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To state the obvious, revenue is the lifeblood of your organization. But it doesn't exist in a bubble, of course. Revenue can be dynamic and complex, which, in turn, makes revenue recognition dynamic and complex, where any incorrect or inappropriate move can make investors flee and attract the attention of regulators. And neither of those scenarios is great.

So, given its importance, it only makes sense for the accounting standards to put revenue recognition under a particularly bright spotlight. Enter ASC 606, the revenue recognition gospel for any business entering into contracts with customers for the transfer of goods and services. Or, in other words, the vast majority of companies out there.

But while 606 standardized and simplified revenue recognition from the preceding standard, it can still be a massive head-scratcher for CFOs and their teams, even with the effective dates long in the rearview mirror.

Therefore, we've written this revenue recognition guide to demystify the standard for finance organizations, creating a plain English reference tool CFOs can use to guide them through the 606 woods, diving into critical topics like:

  • The Basics – Understanding ASC 606 Revenue Recognition
  • The Five-Step Process to Recognizing Revenue
  • Compliance Hurdles & Best Practices
  • Nonprofits & Other Accounting Standards Updates
  • Disclosure Requirements under ASC 606
  • The Impact of ASC 606 on Revenue Cycle Length
  • Educating Stakeholders on ASC 606

On that note, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let's jump right in.

 Rev Rec ASC 606 Template

The Basics – Understanding ASC 606 Revenue Recognition

ASC 606, the new(ish) revenue recognition standard, provides a consistent framework for businesses entering into contracts with customers. It addresses challenges in identifying performance obligations and meeting disclosure requirements set forth by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

In doing so, 606 promotes and maintains critical integrity and consistency in financial reporting across a spectrum of sectors, leveling the reporting playing field for investors and other financial statement users. Although we’re focusing on US GAAP today, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) is the regulatory body charged with creating and maintaining the revenue recognition standard outside of the US – IFRS 15, to be exact.

Diving a bit deeper into 606, the key components of the standard include:

  • Performance Obligations: Under ASC 606, companies must identify all promised goods or services in their customer contracts and determine whether these constitute separate performance obligations.
  • Transaction Price: The transaction price refers to the amount of consideration a company expects to receive in exchange for transferring goods or providing services. This may include variable consideration like incentives, rebates, or other discounts such as discounts or concessions granted after the original sale.
  • New Disclosure Requirements: The standard requires entities to provide more detailed information about their revenue streams in financial statements. This includes disaggregating revenues by product line, geography, market segment, and other identifiers, as well as disclosing significant judgments made when applying the guidance.
  • Evaluation of Contract Modifications: If there are changes in contract terms after inception but before complete satisfaction of all performance obligations, companies need to evaluate whether these modifications should be accounted for separately or combined with existing arrangements under ASC 606 guidelines.

The Impact on Financial Statements and Reporting

Suffice it to say, ASC 606 can have far-reaching effects on an organization's financial reporting processes. For comparison's sake, if we look at 606 relative to its predecessor in ASC 605, companies might have seen shifts in how they recognize revenue, which could have impacted their financial statements and key performance metrics. For example:

  • Revenue may be recognized earlier or later than under 605, affecting top-line growth rates.
  • The timing of expense recognition might have changed as companies allocated costs to different performance obligations within a contract.
  • Companies needed to reassess existing revenue-related contracts and update their accounting policies accordingly.

CFOs and other finance executives need to be acquainted with the nuances of ASC 606 to ensure continued compliance – or initial compliance, in the case of stragglers. Simply put, without a deep understanding of ASC 606 revenue recognition, it's impossible to properly recognize revenue and maintain accurate financial statements. And that's not great. But that's why the five-step model for revenue recognition exists.

