The Top 3 Tips to Increase Your Team’s Financial Literacy this April
Financial literacy is an essential skill for navigating the worlds of both personal and business finance. However, many Americans have not received proper financial education, if any at all, leaving them extremely vulnerable to the pitfalls that can occur when one lacks requisite knowledge.
Lack of proper financial knowledge can be damaging for both individuals and businesses. That’s why April has been designated as National Financial Literacy Month – a time to focus on financial education for both adults and children. Financial Literacy Month began as part of the National Endowment for Financial Education (“NEFE”) more than two decades ago, as Youth Financial Literacy Day. In 2000, it was expanded into Financial Literacy for Youth Month, and when the Jump$tart Coalition took over for NEFE, it was eventually retitled “Financial Literacy Month.” In 2004, it became nationally recognized by a senate resolution.
Financial Literacy for Your Team
Financial literacy does not begin and end with the finance department. Whether we like to admit it or not, money is at the foundation of much of business. In fact, without it, we wouldn’t have businesses at all. But when it comes to your team, it’s not just about their financial decisions within your company. What about what they’re doing when they go home? The financial wellness of your individual team members is just as valuable as the financial wellness of your company. Setting them up for success when they get their paycheck by giving them the tools to relieve financial stress and achieve their goals is more important than ever.
Employer financial wellness programs have become increasingly popular in helping employees reduce their overall stress by forming better financial habits that lead to financial wellness. And less stressed employees equate to more productive teams. Additionally, creating a financially literate team can aid in flailing recruitment and retention efforts, serious problems facing many businesses today. Letting your team know that you care about their overall wellbeing, including finances, has become progressively more valuable. Simply, their personal success is your business success.
Top 3 Tips for Employees
Financial Literacy Month is a great time to introduce financial education to your team. Here are our top 3 tips to get started:
Introduce financial assessments to your team, but switch the focus from business assessments to personal ones. A personal financial assessment is a useful tool for team members to begin thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of their finances. It also provides a framework for team members to take action to improve their financial health and achieve their goals. You should be aware that this exercise can spark anxiety in some, as they fear learning the reality of their situation. However, once they realize that ignoring it will only make it worse, they will begin to have comfort in gaining knowledge and making small steps to induce big changes.
Setting Up Online Financial Education Programs
Once your team has targeted their financial weaknesses, it’s time to give them the financial knowledge to implement change. Online video education is the easiest way to help them learn financial principles that they can use for the rest of their lives. Give them some time during the day to make use of tools like Udemy, Coursera, and YouTube – all of which have high quality training and educational videos. Or provide a few lunch and learns with speakers. These types of courses will give them the strategies for navigating their finances on a variety of topics from learning to create a budget to investing in the stock market to saving for retirement.
Making Financial Resources Available
The members of your team will invariably have different goals. Similarly, financial resources are rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. Creating a weekly/monthly email or a team document where you can show various resources for different goals, such as debt elimination, homeownership, family planning, or retirement, creates a system where every team member has access to resources that are helpful in achieving their individual goals.
We can do better, as a country, in helping others understand their finances better. And business owners can play a large role in increasing this financial literacy by taking some time to educate their teams. Remember, the more your employees understand their own finances, the better they will handle yours.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance to companies of all sizes. We provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow, especially as it relates to your team development in financial literacy. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Credit Check – It’s National Credit Education Month
March is National Credit Education Month. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card or a car loan, you know the importance of having good credit. At its foundation, it demonstrates to a lender how likely it is that you will repay your debt on time. Having good credit benefits you in countless ways, while having bad credit can challenge you in just as many.
This month serves as an important reminder for us all to check our credit scores and implement tools and tips to help improve it, if need be. Overall, it’s about increasing our knowledge around credit, including the amount of debt we carry, the age of our credit history, reports to collection agencies, the effect of late payments, high interest, and hard inquiries, and the number of accounts we have.
While this monthly designation is focused on personal credit, both maintaining it and improving it, it also presents an ideal opportunity to look at the importance of business credit. Just as with personal, its significance lies in showing a lender your reliability in paying back debt on time. Simply, consistently monitoring the financial health of your business is a crucial part of running a successful business.
What is a Business Credit Score?
