Commitments and Contingencies

A promise (commitment) made by a company to external stakeholders and/or parties resulting from legal or contractual requirements, and an obligation (commitment) of a company

What are Commitments and Contingencies?

In accounting and finance, Commitments and Contingencies can be defined as follows:

A commitment is a promise made by a company to external stakeholders and/or parties resulting from legal or contractual requirements. On the other hand, a contingency is an obligation of a company, which is dependent on the occurrence or non-occurrence of a future event. A contingency may not result in an outflow of funds for an entity.

 

Commitments and Contingencies

 

As with all organizations, an entity is obliged to fulfill contracts and obligations to ensure operational longevity. Obligations and contracts are considered commitments for an entity that could result in a cash (or funds) inflow or outflow, regardless of other operations or events.

Events or operations that are uncertain may also result in a cash outflow or inflow for an entity, and they are known as contingencies. Contingencies are not guaranteed, and they heavily rely on the occurrence or lack thereof, of uncertain future events.

A commitment by an entity must be fulfilled, regardless of external events, while contingencies may or may not result in liability for the respective entity.

 

Summary

  • A commitment is a promise made by a company to external stakeholders and/or parties resulting from legal or contractual requirements. On the other hand, a contingency is an obligation of a company, which is dependent on the occurrence or non-occurrence of a future event.
  • A loss contingency refers to a charge or expense to an entity for a potential probable future event. A gain contingency refers to a potential gain or inflow of funds for an entity, resulting from an uncertain scenario that is likely to be resolved at a future time.
  • The disclosure and acknowledgment of commitments and contingencies allow for overall organizational transparency, resulting in an increase in faith by relevant stakeholders.

 

Treatment of Commitments and Contingencies as per GAAP

Following the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, commitments are recorded when they occur, while contingencies (should they relate to a liability or future fund outflow) are at a minimum disclosed in the notes to the Statement of Financial Position (Balance Sheet) in the financial statements of a business.  If the contingency is probable (>75% likely to occur) and the amount is reasonably estimable, it should be recorded in the financial statements.

Generally, all commitments and contingencies are to be recorded in the footnotes to allow for compliance with relevant accounting principles and disclosure obligations.

 

Treatment of Commitments and Contingencies as per IFRS

Following the IFRS principles and guidelines, commitments must be recorded as a liability for an entity for the accounting period they occur In, and they must be disclosed in the notes to the financial statements. It is for the business to show that it is efficiently fulfilling its commitments. If an entity is unable to meet its commitments, a justification needs to be disclosed in the notes to the financial statements, detailing the “nature, timing extent of commitment and the causes.”

Contingencies, per the IFRS, are expected to be recorded and disclosed in the notes of the financial statement accounts, regardless of whether they result in an inflow or outflow of funds for the business.

In a scenario where the amount of the contingency is available or can be estimated, the amount must be disclosed as well. A provision must be made if it is more likely than not (>50%) that the loss or obligation will be recognized and the amount can be estimated.

 

Loss Contingencies and Gain Contingencies

Contingencies and how they are recorded depends on the nature of such contingencies.

A loss contingency refers to a charge or expense to an entity for a potential probable future event. The disclosure of a loss contingency allows relevant stakeholders to be aware of potential imminent payments related to an expected obligation. Regardless of whether or not the value of the loss can be estimated, an organization may still choose to disclose the item in the notes to the financial statements at its discretion.

A gain contingency refers to a potential gain or inflow of funds for an entity, resulting from an uncertain scenario that is likely to be resolved at a future time. Per accounting principles and standards, gains acquired by an entity are only recorded and recognized in the accounting period that they occur in.

A potential gain contingency can be recorded and disclosed in the notes to the financial statements. However, caution should be taken to ensure that the disclosure does not mislead stakeholders concerning the likelihood of realizing the gain.

 

Advantages of Commitments and Contingencies

The disclosure and acknowledgment of commitments and contingencies allow for overall organizational transparency, resulting in an increase in faith by relevant stakeholders. The disclosures allow for an organization to remain compliant with legal and financial reporting requirements.

Also, the disclosure and acknowledgment of commitments and contingencies attract investors as they will be able to access future cash flows based on expected future transactions.

 

Related Readings

CFI offers the Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and developing your knowledge base, please explore the additional relevant resources below:

  • Accounting Standard
  • Full Disclosure Principle
  • IFRS vs. US GAAP
  • Fiduciary Duty

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