Key Takeaway: 

ASC 606, the current revenue recognition standard, helps businesses identify performance obligations and meet disclosure requirements based on the concept of transfer of control of the performance obligation. Companies must determine all promised goods or services in their customer contracts and how those translate into performance obligations, evaluate contract modifications, and provide more detailed information about their revenue streams. Compared to the older standard, ASC 606 can have far-reaching effects on an organization's financial reporting processes. Hence, CFOS need to understand the intricacies of 606 and ensure their organizations stay compliant.


The Five-Step Model to Recognizing Revenue

Recognizing revenue under the ASC 606 standard involves a five-step model that requires a critical assessment of an entity's arrangement with its customers. This comprehensive approach ensures consistency and comparability across different industries while providing clearer guidance on recognizing revenue in complex transactions.

Step 1: Identifying the Contract with a Customer

The first step is to identify whether a valid contract exists between your company and the customer. A contract exists when both parties have approved it, each party has committed to fulfilling their respective obligations, payment terms are clearly defined, and it's probable your company will collect the consideration promised by the customer. For emerging companies in a growth phase with few process controls, the determination of collectibility can prove more challenging than one might think.

Step 2: Identifying Performance Obligations in the Contract

In this step, you must identify all distinct performance obligations within the contract. A performance obligation refers to any promise made by your company to transfer goods or services – either individually or as part of a bundle – to customers. To be considered distinct, these goods or services should provide value independently from other items in the agreement.

  • Promised Goods: These can include physical products like computers or smartphones.
  • Promised Services: Examples include professional services such as consulting engagements or software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscriptions.

Note, it might be necessary to combine multiple promises into a single performance obligation if one or more promises “transform” another. For instance, in the case of smartphone hardware and operating system software, the OS transforms the hardware from a “brick” into a functioning phone.    

Step 3: Determining Transaction Price

This step involves determining the amount of consideration you expect for satisfying each identified performance obligation. This consideration may include a mix of fixed sums, variable amounts – like royalties based on sales – and other price concessions such as discounts, rebates, or incentives.

Step 4: Allocating Transaction Price to Performance Obligations

The fourth step requires you to allocate the total transaction price proportionally to each performance obligation based on their standalone selling prices. The standalone selling price is the amount at which your company would sell a promised good or service separately to customers. If this information is not directly observable – like bundled services, for example – you can use estimation techniques such as cost-plus margin or adjusted market assessment approaches.

Although contractually stated amounts for goods and services may represent the standalone selling price, more often than not they don’t. Also, calculation of a standalone selling price is not optional.   

Step 5: Recognizing Revenue When or As Each Obligation Is Satisfied

The final step in the process involves recognizing revenue when – or as – your company satisfies each performance obligation by transferring control of goods or services to customers. This transfer can occur over time – for instance, by providing ongoing access to software platforms – or at a specific point in time, like delivering physical products.

Obviously, these five steps provide a straightforward and simplified way for companies to ensure compliance with ASC 606 revenue recognition standards, leading to accurate financial reporting and increased transparency that make stakeholders smile.

Key Takeaway: 

The ASC 606 standard outlines a five-step model for recognizing revenue, starting with identifying the contract and performance obligations. Companies must determine the transaction price, allocate it to each obligation based on standalone selling prices, and recognize revenue as each obligation is satisfied by transferring control of goods or services to customers. Diligent adherence to these steps ensures compliance with standards and accurate financial reporting.


Compliance Hurdles & Best Practices

ASC 606 can still be a challenging mountain to climb, despite it being relatively simpler than 605. This is especially when it comes to identifying separate performance obligations within contracts. Thus, to help your organization overcome these hurdles and ensure oneness with the GAAP gods, we've compiled some common compliance challenges, along with some key best practices for good measure.

Compliance Challenges

  • Identifying Performance Obligations: Determining whether goods or services promised in a contract are distinct and should be accounted for as separate performance obligations is often complex.
  • Determining Transaction Price: Estimating variable consideration and assessing whether payment terms have a significant financing component requires careful analysis.
  • Data Collection & System Changes: Organizations may need additional data or to modify their systems to support the accounting policies under ASC 606.
  • Continuing to Educate Stakeholders: Since 606 is still relatively new, it can be challenging to ensure relevant stakeholders understand the implications of the standard on financial reporting going forward.

