Accounting Conservatism: Definition, Advantages & Disadvantages

This prepares the business for the worst-case scenario as you see the profit or net loss even if the expected income or assets are not earned. On the contrary, if company ZY Ltd may win the suit then it must be recorded to warn the company for upcoming losses and there should be appropriate funds to manage the loss. Hence the losses uncertainty should be recorded in the financial statement of the company X Ltd. The conservatism principle is a set of guidelines that enables the recognition of the estimates during business activities.

  • So, the answer is X Ltd may lose or win depends on the circumstances and the amount is expecting to be received in case of a winning situation.
  • This is used as guidance when there’s a need for estimation in accounting, preventing inflated figures or bias.
  • Investors also enjoy the use of conservatism in financial accounting.
  • In contrast, if there is a possibility of a gain coming the company’s way, they are advised to ignore it until it actually occurs.

Assume a business pays a monthly rent of Rs.25,000 for its premises. In this case, the accountant will record Rs.3 lakh in the profit and loss statement immediately, even if the payment is made over the next months. On the other hand, if the business is expected to receive any form of income or earn an asset, the accounting entry for the same is passed only when the income or asset is realised.

Conservatism Principle Example

The concept of conservatism encourages a cautious approach to bookkeeping, recording figures only when they are fully verified. Here’s a closer look at how this works, along with the pros and cons of conservatism in financial accounting. The balance sheet would still show the $20 million in historical cost, as gains are recorded only if the item is actually sold (i.e. a verifiable transaction). The Conservatism Principle states that gains should be recorded only if their occurrence is certain, but all potential losses, even those with a remote chance of incurrence, are to be recognized. When inventory values decline, accounting conservatism suggests that a company should use the lower cost or market method to value its inventory.

Through the accounting conservatism principle, a lower value of assets is recorded on the balance sheet. The principle of accounting conservatism works on the conservative side of recording transactions. X Ltd suing ZY Ltd for infringement of patent and is supposing to win a large settlement. Now the question arises why it does not record in the financial statement?

What is the Conservatism Principle?

Conservatism calls for allowances for doubtful accounts to reflect potential losses from uncollectible receivables. By estimating and recognizing potential bad debts, companies exercise caution and reduce the risk of overstating their accounts receivable. This means that businesses should be more aggressive when estimating liabilities, expenses, and potential losses while being more conservative when estimating the value of assets, revenues, and profits. Suppose an inventory owned by the company ABC and purchased it for $200 but can now be bought for $100. The conservatism principle recognizes that uncertainty is inherent in accounting and that estimates, assumptions, and judgments are often required to prepare financial statements. This principle could help to minimize the entity to overstate the revenue and assets and understate the liabilities and expenses in its financial statements.

Pros and cons of conservatism in financial accounting

The two main aspects of this conservatism principle are recognizing expenses or liabilities as early as they are reasonably possible and ascertaining revenue only if it is certain. This principle is concerned with the accuracy and reliability of the financial statements of the business activity and shows the real picture of the financial position of an organization. Conservatism is a GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) principle. The conservatism principle requires that losses be recognized as soon as they can be quantified and that gains are recorded only when they are realized. This principle is intended to protect the users of financial information from inflated revenue, profit, or asset numbers and make all potential costs, losses, or declines in value apparent as soon as possible. Conservatism principle is the accounting principle that concern with the reliability of Financial Statements of an entity.


Despite the potential drawbacks, conservatism promotes financial reporting transparency and accountability, which are required for modern financial markets to function. It aids in ensuring that financial statements reflect an accurate view of a company’s three main methods of calculating depreciation financial situation and performance. For example, suppose a company has an inventory with a market value lower than its cost. In that case, conservatism mandates recognizing the loss by reducing the inventory value on the balance sheet.

While these are made up in the future as revenue is recorded, it can cause a temporary imbalance. These are just a few factors to keep in mind when applying this concept. Finally, advantages of conservatism in accounting include those for investors. Standardized accounting procedures like conservatism make it easier for investors to compare financial statements, no matter the industry.

The amount of the inventory write-down is reported on the current income statement. The guideline requires that losses be recorded as soon as they are quantified (certain or uncertain), while gains are only recorded when they are assured of being realized. The general concept is to minimize the overstatement of revenue and assets and to understate the liabilities and expenses.

Write-offs as accounting procedures to manage perceptions

This can help companies to avoid financial distress, especially in periods of economic uncertainty, by preparing for future risks and uncertainties. Assets and revenue are intentionally reported at figures potentially understated. If there is uncertainty about incurring a loss, accountants are encouraged to record it and amplify its potential impact. In contrast, if there is a possibility of a gain coming the company’s way, they are advised to ignore it until it actually occurs. Under the conservatism principle, assets and revenue could be recorded or recognized unless it is clear that the entity could measure those transactions reliably. In addition, the expenses and liabilities are records at the highest value where assets and revenues are recorded at the lowest value.

The conservatism principle assumes the entity could possibly try to overstate assets and revenues, and understate expenses and liabilities. It’s all going to depend, as with any GAAP there can be both benefits and disadvantages. And with conservatism accounting, it might seem as though there’s not going to be many benefits.

If an accountant has two solutions to choose from when facing an accounting challenge, the one that yields inferior numbers should be selected. For recognition revenue, the conservatism principle, the entity could recognize the revenue if the revenue transaction could not measure reliably and the outcome of those transactions are unpredictable. Over recognition of revenues and assets, and negligently relay to recognize liabilities are the basic place to start. For example, without using this concept, the accountant could manipulate the accounting records where those transactions are not reliable. This principle also intends to ensure that the users who use financial statements receive enough and reliable information as they should be. Our online training provides access to the premier financial statements training taught by Joe Knight.

This is since from the outside you’re going to overstate your losses and understate your profits. It ensures that the financial information reported gets done clearly and accurately. This GAAP principle requires you to exercise caution when recording your financial activity. The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are a clear set of guidelines. They’re meant to help when it comes to reporting financial information. These accounting standards were put in place to report financial information accurately.