The major advantage of activity based costing is the ability to estimate the cost of individual products and services precisely. By transferring overhead costs to individual units of products or services, ABC helps identify inefficient or non-profitable products or activities that eat into the profitability of efficient processes or highly profitable products.
The advantages of ABC extend to:
- Making possible equitable and scientific pricing by reducing prices of products that use less activity resources and increase prices of products that consume more of the firm’s activity resources.
- Helping organizations provide value added services or “top-ups” to existing products on actual cost incurred basis.
- Eliminating unprofitable items from the product line, thereby increasing profitability without increasing prices, a valuable option in recessionary times.
- Eliminating the cost of maintaining or running non-remunerative activities, increasing overall profitability.
- Allowing allocation of resources to profitable items or items that use less resources.
- Ensuring compatibility with performance management scorecards by revealing per person contribution to the product cost, and hence, profits.
- Exposing waste and inefficiency that contributes to boosting productivity.
- Identifying and eliminating non-value adding activities, or activities that do not contribute to the final value of the product or process. Examples of non-value adding activities include needless inspections and duplicate processes.
- Providing quantifiable figures for planning and estimates.
ABC mirrors the functioning of an organization and contributes to strategic decision-making processes. It identifies the relation of the product within the business activity and the resources it requires.
- ABC identifies activities that consume too much of the organization’s time or resources, or that contribute little to profitability. This helps in deciding on whether to outsource such processes or whether to implement processes improvement methodologies.
- ABC highlights non-remunerative distribution channels allowing the management to adopt alternative marketing strategies or close down the channel for a more profitable one.
- ABC exposes wastes in the process and integrates well with overall quality management initiatives such as Six Sigma, Total Quality Management. and Kaizen.
Disadvantages and Limitations
The major disadvantage of activity based costing is that although activity based costing is a scientific approach, the method of implementation is complex, time consuming, and costly. The process of data collection and data entry requires substantial resources, and remains costly to maintain.
ABC reports do not conform to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). and as such, firms following ABC need to maintain two cost systems and accounting books, one for internal use and another for external reports, filings, and statutory compliance. This is a cumbersome duplication of efforts.
A primary disadvantage of ABC is that it is not possible to divide some overhead costs such as the chief executive’s salary on a per-product usage basis. Similarly, employees rarely devote 100% of their working hours to productive activities, and not all productive activities add value to the product or process of the firm. For instance, the ABC method fails to account for the time employee takes part in a first aid awareness campaign, leading to substantial ‘cost leaks.’ There is no meaningful way to assign such ‘business sustaining’ costs to products on a proportionate basis, and products and services share such costs equally.
Finally, too much attention to detail and control might obscure the bigger picture or make the firm lose sight of strategic objectives in a quest for small savings, making the firm “penny wise and pound foolish.” For instance, ABC might identify one distribution channel as non-remunerative, or an inspection as non-value adding. Such channeling or processes might be non-profitable, but placed in the first place to achieve some other strategic objectives.