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Thriving in the New World Guardian

Thriving in the New World Guardian

Thriving in the New World requires a CFO to expand their Guardian role for the organization.  The CFO must see themselves driving the organization’s efforts to harness increasing levels of complexity while embedding behaviours and systems to defend against existing and emerging threats to business continuity.

Organizations of all sizes have relied on their financial leaders to develop internal control systems and financial compliance with taxation and regulatory bodies.  The business owner and key stakeholders will better navigate the future by ensuring their financial leader is accountable for maximising the organization’s overall information integrity and for broadening the compliance framework.

Successfully achieving this broader mandate will require the CFO to elevate their collaboration and partnership with other functional leaders.  Success will also depend on how intensely the leadership team commits to sharpening their ability to convert information into insight.  There are two initiatives your CFO can pursue to create greater visibility of information related opportunities and potential compliance challenges.

Harnessing Digital Transformation

The recent pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation for every business.  Over the past year, it has become clear that companies who want to win must consistently adopt emerging technologies to exploit the opportunities offered by digitization. Businesses who select the right solutions will convert the promise of richer information into higher revenue and lower costs.

It is likely your business is headed towards larger technology investment. Business leaders must, of course, rely on their technology advisors and their market oriented leadership to drive digital transformation; however, the contribution of the CFO should not be overlooked.   Owners and CEOs should seek to pair their technology advisor with their financial advisor to ensure the technology selection process is sufficiently thorough and holistic.

Decision makers often desire greater amounts of information; however, there is no guarantee it leads to better decisions.  For most organizations, their finance teams have the most experience in digesting large amounts of information and structuring it to make recommendations.   Fostering collaboration between finance staff and your digital marketing leaders will promote more streamlined, more accurate, more actionable information.

Creating a Compliance Culture

The reality is that discussions regarding “compliance”  are low on the excitement list for most individuals, and almost certainly not the driving force for most CEO’s or owner operators.   For finance and operations teams, compliance may not be their primary passion; however, their functional success links directly to processes that ensure compliance requirements are visible and achieved.    The challenge for compliance in a post pandemic world has grown. Workers remotely accessing business systems and confidential data puts greater pressure on protecting customer information and maintaining adherence to internal practices.

It is no surprise that the first step to creating a compliance culture begins with the leadership team. For many business the choice to task the CFO to take on compliance culture responsibilities will reinforce to employees the organization’s commitment to a disciplined overall compliance framework.  Your CFO should bring a compliance mindset to the organization. Equally importantly, they should bring proven methods to establish compliance systems.

Once the initial building blocks of leadership commitment and senior level accountability are established, the CFO can work with their colleagues to put in place three additional elements that have proven effective in financial compliance.  These elements are Visibility, Review and Corrective Action.   These three elements have been essential for every finance leader to demonstrate a reliable compliance framework to tax authorities, regulatory bodies, and financial stakeholders.

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The Operator Highlights

Thriving in the New World Operator

In this series of Thriving in the New World, The CFO Centre explores what exactly it means to be an operator in the “new world” and essential elements that allow your business to thrive.

Most owner-operated businesses would agree that increased cash and more access to capital would help them exceed their business objectives.   Recent societal and economic realities have strained or even exhausted cash resources for many companies.   Even those companies enjoying unprecedented growth are scrambling to fund unexpected expansion.   The essential building block for liquidity has always been Operational Excellence, defined as consistent and reliable execution of each business’ unique processes to acquire and satisfy customers.

High performing operations processes have always been the foundation for generating cash from within the business.  Equally important for those business owners seeking to thrive in a post Covid world is the critical need to demonstrate operational excellence to third party financing sources.  Seeking to expand your credit line with your bank or pursuing additional investors will require the business owner to present a clear and compelling story for how the company will produce profits, cash and sufficient return on capital.

The traditional role for a CFO in Operational Excellence is to provide accurate financial information and act as leading voice in cost reduction.   Creating a truly reliable foundation for generating cash and profits; often requires financial leaders to contribute more than they have ever before.  The experience, attributes and mindset of many CFO’s positions them to act as a catalyst for delivering cash and profit maximization across the full range of business processes.

Fix the Finance Foundation

The processes and practices of the finance function must be viewed as rock solid by the owner and the rest of the organization to create a path for participation or preferably leadership of broader operational improvement initiatives.

There are three key functional outcomes that must be in place to give the finance team the credibility to extend its involvement to other operational processes.  Without these deliverables in place, the organization’s ability to undertake deeper process review will be severely impaired.

