The IASB/FASB joint project on Financial Instruments with Characteristics of Equity (formerly Liabilities and Equity) has highlighted the complexity and the associated difficulty of drawing the line between liabilities and equity. While classification difficulties have been identified for investor-owned businesses (IOB), the inconsistency of the different approaches being considered is clearer when applied to classification of the financial instruments of co-operatives whose ownership characteristics differ from the IOB model. In co-operatives the existence of an upper limit on members' claims on the net assets while the co-operative is a going concern is a key ownership characteristic. We have examined the characteristics of co-operative member shares in six European countries as well as in the U.S. and in Canada, in order to analyze the application of the various classification approaches under discussion by the IASB and FASB. The results of this analysis indicate that classification criteria based on ownership must take account of the fact that ownership is multidimensional and contingent on the type of firm.

JEL Classifications: M41, P13.

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