Revenue recognition

Page written by AI. Reviewed internally on February 14, 2024.


Revenue recognition is an accounting principle that outlines the conditions under which a company can recognise revenue from the sale of goods or services.

What is revenue recognition?

Revenue recognition specifies when and how revenue should be recorded in a company’s financial statements. Proper revenue recognition is crucial for providing an accurate representation of a company’s financial performance.

Here are some key points about revenue recognition:

1. Recognition criteria:
– Revenue is typically recognised when it is earned and realisable, meaning that the product or service has been delivered or provided to the customer, and payment is reasonably assured.

2. Accrual basis accounting:
– Revenue recognition is a fundamental aspect of accrual basis accounting, which records transactions when they occur rather than when cash changes hands.

3. Performance obligations:
– In some cases, revenue recognition may be tied to the completion of specific performance obligations outlined in a contract with a customer.

4. Multiple performance obligations:
– In complex transactions involving multiple goods or services, revenue recognition may be allocated to different components based on their individual standalone value.

5. Contract costs:
– Costs incurred to fulfil a contract (such as production costs) are recognised separately from revenue and are expensed as incurred, unless they meet certain criteria for capitalisation.

6. Impact of uncertainty:
– When there is uncertainty surrounding the collection of payment, revenue may be recognised only to the extent that it is probable the company will collect.

7. Long-term contracts:
– For long-term contracts, revenue recognition may occur over time based on the progress of the project.

8. Subscription-based services:
– Companies offering subscription-based services may recognise revenue over the period in which the service is provided.

9. Software and licensing:
– Companies selling software or licenses may recognise revenue based on specific milestones, delivery, or usage.

10. Financial reporting compliance:
– Proper revenue recognition is essential for compliance with accounting standards, such as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

11. Disclosure requirements:
– Companies are often required to disclose their revenue recognition policies in their financial statements or footnotes.

12. Auditing and assurance:
– External auditors review a company’s revenue recognition practices to ensure compliance with accounting standards and the accuracy of financial reporting.

Accurate revenue recognition is crucial for providing transparent and reliable financial statements. It ensures that investors, creditors, and other stakeholders have a clear understanding of a company’s revenue-generating activities and financial performance.

Example of revenue recognition

Let’s consider a software company, ABC Software Inc., that sells annual subscriptions to its software service for £1,200 per customer. The company follows the revenue recognition principle where revenue is recognised when it is earned and realised.

ABC Software Inc. sells a subscription to a customer on January 1, 2024, and receives payment upfront for the entire year.

According to the revenue recognition principle, the company recognises revenue over time as the service is provided to the customer. Therefore, ABC Software Inc. would recognise £100 of revenue each month for the subscription, starting from January 1st.

So, on January 31st, ABC Software Inc. would recognise £100 of revenue for the month of January, regardless of whether the customer has used the service or not. This process continues each month until the end of the subscription term.

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