Alternative Currency Could Change Financial Landscape
In celebration of the AICPA’s 125 anniversary last year, we produced a powerful retrospective called Evolution of a Profession. The six-minute video traced the accounting profession’s changes from its origins 8,000 years ago through the present day.
Within that evolution were the notions of currency and exchange. Over time, society has changed the various ways goods and services are purchased. Hard as it may be to believe, at one point the primary currency was clams. The same is true of livestock, land and spices. All eventually gave way to something else as our forms of money have been “refined” over and over again.
- Jan. 2009 - First Bitcoin transaction
- Jul. 2013 - Thailand officials declare the currency illegal in all its aspects
- Aug. 2013 - U.S. federal judge rules Bitcoin is a currency
- Oct. 2013 - $28 million in Bitcoins seized during raid on an online drug marketplace
- Nov. 2013 - Cyprus’ largest university says it will accept Bitcoin as payment for tuition and school fees
- Dec. 2013 - China bans the country’s financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions
Four years ago, a new alternative currency emerged and the accounting profession needs to watch how it develops going forward. It’s a virtual currency known as Bitcoin. Dozens of virtual currencies exist but Bitcoin has garnered the most attention. The news media has been covering the currency in earnest since the spring, including its growing acceptance among businesses and even a foreign university.
What does that mean for our profession? First, if Bitcoin were to become a mainstream currency option, firms would have to consider clients using Bitcoin as a form of payment for services, and a business might want to accept Bitcoins for purchases of its products.
More broadly, how might financial statement preparation and assurance on those statements need to adapt? Bitcoin is not only a currency, it is also a commodity – one with a finite supply (currently 12 million units and continually increasing to a maximum of 21 million units). Therefore, depending on the demand for it at any given time, its value could fluctuate wildly – even within the same day. In 2013 alone, a single Bitcoin unit was valued at less than $20 and hit a high of more than $1,000 in late November. So, how would a CPA value that money, and is it even an asset? And since Bitcoin largely operates through online exchanges, it functions outside of the traditional banking system, where balances and transactions can easily be confirmed. In terms of taxes, the Internal Revenue Service has said Bitcoin transactions could fall under several categories: property, financial instrument, foreign currency or barter.