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Activity Cost Driver


An Activity Cost Driver is a factor that influences or contributes to the expense of certain business operations. In activity-based costing (ABC), it is used to calculate the amount of costs each activity will consume. It is instrumental in identifying and allocating costs to specific operations or activities based on their use of resources.


The phonetic transcription of the keyword: “Activity Cost Driver” is: /æktɪvɪti kɒst draɪvər/

Key Takeaways

  1. Measurement tool: Activity Cost Driver is a method used in activity-based costing to identify and quantify the aspect of a business process that directly affects the cost of running a specific activity. It serves as a measurement unit of the volume of business activities.
  2. Cost Efficiency: Understanding an Activity Cost Driver helps a company to control its costs more effectively, improve efficiency and support cost allocation decisions. It provides useful insights to managers about cost behavior and usage of resources.
  3. Decision-making and Pricing: Top management uses information from cost driver analysis for strategic decision-making purposes, including pricing decisions, outsourcing decisions, and business process improvement. Cost driver analysis ultimately aids in understanding how different business activities drive costs within an organization.


Activity Cost Driver is a critical term in business/finance because it is a component that can directly affect the costs of certain business operations. It refers to the elements that determine the cost of a particular activity. Understanding the Activity Cost Driver is vital for business cost management strategies as it can help identify areas where resources are being heavily consumed, and thus, are more costly. This knowledge can then be useful in focusing on those activities to control costs, improve efficiency, and ultimately, increase profitability. This is especially essential in activity-based costing, a popular approach to cost accounting that allocates indirect costs to related business activities. Therefore, the Activity Cost Driver plays a central role in financial planning, decision-making, and performance evaluation processes.


The primary purpose of an Activity Cost Driver is for businesses to accurately assign costs to products or services based on the level of activities required to produce them. By identifying and understanding cost drivers, managers can allocate resources more efficiently, leading to accurate product costing and profitable pricing strategies. For example, in a manufacturing context, machine hours or labor hours can be considered as cost drivers. If a product takes more machine hours to produce, the cost associated with that product is higher, enabling managers to accurately price the product.

Activity Cost Drivers further play a fundamental role in Activity-Based Costing (ABC), a costing methodology that assigns costs to activities based on their use of resources. ABC counters traditional costing, which sometimes provides misleading costs in a diversified organization. This approach facilitates in-depth analysis and control of overheads, and thus, helps in making strategic decisions related to pricing, outsourcing, identification and measurement of process improvement initiatives. It provides a clearer picture of the sources of costs and the possibilities of reducing them, thus providing a competitive edge to the organization.


1. Number of Orders Processed: In businesses such as e-commerce, the activity cost driver could be the number of orders processed. This cost driver reflects how the business operations are influenced by the volume of orders. Costs related to this activity could include expenses for packing materials, labor costs for packing, shipping costs, and processing costs.

2. Machine Hours Used: Manufacturing or production businesses might use machine hours as a cost driver. This could refer to costs related to usage and maintenance of the machinery, energy costs to operate the machines, and depreciation costs. For example, if a company is manufacturing a product and the machine operates for 10 hours a day, the expenses associated with operating this machine (like electricity, machine wear-and-tear, etc.) would be the activity cost driver.

3. Number of Customer Service Calls: In a call center or customer service business, the cost driver may be the number of customer service calls. The costs associated with this activity can include employee wages, telephone expenses, software and system costs, and possibly any costs incurred due to resolution of customer issues. The total cost for this activity will increase with the increase in the number of customer calls.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Activity Cost Driver?

An activity cost driver is a factor that influences or contributes to the expense of certain business operations. It is used in the activity-based costing (ABC) method to discern and quantify the factors driving overhead costs.

What is the purpose of an Activity Cost Driver?

The purpose of an activity cost driver is to better understand the relationship of various manufacturing activities to the cost of a product. This allows for more accurate cost allocation, leading to better decision-making in areas such as pricing and product development.

How is an Activity Cost Driver identified?

Identification of an activity cost driver requires a thorough understanding of the operational process. It typically involves determining which activities are most responsible for the incurred overhead costs in the production process.

What are some common examples of Activity Cost Driver?

Some common examples of activity cost drivers are machine hours, direct labor hours, and number of setups, among others. The specific drivers will depend on the nature of a business’s operations.

How does Activity Cost Driver affect the cost of a product?

The activity cost driver influences the cost of a product by determining where and how overhead costs are allocated. This can significantly impact the total cost of producing a product, thereby affecting its selling price.

What is the relationship between Activity Cost Driver and Activity-Based Costing (ABC)?

Activity Cost Driver is a fundamental part of Activity-Based Costing. ABC uses cost drivers to assign the indirect costs of production to the activities that actually cause those costs, making the costing process more precise and accurate.

Can the same cost driver be used for multiple activities?

Yes, it’s possible for the same cost driver to be used across multiple activities if the driver is relevant and contributes to the cost of those activities. The choice of cost driver depends on the cause-effect relationship between the activity and the costs incurrence.

How can businesses benefit from understanding their Activity Cost Drivers?

Understanding activity cost drivers can help businesses develop their pricing strategies, manage their costs effectively, improve efficiency, and make informed financial decisions. This understanding can also highlight areas of high expenditure and provide insights on where to focus cost control efforts.

Related Finance Terms

  • Cost Allocation
  • Overhead Costs
  • Cost Behavior
  • Activity Based Costing (ABC)
  • Variable Costs

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