Best Practices for Successful 606 Compliance

  1. Stay Informed About Updates from Regulatory Bodies: Familiarize yourself with guidance provided by organizations like FASB, IASB, AICPA, PCAOB, and SEC regarding revenue recognition standards – and, yes, that's a lot of acronyms. Depending on the nature and location of your business, you may need to regularly monitor one, two, or even all of these organizations for revenue recognition interpretation and application updates.
  2. Resources:  Many guides provide both authoritative and interpretive guidance so you can learn from “someone who has been there before.” Alternatively, specialists like Embark have deep experience helping companies both understand and apply the guidance. 
  3. Create a 606 Compliance Team: If you're still struggling with implementation or ongoing compliance, assemble a cross-functional team comprising members from finance, IT, sales operations, and legal to collaborate and problem-solve until you're on track.
  4. Assess the Impact on Your Organization: Conduct a thorough analysis of your organization's contracts, accounting policies, and systems to identify areas affected by ASC 606. Create a plan based on your organization's ongoing needs by analyzing the continued impact of ASC 606.
  5. Develop Robust Accounting Policies & Procedures: Establish clear guidelines for identifying performance obligations, determining transaction price, allocating transaction price to performance obligations, and recognizing revenue in accordance with ASC 606 requirements.
  6. Leverage Technology Solutions: Consider using revenue recognition automation tools or software solutions designed specifically for the new standard. These can streamline processes and improve accuracy in financial reporting.
  7. Maintain Accurate Records & Documentation: Ensure you maintain proper documentation, including contract modifications, standalone selling price calculations, and allocation methods used, among others. This is all crucial information you'll need during annual audits or financial statement reviews.

Key Takeaway: 

The ASC 606 revenue recognition standard can be challenging, but identifying performance obligations, determining transaction price, data collection, and system changes are all common hurdles you can overcome by relying on a cross-functional team of experts from across your enterprise. Best practices include staying informed about updates from regulatory bodies, continually assessing the impact on your organization, developing robust accounting policies and procedures, leveraging technology solutions, and maintaining accurate records and documentation to ensure successful compliance.


Nonprofits & Other Accounting Standards Updates

Granted, nonprofits aren't exactly our sweet spot at Embark. However, when in Rome, right? To that point, nonprofit organizations aren't immune to the potential impact of revenue recognition standards. They must be aware of the potential implications of ASC 606 or IFRS 15 on their financial reporting. These updates require nonprofits to apply similar processes if transactions are deemed exchange transactions, while contributions must be determined as conditional or unconditional.

How ASC 606 Affects Nonprofit Organizations

Adopting FASB's revenue recognition standard can significantly impact nonprofit entities, particularly those with complex funding arrangements. The new guidance may change how these organizations recognize revenue from grants, contracts, and other agreements. For example:

  • Funding source classification: Nonprofits need to determine whether a transaction is an exchange transaction or a contribution based on the presence of reciprocal benefits between parties.
  • Distinguishing conditions vs. restrictions: Conditional contributions include barriers and right-of-return clauses that affect when revenue should be recognized.
  • Presentation changes in financial statements: Under ASC 606, nonprofits may need to present certain revenues differently in their financial statements for better comparability across different organizations.

Differences Between Exchange Transactions vs. Contributions

Nonprofits must understand the distinction between exchange transactions and contributions to account for revenues under ASC 606 and related updates like ASU 2014-09.

  • Exchange transactions involve a reciprocal transfer of goods or services, where each party receives and sacrifices something of approximately equal value. In this case, nonprofits should follow ASC 606 revenue recognition standards.
  • Contributions are nonreciprocal transfers in which one party provides resources to another without receiving anything directly in return. Contributions can be further classified as conditional or unconditional based on specific criteria, affecting when revenue is recognized.

