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Loyalty programs · 

4 minutes

Cormac O'SullivanPiggy

Understanding & Managing Loyalty Program Liability

In today's competitive business landscape, loyalty programs have emerged as an effective tool to increase customer engagement and drive customer loyalty. However, these programs can pose significant financial implications for companies, manifesting as a "loyalty program liability" on the balance sheet. Understanding this liability and managing it effectively is crucial for the financial health of a company.

What is Loyalty Program Liability?

Loyalty program liability specifically pertains to the obligation a company has towards its customers within the context of a loyalty program. For example, if a customer earns points through purchases, the company has a liability to provide a reward when the customer redeems their points. Until the points are redeemed or expired, they represent a potential cost to the company, thereby creating a "liability."

Calculating Loyalty Liability

The calculation of loyalty program liability is a complex process involving multiple variables. The primary considerations include the number of outstanding loyalty points, the likelihood of these points being redeemed (redemption rate), and the costs per point when redeemed. The calculated liability has to be regularly updated. It should reflect changes in the number of outstanding points and variations in the redemption rate.

Accounting for Rewards Programs

When it comes to accounting for rewards programs, companies need to consider the loyalty points as a separate performance obligation. Under the ASC 606 Revenue Recognition Standards, when a member based transaction includes a loyalty reward, the transaction price needs to be allocated between the product sold and the loyalty points earned by the customer. This means a portion of the revenue from the sale has to be deferred until the reward points are redeemed or expired, which will then be recognized as revenue.

It's important to note that these requirements will differ depending on where your business is based.

How to Decrease Loyalty Liability

Decreasing loyalty program liability is an important aspect of loyalty program management. Here are some strategies companies can employ:

Enhancing Customer Engagement

Engaged customers are more likely to redeem their points, which can help in decreasing outstanding liability over the customer lifetime. Effective communication about the program benefits, personalization, and offering attractive redemption options can enhance customer engagement.

Expediting Point Redemption

Encouraging customers to redeem their points sooner can help in reducing the liability. This can be achieved by offering limited-time redemption offers or lowering the number of points required for redemption.

Introduce Points Expiry

Introducing an expiry date for points can also help in managing liability. However, this approach requires careful planning to avoid customer dissatisfaction and should be a long term measure, not a quick fix.

Managing Redemption Costs

Companies can also manage the cost per point by negotiating better deals with their reward partners or by offering rewards that have a lower cost but are still appealing to the customers.

Optimizing Program Structure

Structuring the program to balance the rate of earning points and the rate of redemption can also help manage liability. The structure should be attractive enough to drive sales but should also encourage redemption.

Terms Necessary for Navigating the Loyalty Balance Sheet

When dealing with loyalty program liability, there are several key concepts and considerations to be aware of:

Contract Liability

Contract liability refers to the obligation of the company to transfer goods or services to a customer for which the company has received consideration (or the amount is due) from the customer. In the context of a loyalty program, when a customer earns points from a transaction, a contract liability is created. This liability is recognized as revenue when the points are redeemed or when they expire.

Revenue Recognition

In loyalty programs, revenue recognition can be complex. Under ASC 606, companies are required to defer a portion of the transaction price allocated to the loyalty points and recognize it as revenue only when the company fulfills the promise to the customer (i.e., when points are redeemed or expired).

Fair Value

Fair value of the loyalty points is another important consideration. It is the value of the reward for which the points could be redeemed. Determining fair value requires considering several factors, including the nature of rewards, the geographic location, customer preferences, and the redemption rate.

Deferred Revenue

Deferred revenue, also known as unearned revenue, represents the obligation that the company needs to fulfill in the future. In loyalty programs, revenue is deferred for the loyalty points that are yet to be redeemed. Once the points are redeemed, the deferred revenue is recognized as earned revenue.

Transaction Price

Transaction price in the context of loyalty programs refers to the amount of consideration a company expects for transferring promised goods or services to a customer. When a transaction price is allocated to the loyalty points, it is recognized as a liability until the redemption or expiry of points.

Understanding these concepts is crucial to effectively manage and account for loyalty program liability.

How to Manage and Track Loyalty Liability

Properly managing and tracking loyalty program liability is essential to maintaining the financial health of a company. Here are some strategies:

Regular Monitoring

Keep track of key metrics such as the number of outstanding points, the average cost per point, and the redemption rate. Regular monitoring can help detect trends and make informed predictions about future liabilities.

Robust Accounting System

A sophisticated accounting system that can handle the complexity of loyalty program accounting is crucial. It should be able to handle revenue deferral, allocation, and recognition related to loyalty points.

Using Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics can help forecast future redemption behavior based on historical data. This can provide valuable insights into future liabilities.

Periodic Liability Audits

Conducting regular audits can ensure that the calculated liability accurately reflects the company's obligations. It can also identify any discrepancies and areas for improvement.

With effective management and tracking, companies can not only minimize the potential financial risks but also maximize the benefits of their loyalty programs.

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