Implementing Hurdles with the New Revenue Recognition Standard (IFRS 15)

The following article was originally published by Wiley Insight IFRS.

Canada: Crossing the Rubicon – High threshold of evidence required

It seems to me that alternative uses that remain theoretical would be a sufficient “practical limitation” to any ability to direct an asset to an alternative use and to cross that Rubicon would require a very high threshold of evidence. For example, subsequent events that show alternative uses have crystalised for the very same asset.

Paul Rhodes 

  1. Determining if a contract exists

Some practitioners have questioned the effect of contract termination provisions where only one party can cancel the contract. This would occur for instance when a service provider is committed to providing services for a specified period but the customer can terminate the contract any time without penalty.

Question

Do you believe that:

  • the contractual period only includes the period for which the entity has an enforceable right to obligate the customer to purchase the goods or services? or
  • the contractual period is the specific duration for which the entity is obligated to continue to perform?

Whether an agreement with a customer meets the criteria in paragraph 9 is determined at contract inception, which includes that the entities are committed to perform their obligations under the agreement. The explanatory paragraphs that follow the criteria go on to state that a contract “creates enforceable rights and obligations” and that “enforceability…is a matter of law.” Therefore, a legal contract is not necessarily the same as a contract for financial reporting.

The standard is clear only in scenarios where the arrangement: can be unilaterally cancelled by either party; the entity has not yet transferred any promised goods or services; and has not yet become entitled to receive any consideration. In this case the arrangement would not be considered to be a contract.

Outside of this narrow example, such as when only the customer can cancel the contract at any time, an entity has to consider the practices and processes for establishing a contract with customers, and they may vary by legal jurisdiction, industry or type of entity. While judgement will be required, note that the commitment required of both parties – which is assessed at contract inception – is a lower bar than the legal criteria of enforceability.

The contractual period would not be limited to the period that can be enforced by the entity. It is likely that the contractual period would be the same as the initial contract term to which the parties committed.

2.  Onerous contracts

While IAS 11 Construction Contracts has been superseded by IFRS 15, the onerous contracts guidance in IAS 37 Provisions, Contingencies and Contingent Assets remains the sole piece of literature addressing loss-making contract situations. Concern has been expressed by some practitioners that the basis for measuring onerous contract provisions under IAS 37 is dissimilar to that of loss-making contracts under IAS 11. This is because IAS 37 has an unavoidable costs approach when IAS 11 considers all costs directly attributable to the contract.

Question:

Do you think that the approach to measuring loss-making contracts has changed with IFRS 15? Are you aware of practitioners changing the measurement basis for their loss-making contracts?

It is conceivable that there will be differences in accounting for loss making contracts in the following scenarios:

First, IAS 11 Construction Contracts measured total contract costs against total contract revenue. Included in contract costs are those costs that are attributable to the contract, such as insurance, design and other overheads. Under IAS 37 Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets, the unavoidable cost of an onerous contract is the lower of the cost of fulfilling the contract obligations and the costs and penalties of failure to perform the work. Except for extraneous circumstances, there is likely to be a constructive obligation for the contractor to perform the work. For a fixed fee construction contract, the unavoidable costs will still be included in the measure of the loss under IAS 37. However, the directly attributable cost under IAS 11 is a more comprehensive measure of project cost and may therefore result in smaller losses being recognised under the new revenue framework.

Secondly, IAS 11 included criteria – all three parts of which needed to be met – for an entity to group apparently separate contracts, or components, into a single contract for financial reporting purposes. That same grouping was also used when determining whether the contract for financial reporting was loss making. IFRS 15 also lists three conditions for grouping contracts for financial reporting purposes, however, only one of the three need to be met for individual contracts to be grouped. This may give rise to different financial reporting contracts under the new revenue regime, which could have a significant effect on whether a loss exists.

3.  Transaction price – minimum commitment

In some industries, for instance telecommunications, the customer signs up for a certain service level for a fixed term (for instance a 24 month 5GB data plan). The customer also commits to maintain a minimum level of service (for instance a 1GB data plan) throughout the contract term that is possibly lower than the service level subscribed at inception. Upon entering the contract, the customer receives a free or discounted good or service as an incentive for entering the contract. The contract has two performance obligations (the core service and the incentive) to which transaction price needs to be allocated. The question has arisen as to what is the transaction price?

Question:

Do you believe that the transaction should reflect the minimum service commitment or the initially contracted service level?

The total transaction price is relevant in allocating the price between the deliverables of the discounted good and the service commitment over the term. In measuring the consideration, paragraph 49 requires the entity to assume the deliverables are transferred to the customer, “in accordance with the existing contract and that the contract will not be cancelled, renewed or modified.” In a contract for telecommunication services, the customer is usually able to vary the service level (number of minutes of air time and data level) within the original contract terms.

Typically, if the customer’s use of minutes or data exceeds their plan the excess is charged at premium rates. The customer is also able to vary the service level at any time during the contract term by giving the defined period of notice to the entity. There is no guarantee that the service level will not be reduced to the minimum level that was promised in the contract.

The question is also whether this variability is to be accounted for as variability in the transaction price under IFRS 15. The examples listed in paragraph 51 are all changes in the consideration only with no commensurate change in the promises made by the entity or the customer. Since in our example, the change in the transaction price varies along with the level of service to be delivered by the entity (bandwidth, for example) it should not be treated as variable consideration in measuring the transaction price.

The transaction price to be measured is explained in paragraph 47 as:

“…the amount of consideration to which an entity expects to be entitled in exchange for transferring promised goods or services to a customer”

The only promises made in the contract are the minimum service levels. If the contracted service level is in excess of that, it should not be considered to be a promise because there is no commitment over the duration of the contract term. The ability of the customer to increase the level of service during the term is an option only and no promise exists that they will do so.

