The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) staff will present the findings of a digital assets research project next week, marking the first time the board will discuss the results of the exploration, according to spokesperson Christine Klimek.
The board could decide at its Wednesday meeting to upgrade the closely-watched digital assets issue to its technical agenda, a move that would signal that an initiative to address accounting of cryptocurrencies is gaining momentum and being teed up for standards setting.
In December board chair Richard Jones added the issue to FASB’s research agenda after feedback from stakeholders that a project to permit or require companies to account for certain digital assets at fair value should be a top priority, Klimek wrote in an email.
Despite calls to standardize accounting for cryptocurrency investments, FASB has generally been cautious about doing so.
In October 2020 the board decided not to add a project on digital currencies to its technical agenda after deciding the issue wasn’t "pervasive" enough, but agreed to revisit the issue if that changed in the future, according to Klimek. Early last year Chair Richard Jones echoed that sentiment, saying the board still viewed cryptocurrencies as not having risen to the level that would warrant it being one of the priorities on the standard setter’s agenda.
But lately that stance has appeared to be softening. In November Jones acknowledged that the board got a lot of feedback from different stakeholders on the matter although nothing was in the works beyond gathering intelligence about the issues. One month later Jones added a project on digital asset to the board's research agenda.
This week Jones addressed the board’s current stance during his opening remarks at the 20th Annual Financial Reporting Conference hosted by the The Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity, Baruch College.
“Currently, we are looking at digital assets and commodities because in many cases they do have certain things in common — they’re actively traded, they’re viewed as exchanges of value between parties and they’re often exchange traded,” Jones said at the conference, according to an emailed statement. “This month, we expect to bring results of that research back to the Board to decide if there’s an overlap beyond digital assets where it would make sense to have one accounting model — and what that model might look like.”
One of the issues with cryptocurrencies is whether FASB should set standards for any kind of non-financial asset that is typically carried at historical cost even though they’re traded in active markets, Jones said last year. At the time, he pointed to precious metals and commodities such as oil as other types of assets that could be subject to the standards.
Another subject that many participants are focused on is fair value and Klimek said next week the board will take up whether to consider permitting entities to elect to fair value certain digital assets.
Nearly all of the roughly 500 stakeholders who responded to FASB’s Invitation to Comment last year supported a move by FASB to allow crypto assets with a “readily determinable fair value” like bitcoin to be measured on a recurring basis at fair value, with realized and unrealized gains and losses recognized in current period earnings, according to a January KPMG report.
The current system that generally treats cryptocurrency as intangible asset is “a door that swings one way” because a firm that holds bitcoin that goes down reflects that drop in its reports but does not do the same if the currency’s value rises, according to Ed McGee, CFO at digital asset manager Grayscale Investments.
Investors in companies stuck with that method of reporting the assets on their balance sheets aren’t fully informed on the valuation, he said. McGee is behind a push by some stakeholders for interim relief from FASB that would more quickly allow digital assets to be held at fair value.