Similar to a personal credit score, a business credit score (also known as a commercial credit score) is the primary indicator of your business’s creditworthiness. It’s a number that indicates if a company is a good candidate for a loan or other extension of credit by vendors or partners. One difference from a personal credit score is the numbers themselves. Instead of the 300 to 850 on the personal side, a business credit score ranges from 0 to 100 and will be reported most often on Equifax, Experian, and Dun and Bradstreet.
To determine if your business is financially risky or stable, consider the following factors:
a company’s credit obligations;
repayment histories with lenders and suppliers;
any legal filings, such as tax liens, judgments, or bankruptcies;
how long the company has operated;
business type and size; and
repayment performance compared to that of similar companies.
Why is Business Credit so Important?
If a company wants to take out a loan to purchase equipment, lease property, or obtain better terms on a supplier contract, the lender/supplier will consider its business credit score. The lender will also consider the company’s revenue, profits, assets, liabilities, and collateral value of the equipment or property, if applicable. Essentially, you will need your profit and loss statement and balance sheet ready for review. In some instances, particularly with small businesses, lenders often check both business and personal credit.
Having good credit for your business will help you qualify for financing faster and easier to purchase an asset or help cash flow issues. It may also help you secure lower interest rates, saving you money over the life of the loan. Another benefit is the likelihood of getting better repayment terms with suppliers, helping your cash flow remain positive. Further, having a strong business credit score can help protect your personal credit score. Without business credit, lenders will have to rely on your personal credit. You should try to avoid this situation, if at all possible, as it increases your credit utilization ratio, and consequently, increases the likelihood of a negative impact on your personal credit. And if something happens with the business, it could take you years to fix it.
Five Steps for Establishing and Improving Your Business Credit
The following five steps can help establish and then improve your business credit score:
Open a business bank account
Open a business credit file (for example, on Dun & Bradstreet)
Get a business credit card
Establish a line of credit with your suppliers or vendors
Pay all of your bills on time
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance to companies of all sizes. While we provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow, we also never minimize the basics, including the importance of business credit. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
New Year; New Budget Maintaining Control Over the Organization’s Finances
It’s January. Your new calendar is in place. There is a renewed sense of energy among the team. A fresh start for your business awaits. Your organization has its yearly goals (or you are in the process of developing them), and it appears to be full speed ahead. Yet, as always, with wide open space in front of us, there’s only one way to effectively move forward – stop and develop a well-thought-out plan. And, in this case, a major part of that plan is the annual budget.
Budget Benefits An annual budget provides benefits that reach far beyond year end. Budgets clarify your goals, provide an accurate picture of what you can afford (and what you can’t), increase creativity (by helping you think outside of the box when it comes to funding sources), help you to avoid surprises, and fulfill some stringent requirements (budgets are needed for funding and become the basis for quarterly financial statements).
Accurate, up-to-date annual budgets not only help organizations maintain control over their finances throughout the year, but also demonstrate to funders exactly how their money is being utilized. They provide an opportunity to view any gaps in funding and what is needed to close those gaps. They also decrease the likelihood of overspending by keeping you and other stakeholders accountable.
Budget Basics While one organization’s budget may be different than another’s, there are common factors included in them all – what we like to call the “budget basics.” Below are some of those basics, along with tips on how to make the best projections:
Tip 1: Income should be broken down by source. For example, sales of goods or services, subscriptions, grants, contracts, yearly dues or fees (for memberships), rental income (if you have rental property), investment income, and funding from investors.
Tip 2: Start with last year’s figures as a baseline and estimate conservatively. You never want to be overly optimistic when it comes to income. That means staying on the lower end when you make your projections.
Tip 3: Look at who has regularly funded the organization in the past. Have they already promised anything for this year? Is it time to ask?
Tip 4: Analyze whether your funder has restricted the use of funds for a specific activity or item. Build this into the budget to ensure that you adhere to your funder’s restrictions.
Tip 1: Categorize expenses. Look at payroll, rent, consulting service fees, office expenses, transportation, travel, and anything else on which you expect to spend money.
Tip 2: Once again, you should start with last year’s numbers and make conservative projections from there. But instead of staying on the low end, with expenses, you always want to estimate on the high end.
Comparison of Projected Income to Expenses.
If they are approximately equal, your budget is balanced.
Tip: Use the money as you have planned, and do not deviate.
If projected expenses are significantly less than projected income, you have a budget surplus.
Tip: Consider strategies to expand or invest money.
If projected expenses are significantly more than projected income, you have a budget deficit.
