Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Accounts Receivable Risk

Slow collections of accounts receivable is something that needs to be recognized by a CFO and if not detected early enough can lead to Cash flow problems. Early detections of Slow accounts receivable is an important CFO Service and CFO Duty. Performing the calculation of Days Sales Outstanding or DSO can give the CFO a good indication of the speed of collections.

Doing business with customers who are traditionally slow payers is bad business. You may think you know these customers personally and they would never stiff you. You may even expect that they are going to be late payers. In the final analysis these customers will burn you. Get rid of these customers unless they are willing to pay upfront for your product or service. It is not worth the receivable risk.

Speaking of which, I have had clients who will not do business with companies who are in bankruptcy because that bankrupt company did not pay my client. What these clients do not understand is that companies in Chapter 11 are prepared to do business on a cash in advance basis. Take advantage of that, make money and improve your cash flow. Don’t hold a grudge because they stiffed you. Business is Business.

To enhance collections send out statements. Some customers wait for statements before they pay. Many a time I have seen customers return statements versus invoices with their payments to ensure proper credit. That means they paid from the statement and if the statement did not go out they would have never paid. Also, stay on top of customers through telephone contact. Even if you just leave a message the squeaky wheel get the grease.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Risk of Foreign Currency

Certainly foreign currency risk does not involve every industry and every business. Foreign Currency Risk really only effects businesses that either sell products or services in foreign countries or buy products and services in foreign countries. For example, right at this particular time given the weakness of the dollar and the strength of the Euro you are at tremendous risk purchasing products or services from a European source. What cost you about $1.00 around the year 2002, now costs close to $1.60. Some of this impact could have been minimized through hedging, but the dollar has been weak for quite some time and even the most accurate hedging programs will not outlast the current dollar drought. It is an important CFO Service and CFO Responsibility to put it’s client in a hedging program. The CFO knows that hedging programs can be formulated and found at most major banks.

Since I am a CFO that thinks like a business owner and given todays dollar weakness European investors will convert less Euros into more dollars to invest in US businesses. If you are selling your business you may want to consider a European buyer to maximize your purchase price. Of course if you are selling products or services the currency is currently in your favor.

Foreign currency risk can be significant especially when the dollar is extra weak or strong for an extended period of time. A business that has foreign activity needs to protect its downside when evaluating foreign currency risk as this one facet can cause Cash flow problems down the road.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Risk of Inventory

A great Ski retailer in Massachusetts, Roger Buchika once said, “the less you buy the more money you make”. What Roger meant was that too much inventory can put you out of business quick. As a matter of fact the biggest mistake retailers make is over buying. Over buying can surely cause Cash flow problems and too much inventory poses a significant risk to the business owner.

Having too much inventory is not only the mistake of retailers. Manufacturers and distributors suffer from the same problem as well. A CFO responsibility and a CFO Service is to help the business owner recognize bad buys or slow moving produced products early. Once recognized, price them to sell, get the cash and then buy and produce good inventory that sells and turns quickly. Calculating inventory turnover ratios is a good indicator of how well inventory is moving. Another service the CFO can perform is to prepare expected or forecasted inventory turnover ratios for specific products and monitoring their performance to determine early enough as to whether that product is productive.

If your company has old or stale inventory look to move it immediately get the cash and re-invest it in more productive inventory.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Risk of Under-Capitalization

Lets face it, if a company is not properly capitalized it will have cash flow problems and it is destined to fail and poses great risk. Most entrepreneurs under estimate their cash needs. This is due to so many unexpected events that occur in the beginning stages of operating a business. I have never seen an entrepreneurs initial cash flow plan ever come close to actual. The prepared entrepreneur is constantly looking for more sources of capital even if he or she feels the cash needs are met. It is the responsibility of the CFO to look for these sources of capital. Staying on top of cash needs is a vital component of CFO Services and CFO duties.

What I see a lot of is entrepreneurs trying to survive with small cash resources and then when that runs out put in more cash. Most likely the new cash put in is a minimal amount and that runs out quick. It is a vicious circle and it is throwing good money after bad.

Entrepreneurs must be honest with themselves in projecting cash flow and then must be aggressive in obtaining the cash resources needed. Cash flow problems are the number one frustration for entrepreneurs.

