Revenue Recognition

Understanding Performance Obligations Under ASC 606

Revenue Recognition
January 23, 2022
15 Min
Veronica Wilson

Revenue is a crucial aspect in evaluating a company's financial status and performance. The Accounting Standard Codification (ASC) 606, titled "Revenue from Contracts with Customers," established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), provides comprehensive guidance on revenue recognition. This standard was developed in collaboration with the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to standardize revenue recognition principles under U.S. GAAP and IFRS. ASC 606 applies to all industries, except for specific areas like insurance and leasing contracts.

1. Defining Performance Obligation

Performance obligation in ASC 606 refers to a commitment to provide goods or services in exchange for payment. It involves assessing the promises in a contract at its inception and identifying distinct goods or services or a series of similar items with the same transfer pattern to the customer.

For example, a retailer agrees to sell a washing machine, where the obligation is to deliver it for the agreed price. Similarly, a garage agreeing to perform certain services on a vehicle represents a performance obligation under these guidelines.

2. Determining if Promises are Distinct

A good or service is considered distinct if it meets two criteria: it must be capable of being distinct and distinct within the contract. This means the customer should benefit from the good or service either on its own or with other available resources, and it should be separable from other contract promises.

Indicators that a good or service is capable of being distinct include regular sale by the entity. Factors suggesting separability include the absence of significant integration or customization, and the lack of dependency on other contract items.

3. Examples of Applying ASC 606

  • Non-distinct Goods/Services: A school contracts for an extension of its building, which includes various goods and services. These are not distinct within the contract as they collectively fulfill the single obligation of completing the new wing.
  • Distinct Goods/Services: An IT company's contract includes a software license, installation, updates, and support. Each of these elements is distinct as they are beneficial on their own and separable from others.

4. Assessing Explicit and Implicit Promises

Contracts might include explicit or implicit promises. An explicit promise, like free maintenance included in a sale, is a distinct performance obligation. Implicit promises, inferred from an entity's customary practices, can also constitute separate obligations. However, a unilateral decision to provide a service after contract inception, like offering maintenance not part of the original deal, does not create an additional obligation.

5. Revenue Recognition Timing

Revenue can be recognized over time or at a specific point, depending on when the performance obligation is fulfilled. Criteria for over-time recognition include customer's simultaneous benefit from the service, creation or enhancement of a customer-controlled asset, or the lack of an alternative use for the asset combined with an enforceable right to payment.

For example, a shipping service (criterion 1), a building renovation where the customer retains ownership (criterion 2), or a customized consulting service (criterion 3) illustrate different scenarios for over-time revenue recognition.

In conclusion, ASC 606's guidelines on identifying and fulfilling performance obligations are crucial for accurate and consistent revenue recognition across various contracts and industries.