Tip: Look for funding sources or find areas to cut expenses.
While your budget will always begin with estimates, it’s imperative to make real-time adjustments as the year progresses. These adjustments should be made monthly to keep the budget as accurate as possible. In fact, by the time you are in the fourth quarter, your adjusted estimates should be very close to your actuals. Additionally, and with particular importance this year, is paying attention to what’s outside of the numbers. With the economy and employment in a state of constant flux, you should anticipate changes in leadership, staffing shortages, product delays, and increasing prices, and their impacts on the budget.
Set yourself up for success in 2022 with an accurate, up-to-date annual budget that you can rely on to get from January to December. After all, it’s difficult to reach any destination without a map.
Barker Associates has extensive experience as an outsourced CFO. If you need assistance with your budget, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Unwrapping the Top Three Overlooked CFO Year-End Processes
The holidays are upon us. And while we all may enjoy the traditions, family time, gift-giving, and merriment (likely even more so this year), there is still work to be done … particularly for CFOs. It’s time for year-end analyses and processes to end 2021 in an organized, balanced way in order to start 2022 with a clean slate. While it can all be overwhelming at times thinking about reviewing operations, marketing expenses, and all financials, it’s imperative these responsibilities are met accurately.
Unpredictability Doesn’t Change the Basics of Financial Planning
With all its tasks and checklists, end-of-the-year financial analyses and planning comes down to the assumption that when you evaluate where you were, you can better understand where you’re going. However, the past nearly two years has made this assumption somewhat unreliable with unpredictability appearing to be the only thing that’s predictable in business.
Despite this volatility though, CFOs ultimately remain responsible for performing the same duties – analyzing financial reporting, balancing accounts, preparing records and documents to file and pay taxes, and creating budgets. These tasks remain stagnant regardless of outside economic factors. But it has never been more important to dig deeper into some additional, often overlooked, processes.
Top Three Overlooked Year-End Processes
For many, we think CFO and Year-End and we automatically think financial statements, balancing accounts, and preparing for tax returns and payroll reports, but there’s so much more. The end of the year presents a unique time to unwrap real opportunities. Whether its negotiating with vendors, securing investments, or looking for better deals with health insurance, in some instances, you can start over in the new year, advancing your company even further (not to mention faster).
So, before you start the countdown to midnight, readying yourself for all that the new year has to offer, make sure you count the top three overlooked CFO processes so that your company is just as ready for 2022.
1. Accounts Payable. Sure, we remember to look at accounts receivable – our team has worked diligently, and we need to collect the money owed for that work. But what about what we owe?
Analyzing the company’s Accounts Payable is not merely a process to get caught up on payments though (although that is also clearly crucial). Rather, it is also an opportunity to review vendor contracts and negotiate better terms in an attempt to save money in the new year.
Are there any other options?
Are there hidden cost savings?
What does the competition look like?
If the CFO doesn’t look at ways to save the company money, no one else will.
2. Financial Technology. Technology has perhaps never been as important as it has been recently. Technology is what kept businesses running and team members connected when they couldn’t physically be together during a global pandemic. And yes, from an expense perspective, you’re likely spending more on it than ever before. But are you also considering what financial technology you are using? Are you asking yourself –
Is it up to date?
Have we switched over to the cloud, where there are automatic backups?
What does your accountant use and prefer?
If not, you probably should. This is a great time to do an end-of-year financial technology audit.
3. Future Scenario Planning. You may be saying, “Of course, we take time to strategically plan out the year,” and I’m sure you do, but things are different now. Knowing the challenges unpredictability creates in successfully running a company, it’s crucial to expand this planning by using future scenarios. Essentially, you create different scenarios and develop the response or plan of action for that particular set of circumstances. While this type of planning was historically the foundation of crisis management, with crisis permeating every aspect of business, it plays a more prominent role in day-to-day strategy.
With future scenario planning, you define triggers in advance and commit to be flexible and nimble enough to account for them. For example, a common future scenario planning topic this year is PPP forgiveness. For those who do not know yet if their PPP loan has been forgiven, future scenarios include full forgiveness, partial forgiveness, and no forgiveness. Analyzing how each of these scenarios will affect your business next year is key to unlocking future success.
