Cost Center vs Profit Center

Updated on March 27, 2024
Article bySayantan Mukhopadhyay
Edited bySayantan Mukhopadhyay
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Differences Between Cost Center and Profit Center

Cost Center is that department within the organization responsible for identifying and maintaining the organization’s cost as low as possible by analyzing the processes and making necessary changes in the company. In contrast, a Profit Center focuses on generating and maximizing revenue streams by identifying and improving activities such as sales. As a result, it is much more complex and has a wide scope.

Cost centers and profit centers are both reasons a business becomes successful. A cost center is a subunit of a company that takes care of the costs of that unit. On the other hand, a profit center is a subunit of a company that is responsible for revenues, profits, and costs.

So a cost center helps a company identify the costs and reduce them as much as possible. And a profit center acts as a sub-division of a business because it controls the most important key factors of every business.

You won’t see a cost center and a profit center in a centralized company; since the company’s control is from a small team at the top. However, in a decentralized company where the power and the responsibility are shared, you will see cost and profit centers.

Cost-Center-vs-Profit-Center

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In this article, we discuss cost center vs. profit center in detail –

Cost center vs Profit center [Infographics]

There are many differences between cost center vs. profit center. Here are the top differences –

Cost-Centre-vs-Profit-Centre

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Now that we understand the basic differences between Cost Center vs. Profit Center let us look at each in detail.

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What is a Cost center?

A cost centerCost CenterCost center refers to the company's departments that don't contribute directly to the corporate revenue; however, the firm has to incur expenses for keeping such units operative. It comprises research and development, accounting and human resource departments.read more is a subunit (or a department) that takes care of the company’s costs. The primary functions of the cost center are to control the company’s costs and reduce the unwanted costs the company may incur.

For example, the customer service facilities may not create direct profits for the company. Still, it helps control the company’s costsControl The Costs Of The CompanyCost control is a tool used by an organization in regulating and controlling the functioning of a manufacturing concern by limiting the costs within a planned level. It begins with preparing a budget, evaluating the actual performance, and implementing the necessary actions required to rectify any discrepancies.read more (by understanding what customers are struggling with) and facilitates in reducing the costs of the organization.

Does the cost center incur costs?

The simple answer is “yes”.

But cost centers incur costs to enable the profit centersProfit CentersProfit Center is the segment or division of a business responsible for generating revenue & contributing towards its overall profit. Here, the objective is to increase sales & reducing the cost incurred. read more to generate profits.

For example, we will call the marketing department a cost center because the company invests heavily in marketing. Because the marketing function enables the sales division to generate profits.

So, even if the marketing department incurs costs and doesn’t generate direct profits, it enables the sales division to create direct profits for the company.

The marketing department also helps understand what the customer needs. As a result, the organization stops doing what doesn’t generate profits and starts doing more of what develops.

Why are cost centers important for organizations?

Many start-ups may argue that there’s no need to keep cost centers within the organization since they incur many costs and don’t generate direct profits.

The point is that cost centers help profit centers direct the company’s functions.

Let’s say there’s no cost center in the organization. That means –

  • There will be no research & development in the organization. As a result, the organization won’t develop any new products or innovate on their current products/services.
  • There will be no customer service department. That means no customer would be served well if they faced any challenge or issue.
  • There will be no branding or marketing department which means that the company will keep producing products, but no one will know about the products or the company.

Keeping cost centers is important for long-term health and the organization’s perpetuityPerpetuityPerpetuity is the most commonly used in accounting and finance, which means that a business or an individual receives constant cash flows for an indefinite period (like an annuity that pays forever). According to the formula, its present value is calculated by dividing the amount of the continuous cash payment by the yield or interest rate.read more.

Yes, sometimes they can be outsourced to the right partner if required. But without the assistance of the cost centers, the profit centers won’t function well. And as a result, there will be less/no profit generation shortly.

Types of cost centers

There are two types of cost centers.

  • Production cost centers: These cost centers help in production processes. The usefulness of these sorts of cost centers lies in how seamlessly they can assist in processing the products. For example, we can identify an assembly area as a production cost center.
  • Service cost centers help provide a support function to enable the other profit center to function well. For example, we can talk about the human resource department as a service cost center since the human resource department helps enable the sales division to make more profits for the business.

