What Are Invisible Assets?

Invisible assets are assets that cannot be seen or touched. Also referred to as intangible assets, these resources do not have a physical presence. However, they still provide financial value to the holder and, in many cases, are critical to a company’s success. 

Key Takeaways

  • Invisible assets, commonly referred to as intangible assets, are resources that cannot be seen or touched but still provide value to the holder.
  • Examples include brand recognition and intellectual property, such as trademarks, copyrights, or patents. 
  • Most internally developed invisible assets are absent from financial statements because they do not have a price that can be used to assign fair market value. 
  • An invisible asset would only appear on a balance sheet if it has an identifiable value and useful lifespan that can be amortized.

Understanding Invisible Assets

Invisible assets are the opposite of tangible assets. Invisible assets cannot be held, seen, or felt and they are often difficult to slap an accurate price tag on. Tangibles, meanwhile, have a finite monetary value and usually a physical form.

Examples of typical tangible assets include machinery or manufacturing plants. Invisible assets, or intangibles, on the other hand, encompass brand recognition and intellectual property, such as trademarks, copyrights or patents

Despite their nonphysical nature and sometimes questionable liquidity and market worth, invisible assets can prove very valuable to a company and be critical to its long-term success or failure.

Example of Invisible Assets

Invisible assets power many of the world’s biggest companies. Consider Nike Inc.’s (NKE) "swoosh" logo. This symbol has a high degree of brand recognition, meaning that it is easily recognized and associated with Nike by the general public.

Another example of an invisible asset is Geico’s talking gecko, the insurance company’s trademarked lizard that has featured in many of its commercial advertisements. Even though the Nike swoosh and the Geico talking gecko generate no explicit revenue or income, they are valuable to these firms because they drive consumers to their products.

Recording Invisible Assets

These assets are also called invisible because they generally do not appear in financial statements. Most internally developed invisible assets are absent from company balance sheets because they do not have a price that can be used to assign fair market value.

An invisible asset would only appear on a balance sheet if it has an identifiable value and useful lifespan that can be amortized. That criteria is usually only met when these assets are acquired from another company.

For instance, if a company spent $15,000 to purchase the right to use another company's customer list for a period of 10 years, then $1,500 of the purchase price would be expensed each year, and the value of the customer list license would appear on the balance sheet in year three as $10,500.

When invisible assets have an identifiable value and lifespan, they appear on a company's balance sheet as long-term assets valued according to their purchase prices and amortization schedules.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Invisible Assets

The importance of invisible assets is reflected in their rapid growth as opposed to the growth of their tangible peers. Currently, companies are investing more in intangibles because they are aware that they can help them build protective moats, boost productivity, and deliver higher returns.

80%

As of July 2019, the percentage of the total value of the S&P 500 index that comes from intangibles.

However, there are some drawbacks to owning lots of invisible assets. One of the biggest ones is that it is not always easy to convince banks to accept them for collateral against loans. A plot of land and a building can be easily valued and sold on when a borrower defaults. Software, recipes and other invisible assets are less easily valued.