To ensure compliance with the accounting standards and updates, nonprofit organizations must evaluate their existing contracts and agreements, just like their for-profit brethren. This is especially important for public companies, as they are required to comply with ASC 606 for financial reporting purposes. On the other hand, private companies can follow either ASC 606 or the previous standard in ASC 605 until December 15, 2023. But that clock is ticking fast, obviously.

Key Takeaway: 

Nonprofit organizations must comply with ASU 2014-09 and IFRS 15, which require them to apply similar processes for exchange transactions and determine contributions as conditional or unconditional. Adopting the ASC 606 revenue recognition standard can significantly impact nonprofits, particularly those with complex funding arrangements. Nonprofits must carefully evaluate their existing contracts and understand the differences between exchange transactions and contributions to ensure ongoing rev rec compliance.


Disclosure Requirements under ASC 606

Returning to our sweet spot, companies must adhere to specific disclosure requirements with the ASC 606 revenue recognition standard. These disclosures provide both quantitative and qualitative information about revenues generated through contracts and cash flows arising from those agreements. 

Quantitative Disclosures

The primary objective of quantitative disclosures is to provide financial statement users with a clear understanding of the nature, amount, timing, and uncertainty of revenue recognized. Some key elements to disclose include:

  • Total revenue disaggregated by categories such as product lines or geographical regions.
  • Contract balances, including receivables, contract assets, and liabilities.
  • Performance obligations remaining unsatisfied or partially satisfied at the end of the reporting period, along with an explanation for their duration.
  • Significant payment terms related to variable consideration or financing components in contracts.

Qualitative Disclosures

In addition to quantitative information, entities must also provide qualitative details that offer insights into their overall approach to recognizing revenue. This includes:

  • A description of performance obligations within each contract type and how they relate to transaction price allocation methods used by the entity.
  • An explanation regarding significant judgments made in determining the transaction price, including variable consideration and any price concessions.
  • Information about contract modifications, such as changes in scope or pricing that affect revenue recognition.
  • A discussion of significant factors affecting the timing of satisfaction for performance obligations, including whether control is transferred over time or at a point in time.

Once again, these disclosure requirements under ASC 606 foster the transparency and comparability so essential to stakeholders and regulators alike.

Key Takeaway: 

The ASC 606 revenue recognition standard requires entities to provide quantitative and qualitative disclosures about revenues generated through contracts, as well as cash flows arising from those agreements. Quantitative disclosures should include total revenue disaggregated by categories, contract balances, performance obligations remaining unsatisfied or partially satisfied at the end of the reporting period, and significant payment terms related to variable consideration or financing components in contracts. Qualitative disclosures should offer insights into an entity's overall approach toward recognizing revenue, including a description of performance obligations within each contract type and how they relate to transaction price allocation methods used by the entity.


The Impact of ASC 606 on Revenue Cycle Length

One of the more significant effects of ASC 606 is its impact on a company's revenue cycle length. A study conducted at Georgetown University found that US-listed firms experienced an average reduction of six months – from 24 to approximately 18 months – in their revenue cycle length after adopting the standard. So naturally, this has several benefits for businesses and stakeholders alike.

Reduction in Revenue Cycle Length

The shortened revenue cycle – thanks largely to a simplified rev rec process and streamlined financial reporting – better equips companies to manage their cash flows and make more informed decisions about resource allocation, along with the aforementioned:

  • Enhanced comparability: With all entities adhering to similar guidelines under ASC 606, it becomes easier for investors and other stakeholders to compare financial statements across different organizations within an industry.
  • Increased transparency: 606 requires additional disclosures related to performance obligations and transaction prices, providing greater insight into how companies recognize revenues over time.
  • Improved risk management: Shorter revenue cycles allow businesses to identify potential risks earlier in the process, enabling them to take proactive measures when necessary.