How to measure the performance of a particular cost center?

It’s said that if you can’t measure something, you won’t improve.

That’s why we need to find a way to measure the performance of a cost center.

To measure the performance of a cost center, we need to do a variance analysis through which we would be able to see the difference between the standard cost and the actual cost.

Standard costsStandard CostsStandard cost is an estimated cost determined by the company for the production of the goods and services or for performing an operation under normal circumstances and are derived by the company from the historical analysis of the data or from the time and the motion studies.read more are being set as per the target to understand how well the mark is being fulfilled.

Actual costs are the costs that are incurred in reality.

Variance analysisVariance AnalysisVariance analysis is the process of identifying and analyzing the difference between the standard numbers that a company expects to accomplish and the actual numbers that they achieve, in order to help the firm analyze positive or negative consequences.read more can be done in two ways – first through price variance and then through quantity variance.

Let’s take an example to illustrate this.

Cost Center Example

  • The actual price of the material = $5 per unit.
  • The standard price of the material = $7 per unit.
  • Actual units of materials = 10,000.
  • Standard units of materials = 9700.

Find the price & quantity variance.

We have been given all the information.

The formula of price variance is = Actual units of materials * (Actual price per unit – Standard price per unit).

In this example putting all the figures in the formula, we get –

Price variance = 10,000 * ($5 – $7) = $50,000 – $70,000 = $20,000 (favorable).

When the actual price is less than the standard price, the price variance would be favorable and vice-versa.

To find out quantity variance, we need to look at the formula of quantity variance.

Quantity variance = (Actual quantity – Standard Quantity) * Standard Price

Putting the figures into the formula, we get –

Quantity variance = (10,000 – 9700) * $7 = 300 * $7 = $2100 (Unfavourable).

When the actual quantity is more than the standard quantity, the variance would be unfavorable and vice-versa.

What is a Profit center?

A profit center is a center that generates revenues, profits, and costs.

For example, we can take the sales department. An organization’s sales department is a profit center because the sales department ensures how much revenues will be earned, how much expenses the organization should incur to sell the products/services, and how much profits the company would make as a result.

Profit centers are the reasons for which business is run. Without profit centers, it would be impossible for a business to perpetuate.

Of course, profit centers are backed up by cost centers to generate profits, but the functions of profit centers are also noteworthy.

Management guru, Peter Drucker first coined the term “profit center” in 1945. After a few years, Peter Drucker corrected himself by saying that there are no profit centers in business, and that was his biggest mistake. He then said that there are only cost centers in a business and no profit center. If any profit center existed for a business, that would be a customer’s check that hadn’t been bounced.

Functions of profit center

Profit centers have few specific functions. They’re as follows –

  • Generate profits directly: Profit centers help generate direct profits from their activities. For example, the sales department directly sells products to customers to create profits.
  • Compute returns on investments: Since the profits center also takes charge of revenues and costs, calculating returns on investments becomes easy in profit centers.
  • Help in effective decision making: Since the activities of profit centers are directly generating revenues and profits, it’s easier to make effective decisions. The activities that generate the most revenues & profits should be done more, and activities that increase the cost but don’t generate profit should be reduced.
  • Help in budgetary control: Since the profit center is evaluated based on deducting actual costs from budgeted costs, profit centers offer more budgetary controlBudgetary ControlBudgetary control refers to a cost controlling system in which the management plans and regulates the various corporate costs by identifying the variation of actual expenses from the budgeted expenditure.read more. When the actual costs are compared with the budgeted expenses, the profit centers can understand the difference and apply the lessons in the next set of requirements.
  • Provides extrinsic motivation: Since the team of the profit center directly controls the outcomes (or revenues and profits), their performance is rewarded, which offers them extrinsic motivation to work harder and generate more profits.

Also, check out this article on Budgeting vs Forecasting | Is it Same or Different?Budgeting Vs Forecasting | Is It Same Or Different?While Budgeting refers to planning the business revenues & expenditures for a specified period, Forecasting means predicting the future outcomes by analyzing historical & present trends. read more

Types of profits center

Profit centers can be of two types.

  • A department within the organization: Profit centers can be departments. For example, the sales division is a profit center of every company. The sales division is a department, and at the same time, it is within the organization.
  • A strategic unit of a big organization: Profit centers can also be sub-units or strategic units of a big organization. For example, a restaurant can profit from a huge hotel chain.

