Revenue Recognition

In business accounting and revenue operations (RevOps), revenue recognition is the process of accounting for revenue at the time a business earns it. 

It is an essential concept in accrual-based accounting, which requires businesses to recognize revenue when earned rather than when cash is received.

What is Revenue Recognition?

Revenue recognition is a critical aspect of financial accounting that determines the specific conditions under which income becomes realized as revenue. It’s the process of recognizing or reporting income as it is earned, essentially matching the revenue from contracts to the expenses related to generating those sales. This ensures that a company’s financial records are accurate and transparent, aiding in decision-making and providing investors with an up-to-date picture of a business’s financial situation.

The Revenue Operations (Rev Ops) team plays a crucial role in this process. They work to align sales, marketing, and finance operations, and ensure the consistency and accuracy of revenue recognition according to company policies and regulatory standards. This coordination helps to streamline revenue strategies, improve operational efficiency, and enhance forecasting accuracy.

On a more technical level, revenue recognition requires adherence to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). These standards are established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and dictate how and when revenue is recognized, reported, and disclosed in financial statements. According to GAAP, revenue can be recognized when it is realized or realizable, and earned. In this context, realizability happens when a company has an unconditional right to receive payment in the future, not necessarily at the moment of payment collection.


  • Revenue Recognition Principle – The revenue recognition principle is an accounting concept that states that recognition of revenue happens when goods or services are provided and not at the exact time of cash flows. It requires companies to update income statements as revenue is earned instead of waiting to receive payments.
  • Revenue Recognition Concept – The revenue recognition concept is the basis for determining when to recognize revenue. It requires that revenues be recognized when goods or services are delivered and not at the time of cash receipt, as long as it can be estimated reliably that payment will occur.

Why Revenue Recognition is Important

Revenue recognition has become increasingly complex with the rise of new business models and digital services, particularly in business-to-business (B2B) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) entities. 

In these types of businesses, the spread of revenue recognition varies due to factors such as customer contracts, payment terms, services delivered, and other considerations.

Revenue recognition is important because it is the basis for business decisions. It helps to identify opportunities and risks, determine pricing strategy, and allocate resources. 

Understanding when and how much revenue a business can recognize is key to making accurate forecasts of future performance.

IFRS Reporting Standards Criteria

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) is a set of global accounting standards that companies use to prepare financial statements. IFRS is issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), an independent accounting standard-setting body.

Compared to U.S. GAAP, which is specific to the United States, IFRS is more principles-based. This means that there is more discretion for businesses in how they apply the standards to their individual circumstances. As a result, there is often greater variation in how companies report their financial results under IFRS than under U.S. GAAP.

A few of the IFRS criteria used in revenue recognition that differ from U.S. GAAP include:

  • Standing contracts: Under IFRS, companies may recognize revenue at the end of a contract period if certain conditions are met.
  • Variable consideration: Revenue can be recognized when it is probable that economic benefits will flow to the entity and the amount of revenue can be estimated reliably.
  • Multiple-element arrangements: Revenue for multiple elements in an arrangement can be allocated based on the relative selling prices of each element, provided that the selling price is determinable and there are no other factors influencing the allocation.

ASC 606

Under ASC 606, the new revenue recognition standard, a company must recognize revenue in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled. This guidance applies to all contracts, including those with customers, subcontractors, and other parties.

In order to comply with FASB ASC 606, companies must identify the performance obligations in a contract (i.e., what goods or services are being exchanged for payment), determine the transaction price (i.e., how much is being paid for those goods or services), and allocate the transaction price to each contractual obligation. The company must then recognize revenue when (or as) each performance obligation is satisfied.

Why FASB Issued a New Standard

There were some issues with the previous revenue standard that ASC 606 was intended to address. 

These included lack of consistency in how companies were reporting revenue, a need for more transparency into how revenue is being recognized, and evaluation of whether the amount of revenue being reported accurately reflects the actual value received by the company.

The new standard has been widely adopted and aims to improve transparency, consistency, and reliability of financial reporting during annual reporting periods. 

Furthermore, the disclosure requirements under ASC 606 provide more insight into how a company is recognizing revenue and why it may be different from similar companies in its industry.

The Five Steps of Revenue Recognition

According to ASC 606, the revenue recognition process occurs in five steps:

1. Identify the contract with a specific customer

The first step in contract management is identifying the contract with a specific customer. A contract is an agreement between two or more parties that creates enforceable obligations, and it must meet certain criteria to be recognized as a legally binding agreement.

In the case of B2B and SaaS entities, the contract may include details such as pricing, payment terms, delivery dates, key performance indicators, acceptance criteria, and other relevant considerations.

2. Identify the contractual performance obligations

According to the principles of revenue recognition, performance obligations are the goods or services that a company must provide to its customers in exchange for payment. 

These obligations may be specified in the contract, or they may need to be determined based on the parties’ customary practice.

When outlining the performance obligations in the contract, companies should consider what good or service is being exchanged for the payment and how it will be provided (e.g., shipping, installation, maintenance).

In order to comply with ASC 606, companies should explicitly state any performance obligations in the contract and provide sufficient detail about each obligation.

3. Determine the transaction price

The transaction price is exactly what it sounds like—the price of the transaction. This includes amounts that are fixed, variable (e.g., discounts), and contingent upon certain conditions (e.g., customer satisfaction).

