5 reasons for cash flow management and planning | Unit4
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5 reasons for cash flow management and planning

“Profit is vanity; cash is sanity"

In other words, running out of cash, either from operations or reserves, means an inability to pay suppliers for goods and services required to keep the business running. Whilst profits can be accounted for in many ways, some more creative than others, it is not possible to misinterpret what is held at the bank or in cold hard cash. It is true that when cash runs out, a business can continue to exist purely on credit or other forms of lending such as shareholder equity injections or loans. However, these inflows are not sustainable because they will stop when the risk of default (non-payment) becomes unacceptable to the lender or when the risk of losing capital investment becomes too high for equity owners.

An organization cannot use profit to trade; it uses cash. Therefore, like any other asset, cash needs to be properly managed and planned for. There are several reasons why organizations have to pay close attention to their cash flow management practices. Yet the ultimate consequence of neglecting them is business failure and, in its most extreme form, a business ceasing to exist.

  • Optimizing cash utilization: Having too much cash can be a problem, especially in an environment where the interest rate is negative, very low or very high. It signals that the organisation is not able to find any productive use for its cash to help improve future performance. Without visibility and insight into cash flow trends, it is impossible to optimize this situation. Ultimately, this situation will not be allowed to persist since business owners will start to demand larger cash disbursements such as increased dividends, share buyback, or debt repayments. By being involved in the corporate financial strategy process, FP&A can provide valuable support.
  • Funding short-term operations: Not having enough cash can lead to short-term liquidity issues. In this case, organizations might lose their reputation and damage relationships with suppliers and employees. For example, an inability to meet payroll commitments will not satisfy staff. Normally, these risks would be managed by the treasury function, which leads the short-term cash flow forecast process. FP&A can proactively work with the business and treasury to be aware of action options that can be taken to avoid material liquidity issues. For example, this could be to offer additional incentives to suppliers to accelerate the rate of incoming cash.
  • Meeting medium-term investment requirements: This is important in order to support the agreed business objectives. The main risk here is an organization missing opportunities to meet future performance expectations. If mismanaged, capital projects may be delayed and, in extreme cases, stopped. FP&A should ensure there is a robust capital investment process in place and that there is a strong link between expenditure timings and the forecast process.
  • Avoiding the need for emergency cash: Emergency cash is likely to harm an organization’s reputation, lead to higher costs through interest payments and give financially secure competitors an opportunity to mount tactical attacks. FP&A can work with both internal and external business stakeholders to ensure there is a clear communication strategy. This is especially important for key customers and suppliers who are most at risk of competitive attack.
  • Avoid breaching covenants: Many organizations, especially private or small to medium-sized ones, have agreements with external funding institutes that require minimum cash flow levels. Breaching these can lead to severe penalties, including, at the more extreme end, taking control of assets or forcing the sale of assets at a distressed price. For public companies, such insolvency can impact credit worthiness and make future finance raising costlier. FP&A need to ensure that the management team has full visibility of this risk as early as possible, along with associated contingency planning. This will allow the CFO to proactively present contingency plans to lenders so that together they can explore constructive action options in a timely manner.

Summary: Cash flow is the lifeblood of an organization

Without sustained positive cash flow development, an organization will be at risk of becoming insolvent. In order to avoid this, as well as any shorter-term liquidity issues, cash flow needs to be managed and planned for with as much attention as the P&L. Harnessing and leveraging modern technology and especially adaptive and flexible planning and forecasting tools will help FP&A improve the organization's cash flow planning and management and thus help the organization to better navigate an ever-changing business environment.

Want to know more?

To discover more about how Unit4 FP&A can leverage technology to help your organization plan and manage essential cash flow, check out our dedicated product pages here or click here to book a live demo.

Picture Amrish Shah

Amrish Shah

Amrish Shah, FP&A professional and author at FP&A Trends

Amrish Shah is a senior finance leader with 20+ years of financial management experience in international organisations including Unilever, O'Neill Group, Staples, Royal Wessanen, Kao, EndemolShine.

A qualified management accountant with CIMA, Amrish has held both staff and line roles managing teams of up to 40 people and has a clear belief in the value of finance at both strategic and operational levels to the organisation.