How to measure the performance of a particular profit center?

There are five ways to measure the performance of the profit center. Let’s have a look at all of them –

Profit Center Example

Let’s take an example to use the three measures of profit center and how the company is doing –

ParticularsAmount (in $)
Revenue100,000
Cost of Goods SoldCost Of Goods SoldThe Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) is the cumulative total of direct costs incurred for the goods or services sold, including direct expenses like raw material, direct labour cost and other direct costs. However, it excludes all the indirect expenses incurred by the company. read more70,000
Gross Margin30,000
Labour5000
General & Administrative Expenses6000
Operating Income (EBIT)19,000
Interest Expenses3000
Profit Before Tax16,000
Tax Rate (25% of Profit before tax)4000
Net Income12,000

If we use the above data to find out the measurement, here’s the computation –

  • Gross profit percentage = Gross Profit / Sales * 100 = 30,000 / 100,000 * 100 = 30%.
  • Net profit percentage = Net Profit / Sales * 100 = 12,000 / 100,000 * 100 = 12%.
  • Expense/Sales = 18,000 / 100,000 * 100 = 18%

(Note: Expense here includes labor, general & administrative expenses, interest expenses, and tax expense)

Also, check out this article on Profit MarginsProfit MarginsProfit Margin is a metric that the management, financial analysts, & investors use to measure the profitability of a business relative to its sales. It is determined as the ratio of Generated Profit Amount to the Generated Revenue Amount. read more

Cost Center vs Profit Center – Key differences

Here are the key differences between cost center vs. profit center –

  • The cost center takes charge of costs and helps control and reduce the business’s costs. On the other hand, the profit center makes sure to generate revenues and profits directly.
  • According to Management Guru Peter Drucker, cost centers are the only requirement of a business. But other management thinkers think that even profit centers are essential ingredients of a good business.
  • It is important to measure the performance of cost centers; we do that by using variance analysis. The performance of profit centers should also be measured; profit centers can be measured through gross profit percentage, net profit percentage, expense/sales percentage, profit per unit, etc.
  • The area of influence of cost centers is narrow. But on the other hand, the influence of profit centers is wide.
  • Cost centers ensure the long-term health and profits of a business. Profit centers ensure the short-term profits of a business.
  • Cost centers help generate profits indirectly. Profit centers help generate profits directly.

Cost center vs Profit center (Comparison Table)

Basis for Comparison – Cost Center vs Profit CenterCost centerProfit center
1.    MeaningCost center is a subunit/department of a company which takes care of the costs.Profit center is a subunit of a business which is responsible for profits.
2.    Responsible forCost control and cost reduction.Maximizing revenuesMaximizing RevenuesRevenue maximization is the method of maximizing a company's sales by employing methods such as advertising, sales promotion, demos and test samples, campaigns, references. It aims to capture a larger market share in an industry. Technically, revenue is maximized when MR (Marginal Revenue) equals zero.read more and profits.
3.    Area of influenceNarrow.Wide.
4.    Type of workSimple since it only focuses on costs.Complex since it focuses on revenues, profits, and costs.
5.    Generation of profitsDoesn’t directly generate/maximize profits.Directly generate and maximize profits.
6.    Approach – Cost Center vs Profit CenterLong term.Short term & long term both.
7.    The health of businessCost centers are directly responsible to ensure good health of the business in the long run.Profit centers are backed by cost centers to ensure the perpetuity of business.
8.    ComputationStandard Costs – Actual CostsBudgeted Costs – Actual Costs
9.    Used  for – Cost Center vs Profit CenterInternal (mainly)Internal & external (both)
10.  ExampleCustomer Service FacilitySales division

 Conclusion

Cost centers vs. profit centers both are important for the business. If any organization thinks that the cost centers are not required to generate profits, they should think twice. Because without the support of cost centers, it would be impossible to run a business for a long period.

Rather, it can be said that without profit centers, cost centers would still be able to generate profit (though not so much); without the backing of cost centers, profit centers won’t exist.

This has been a guide to Cost Center vs. Profit Center. Here we discuss the top difference between cost center and profit center, infographics, and a comparison table. You may also have a look at the following articles –