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Chapter 5 Activity-based Cost Systems See also: Kaplan/Atkinson 3rd ed. Ch.4 Cooper/Kaplan: Cost and Effect, Harvard Business School Press 1998 Example of misleading traditional cost system

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chapter 5 activity based cost systems

Chapter 5Activity-based Cost Systems

See also: Kaplan/Atkinson 3rd ed. Ch.4

Cooper/Kaplan: Cost and Effect,

Harvard Business School Press 1998

example of misleading traditional cost system
Example of misleading traditional cost system
  • Cole Corporation manufactures two types of lenses for automobile rear lights out of plastic material – a normal lens (NL) and a complex lens (CL).
    • lenses are molded using machines
    • redesigned according to the requirements of the customers (model changes)
  • To cost products, Cole currently uses a single indirect-cost rate job costing system.
  • The cost objects are the total costs of manufacturing and distributing 80,000 normal lenses (NL) and 20,000 complex lenses (CL).
application to two products
Application to two products

Normal Lenses (NL) Complex Lenses (CL)

    • Direct materials $1,520,000$ 920,000
    • Direct mfg. labor 800,000 260,000

Total direct costs $2,320,000 $1,180,000

Direct cost per unit:$2,320,000 ÷ 80,000 $1,180,000 ÷ 20,000

= $29 = $59

    • total direct labor hrs. 36,000 14,000
  • Indirect costs $2,900,000
  • direct manufacturing labor hrs.50,000
  • Indirect cost rate = $2,900,000 ÷ 50,000

= $58

product cost
Product cost

Normal Lenses (NL) Complex Lenses (CL)

  • Direct costs $2,320,000 $1,180,000

+ Allocated costs (= 36,000 × $58) (=14,000 × $58)


= $4,408,000 $1,992,000

cost per unit$4,408,000 ÷ 80,000 $1,992,000 ÷ 20,000

= $55.10= $99.60

Selling price: $60 $142

Margin $ 4.90 $ 42.40

Margin %age8.2% 29.9%


Refining a Costing System


  • Direct-cost tracing – Classify as many of the total costs as direct costs as is economically feasible.
  • Indirect-cost pools– Expand the number of cost pools until each of these pools is homogeneous.
  • Cost-allocation basis–Identify the preferred cost-allocation base for each indirect-cost pool.

Activity-Based Costing System

  • ABC systems refine costing systems by focusing on individual activities as the fundamental cost object
    • they measure utilization of each activity by cost objects and assign the cost of the activity accordingly

total cost of activity

per period

(“cost pool”)

total utilization of

activity per period

Cost driver




cost driver units

used by cost object

Cost driver


overhead cost


to cost object



activity based costing the fundamental idea
Activity-based Costing: the fundamental idea:

Indirect labor









Set up






cost driver:

# receipts

# moves

# maint. hrs.

# setups

# setup hrs.

Cost driver


$ per move

$ per receipt

$ per setup

$ per

$ per setup hr.



general procedure
General Procedure
  • Determine the set of activitiesj performed in each department (cost center)
  • determine a Cost Driver for each activity j measuring the causal relationship between
    • resource consumption of the activity and its
    • utilization by products or customers
  • assign (budgeted) resource costs to activities j
    • each activity is assigned a cost pool Cj
general procedure cont d
General Procedure (cont’d)
  • determine the total level xj of budgeted utilization of the activity
  • determine the cost driver rate=
  • Determine (actual) usage xjlof cost driver j by each user l
  • Activity-based cost assignment to user l:







key step assigning resource costs to activities
Key step: Assigning resource costs to activities
  • Resource costs per activity is an important piece of information to management
  • This is usually done by interviews with department managers on
    • activities performed
    • the proportion of working time usually spent on each activity
    • no excessive precision required
separate cost driver rates for committed and flexible cost
Separate cost driver rates for committed and flexible cost




C1j + C2j

xj + xj

in general

cost hierarchies
Cost Hierarchies
  • ABC systems commonly use a four-level cost hierarchy to identify cost-allocation bases:
  • Output unit-level cost
  • Batch level costs
  • Product-sustaining costs
  • Facility-sustaining costs
functions of activities
Functions of activities
  • Unit level activities
  • batch level activities
  • product-sustaining • customer sustaining

(sales volume-related)

(related to # of batches

of saleable output)