The first base level capability is timely, accurate and useful financial reporting.  If the leaders of the company are not receiving this level of financial reporting, then it is unlikely that the finance leader has earned the right to apply their team’s expertise to general operating processes.

The second must have competency from the finance team is an understanding of the cost drivers for the business. The understanding of costs does not have to be perfect; however, there must be a methodology in place to capture and analyze the complete range of items that form the cost of  products or services

The third requirement for finance team effectiveness is to have a solid grasp of the company strategies that will drive future growth and success.   If your finance staff are seen just as number crunchers it will be difficult for them to contribute to operational initiatives.   The first installment of our CFO contribution series suggests a practical approach to engage your finance leader in developing future proofing strategies.

Own Cash Flow

The responsibility of generating positive cash flow clearly belongs to the CEO and the entire organization; however, expanding the mindset of your financial leader to thinking and acting as the owner of cash flow can be a powerful tool.   Finance and accounting staff have historically only been tasked with producing cash flow forecasts based on inputs from other leaders.

We suggest making a clear organization signal showing reliance on the finance team to go beyond analyzing cash inputs and outputs. The new expectation should include concrete actions aimed at increasing the amount or timing of cash inputs while reducing the amount or timing of cash outputs.  One example of a high impact cash inflow recommendation is to convert the finance team’s experience with both external and internal obstacles to timely collection of receivables into operational practices that eliminate these obstacles in advance.

Refine and Revolutionize Business Processes

Each organization varies in complexity of business processes, capabilities of process analysis, and often very different levels of CEO interest or prioritization of process improvement initiatives.  Given the nature of many small to medium-sized organizations, there can often be aptitude and attitude gaps leading to under prioritizing  detailed data-driven process review work.

Even a small finance team can become the internal champions for generating improved results achieved through documenting and enhancing your most critical processes.   Elevating the CFO to, at minimum, a shared level of ownership with the firm’s operational leaders will apply complementary expertise to process review efforts.  Converting process improvements into additional cash and profit can often involve just a few additional questions that may be missed by other functional areas.

Create Compelling Capital Acquisition Content

There is a high probability that pursuing operational excellence will lead to capturing more cash from optimized processes and deliver positive returns in the short term.

The longer-term benefit of intense CFO involvement in the operational aspects of the company is the ability to work with the owner to put a more convincing investment case forward to potential sources of debt or equity financing.   Revenue growth is understandably the primary focal point for future investment; however,  the business case is significantly strengthened by a tangible action plan showcasing gross margin enhancement, profit improvement and positive cash generation.

Reviewing, examining and revising processes has always been part of running a successful enterprise.  Although most companies have made improvements over the life of their business; there is often a substantial opportunity to further optimize the organization’s capability to convert every dollar of revenue into more profit and more cash.   One of the positive byproducts of the turmoil related to the pandemic is that business owners, management and employees are more aware and likely more open to the need for change than ever before.   The time is right for businesses to count on their CFO to bring a thorough, disciplined methodology to deliver operational excellence and improved financial results. Uncover more.

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Thriving in the New World Leadership Series

Introducing the Thriving in the New World Series

Thriving in the New World series is The CFO Centre’s unique approach on how we can truly make a difference to your business. Explore how a transformational CFO, as a Strategist, Operator, Leader and Guardian, is essential to future proof your business.

The Covid-19 pandemic has transported almost every business into a new reality with greater obstacles and greater, or certainly different, opportunities. Many business owners are operating at ground level to address challenges that threaten the livelihood of their employees, the continuity of their customers and the future of their business.

Now is not the time for strategic retreats, or high-level consulting reviews. Entrepreneurs that thrive in this new world will be those that combine their experience and knowledge with the insights and expertise of involved, committed individuals. These entrepreneurs will possess the mindset to navigate each day’s most pressing issues while charting the course for the business to move forward.

Now is the time to ensure your business is enjoying the leadership and hands on guidance of a New World CFO. Accenture defines the new CFO as a “value-oriented individual who views the world through a different lens” . They see themselves as value architects whose primary focus is helping the organization drive profitable growth.

All businesses have staff or advisors in place to manage the financial requirements of their business.

Perhaps more than ever before, businesses of all sizes, and all stages of development will benefit from finance oriented leadership that goes far beyond the numbers, far beyond basic reporting and far beyond being the controller or watchdog for the business.

If you own and operate a small to medium-sized business, you may have gotten by without access to the “C” level expertise of an experienced CFO. Thriving in your new world may require access to a proven, holistic financial leader driven to grow your business profitably.

This four-part – New World CFO series will provide specific, understandable and implementable information designed to help your business thrive and survive. Uncover more about the benefits of futureproofing.

