IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), the most widely used financial reporting system, defines: “An asset is a present economic resource controlled by the entity as a result of past events. An economic resource is a right that has the potential to produce economic benefits.”
The definition under US GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles used in the United States of America): “Assets are probable future economic benefits obtained or controlled by a particular entity as a result of past transactions or events.”
In financial accounting, an asset is any resource owned or controlled by a business or an economic entity. It is anything (tangible or intangible) that can be utilized to produce value and that is held by an economic entity and that could produce positive economic value. Simply stated, assets represent value of ownership that can be converted into cash (although cash itself is also considered an asset)
An asset has three essential characteristics:
(a) it embodies a probable future benefit that involves a capacity, singly or in combination with other assets, to contribute directly or indirectly to future net cash inflows,
(b) a particular entity can obtain the benefit and control others’ access to it, and
(c) the transaction or other event giving rise to the entity’s right to or control of the benefit has already occurred.
This accounting definition of assets necessarily excludes employees because, while they have the capacity to generate economic benefits, an employer cannot control an employee.
Similarly, in economics, an asset is any form in which wealth can be held.
There is a growing analytical interest in assets and asset forms in other social sciences too, especially in terms of how a variety of things (e.g., personality, personal data, ecosystems, etc.) can be turned into an asset.