Barker Associates has extensive experience in year-end processes and planning. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
The Pandemic’s Larger Impacts on Financial Reporting It’s About Much More than a Loss of Revenue
Many people incorrectly assumed that the pandemic’s only true effect on a business’s financials was a loss (albeit often significant) of revenue. And while that assumption is not even necessarily true of every business (many did very well), Covid-19 impacted much more—not just financial performance, but also position, cashflow, and balance sheet accounts. There have been impairments to goodwill and other intangibles, effects on inventory, a change in how and when audits are conducted, and impacts to overall company strategy and goals. And these impacts are especially challenging for a company in the growth phase.
If your company is in the growth phase, it’s crucial to think about your options, understand your needs and, more significantly, how they have changed since the pandemic, what numbers are required, and to develop a new strategy. Companies in the growth phase are experiencing positive cash flow. With this increase in cash, they have the ability to repay debt, and are in a better position to seek additional capital from investors to expand their market reach. However, if the CFO hasn’t been carefully monitoring the pandemic’s impact on all aspects of the company’s financials, they likely don’t have their reporting in order to even approach potential investors.
Changing Financial Needs Means Increased Financial Monitoring
We learned fairly quickly in the beginning of the pandemic that liquidity is key to keeping a business from closing its doors in a crisis. The question that plagued many was how to increase liquidity with revenue decreasing? But those CFOs were often only considering pre-pandemic needs and observations, not the changing needs of the company in the midst of the pandemic. Auditors have noted that many accounts, including sales, inventory, and bad debt have been affected, as well as production and distribution.
First, these changing needs require a change in financial monitoring. Cash flow projections and other assumptions used to measure financial instruments pre-pandemic should be adjusted to reflect your company’s new reality. Remember that a majority of businesses have been affected in one way or another, but if that results in their lack of ability to pay you, you’re going to incur additional credit and liquidity risks, increased bad debt, and write-offs.
Cash Flow A careful analysis of your company’s cash flow can help. Some questions to consider about revenue include:
Are accounts receivable being paid?
Are past due accounts being followed up on?
Are late payment fees and interest being charged to customers (your money should not be free)?
Do you need to offer pre-payment discounts?
Should you look at retainers/deposits?
Do you have the capability of setting up auto-payments?
Of course, we can’t consider cash flow without considering expenses. And while there will be a decrease in some, there will be an increase in others. At a minimum, consider the following questions:
How have your office needs changed?
Do you have the ability to downsize?
How much are you saving due to decreased meal and travel expenses?
Where are these savings being utilized?
How much more are you spending on technology expenditures to maintain communications with staff and customers/clients?
Balance Sheet Accounts
Additionally, other balance sheet accounts have also been affected. One issue that warrants attention if you plan to seek outside funding is inventory needs and accessibility. With productivity and supply chains being disrupted, it may be difficult to allocate costs to inventory. There is also the issue of inventory that cannot be delivered because of travel restrictions. This also plays a significant role in the larger economic impact of decreased supply and increased demand, resulting in higher prices going forward.
Goodwill, post-retirement plans, and internal controls are other accounts/issues that require an in depth look at your financials and a pivot in business strategy, as we slowly climb out of this pandemic.
If you’re still waiting for things to get back to “normal,” and analyzing your financials based on pre-pandemic assumptions, you are not doing your business justice. You may think you have enough cash on hand or that expenses are timely being paid, but without meticulous monitoring and a true long-term plan based on our new reality, you cannot forecast or grow to the next level.
This can be overwhelming. But pivoting in your financial planning and forecasting is necessary. Barker Associates has extensive experience in financial statement analysis, plans, and forecasts. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Defining Your Corporate Development Strategy How to Navigate from Where You Are to Where You Want to Go
Typically, when you get into your car, you have a destination. You’re going somewhere and you know how to get there (or you have your smartphone or navigation to help you along the way). You don’t get into the car and sit there wondering absentmindedly about what you should do next (put the key in the ignition, put the car into gear) or where you should go (a quick trip to the store, a commute to work, or a longer road trip to a vacation destination). Rather, you know what your next steps are to take you where you want to go.
We’ve used this analogy before in our financial literacy series, but it holds true here just as much. Running a company is very similar to driving a car. You need to know the steps you need to take to get started, where you are going, and of course, how you will get there. Without them, much like as a driver, you will soon find yourself lost. And, with a company, you not only have to worry about yourself getting lost, but all of those others (staff, clients, vendors, partners) following close behind. It’s important to navigate and lead them along the right path, or, as I like to call it, your corporate development strategy.
