Revenue recognition automation best practices

Revenue Recognition
Revenue Recognition

Stripe Revenue Recognition streamlines accrual accounting so you can close your books quickly and accurately. Automate and configure revenue reports to simplify compliance with IFRS 15 and ASC 606 revenue recognition standards.

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  1. Introduction
  2. What is revenue recognition?
  3. Why is revenue recognition important for businesses?
  4. How does revenue recognition automation work?
  5. Revenue recognition automation best practices
    1. 1. Understand accounting standards
    2. 2. Match revenue with expenses
    3. 3. Document and review contracts thoroughly
    4. 4. Integrate systems
    5. 5. Regularly review and update policies
    6. 6. Be transparent with stakeholders
    7. 7. Stay updated on regulations
  6. Revenue recognition automation with Stripe
    1. Complete overview of earnings
    2. Simplified reporting
    3. Tailored to business requirements
    4. Immediate audit readiness
    5. Facilitating accrual accounting

Mastering revenue recognition is important for businesses for several reasons. Beyond complying with standards such as generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), it provides a road map for internal stakeholders. Revenue recognition gives businesses precise and actionable insight into revenue, helping with decision-making. Revenue recognition is a key part of strategy, governance, and sustained business health.

Below, we’ll discuss revenue recognition automation and how to approach it using the right solutions. We’ll share common challenges, best practices, and why revenue recognition is important for businesses. Here’s what you should know.

What’s in this article?

  • What is revenue recognition?
  • Why is revenue recognition important for businesses?
  • How does revenue recognition automation work?
  • Revenue recognition automation best practices
  • Revenue recognition automation with Stripe

What is revenue recognition?

Revenue recognition is the accounting principle that determines the specific conditions under which revenue is recognized or accounted for. It determines when to report revenue in financial statements. This typically occurs when a specific event makes it clear the business has earned the revenue, such as delivering a product or service to a customer.

Why is revenue recognition important for businesses?

Revenue recognition is important for businesses for several reasons:

  • Accurate financial reporting: Properly recognizing revenue ensures a business’s financial statements accurately reflect its financial health. Without this accuracy, stakeholders can’t make informed decisions.

  • Trustworthiness with stakeholders: Investors, partners, and other stakeholders trust businesses to provide correct financial information. Consistently recognizing revenue correctly helps maintain that trust.

  • Compliance with regulations: Certain standards and regulations guide how businesses should recognize revenue. Adhering to these standards keeps businesses compliant and avoids potential legal issues.

  • Predictability and planning: Recognizing revenue at the right time helps businesses forecast revenue more effectively, which helps with budgeting, planning, and making decisions.

  • Cash flow management: Though revenue isn’t always tied directly to cash received, knowing when revenue is earned helps businesses manage their cash flow, especially in terms of planning and allocations.

Revenue recognition is straightforward, with the goal of making sure businesses have a clear picture of their finances.

How does revenue recognition automation work?

Revenue recognition automation simplifies the process of documenting and accounting for revenue as it’s earned. Here’s how the process functions:

  • System integration: Automation systems connect with other financial software and platforms. This connection pulls in all necessary transaction data, making sure there are no gaps in information.

  • Automatic data capture: Once integrated, these systems automatically detect and log sales transactions, whether they’re one-time sales or recurring payments.

  • Rule application: Businesses set predefined rules based on standards such as ASC 606 or IFRS 15. The automation system then applies these rules to each transaction. This makes sure revenue is recognized at the right time and in the correct amount.

  • Adjustments and alterations: Automation recognizes events such as refunds, discounts, or changes in subscription levels. The system then adjusts revenue records accordingly, minimizing errors.

  • Reporting: With all data captured and processed, the system generates financial reports, which give businesses insight into their earnings without the need for manual calculations.

  • Audit trails: Automation provides detailed records of each transaction, making it easy to trace revenue to its source. This transparency is especially helpful during financial audits.

  • Updates and compliance: As financial standards and regulations change, automation systems update accordingly and stay compliant. This means businesses don’t need to overhaul their processes with each regulatory change.

  • Scalability: As a business grows, so does its volume of transactions. Automation systems can handle increased workloads without reducing accuracy or speed.