Signs of Cash flow problems include inventory over buys or over production, rising accounts receivable with level sales, large capitalized costs and rising payables.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Legal Risk

Many businesses never assess their legal risk and more importantly their exposure should legal problems develop. Since one can sue anyone for any reason it is hard to get your arms around all of the possibilities, but here are some main areas that can be looked at and assessed and is a valuable CFO Service:

1. Payroll and employees – Is the company paying 1099 wages when they should be paying W-2 wages? Is the company paying regular wages when they should be paying union or prevailing wages? Is the company current with payroll taxes and medical insurance premiums that they collected from employees? Are employees safe in the work place? Do some employees have special perks that other employees do not have? Is there risk of abuse?
2. Sales Taxes – Are all sales taxes current? Since these taxes are collected from the customer they must be paid. Certain trades must pay sales taxes upon the purchase of inventory and if their vendor does not add the tax to the invoice the Company must self impose the tax and pay it.
3. Business operations – Does the nature of the Companys business operations lend itself to legal risk with employees and with customers? For example a medical business by virtue of its operations is exposed to risk through patient care. A food business is always at risk of impacting a customer’s health with bad food. A contractor is at risk of damaging customer property through construction efforts. Of course these risks can be mitigated with insurance, but the question always is how much insurance?
4. Stockholder risk – Are the businesses partners in harmony with one another and can that harmony stay in tact for the foreseeable future? What lies ahead that may disrupt that harmony?

The aforementioned risks are the first things a CFO should look at when assessing what the legal risk is of a company. Of course there are countless legal risks but all must be assessed as to the probability of occurring.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Personal Liability Risk to the Business Owner

In my view identifying business risk and assessing that risk is the most important function of the CFO Consultant. Over the next few weeks I am going to be making a lot of posts on this topic.

I was having lunch with a colleague of mine a few weeks ago and he asked me in what areas should a CFO or part time CFO identify risk? It was a question I really had to think about.

Since I think like a business owner, one of the first risks I am going to identify is Personal Liability exposure. The first things I investigate are bank loans and leases. If these exist there is a strong likelihood of personal guarantees. The next thing I look at is if there are any personal guarantees with inventory suppliers. This is one of the hidden risks. When one fills out the credit application to do business with a supplier, more times than not there is personal guarantee language in a separate section of the application. Anytime I am filling out a credit application for a client I always cross out that section. However, most people feel it is part of the application and fill it out. This is a major risk. If you cross it out and the supplier calls you back and requires it, you can assess at that point how important the supplier is and whether or not you want to take that risk. In most cases suppliers look at it as a bonus if the customer fills it out and do not address it if the customer crosses it out.

All fiduciary taxes such as payroll taxes and sales taxes must be paid. If left unpaid, this will create more personal liability. Unpaid income taxes will also create personal liability.

Company Credit Cards outstanding represent more personal liability risk for the business owner. The CFO should look at the possibility of one of the versions of the Corporate American Express Card that had no personal liability to the owner. I have recently got one for a client.

The overall risk that must be assessed regarding personal liability is what is the likelihood that the company will not make its loan payments, its lease payments or its inventory payments. Are these payments current? Is the current and projected cash flow strong enough to at least make these payments? If not, has the owner begun to use asset protection strategies to protect his assets should they come under attack?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

CFO Duties

I think the CFO responsibilities and the CFOs duties can be narrowed down to three things. Those three things are:

1. Managing and forecasting cash
2. Identifying and assessing all risk and preparing plans to mitigate risk
3. Understanding the things that make the specific industry the CFO is engaged in unique.

For the part time CFO it is vital to grasp these 3 concepts as soon as possible. Once the Part time CFO has these 3 things under their belt they can play a major role in the success of the company and the success of the companys strategic plan.

Since cash is the life blood of any business the part time CFO must be really in tune with managing the day to day cash flow. When managing cash for troubled companies the CFO must prioritize what needs to be paid. Forecasting cash needs using a 4 to 6 week model works well and helps the Chief Financial Officer identify what needs to be paid and can mange the cash accordingly.