What is a Corporate Development Strategy?
A corporate development strategy is best described as an actionable plan for your company. There are different strategies (or routes) you can take—Stability Strategy, Expansion Strategy, or Growth Strategy, to name just a few. And while they all will take you in different directions depending on the goals you have for your company, they all have the exact same foundation—understanding your financials, both current and future projections. Without a clear understanding of your revenue, expenses, and other financial data, it would be difficult to define your strategy based on where you want to drive the company in the future.
As you begin to define your own corporate development strategy, it’s important to put aside some common debates and confusion. Corporate strategy is not corporate finance (although it will always incorporate finance). Corporate strategy is also not business strategy. Like the distinction with finance, they are close, but distinctions abound. Business strategy deals specifically with how you are going to achieve your goals. Corporate strategy is more all-encompassing—it includes not merely your annual goals, but a clear overall strategy on where the company is going with well-researched answers to questions, such as:
Where do you want your business to be in terms of revenue in ten years (not three or five, as most business project)?
Note: This should be realistic, but not conservative.
What will it take each year to get there?
Who is in the competitive landscape?
How will you compete?
What are barriers to where you want to go?
Should you introduce new products/services? Should you remove any products/services?
If so, when?
If so, should you acquire another company with experience in that space?
Are their potential partners or suppliers in which you can outsource some of your operations?
How do you optimize productivity and profitability?
Do you need new technology?
Should you acquire a company with expertise in that technology?
Dig Deeper than a SWOT Analysis
This list in not all-inclusive, but should give you an idea of the scope of the due diligence required. Small companies often will think about some or all of these questions during an annual review (if they have one – let’s hope they do) where they dust off their white board and do a typical SWOT analysis. But a true corporate development strategy will dive much deeper than a four-section chart detailing the somewhat generic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a small business. To grow beyond a small business, there needs to be much more than the contents of four cubes on a whiteboard.
A successful corporate development strategy may include diversification, where a company acquires or establishes a business other than that of its current product. It could also include horizontal integration, where there is a merger or acquisition of a new business, or a vertical integration, which includes the integrating of successive stages of various processes under single management.
Many, but not all, corporate development strategies focused on growth will include a merger or acquisition at some point. It’s often the best way to truly grow your business to the next level. But it always begins with a decision made as you define the right corporate development strategy for your business.
Putting the appropriate strategy together is crucial for the long-term success of your business. If you need assistance defining your business’s future, or corporate development strategy, or have any other questions, Barker Associates can help. Please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
The Check is in the Mail How E-Payments Render that Saying Obsolete
If you’re like me, you probably can’t remember the last time you heard “the check is in the mail” with any seriousness. While it had been a fairly common sentiment for many years, with online banking, cash apps, Zelle, and more e-payment options materializing every day, it seems to have become a saying of times past.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, paper checks are projected to become obsolete by the year 2026 – that’s just five short years away, begging the question – Are you ready? And while it may seem sudden to some, this trend is not at all that recent. According to the Federal Reserve, even as far back as nine years ago, in 2012, only 15% of all U.S. noncash payments were checks. By 2019, that percentage was reduced to a mere 8.3%.
Some “Ancient” History about E-Payments
The history of e-payments goes back much further than 2012 though. One of the significant impetuses of e-payments was actually due to the effects of September 11th; specifically, the grounding of all air traffic (and many checks in envelopes on those planes). The Federal Reserve took action shortly thereafter with the “Check 21 Act.”
The new legislation authorized fully electronic clearance of checks, rather than presentation of the physical check. At the time, the “new” verification process was explained by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, “This legislation initially permitted a paper substitute digital image of a check, and later an electronic digital image of a check, to be processed and presented for payment on a same-day basis.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Paper Check Usage … A Question of the Ages
In our tech-driven, fast-paced world, with e-payments and cash apps paving the road to the future of payment processing, it is probably no surprise that check usage is a numbers game in more than one way. It is often based on the person’s age range. For example, younger generations feel the process of checks (and mail in general) is annoying, takes too long, and is inefficient. They’ve grown up with deposits on their smartphones and Venmo payments. In fact, the Google search term “how to write a check” has increased drastically over the past decade, presumably by younger people unsure of the check-writing process.
In contrast, older generations do not quite “trust” these apps and transferring their cash to anyone with a swipe on their phones or the click of a mouse. They are familiar with paper checks and live by the motto, “if it’s not broke don’t fix it.” But the question is, “Isn’t it broke?”