  • Integration with other systems: Automation can transfer data to other financial systems such as general ledgers or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This integration synchronizes financial data across platforms.

  • Alerts and notifications: If any discrepancies or data issues arise, the system will notify the necessary parties. This proactive feature helps prevent revenue leaks or inaccuracies.

Automating revenue recognition reduces manual intervention and errors, and it provides consistency. This helps businesses maintain accuracy and compliance with financial standards.

Revenue recognition automation best practices

Following revenue recognition automation best practices can drastically improve a business’s financial health and credibility. Here are some of the best practices:

1. Understand accounting standards

  • What it is: Make sure your automation system consistently follows accounting standards (e.g., ASC 606, IFRS 15).

  • Why it matters: Dependable and predictable financial reports matter to stakeholders, and accounting standards ensure revenue is recognized correctly. Consistent data is also key for internal decision-making.

  • Example: Consider a software subscription business that has been recognizing revenue monthly for several years. Suddenly shifting from a monthly to an annual method might confuse or even scare investors.

2. Match revenue with expenses

  • What it is: Have your automation system pair the income from sales with the costs incurred making those sales. If you’re spending money in a certain period to earn revenue, that’s the period you should recognize the revenue in.

  • Why it matters: Getting the full picture of financial health requires viewing revenue and associated costs side by side. If you separate them, you could see misleading profit in one period and loss in another, even if the overall result across both is breakeven.

  • Example: Let’s take a book publisher. It might spend money on manuscript editing, design, and printing in April. The books sell in May, and payments roll in by June. For an accurate snapshot of profit in May, you’d recognize the May sales revenue and the April production costs. This method gives everyone a clearer idea of actual profitability during May.

3. Document and review contracts thoroughly

  • What it is: Pay close attention to contracts, making sure every detail regarding revenue recognition is clearly outlined. It’s also important to revisit and review contracts to guarantee mutual clarity.

  • Why it matters: Contracts provide the backbone for many business transactions. A lack of clarity can result in misinterpretations, leading to potential financial reporting mistakes or even conflicts with clients or partners. When both parties fully understand the details, it reduces the chance of unexpected surprises or disputes.

  • Example: Consider a business that deals with content creation, such as video production. It might get commissioned to produce a series of videos, with staggered delivery dates and various additional post-production services. If the contract doesn’t specify when revenue for each video (or service) should be recognized—say, upon each video’s completion, after all videos are delivered, or when post-production edits are finalized—it can lead to misunderstandings. The business might recognize revenue after completing each video, while the client might assume billing will occur only after the entire series is complete. Clear contracts prevent such confusion, ensuring smoother financial operations and client relationships.

4. Integrate systems

  • What it is: Integrate your revenue recognition software with other business systems (e.g., enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management). This ensures data consistency and reduces manual input errors.

  • Why it matters: Human errors, oversights, and manual data entry mistakes can lead to financial discrepancies—and it can be time-consuming for humans to handle these processes. Automation makes sure revenue is recognized accurately across systems. It’s especially helpful for businesses with multifaceted revenue structures or those that handle a large volume of transactions.

  • Example: An online platform selling digital courses might have multiple pricing structures: single-course purchases, monthly subscriptions, and premium packages with added benefits. Manually tracking and recognizing revenue for each of these can be taxing and risk errors. But with automation, the platform can easily categorize and recognize revenue as soon as a sale happens. It can also update the customer relationship management (CRM) system so the sales team has an accurate picture of which pricing tier is performing best.

5. Regularly review and update policies

  • What it is: This requires being proactive about checking, reassessing, and modifying revenue recognition policies to guarantee they’re current and relevant. The financial sector and various business models are in a state of flux, so policies that worked well a year ago might not be as effective now.

  • Why it matters: Keeping up with customer preferences, regulations, and business methodologies helps your financial reporting remain accurate. This type of flexibility also lets you maintain compliance and provide stakeholders with the most up-to-date financial insights.

  • Example: Consider the rise of freemium business models, in which users can access basic features at no cost but must pay for premium features. Businesses that adopt this model must reevaluate how they recognize revenue—especially considering the potential mix of free users, one-time premium purchasers, and recurring subscribers. Regular policy reviews can help these businesses maintain clarity and accuracy in their financial statements.