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STRATEGIC FUNDING – Where to find the capital your business needs – Part I

Funding growing businesses is one of the major challenges any entrepreneur and business owner will face, and while there is an increasingly vast array of options available, figuring out how to access these funds can be a very time consuming, frustrating experience, even for the most seasoned business owner.

Whether you need working capital to support your growth, raise funds for a push into a new market, introduce a new product range or even have a requirement to raise funds for a new business venture, figuring out what you need to do and where to go can be difficult. With the advantage of “doing this for a living”, this report summarizes the process and points you in the right direction in terms of funding providers and where to go to get the independent specialist advice you are likely to need.

Highlights

  • Which type of funding will suit your needs?
  • Sources of funding (including advantages and disadvantages of each one).
  • Where to get independent specialist advice on your funding options and presenting your case for the best chance of success.

Introduction
Whether you need $1,000 or $10 million, there are only two kinds of finance: equity, whereby you are raising money in exchange for for ownership of the company, and debt which is borrowed money. The first step in raising capital is to decide between equity or debt. In the SME world, the choice usually depends on the preference of the business owner and stage of the company.

If you want to maintain total control, you are typically going to prefer a debt driven funding route: however if you are less worried about control, bringing in equity funds can often mean you grow faster. This can be a good route, particularly where you have a very clear exit in mind and this exit lines up with other equity providers.

In most SMEs the entrepreneur or business owner is the person who looks for funding the business needs. When raising debt finance, our experience is that banks are still the most frequent form of funding used, but increasingly owners are hearing about and starting to use new forms of finance outside of traditional banks. This so called alternative funding market is growing rapidly, and has more than doubled in size year on year from £267 million in 2012 to £666 million in 2013 to £1.74 billion in 2014, according to the “UK Alternative Finance Industry Report”.¹

Equity financing can come from individuals, so called angel investors, and traditional venture capital firms. Depending on your ambitions, there is also the option to combine both debt and equity in a funding mix to provide the capital base for long term growth and the working capital to support working capital requirements in the business.

While there is copious advice for those businesses seeking to raise funds for start-ups, this report focuses particularly on the challenges facing mid sized companies who are past start up and need funds to continue to grow (those with annual revenues between £2M and £50M, or employing staff between 10 and 250 employees).

Sources of funding for mid-sized business

Bank Operating Line of Credit

For many businesses the bank operating line of credit remains the traditional form of funding, with relationships formed over many years.

Although lines of credit can be quick to set up, the biggest drawback is that they can be called in by the bank on demand. So when things aren’t going well and you need the facility, that’s just the time when the bank might demand repayment, particularly if you haven’t built a strong relationship with the bank, so they understand what’s going on in your business.

Loans

A bank term loan will have a maturity date and require principal repayments over a fixed period of time (typically 2 – 5 years). As long as you payback the money per the terms of the loan, the advantage is that the bank can’t demand repayment, although typically the business and usually the owner will need to offer strong security for the loan, usually secured on the assets of the business and often the owners personal assets, by way of a personal guarantee.

As with operating lines of credit, the irony is that the more profitable and cash generative your business is, the less likely the bank’s requirements for security.

The principle is straightforward: if your business has performed well over the years and the bank has confidence that performance will be continued, then the easier it is to borrow money against security, or in some cases simply the cash flows of the business.

Invoice Discounting (Factoring)

Invoice discounting, also referred to as factoring, has grown in popularity in recent years. Banks and other specialist invoice discounting firms lend money which is secured by your accounts receivable, so if the company fails, the bank or specialist firm has more security than in the case of a conventional credit line.

With invoice discounting, you effectively sell your outstanding business invoices to a third party. You get the cash flow benefit by receiving a percentage of the money immediately (usually around 80%) and the rest when the money is collected.

Invoice financing can be really beneficial for growing businesses and can help you to bridge the gap between the delivery of goods or services and the payment from your customer.

Asset Financing

An important consideration of financing, is the overall mix of funding a company uses. Asset financing can be used for funding fixed assets such as plant and machinery, equipment, computers and vehicles. All the main banks have asset financing arms and there are also many specialist companies in this space. The bank or finance company takes security of the asset as their protection. This form of financing has the benefit that it is pretty easy to arrange, assuming the assets you are buying are standard.

There’s also another type of financing: the alternative financing.  Come back for part II of this article, where we will discuss these alternative financing sources.

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1 ‘Understanding Alternative Finance: The UK Alternative Industry Report 2014’, Baeck, Peter; Collins, Liam; Zhang, Bryan, Nesta & The University of Cambridge, November 2014

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