E-payments have a huge impact on business savings. They save money by reducing the costs associated with using paper checks (as much as $9 per check). They also save time with increased efficiency of payments. They even help save our environment by enhancing a company’s green initiative. They do all of this while keeping the foundation of a check alive and well – the ability to securely move money from one entity or person to another.
Other benefits include:
Reducing a company’s exposure to fraud. For years, checks have been the payment method most susceptible to those committing fraud.
Increasing the ability to quickly process last-minute bill and payroll payments.
Improved client-vendor relationships due to rapid, more efficient payments.
Better reporting and workflow surrounding payments.
This may be a shift for some businesses, who haven’t been ready to take the full e-payment leap yet. But doing what they’ve always done will not only make them inefficient, it will cost them more money in the long run. Yet, we understand that making the shift and trusting in these systems may still be overwhelming to some. That’s where Barker Associates can help.
We have seen the “deer-in-the-headlights” look that clients get when trying to sort through the options to choose the best solution for their company. But the fact of the matter is the use of checks will eventually fade away completely, and if the Federal Reserve is correct, that time will be fairly soon. There are simply too many options and solutions now for the old method of writing, signing, and mailing a paper check to live on. If you would like to discuss these services, or if you have other specific areas of concern, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
The Balancing Act of Account Reconciliation and Online Banking Convenience Doesn’t Make Up for Inaccuracy
We are continuing our financial literacy discussion with something we all know about … or do we? We’re talking about online banking and its effect on our reconciliation habits (or lack thereof). In our daily routines, with our phones and computers easily assisting us with deposits, automated payments, and Zelle transfers, do we ever think about good old bank account statements and the ever-important task of regular bank account reconciliations? My guess for many is no.
Most of us happily “live” online. Our online lives provide convenience and speed like we’ve never known before. Simply, they provide what we all crave – instant gratification. As a society, we have become accustomed to having all of the information we need with the click of our mouse or a swipe on our smartphone. Dare I say, we tend to get a little lazy, not to mention, annoyed, when we don’t have instantaneous satisfaction. Everything from groceries to dinner delivery to setting appointments to virtual doctor’s appointments to online banking just helps make our lives easier. And we’re all for it.
With regard to online banking, being able to find out your balance, arrange for a payment, and make a deposit all from the palm of our hand is wonderful … in certain situations. However, in many instances, people are becoming far too reliant on this online information and forgetting about some of the basics, such as bank account reconciliation.
In the Days Before Online Banking
Once upon a time, long before online banking became a regular part of our lives, the standard practice for both personal and business checking accounts was to reconcile a check register to a monthly bank statement. You remember those days (or you should) – when you received your bank statement in the mail (yes, the actual mailbox, not email) and then you’d open your checkbook and go through line-by-line check-marking away to make sure each transaction was accounted for? Well, there was a reason for that. You need to know which transactions have cleared and which haven’t, so you can accurately determine how much is in your account (which, in reality, is not always what the number on the statement says).
Yet, when accounting professionals adopted online banking into their processes, organizations tended to forgo the discipline of maintaining a check register as part of their reconciliation processes. In the interest of increasing efficiencies, and feeling as if the ends no longer justified the means, reconciliation became an “obsolete” practice. But should it have? Absolutely not.
A Common Conversation
The following is a typical conversation I’ve had when consulting with clients on accounting process improvements:
Accounting professional (with a bundle of unsigned checks): “This is our process for obtaining check signatures.”
Me:“How do you know you have enough money in the account to cover these checks? What is your procedure?”
Accounting professional:“I checked the balance online this morning.”
Me:“Where is the reconciliation to the check register? How do you know that all of the uncashed checks will not deplete the entire balance?”
Accounting professional:“I know there are not that many outstanding checks.”
Me:“When is the last time you reconciled the account?”
Accounting professional: Answers range from “a year ago” to “I do not remember” (not good) to “yesterday” or “a month ago” (which is good).
Finding the Right Balance
I am not saying there aren’t times when viewing online balances without going through the reconciliation process is appropriate, but it’s not the final reconciliation resource. It’s okay to use online banking as an effective tool to manage your daily cash flow, but it requires the extra effort of being connected to a cash reconciliation process that is properly maintained and reviewed periodically. Without accurate and consistent reconciliations, your organization is at risk of fraud, unauthorized withdrawals, or bank errors. If left unchecked, these issues can quickly lead to cash flow issues that will hurt business operations and stifle growth.