To determine the transaction price, companies must consider various factors such as pricing models (e.g., consumption-based pricing, success-based pricing, usage-based pricing, subscription business model), discounts, and bonuses.

4. Allocate the transaction price across the performance obligations

Once the transaction price has been determined, it must be allocated to each performance obligation in the contract. This is done by first determining the standalone selling prices of each performance obligation and then allocating them based on their relative values.

One thing to be aware of is that the transaction price may not be allocated evenly across each performance obligation. For example, a customer might pay for one product at a discounted rate but get access to additional services as part of the package.

5. Recognize revenue when the contracting entity fulfills a performance obligation

In this final step, the company must recognize revenue when it has fulfilled a performance obligation. 

This does not mean that the company has to receive payment before it recognizes the revenue—rather, it means that the customer must have received what was promised in exchange for their payment.

Keep in mind that the “payment” step does not always happen at the same time as the “fulfillment” step. As such, companies should keep track of customer receivables and be mindful of any possible delays in order to ensure that revenue is being reported accurately.

In some cases, such as with subscription services like Software-as-a-Service, the company may recognize revenue over time as customers receive the specified services. 

And since the performance obligations are determined at the time of contract, companies must accurately track their progress in fulfilling those obligations to correctly recognize earned and unearned revenue.

Revenue Recognition Software

Many companies use revenue recognition software to help them manage the entire revenue recognition process. 

This type of technology simplifies and automates many of the manual steps involved in revenue recognition, such as tracking customer receivables, allocating the transaction price to performance obligations, and recognizing revenue when the performance obligation is fulfilled.

Benefits of Revenue Recognition Automation

Several benefits come with using this kind of software.

  1. Improved Accuracy: Automating the revenue recognition process eliminates human errors that can occur due to manual data entry or miscalculations.
  2. Faster Processes: Automation enables companies to speed up their revenue recognition processes, making it easier and more efficient for them to recognize revenue accurately and on time.
  3. Increased Visibility: Revenue recognition software provides greater visibility into the entire revenue recognition process, providing companies with real-time insights into how much they should be recognizing and when.
  4. Better investor relations: Transparent accounting helps companies ensure that they correctly report their financials, leading to improved investor relations.
  5. Lower Cost to Comply: By reducing the workload of manual data entry and calculation, companies can save time and money that would otherwise be spent on compliance.

Types of Revenue Recognition Software

There are a number of revenue recognition software solutions available on the market today. These range from full-featured enterprise software to cloud-based solutions for small businesses.

  1. CRM Software: Many customer relationship management (CRM) systems include features that help companies with their revenue recognition processes. Common features of these systems include invoice automation, automated tracking of the transaction price allocation, and real-time visibility into accounts receivable.
  2. Accounting Software: Accounting software is designed specifically to help companies manage their financials, including tasks such as recognizing revenue. Accounting software can help automate revenue recognition processes, as well as provide real-time insights into accounts receivable and other financials.
  3. ERP: Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are comprehensive solutions that provide companies with the tools they need to manage their entire business, including revenue recognition. ERP systems can help automate and streamline various financial processes, such as recognizing revenue when performance obligations have been fulfilled.
  4. CPQ Software: Configure, price, quote (CPQ) software can be used to help companies accurately determine the transaction price at the time of contract. This helps ensure that revenue is being recognized in a consistent manner across customers.

People Also Ask

How do you recognize revenue under IFRS?

The core principle of IFRS 15 is recognizing revenue when the customer has received and can use the goods or services. This means that revenue cannot be recognized until after the customer has received and accepted the product at the transaction price.

What are the four criteria for revenue recognition?

The four conditions for revenue recognition are:
1. An agreement between two parties
2. The delivery of a product or completion of a service
3. Receipt of payment from the customer
4. Realization that the expected economic benefit has been received

What are the revenue recognition methods?

There are five revenue recognition methods:
1. Sales-basis method
2. Percentage of completion method
3. Completed contract method
4. Installment method
5. Cost recovery method

What is ratable revenue recognition?

Ratable revenue recognition is a method used in accounting for Software As A Service (SaaS) products. In SaaS businesses, revenue recognition can be more complex than traditional product sales because customers typically subscribe to services over a period of time rather than making a one-time purchase.

Ratable revenue recognition involves spreading the recognition of revenue over the duration of the service period, reflecting the fact that the customer is receiving value continuously over time. This is in contrast to recognizing all revenue upfront at the time of the sale.

Here’s how it generally works:
1. Subscription Period: In a SaaS model, customers subscribe to the service for a specific period, often on a monthly or annual basis.

2. Revenue Recognition Over Time: Instead of recognizing all the revenue at the beginning of the subscription period, the revenue is recognized gradually over the service period. This is typically done on a monthly or quarterly basis.

3. Amortization of Revenue: Each month, a portion of the total subscription revenue is recognized on the income statement. This reflects the value the customer is receiving during that specific month.

4. Deferred Revenue: The portion of the subscription fee that hasn’t been recognized yet is recorded as deferred revenue on the balance sheet. As time progresses and services are delivered, the deferred revenue decreases.

This method aligns more closely with the economic reality of SaaS businesses where value is delivered continuously over time. It also helps in providing a more accurate representation of the financial performance of the business.

It’s important to note that the specific accounting rules and regulations, such as ASC 606 in the United States, provide guidelines on how to implement revenue recognition for SaaS and other subscription-based businesses. Companies need to comply with these regulations and may have variations in their application based on their specific circumstances.