Canadian companies are not yet ready for the colossal shift over to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) that is set to happen, according to speakers at a reporting standards conference in Toronto Friday.

“I don’t think we are there yet,” Peter Martin, a director at the Accounting Standards Board (AcSB), told an audience at the two-day conference dedicated to IFRS issues. “There probably are a few companies in this country that are prepared, but the vast majority are not.”

The AcSB has pegged Jan. 1, 2011 as the date for implementing the switch from current Canadian GAAP standards to IFRS, meaning that any company with a fiscal year starting after that date will be required to report under the new standards.

Friday’s seminar coincided with the release of a research report called “IFRS Readiness in Canada,” which was co-conducted by the Canadian Financial Executives Research Foundation (CFERF), the research arm of Financial Executives International (FEI) Canada, and Ernst & Young Canada.

About half of all senior finance executives polled (there were 510 respondents) said they have started to evaluate the impact of IFRS on their business, according to Rafik Greiss, partner and IFRS leader at Ernst & Young, but 72.9% don’t have a dedicated team in place to facilitate the changes.

Surpisingly, relatively few senior finance executives are aware of the difference between IFRS and Canadian GAAP, according to the report. “The majority are nowhere near prepared for conversion at this point in time, haven’t calculated the conversion costs and don’t know if their systems can handle the job,” reads the report.

In spite of this, it adds, the executives said they did not want the 2011 conversion deadline to be extended.

BMO Financial Group, B.C. Investment Management and Manulife Financial Corp. were among the companies that participated in the forum portion of the research.

The forum allowed for companies to express any specific problems related to IFRS they foresee, with the aim to provide companies not yet as far along in the process some food for thought.

According to the report, Manulife has concerns with respect to investment fund reporting and the lack of industry-specific accounting guidance under IFRS. “Being in the insurance business, the accounting for most of our balance sheet is in a state of flux,” said Tim Deacon, the firm’s vp of international accounting policy, in the report. “The insurance contract standard is still being revisited so we actually don’t know what the final model will look like. There are a lot of things that are up in the air right now.”

While three years seems like a long time, Friday’s seminar focused on the need to start the process early in order to avoid problems down the road. The conversion is “far more complex and time consuming than it initially appears” and the “scope and complexity should not be underestimated,” said Rafik Greiss, a partner and the IFRS leader at Ernst & Young Canada. “This is much more than just a technical accounting exercise.”