Some companies may have significant amounts of off-balance sheet assets and liabilities. For example, financial institutions often offer asset management or brokerage services to their clients. The assets in question (often securities) usually belong to the individual clients directly or in trust, while the company may provide management, depository or other services to the client. The company itself has no direct claim to the assets, and usually has some basic fiduciary duties with respect to the client. Financial institutions may report off-balance sheet items in their accounting statements formally, and may also refer to "assets under management," a figure that may include on and off-balance sheet items.
The formal accounting distinction between on and off-balance sheet items can be quite detailed and will depend to some degree on management judgments, but in general terms, an item should appear on the company's balance sheet if it is an asset or liability formally owned by or legally responsible for; uncertain assets or liabilities must also meet tests of being probable, measurable and meaningful. For example, a company that is being sued for damages would not include the potential legal liability on its balance sheet until a legal judgment against it is likely and the amount of the judgment can be estimated; if the amount at risk is small, it may not appear on the company's accounts until a judgment is rendered.
The Effects of the Reporting of Off-Balance-Sheet Investments on EPS Uncertainty, Leverage and Shareholders' Wealth
Dec 22, 2012; The degree of control over operations affects the quality of information provided to investors. Uncertainty about operating...