principal vs agent considerations

On March 17, 2016, the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) issued Accounting Standards Update No. 2016-08, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606): Principal versus Agent Considerations (Reporting Revenue Gross versus Net), that clarifies how to apply revenue recognition guidance related to whether an entity is a principal or an agent.

Background:

In June 2014, the FASB and the IASB (Internal Accounting Standards Board; collectively, the Boards) announced the formation of the FASB-IASB Joint Transition Resource Group for Revenue Recognition (TRG). One of the objectives of the TRG is to inform the Boards about potential implementation issues that could arise when organizations implement a new standard. The Boards evaluate the feedback received from the TRG and other stakeholders to determine what action, if any, is necessary for each potential implementation issue.

One such issue discussed by the TRG relates to when another party, along with the entity, is involved in providing a good or a service to a customer. Under those circumstances, Topic 606 requires the entity to determine whether the nature of its promise is to provide that good or service to the customer (that is, the entity is a principal) or to arrange for the good or service to be provided to the customer by the other party (that is, the entity is an agent). This determination is based upon whether the entity controls the good or the service before it is transferred to the customer.

The update clarifies that an entity is a principal when it controls the specified good or service before that good or service is transferred to the customer, and is an agent when it does not control the specified good or service before it is transferred to the customer.

The update seeks to improve the operability and understandability of the guidance as follows:

  1. An entity determines whether it is a principal or an agent for each specified good or service promised to the customer. A specified good or service is a distinct good or service (or a distinct bundle of goods or services) to be provided to the customer. If a contract with a customer includes more than one specified good or service, an entity could be a principal for some specified goods or services and an agent for others.
  2. An entity determines the nature of each specified good or service (e.g., whether it is a good, a service, or a right to a good or service).
  3. When another party is involved in providing goods or services to a customer, an entity that is a principal obtains control of (a) a good or another asset from the other party that it then transfers to the customer; (b) a right to a service that will be performed by another party, which gives the entity the ability to direct that party to provide the service to the customer on the entity’s behalf; or (c) a good or service from the other party that it combines with other goods or services to provide the specified good or service to the customer.

The effective date for this Update is the same as the effective date of Update 2014-09 (Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606)). Accounting Standards Update No. 2015-14 (Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606): Deferral of Effective Date) defers the effective date of Update 2014-09 by one year, to December 15, 2017.

It’s important to be aware of issuances that could impact how you answer the questions on the CPA Exam within that topic. In this case, it’s FAR.

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