Judgement needed to identify performance obligations under IFRS 15

In the May 2018 edition of Accounting Alert we discussed the five step model for revenue recognition introduced by IFRS 15 Revenue from Contracts with Customers (“IFRS 15”):

In the mid-June and late June 2018 editions of Accounting Alert we examined the first step of that five step process in greater depth and in the July 2018 edition we started to look at the complexities of the second step.  In this article, we look at some common situations in which it can be difficult to identify performance obligations.

What is a performance obligation?

A contract with a customer includes promises to transfer goods or services to the customer. If those goods or services are distinct, they are separate performance obligations and are accounted for separately.

A good or service that is promised to a customer is distinct if the following two criteria are both met:

  • The customer can benefit from the good or service either on its own, or together with other resources that are readily available to the customer
  • The entity’s promise to transfer the good or service to the customer is separately identifiable from other promises in the contract. 

In assessing whether an entity’s promises to transfer goods or services to the customer are separately identifiable, the objective is to determine whether the nature of the promise in the contract is to transfer each of those goods or services individually or, instead, to transfer a combined item or items to which the promised goods or services are inputs.  This assessment is done from the perspective of the customer.

If a promised good or service is not distinct, the entity must combine that good or service with other promised goods or services until it identifies a bundle of goods and/or services that is distinct.  Promises are not separately identifiable (i.e. they must be bundled) if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • The seller does a significant amount of work to integrate the good or service with other goods or services promised in the contract
  • One or more of the goods or services provided by the seller significantly modifies or customises, or is significantly modified or customised by, other goods or services promised in the contract
  • Goods or services provided are highly interdependent or interrelated.

The following decision tree summarises the process that an entity should work through to determine whether goods or services provided in a contract are distinct (and are therefore performance obligations):

Determining whether a performance obligation is distinct requires the application of considerable professional judgement. The following examples demonstrate the identification of performance obligations in practice.

Example 1: Offering free goods or services (sports bag with a gym membership)

Company A is a gym that is offering a free sports bag to every new member who signs up for a 12-month contract.  The sports bag is also available for sale separately at the gym. 

To determine whether the sports bag and gym membership are distinct goods and services (and thereby performance obligations), we need to work through the decision tree above:

In this fact pattern, it is reasonably straightforward to conclude that the gym membership and the sports bag are distinct, and therefore constitute two performance obligations.  This means that the revenue from each is recognised when, or as, the performance obligation is satisfied.  However, in practice, more judgement is required when transactions become more complicated, as can be seen in example 2. 

Example 2: Charging a sign-on fee to join a gym

In order to become a member of Gym Co, customers need to enter into a 24-month contract. The contract price is $100 per month plus a $200 sign-on fee to cover Gym Co’s administration costs of signing up a new customer. In return, customers have 24/7 access to the gym, and also receive three complimentary (free) personal training sessions.

Answering the questions in the above decision tree regarding the free personal training sessions allows us to conclude that the sessions are distinct performance obligations, because the member can benefit from the personal training sessions with other readily available resources (i.e. access to the gym is necessary to be able to use the personal trainer, and the member has access to the gym via the gym contract). The free personal training sessions are also separately identifiable from the other services in the contract (there is no significant integration, nor modification to the services of accessing the gym and vice versa, and the two services are not highly interdependent or interrelated).

However, judgement will need to be applied to decide whether the sign-on services and access to the gym are distinct; the best way to do this is to again use the decision tree above.

So in this fact pattern, Gym Co would likely have two performance obligations:

  • Three complimentary personal training sessions
  • A 24-month gym contract.

Example 3: Offering free goods or services (discount card for use with the next purchase)

Company B is a hardware store that is running a special deal under which it provides each customer who purchases more than $100 of paint a coupon for 30% off their next purchase, capped at $30. 

To determine whether the paint and the coupon are distinct goods and services (and thereby performance obligations), we work through the decision tree above:

The paint and the coupon constitute two performance obligations, and the revenue from each is recognised when, or as, the performance obligation is satisfied. 

Example 4:  Design and build services

Company C is a building company that has entered into a contract with Customer Z to design and, once the design has been approved, build a house on Customer Z’s land for $750,000.  Once the design has been completed and approved, Customer Z owns the plans.

To determine whether the design and the building are distinct goods and services (and thereby performance obligations), we work through the decision tree above:

Judgement is required to conclude whether the customer can benefit from the design plans on their own, or with other available resources. In this scenario, Customer Z can use the design plans it owns to engage another builder to build the house. In practice, however, there might be contractual limitations precluding Customer Z from engaging another builder. Such potential contractual limitations are not taken into account when answering this question; consequently, the design plans and construction services could be identified as two distinct performance obligations.

Example 5: Software customisation

Company D is a software company that has entered into a contract with Customer Y to provide and instal off-the-shelf software on Customer Y’s servers. 

The software requires significant customisation during the installation process (due to the need for it to interface with other customised software applications used by Company Y). 

There are a number of other software companies that could undertake the work necessary to instal the software on Customer Y’s servers. 

To determine whether the software and the installation of that software are distinct goods and services (and thereby performance obligations), we need to work through the decision tree above:

On that basis, the software and the installation service are one performance obligation.

Again, however, amending the fact pattern slightly could change the answer as to whether the software and installation services are distinct. The extent of work required by software companies to instal software can vary significantly from one project to another. A contract to supply standard off-the-shelf software and installation services could be considered two performance obligations if the software is to be used independently by a customer, and requires no customisation at all. However, adding some customisation, or the necessity of specialist installation skills, into the fact pattern could result in there being only one performance obligation.

Concluding thoughts

Determining the performance obligations in a contract with a customer requires the application of significant judgement.  For that reason, it is important that members of finance teams become familiar with the manner in which such judgements must be made, so that they can correctly identify the performance obligations within their company’s contracts with its customers.  This will require finance team to have a much greater understanding of the particular terms and conditions of contracts with customers than has been required in the past. 

For more on the above, please contact your local BDO representative.