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?