4.  No alternative use assessment

In the aerospace and defence industries, companies may conclude that a good has no alternative use (therefore meeting one of the criteria to be recognised over time) under current market conditions, because no other customer exists. However, the company may expect market conditions to change over the contract period so that the good could have alternative use as the market develops. The question has arisen as to whether the no alternative use criteria would be met in such circumstances.

Question:

Do you believe that expected change in market conditions should be taken into account when assessing no alternative use?

If the entity’s performance creates an asset with no alternative use then revenue for performance should be recognised over time. If there are alternative uses and none of the other criteria for satisfying a performance obligation over time are met, then the revenue is recognised at a point in time.

An absence of alternative uses can arise through either substantive restrictions included in the contract terms or through practical limitations. In the aerospace and defence industries, the application issue raised is one of practical limitations and not of contractual restrictions.

The standard requires alternative uses, or the lack thereof, to be determined at contract inception and describes this process as an “assessment” which implies that judgement is required. The basis of conclusions refers to “practical limitations on the entity’s ability to readily direct that asset for another use” and provides the example of selling the asset to another customer. Selling the asset to another customer may not be practical where there is a degree of customisation that would require rework, the cost of which would result in a loss. This is the case for the satellite in illustrative example 15.

Clearly several moving parts would come into play to make this judgement, not least of all the term of the contract. It seems to me that alternative uses that remain theoretical would be a sufficient “practical limitation” to any ability to direct an asset to an alternative use and to cross that Rubicon would require a very high threshold of evidence. For example, subsequent events that show alternative uses have crystalised for the very same asset would seem to be required.

5.  Movie rights – determining the point in time when control transfers

Uncertainty exists at what point in time movie production companies should recognize revenue when licensing out all broadcasting rights for a movie to a distributor. These rights may include all distribution channels like theatres, home video and television. However these rights may come with restrictions, for example, home video rights will not be available until 12 months after a theatre release.

Question:

Do you believe that in the above situation it would be appropriate to recognize all fixed transaction prices on day 1?

The license represents a single performance obligation, being a right to use the entity’s intellectual property (the rights to the movie production) as it exists at the time the license is granted.

Example 59, paragraph IE305, states that the point in time to recognize revenue is “when the customer can direct the use of, and obtain substantially all of the remaining benefits from, the licensed intellectual property.”

The remaining question is: what that point in time is for the home video rights: whether it is day 1 or 12 months after the theatre release date. In deciding this question we would apply the principle of control that underlies the recognition of revenue. Even though the licensee cannot exploit the intangible asset for a period of time in one of its applications, the fact that the licensor is prevented from licensing the intangible for home video use to another party, from otherwise using it and from using the intangible as security (which we assume are terms of the license agreement that would be negotiated by the licensee) would suggest that the entity no longer has control over the asset. In effect the licensee is able to enforce the legal terms of the license to “prevent other entities from directing the use of, and obtaining the benefits from, an asset,” which is an example of control passing in paragraph 33. The corollary of the licensee obtaining control is that the entity must no longer have control, which would be the case here.

The concept of revenue not being recognised before the licensee is able to obtain economic benefits in paragraph B61 appears to be superseded by the broader concept of control described above and in paragraph 38. In addition the example of revenue only being recognised once a code is delivered to the customer is not the same. Note that paragraph B62 explicitly excludes restrictions of time from the consideration of determining the nature of the rights being transferred.

Therefore the point in time for recognising the fixed revenue would be day 1.

This conclusion is consistent with the indicators of the transfer of control at a point in time in paragraph 39. For example, physical possession has likely transferred to the licensee and the licensee has assumed the risks and rewards of holding that title.

If any of the fixed consideration for the license, including for the home video release, is not due on signing the license then it should be discounted and the finance revenue recognised over the payment term, if material.

If the terms of the license are such that the entity is required to perform other obligations prior to the licensee being able to exploit the home video market, then the conclusion may need to be reconsidered. This is because the license itself may not be distinct and/or the license may represent a right to use intellectual property that changes over the term. For example, perhaps the point in time is not reached until the movie production has been significantly remastered or reengineered for the home market. This concept is discussed in paragraph B57.

6.  Indirect sales with subsequent repurchase and lease transactions

In some industries, such as automotive or telecommunications, companies offer their end customers to either lease or buy their product (car or mobile device). When such transactions are contracted through indirect channels, the company first sells the product to the dealer. Subsequently, if the end customer opts for the lease, the company buys back the product and leases it to the end customer. Some practitioners have questioned whether it is appropriate to recognize the sale of the product to the dealer in the first place, knowing that the company is implicitly committed to buying back the product and may have a history of demonstrating such a practice.

Question:

  • Are you aware of diversity in practice in such transactions under current GAAP?
  • Do you believe the accounting would change under IFRS 15?

We have no experience of such diversity in practice. For entities that recognise the initial transaction as a sale, a change on adopting the new revenue standard may be necessary depending on the specific terms of the arrangement.

For example, under IFRS 15, the entity would have to be satisfied that the initial sale contract has commercial substance and that it is probable that the consideration will be received. Commercial substance requires that there is some effect on the “risk, timing or amount of future cash flows.”

In addition, which entity (the automotive manufacturer or the dealer) controls the product may provide some insight as to whether the arrangement is one of inventory held on consignment by the dealer. For example, the dealer may be required to transfer vehicles to other dealers at the direction of the manufacturer. Similarly, the dealer may be acting as the manufacturer’s agent in making sales to the end customer.

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