Let’s avoid those situations with an experiment: If you are a CEO, President of a company, or a Finance Chair of a non-profit, ask the accounting department for the latest bank/cash reconciliation of the operating account. Ask specifically for these documents:
The bank reconciliation
A copy of the bank document to which it was reconciled
The Balance Sheet balance to which it was reconciled
(Note: Publicly traded companies, financial institutions, insurance companies and other regulated industries have to maintain reconciliation procedures, so if you are in charge of one of those, regulation will take care of this.)
If you are bold enough to move forward with this call to action, my experience tells me about 50% of you will get a reconciliation completed in the last 45 days. If you get one and do not know how to review it, schedule time with me for a free, no-obligation checklist that will guide you through a high-level review.
If you do not get a reconciliation, and, in fact, get a blank stare from your accounting person, contact me to complete a review of your cash procedures and processes. You may have plenty of cash flow today, but how do you really know without a current reconciliation? Don’t risk finding yourself in a position where you cannot meet your basic financial obligations. “Cash is king” is a cliché’ for a reason – it’s true!
This week, we continue our month-long discussion on financial literacy, including best practices to increase your financial knowledge. While there are numerous reasons business owners do not have an adequate level of financial knowledge (some people are just not good with numbers, guidance from GAAP has gotten so complicated it makes it even more difficult to understand, and business owners are just “too busy” to get into it), this knowledge is crucial to having effective conversations about your business.
Can You Stand Your Financial Ground?
If the right investor came along tomorrow, how confident are you that you are prepared with accurate historical and projected financials? Can you demonstrate thorough knowledge of your company’s financials, cash flow, burn rate, and return on investment? Are you prepared to get drilled on each number you provide and have the ability to accurately explain where it came from? If you are not prepared, it will feel like the longest half hour of your life.
So, how confident are you?
If your answer is, “Not confident,” or “Somewhat confident,” it is time to make an investment in yourself. Here are a few tips to increase your financial knowledge:
Prioritize your financial education. We know how busy you are, but think of it as the investment it truly is.
Develop a financial advisory team. Ask these trusted individuals questions and encourage them to do the same.
Make the cash flow statement your new best friend. This is the lifeblood of business and you should understand everything on it at all times.
Take some basic accounting courses. It’s never been easier to take a class online.
Connect with a CFO firm. Not everyone has all of the required resources at their fingertips. Allow the right CFO firm to become that resource as a trusted partner.
Get a better understanding of key financial terms. We’re including some right here to help get you started.
Terms to Help You Stand Stronger
When an investor begins to ask about gross profit, net profit, or EBITDA, often the business owner’s face says it all – like when you’ve caught a teenager in a lie. Knowing these financial terms helps you not only have a more constructive conversation with potential bankers and investors, but also to truly have a better understanding of your business. Some of the basics (there are many more) include:
Aged Accounts Receivable. This is a report that categorizes a company’s accounts receivable according to how long invoices have been outstanding. This report is used as a benchmark in measuring the financial health (or lack thereof) of a company’s customers.
Burn Rate. Burn Rate refers to how much money it takes to operate your business for a period of time (generally, a month). Knowing your burn rate helps to ensure that you have enough available cash to adequately run your business. Experts advise being able to cover your burn rate for at least six months.
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). This refers to the total cost of all labor and materials required to provide the products or services that your customers ultimately purchase.
Debt-Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR). A ratio calculated by dividing your business’s net operating income by your debt payments. This compares cash flow to debt obligations. With the information, you can determine if you can cover debts due within one year.
EBITDA. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. To calculate EBITA, take the gross margin and subtract total operating expenses, plus depreciation and amortization. Keep in mind the difference between EBITDA and EBIT. EBITDA subtracts all expenses, whereas EBIT subtracts everything except depreciation and amortization.
Gross Profit Percentage or Gross Margin. This refers to the percentage of total revenue that remains after subtracting the direct costs of producing the product or service. For example, if your company’s revenue is $400,000 in one year and your gross margin is 25%, then your gross profit is $100,000.
