules.

The International Accounting Standards Board's (IASB) third try at a new rule will be unchanged from the previous draft: each reporting period insurers must update policy values based on prevailing market conditions rather than at historic cost.

This means using current interest rates rather than ones dating back a decade in some cases, and firms have warned that will make earnings seem more volatile.

On the upside for insurance companies, the new rule will get rid of inconsistencies in accounting rules from country to country that have crimped investors' appetite and pushed up the sector's cost of capital.

"For the first time there will be a consistent model across countries which comes with a significant level of transparency to break down the black box of insurance accounting and make the market more interesting for investors," Francesco Nagari, Deloitte's global head of insurance accounting said.

The new elements in the IASB's latest draft are expected to center on five incremental changes to try to quell the opposition seen last time round. These relate to presentation of an insurer's income statement and some new exemptions.

The draft standard will be put out to public consultation but is unlikely to become effective until around 2017.

Complete international alignment is also unlikely for the foreseeable future as U.S. accounting rulemaker FASB is due to come out with its own draft insurance rule change in July but will differ fundamentally in approach from the IASB.

World leaders have asked the IASB - whose rules are used in over 100 countries, including European Union states - to align its standards with those of FASB so that investors can make global company comparisons more easily.

But while the IASB will require firms to take into account risks to profits, the FASB does not believe this can be done.

"The IASB approach requires a risk adjustment while the United States has rejected this idea. FASB sees the IASB's approach as an unnecessary complexity and untested within financial reporting," Nagari said.

U.S. insurers account for a third of the global market.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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