Identifying and assessing risk will really tell the business owner where the land mines are in their business. This is an invaluable CFO Service to the business owner. If the CFO can tell the business owner when it is cloudy instead of when it is raining, the CFO will be worth their weight in gold.

People often ask me why does a numbers guy need to know about the business and the industry in which they work? Knowing the business and the industry is critical in managing cash and in identifying risk. Without this knowledge managing cash and identifying risk would be like reaching for a light switch in the dark.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Should CFOs Track Patents and Trademarks?

I believe it is a valuable service when a CFO keeps track of the Patents and Trademarks for a company. Patents and Trademarks can get very complicated and therefore easy to lose track of especially if there are several. Understanding where each Patent and Trademark is in the process will be one less area for a business owner to worry about. Suggesting patents and trademark opportunities is another CFO Service that can be performed that would be helpful. If the company imports be aware that if a product has FDA approval that there can be some discounts on Duty and Tariffs on those imports. Also be aware that if a company is not registered with the FDA for certain products that shipments can be refused at customs. I learned about this when I was tracking a patent for a client. Another important factor in tracking Trademarks and Patents are understanding the costs. Legal fees can get way out of hand. Most recently I have used www.legalzoom.com and had a lot of success in filing a trademark at a quarter of the cost.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Why Should Business Owners Know and Understand the Value of Their Business?

Keeping consistent track of the business value of your CFO client is a significant CFO Service. Business owners should be kept abreast of the value of their business on a quarterly basis. Business Valuation can be utilized and needed for the following purposes:

• Obtaining financing
• Company is being acquired or merged
• Shareholder buyout or disputes
• Personal Financial Statements
• Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP)
• Litigation or Divorces
• Conversion of Corporate Status from a C-Corp to an S-Corp
• For Estate and Gift Tax Purposes
• For purposes of the business Owners goal setting
• Shareholder Buy and Sell Agreements

CFOs should calculate two different valuations. One valuation I will call the Book Valuation. This is the valuation that uses the traditional metrics like sales, EBIT, cash flow and assets. The second valuation that should be made is a valuation that a strategic buyer would pay. This is a buyer who is in the same business and will be able to take advantage of economies of scale and synergies. This buyer will probably pay a higher price than the book valuation. I call this the Synergy Valuation.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Should a CFO offer Business Plan Preparation as a CFO Service?

I believe it is a valuable service to my CFO clients to offer business plan preparation. One of the key attributes for a CFO to have in order to prepare business plans is prior business ownership experience. With prior business ownership experience a CFO will have a better handle on the operational and marketing components of the plan. This experience will give him the ability to ask the right questions to the business owner and staff. The CFO already possesses the skills to prepare the financial portion of the business plan. The main purpose of a business plan is to put a company on the right track. Lots of times business owners say they are headed in a certain direction but as CFO when you start to peel the layers away you find that the company is going in an entirely different direction to what the Business Owner thinks. The business plan will help put the business owner in the direction he wants to go. In addition, business plans are of vital importance when the company is seeking additional financing whether the financing is coming form a bank, an angel or a venture capitalist. Since it is imperative that CFOs offer finding financing as a CFO Service, it only follows through that the CFO should be able to prepare the business plan.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Payback associated with the right operating system

One of the CFO Duties should be to research and identify the right operating system for the business owner. The way I look at operating systems for my CFO clients is I identify which modules are to be purchased for necessity and which modules where if purchased will produce a payback. For most manufacturing and distribution companies internet based systems allowing sales reps to enter orders from any internet connection including their laptops has a significant payback through saving administrative time and using commission only reps to enter the data and do more of the administrative work. Another module with significant payback offered in most operating systems are web based stores. Once again for manufacturing and distribution business owners web based stores can produce a payback through its communication tools. For example, in a web based store all of the manufacturer or distributors customers can purchase products on line. You can offer special pricing to individual customers, but more importantly you can make them aware of special pricing deals, new product introductions and closeouts. You can also put deadlines on when those special pricing deal offers will end and the system does that automatically. This has a tremendous payback as customers can place orders more conveniently and with more information at their finger tips. You can also put deadlines on when those special pricing deal offers will end. The CFO can really help the client business owner with a more profound understanding of the payback associated with operating systems.