6. Be transparent with stakeholders

  • What it is: Keep stakeholders informed about your revenue recognition policies and any major shifts. Clear channels of communication and detailed explanations about any changes eliminate any possible ambiguity.

  • Why it matters: Openness and consistent communication create trust. When stakeholders are aware of your strategy, they have more confidence in the business’s operations and financial practices. It also means that everyone involved has a current view of the business’s fiscal status.

  • Example: A cloud service provider might move from a flat-rate pricing model to a consumption-based model. Transparency with stakeholders would entail explaining how this shift affects revenue recognition and why the change was made. It would ideally be communicated through different channels to all parties. Being clear about this process reduces the potential for misconceptions during financial disclosures.

7. Stay updated on regulations

  • What it is: Actively monitor changes in laws and standards that influence how revenue is recognized. This involves reading industry news, attending relevant seminars, and consulting financial experts to understand the latest regulations.

  • Why it matters: Adhering to up-to-date regulations is necessary. Noncompliance can lead to severe repercussions, including hefty fines and reputational damage.

  • Example: A business operating across borders might face multiple accounting standards. For instance, the revenue recognition criteria in the US might differ from those in the European Union. Being aware of these differences and adjusting practices accordingly minimizes the risk of noncompliance.

Revenue recognition automation might seem like just another accounting function, but it can affect how a business is perceived and how well it performs. Whether you’re a startup or a multinational corporation, these best practices help keep your finances accurate and credible.

Revenue recognition automation with Stripe

Stripe Revenue Recognition supports fast-growing businesses by simplifying and automating their accounting processes. It lets businesses focus on core functions while gaining precise data about their financial status. Here’s an explanation of Stripe Revenue Recognition’s capabilities:

Complete overview of earnings

  • Consolidation principle: Stripe automatically presents all your transactions and terms, including subscriptions, invoices, and individual payments, to provide a comprehensive picture.
  • Data integration: Businesses can integrate non-Stripe revenue sources, fulfillment schedules, and service terms for a consolidated view. This feature is in its beta phase.

Simplified reporting

  • Automated Dashboards: Stripe provides compliant accounting reports that adhere to standards such as ASC 606 and IFRS 15, removing the need for manual reports and reducing reliance on dedicated engineering resources.
  • Revenue waterfall: Businesses can now see a monthly breakdown of booked and recognized revenue, making financial progress tracking straightforward.

Tailored to business requirements

  • Custom revenue rules: Stripe lets businesses establish and automate rules for revenue recognition, matching specific accounting procedures.
  • Adaptable accounting protocols: Stripe supports various revenue scenarios, including managing tax recognition schedules and making adjustments in accounting periods.

Immediate audit readiness

  • Instant traceability: Stripe makes audits straightforward because it lets businesses trace any revenue amount to its origin. This level of detail boosts transparency and control.

Facilitating accrual accounting

  • Accuracy and speed: Stripe’s Revenue Recognition automates accrual accounting for all transactions and billing terms.
  • Handling complex financial scenarios: Complications arising from financial changes such as upgrades or refunds are easily managed, resulting in audit-ready financial statements.

Stripe also simplifies revenue recognition complexities with its diverse financial capabilities and services:

  • Managing recurring revenue with Stripe Billing: Stripe’s billing platform caters to modern businesses with subscription services, adjusting to price changes and customer modifications to ease the accounting load.

  • Advanced reporting for transactional data: The Stripe Dashboard provides advanced reporting that filters transaction data, letting businesses recognize revenue appropriately.

  • Billing and invoicing automation: Customizable options for automated invoicing and billing expedite processes and reduce errors.

  • Easy integration with accounting software: Stripe works well with many accounting software solutions, facilitating automated data transfers and reducing the workload for employees.

  • Adaptable financial structure for growing needs: Stripe can adapt to growing businesses, ensuring consistency in revenue recognition as operations expand.

Stripe’s features provide important functionality for improved revenue recognition while maintaining an approachable, easy interface for users. Learn more about Stripe’s revenue recognition capabilities.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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