(activities enabling the

production of saleable


(activities enabling to

sell products to individual

customers or markets)

(Costs that may be assigned only to broader output categories)

cost hierarchy
Cost hierarchy
  • Output Unit-Level Costs
    • resources sacrificed on activities performed on each individual unit of product or service.
      • Energy
      • Machine depreciation
      • Repairs
  • Batch-Level Costs
    • resources sacrificed on activities that are related to a group of units of product(s) or service(s) rather than to each individual unit of product or service.
      • Setup hours
      • Procurement costs
  • Product-Sustainingor service-sustaining costs
    • resources sacrificed on activities supporting individual products or services.
      • Design costs
      • Engineering costs
  • Facility-Sustaining Costs
    • resources sacrificed on activities that cannot be traced to individual products or services but support the organization as a whole
      • General administration
      • Rent
      • Building security
types of activity cost drivers
Types of activity cost drivers



  • Number of transactions
  • duration of transaction
    • if time consumed varies among individual instances of the activity
  • intensity or direct charging
    • number of staff of different wage groups assigned to an activity per time unit
    • resources actually used for the individual instance of an activity
appropriate number of cost drivers
Appropriate number of cost drivers
  • Small cost pools do not alter unit costs much
  • if additional information has to be acquired on a cost driver consider the information cost and compare it to the benefit of the better decision
  • do not add a cost driver which is an approximate linear combination of cost drivers already used
    • existing cost pools should share in the cost that would be assigned to that pool according to the weights of the linear combination

Implementing Activity-Based Costing

Step 1: Identify the chosen cost objects.

  • The objective is to calculate the total costs of designing, assembling, and distributing S and C.

Step 2: Identify the direct costs of the product.

  • Cole identifies direct materials costs and direct manufacturing labor as direct costs.
  • Cleaning and maintenance costs of $360,000 are also identified as direct costs of the lenses.
    • Cleaning and maintenance costs of $360,000 are direct batch-level-costs.
    • Why? Because these costs consist of workers’ wages for maintenance of machines after each batch of phones is run.
      • The old cost system classified cleaning and maintenance costs as part of the $2,900,000 indirect costs.
      • Recall that indirect costs were allocated to products using direct manufacturing labor-hours.
primary purposes of activity based cost systems
Primary purposes ofActivity-based Cost Systems
  • Analysis of decisions on the structure and design of productive system
    • more transparency of the factors causing costs
    • phasing out non-value-added activities
    • sporadic stand-alone analyses, not integrated in on-line accounting system
  • not used for management control purposes
    • otherwise management will have an incentive to choose cost drivers strategically
  • Decision facilitating for Activity-based Management (ABM)

Activity-Based Management

  • ABM describes management decisions that use activity-based costing information to satisfy customers and improve profits.
    • Product pricing and mix decisions
    • Cost reduction and process improvement decisions
    • Design decisions
abm decisions
ABM decisions
  • Product Pricing and Mix Decisions
    • ABC gives management insight into the cost structures for making and selling diverse products.
    • provides more accurate product cost information and more detailed information on costs of activities and the drivers of those costs.
  • Cost Reduction and Process Improvement Decisions
    • Manufacturing and distribution personnel use ABC systems to focus on cost reduction efforts.
    • Managers set cost-reduction targets in terms of reducing the cost per unit of the cost-allocation base.
  • Design Decisions
    • Management can identify and evaluate new designs to improve performance by evaluating how product and process designs affect activities and costs.
    • Companies can work with their customers to evaluate the costs and prices of alternative design choices.
  • ABC systems are full cost systems
    • they average fixed costs over products according to cost driver utilization: every individual unit carries the same cost per unit of driver utilized
    • costs for which a cost driver is not available (e.g. leading a department) are allocated to cost pools of measurable activities
  • For change management decisions an incremental costing approach is more adequate, when the size of the cost pool will not change proportionally with the cost driver (non-linearities in the cost function) due to
    • fixed costs
    • economies of scale
    • economies of scope
cc problems
  • 5-35(=11), requirements 1.-3. (10%)
  • 5-29 (=11.5-30) ( 5%)
  • 5-31 (=11.5-32) ( 5%)
  • 5-17 (=11.5-19) ( 5%)
  • 5-19 (Excel)(=11.5-21,5-22) ( 8%)
  • 5-23 (=11.5-24) ( 8%)
  • 5-33 (10%)