In some arrangements, an entity performs activities that transfer control of goods or services to a customer prior to having a formalized contract with the customer that meets the requirements listed under Step 1: Identify the contract with a customer. Revenue for these partially completed performance obligations cannot be recognized until the contract is established. There is some debate about how revenue in these situations should be recognized.
This article outlines two potential revenue recognition patterns for partially satisfied performance obligations at contract inception and demonstrates how revenue would be recognized under the method we believe is most appropriate. The article also discusses how to account for the costs resulting from activities performed prior to contract inception that relate to the transfer of a good or service to a customer.
Recognizing Revenue from Partially Satisfied Performance Obligations at Contract Inception
The date at which contract criteria (established in Step 1) are met is referred to as the “contract establishment date” (CED). Activities performed by an entity before the CED are referred to as “pre-CED activities.” Three primary types of pre-CED activities exist:
- Administrative activities that do not result in transferring control of goods or services to a customer or fulfilling the anticipated contract
- Activities, such as set-up costs, to fulfill an anticipated contract that do not result in transferring control of goods or services to the customer
- Activities that transfer control of goods or services to a customer at or subsequent to the CED
The first two types of activities do not transfer goods or services to a customer and should not have any revenue allocated to them. This article deals with the accounting treatment for the third type of pre-CED activities. Below are examples from Transition Resource Group (TRG) Memo No. 33 that illustrate the issue:
The preferred method of revenue recognition includes a cumulative catch-up adjustment in which the entity recognizes revenue for the portion of the good or service which has been transferred to the customer. In the first example, this is the inventory that has been created in anticipation of the contract. In the second example, it is the percentage of the contracted-for apartment that is completed at the CED. In the Real Estate Developer example, after the catch-up adjustment, the amount of revenue recognized for the new contract would be the same percentage of total revenue as the original contracts. As an illustration, imagine the real estate company in the second example determines that when the remaining 40 percent of the units are sold (the CED), the company has completed 30 percent of each unit. If the total transaction price for those 40 percent of the units is $10,000,000, the company would recognize $3,000,000 at the CED. The remaining $7,000,000 would be recognized over time.
The treatment of the costs incurred to perform these pre-CED activities that transfer a good or service to the customer is another issue resulting from such situations. The method we believe to be the most preferred is to capitalize such costs as costs to fulfill an anticipated contract. The costs are then immediately expensed at the CED if they relate to performance obligations that have been transferred to the customer. This would be the case in both of the examples given above.
Diversity in Thought
The Transition Resource Group (TRG) discussed this issue in its March 30 meeting. In the memo that addressed this topic, two issues were presented and discussed.
- Issue 1: How should revenue arising from pre-CED activities be recognized?
- Issue 2: How should an entity account for fulfillment costs incurred prior to the CED?
Issue 1: Pre-CED Activities
View A: Cumulative Catch-Up Method
This view supports the cumulative catch-up method as outlined above. Proponents of this view believe that it is most consistent with the new standard’s goal to depict the transfer of goods and services. The cumulative catch-up method reflects that, as of the CED, control of some of the goods or services has already passed to the customer.
View B: Prospective Revenue Recognition
This view states that an entity should recognize revenue on a prospective basis. An entity should begin measuring progress toward completion of performance obligations only after the CED, ignoring pre-CED activities performed. Proponents of View B argue that paragraph 16 (ASC 606-10-25-8), which references transferring ‘goods or services in the future,’ suggests that the board intended revenue recognition to be on a prospective basis from the CED. They believe a catch-up adjustment is inconsistent with recognizing revenue over time.
We agree with the FASB staff that View A best reflects the transfer of control of goods or services to the customer. View B does not depict the transfer of control as accurately as View A. While proponents of View B reference the phrase ‘goods or services in the future,’ we believe the board intended the phrase to apply specifically to contract liabilities (the context in which it is used) and not to situations discussed in this article. Additionally, we do not believe that a catch-up adjustment is inconsistent with recognizing revenue over time. In the examples above, a portion of the goods or services are transferred to the customer at the CED, while the rest is transferred over time. Consequently, the recognition of revenue should depict some immediate transfer and the rest over time.
Issue 2: Fulfillment Costs Incurred Prior to the CED
View A: Capitalize, then Expense the CED
Costs are capitalized as costs to fulfill an anticipated contract. These costs are immediately expensed at the CED if they relate to goods or services already transferred to the customer. Any remaining asset is amortized over the period over which the goods or services to which the asset relates are transferred to the customer (e.g. a capitalized commission cost would still be amortized over the entire contract period).
Proponents of this view point to ASC 340-40-25-8, which states that an entity will recognize costs to fulfill a contract as an expense when incurred if they relate to satisfied (or partially-satisfied) performance obligations. Because a performance obligation is not created until the CED, no costs should be expensed until then. Proponents of this view also note the guidance states that capitalized costs to fulfill a contract “shall be amortized on a systematic basis that is consistent with the transfer to the customer of the goods or services to which the asset relates” (ASC 340-40-35-1). Consequently, if some of the goods or services are transferred at the CED, the related capitalized costs should be expensed at the same time.
View B: Capitalize, the Expense Over Life of Contract
Costs are capitalized as costs to fulfill an anticipated contract, and amortized as the entity transfers the remaining goods or services under the contract. This view is coupled with View B of Issue 1 because costs are amortized on a prospective basis. Proponents of View B argue a performance obligation can only comprise remaining activities after the CED, in other words, there is no immediate transfer at the CED.
View C: Expense as Incurred
Costs cannot be capitalized as costs to fulfill an anticipated contract because they relate to progress made prior to obtaining the contract and not to satisfying performance obligations in the future. Such costs should be expensed as incurred unless they qualify for capitalization under other guidance (for example, inventory). Proponents of this view believe that such costs would likely not qualify for capitalization because the costs will not be used to satisfy performance obligations in the future as is required in ASC 340-40-25-5(b). They believe the costs do no relate to future performance and therefore should be expensed immediately. However, the FASB staff notes that because a performance obligation is not created until the CED, a performance obligation cannot be considered satisfied prior to the CED.
Most members of the TRG concluded that View A under both issues represents the most appropriate accounting. The determining factor between the views is whether or not the performance obligations within a contract where the 3rd type of pre-CED activities occur are the same as in an identical contract where no pre-CED activities have occurred. If there is no difference in the performance obligations, then View A is most appropriate. However, proponents of View B say that the performance obligations do change and that the performance obligations in the contract are only made up of work that is remaining. Our view is that the performance of pre-CED activities do not change the performance obligation of the contract and that the cumulative catch-up method is appropriate.
When companies have partially-completed performance obligations at the CED, a cumulative catch-up adjustment for the completed portion followed by ratable recognition for the remaining portion may be the most appropriate accounting treatment. Although other views have been expressed to the Boards, most TRG members agree that a cumulative catch-up is appropriate.
- FASB TRG Memo 33: "Partially Satisfied Performance Obligations." 30 March 2015