Benefits of Shorter Revenue Cycles

Apart from improving comparability among reporting entities and increasing transparency for stakeholders, shorter revenue cycles also offer tangible advantages for businesses themselves:

  1. Faster access to funds: A shorter cycle means companies receive payments sooner after completing their performance obligations, improving cash flow and liquidity.
  2. Enhanced decision-making: With more timely revenue information, management can make better-informed decisions regarding investments, resource allocation, and overall business strategy.
  3. Reduced administrative burden: The streamlined revenue recognition process under ASC 606 helps to reduce the complexity of financial reporting tasks for finance organizations, freeing up resources for other strategic initiatives like finance transformation and enhanced FP&A.

Of course, these benefits go hand-in-hand with 606 compliance, where the former ceases to exist without the latter.

Key Takeaway: 

ASC 606 has reduced the average revenue cycle length of US-listed firms from 24 to approximately 18 months, resulting in better comparability, increased transparency, and improved risk management. Shorter revenue cycles also offer tangible benefits for businesses, such as faster access to funds, enhanced decision-making, and reduced administrative burden. Companies must ensure compliance with this new standard to provide stakeholders with accurate and transparent financial information.


Educating Stakeholders on ASC 606

Up to this point, we've focused almost entirely on the company's perspective. And for good reason. But as we've briefly mentioned, one of the FASB's goals in ASC 606 is improving transparency for stakeholders and investors.

So, given the importance of stakeholder education on an ongoing basis, it's incumbent upon organizations to provide sufficient learning resources around the standard – particularly since it's still relatively new – beginning at the ground floor with basic definitions and key roles in 606 compliance. For instance:

  • CFOs: As CFOs are responsible for overseeing an organization's financial health, they need to have a comprehensive understanding of ASC 606 and its implications on revenue recognition practices. CFOs must possess a thorough comprehension of ASC 606 to make informed choices regarding the allocation of resources, budgeting, predicting, and other significant activities.
  • Sales Teams: Sales professionals play a critical role in negotiating contracts with customers. They must understand how ASC 606 affects contract terms such as performance obligations, transaction price allocations, payment terms, incentives, or rebates. With this knowledge, sales team members can negotiate contracts that align with company objectives and accounting standards. Regular training of discrete components for sales professionals is a practical necessity for public companies, and highly recommended for high-growth private companies. 
  • Auditors: External auditors should also be well-informed about ASC 606 guidelines to ensure accurate evaluation during annual audits or financial statement reviews. Auditors may require additional documentation from companies implementing these changes, which makes it essential for them to comprehend nuances within the new standard.
  • In-House Accounting Staff: The finance department, including controllers and accountants, must be proficient in applying ASC 606 to their daily work. This includes identifying performance obligations, determining transaction prices, allocating revenue across obligations, and recognizing revenue when – or as – each obligation is satisfied.

Now, are these definitions too basic? Perhaps. But the point is, whether you publish ASC 606 coloring books or employ workshops, webinars, or even AICPA resources, the financial statement users must understand the ongoing impact this standard will have on your financials.


The Final Word

Yes, ASC 606 is generally more user-friendly than 605. But that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park. And while we took a fairly deep dive today, it's still merely a drop in the revenue recognition bucket. Because, as you know, genuinely successful compliance isn't just about staying on the right side of GAAP. It's also about doing it intelligently and strategically, making sure you're not adding yet another set of responsibilities to an accounting team that already has quite a bit on its plate.

The point is, an efficient and effective implementation of ASC 606 – and any other accounting standard, for that matter – occurs at the convergence of your people, processes, and technology. People have the know-how, processes keep you in check, and technology propels the whole thing forward. At least in theory.

But that's why Embark exists – not only to help ensure you're 606 compliant, but also to make that compliance as seamless and efficient as possible. So, if you're one of the countless businesses still struggling with revenue recognition and everything it entails, let's talk. We can take an awful lot from your plate and let you focus on running your company. Go figure.

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