This is crunch time for Robert C. Wilkins.
As senior project manager for the Financial Accounting Standards Board's controversial derivatives project, Mr. Wilkins is racing to draft a final rule by Jan. 31.
The plan, which would force banks to report the market value of their derivatives every quarter, is expected to be approved by FASB in March.
These days it is not uncommon for Mr. Wilkins and his eight-member team to spend 14-hour days at the FASB's Norwalk, Conn., headquarters.
The work load has kept him from two of his favorite off-hours pastimes, playing tennis and singing bass in a local group, the Fairfield Ambassadors of Song.
"I'm afraid I haven't been getting in much singing or tennis lately," he said. "I'm looking forward to returning to a more normal schedule."
Mr. Wilkins' efforts have drawn a lot of fire recently, and bankers are a big source of the heat. They complain that FASB's plan would mislead investors because the market values of derivatives can change drastically over a few weeks or months but pose little risk when used to hedge against long-term interest rate changes and other economic risks. To avoid earnings swings from quarter to quarter, banks might quit using derivatives, which ironically could subject them to greater risks.
Despite industry resistance, FASB isn't stepping away from its plan, Mr. Wilkins said. In fact, a broader effort requiring all financial instruments to be recorded at fair market value is also in the works.
As for the bankers' arguments, he said they carry little weight given that stockholders have been surprised by losses related to derivatives in recent years. "Investors should know how much exposure companies face," he said.
The economic turmoil in Asia is likely to harden FASB's position because many big banks appear vulnerable to loan and derivatives losses there. For instance, J.P. Morgan on Tuesday blamed derivatives losses for part of the drop in its fourth-quarter earnings and revealed it had a total credit exposure of $5.4 billion in Asian loans, swaps, and debt instruments.
In Mr. Wilkins' view, derivatives will remain an attractive tool for institutions that are truly hedging against long-term risks, but he argued that industry resistance is being fueled by the handful of large banks that earn big bucks from derivatives trading.
"Our rule could impact the profitability of those operations if bankers decide they don't want their derivatives strategy to become transparent," he said.
But FASB just isn't getting the picture, banking industry officials said. "Broadly, the FASB staff tends to take ownership in their projects and that's understandable because they have worked on these issues maybe more than anybody else in country," says Donna Fisher, director of tax and accounting at the American Bankers Association. "But that can be a negative because sometimes they can't see the practical problems their proposals would cause."
Nevertheless, she gives the Xavier University graduate high marks for his dealings with the industry in recent years.
She pointed out that Mr. Wilkins' efforts helped to soften industry resistance to an earlier rule requiring debt securities to be recorded at market value. "He has handled the two most controversial issues we've had before FASB, and he has been pleasant to work with and is extremely hard working."
"He's well thought of and easy to deal with," said James O'Connor, director of tax policy at America's Community Bankers.
Mr. Wilkins has been at FASB since 1978, when he joined the research staff. He became senior project manager in April. Before joining FASB he worked in accounting research and as an audit manager for Deloitte Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte & Touche).