Customer lists

In a Business Combinations, this is a intangible asset and is therefore recognised separately from goodwill, provided that its fair value can be measured reliably. This customer-related intangible asset does not arise from contractual or other legal rights, but meets the definition of an intangible asset because it is separable.

A customer list consists of information about customers, such as their name and contact information. A customer list may also be in the form of a database that includes other information about the customers such as their order history and demographic information. A customer list does not generally arise from contractual or other legal rights.


However, customer lists are valuable and are frequently leased or exchanged. Therefore, a customer list acquired in a business combination normally meets the separability criterion for identification as an intangible asset. However, a customer list acquired in a business combination would not meet that criterion if the terms of confidentiality or other agreements prohibit an entity from selling, leasing or otherwise exchanging information about its customers.

Three key attributes are important in considering the value of customer-related intangible assets:

  1. The expectation of repeat patronage creates value for customer-related intangible assets. Contractual customer relationships formally codify the expectation of future transactions. Even in the absence of contracts, firms look to build on past interactions with customers to sell products and services in the future. Two aspects of repeat patronage are important in evaluating customer relationships. First, not all customer contact leads to an expectation of repeat patronage. The quality of interaction with walk-up retail customers, for instance, is generally considered inadequate to reliably lead to expectations of recurring business. Second, even in the presence of adequate information, not all expected repeat business may be attributable to customer-related intangible assets. Some firms operate in monopolistic or near-monopolistic industries where repeat patronage is directly attributable to a dearth of acceptable alternatives available to customers. In other cases, it may be more appropriate to attribute recurring business to the strength of the trade names or brands.
  2. Customer-related intangible assets create value over a finite period. Without efforts geared towards continual reinforcement, customer lists dwindle over time due to customer mortality, the ravages of competition, or the emergence of alternate products and services. The mechanics of present value mathematics further erode the economic benefits of sales to current customers in the distant future. Customer relationships are wasting assets whose economic value deteriorates with the passage of time.
  3. Customer-related intangible assets depend on the existence of other assets to provide value to the firm. Most assets, including fixed assets and intellectual property, are essential in creating products or providing services. The act of selling these products and services enable firms to develop relationships and collect information from customers. In turn, the value of these relationships depends on the firms’ ability to sell additional products and services in the future. Consequently, for firms to extract value from customer related assets, a number of other assets need to be in place.

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