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Defining goodwill: a practice perspective

Marco Giuliani (Department of Management, University of the Marche, Ancona, Italy)
Daniel Brännström (Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)

Journal of Financial Reporting and Accounting

ISSN: 1985-2517

Article publication date: 25 October 2011




The purpose of this paper is to identify a definition of goodwill related to how companies describe their purchased goodwill. It focuses on whether there is any consistency in how firms define goodwill in practice in the first year of mandatory application of International Financial Reporting Standards 3 (IFRS3).


The paper builds on an analysis of how companies describe goodwill in purchase analyses related to company acquisitions. The empirical body of this study is represented by the financial statements of Italian and Swedish listed companies.


The overall finding of this investigation is that, in practice, the concept of goodwill is unclear and therefore there is no reference to one singular definition of goodwill. Moreover, in spite of the idea underlying IFRS3, goodwill still appears to be a “black box”, wherefore an accounting inertia is highlighted.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitation of this study is that only a sample of firms (those listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange and the Milan Stock Exchange) that apply IFRS3 is investigated. The main implication of this paper is that it is possible to identify some general classes of descriptions, but these remain vague. Therefore, some accounting policy suggestions are proposed.


First, this paper focuses on a definition communicated by firms, which is different from most other studies, as they tend to focus on a theoretical definition of goodwill. Second, this paper focuses on a goodwill definition in practice, whereas studies of goodwill practice mainly concern impairment testing.



Giuliani, M. and Brännström, D. (2011), "Defining goodwill: a practice perspective", Journal of Financial Reporting and Accounting, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 161-175.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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