Profit Margin.Profit margin is the percentage of your total revenue that you retain as profit. This metric is most often analyzed on a per unit basis. To calculate profit margin, subtract overhead expenses (along with direct costs) from your sales and then divide it by your total revenue. While it may take some time for a business to start generating profit, it is ultimately what makes it valuable … and a priority for investors. It is imperative that you are confident that your revenue you are charging for the product will cover the overall cost of the organization. When you are in growth mode, this may not be the case – which is why the Cash Burn rate (referred to earlier) is so important.
Working Capital. Working capital is cash plus other current assets, less current liabilities.
Whether it’s understanding these terms (and the many others), using the tips to increase your financial knowledge, or tightening up financial reporting, successful leaders ensure these characteristics are not contained within the walls of their accounting departments, but instead, are a part of their entire company culture. With financial clarity, you can maintain stability to carry out the company’s mission.
Simply, when you understand the financial terms and their effects on your business, it not only helps your bottom line, but also helps you have a more constructive (and potentially profitable) conversation with potential bankers and investors.
Let Mindy Barker & Associates show you how to raise your knowledge and be prepared for that next big conversation. We can help you improve your financial brilliance and empower you with the tools and financial information you need to improve your company value, cash flow, and profitability. Schedule a 30-minute free consultation here to learn how.
Non-Profit Mergers: It’s Time to Close. Now What? Beyond Planning & Due Diligence
Last month, we talked about the initial considerations of a non-profit merger, as well as the critical due diligence phase. After finding unity of purpose, reflecting on the relevant issues and deciding that a merger aligns with your goals and mission, you engaged in an extensive due diligence process, examining all legal, financial, logistical, and human resource documents and processes. At the conclusion of due diligence, the board of directors of each organization developed and approved a Plan of Merger consistent with applicable state laws. At long last, after months of preparation, meetings, discovery, approvals, and planning, the time arrives for merger implementation. Essentially, it is finally time to close the deal. However, this is only the beginningof the end.
As with the previous phases, planning and organization are crucial for a successful implementation. While it would be nice if we could sign on the dotted line and all issues magically resolve, we know that is not the case (it never is!). This process, like the others, will take time, patience, and an in-depth understanding of the logistical steps that must be achieved to effectuate the merging of two different organizations. The following checklist can be used as a guide through the final steps of the merger.
1. Appoint a Merger Transition Team. This group of three to six individuals will spearhead each logistical step of the merger. They will assign tasks, set timelines, and keep the merger moving forward at a reasonable pace for the new nonprofit.
2. File Appropriate Documents with the State. Each state has its own requirements for filing with regard to non-profit mergers. All documents should be filed with the state of organization/incorporation, following those particular guidelines and requirements. Note that although the merger is legally completed once the state accepts the documents as filed, many more steps must be taken for actual completion.
3. Develop Integration Plan. Due diligence should have previously identified duplicative positions, departments, and resources. This plan will identify what is being removed and what is surviving in the new organization. The plan should also identify any issues in the short-term due to the merger and provide for analysis at one month, three months, six months, and twelve months.
4. New Board of Directors Established. The new board generally consists of previous board members from each of the non-profits prior to merger, but can be entirely new. They should establish their new meeting schedule and implement new by-laws as soon as possible.
5. Schedule Employee and Volunteer Training. How will the new departments, responsibilities, and tasks differ from the previous ones? What do employees and volunteers need to know about the mission, vision, and day-to-day operations to effectively perform their duties?
6. Determine Human Resource Needs. Establish a new payroll system, health benefits, vacation and sick pay, and hiring and termination protocols.
7. Finalize any Facilities Management Issues, Vendor Contracts, and Insurance Coverage. What contracts need to be rewritten in the new organization’s name? How will insurance coverage transfer without lapsing?
8. Develop Communication Plan. This plan should involve internal and external communications and ensure consistent messaging throughout. This may include the launching of new branding, the name and logo, and a marketing campaign. The new website and social media accounts must also be established and maintained.
9. Finalize Financial Transactions. Transfer assets, close and open accounts, as needed, and integrate accounting systems.
10. Implement Technology Solutions. How will technology, phone systems, and databases be integrated? What is still required? What can be eliminated?
While the entire process can take between twelve and eighteen months, depending on the size of the organization, this Closing Checklist enables the Merger Transition Team to keep the merger on track, heading toward a successful completion.
Need more assistance? Barker Associates has extensive experience working with non-profit organizations as they implement and finalize mergers. If you are considering this strategy, use this link to my calendar to choose the best time for a free 30-minute consultation.