The Importance of Cash Management
Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”. What this means is that whilst it may look better to have large inflows of revenue from sales, the most important focus for a business is cash flow.
Many businesses may continue to trade in the short- to medium-term even if they are making a loss. This is possible if they can, for example, delay paying creditors and/or have enough money to pay variable costs. However, no business can survive long without enough cash to meet its immediate needs.
Business analysts report that poor management is the main reason for business failure. Poor cash management is probably the most frequent stumbling block for entrepreneurs. Understanding the basic concepts of cash flow will help you plan for the unforeseen eventualities that nearly every business faces.
Cash vs. Cash Flow
Cash is ready money in the bank or in the business. It is not inventory, it is not accounts receivable (what you are owed), and it is not property. These can potentially be converted to cash, but can’t be used to pay suppliers, rent, or employees.
Profit growth does not necessarily mean more cash on hand. Profit is the amount of money you expect to make over a given period of time, while cash is what you must have on hand to keep your business running. Over time, a company’s profits are of little value if they are not accompanied by positive net cash flow. You can’t spend profit; you can only spend cash.
Cash inflow and outflow
Cash comes into the business (cash inflows), mostly through sales of goods or services and flows out (cash outflows) to pay for costs such as raw materials, transport, labour, and power. The difference between the two is called the net cash flow. This is either positive or negative. A positive cash flow occurs when a business receives more money than it is spending. This enables it to pay its bills on time.
Watching the cash inflows and outflows is one of the most pressing management tasks for any business. The outflow of cash includes those checks you write each month to pay salaries, suppliers, and creditors. The inflow includes the cash you receive from customers, lenders, and investors.
Positive Cash Flow
If its cash inflow exceeds the outflow, a company has a positive cash flow. A positive cash flow is a good sign of financial health, but is by no means the only one.
Negative Cash Flow
If its cash outflow exceeds the inflow, a company has a negative cash flow. Reasons for negative cash flow include too much or obsolete inventory and poor collections on accounts receivable (what your customers owe you). If the company can’t borrow additional cash at this point, it may be in serious trouble.
Businesses aim to provide greater financial returns than the level of interest earned by simply placing the cash in a bank. They can also hold too much cash. Cash does not earn anything so holding too much cash could mean potential losses of earnings. The cash situation is referred to as the liquidity position of the business. The closer an asset is to cash, the more ‘liquid’ it is. A deposit account at a bank or stock that can easily be sold are liquid. Assets such as buildings are the least liquid. Liquid assets are those that are most easily turned into cash.
Cash flow is always important, but especially when it is not easy to obtain credit. When the economy is in recession, financial service providers are reluctant to lend money. Borrowing also becomes more expensive as interest rates are raised to partially offset the risk of borrowers not paying back loans.
Controlling cash is essential and management accountants deal with a range of cash issues:
- ensuring that sufficient cash is available for investment by not tying up cash in stock unnecessarily
- putting procedures in place for chasing up outstanding debts
- controlling different levels of cash outflows in relation to the size of the business.
For example, a car repair garage buys parts and tyres whilst a hairdresser buys shampoos, equipment and pays for power. In each case, if the business has cash problems it may be slow to pay its bills to suppliers. This creates further cash problems which spread throughout the economy. If small suppliers are not paid they may go out of business. This in turn may affect businesses further up the ladder.
What Are the Components of Cash Flow?
A “Cash Flow Statement” shows the sources and uses of cash and is typically divided into three components:
Operating Cash Flow. Operating cash flow, often referred to as working capital, is the cash flow generated from internal operations. It comes from sales of the product or service of your business, and because it is generated internally, it is under your control.
Investing Cash Flow. Investing cash flow is generated internally from non-operating activities. This includes investments in plant and equipment or other fixed assets, nonrecurring gains or losses, or other sources and uses of cash outside of normal operations.
Financing Cash Flow. Financing cash flow is the cash to and from external sources, such as lenders, investors and shareholders. A new loan, the repayment of a loan, the issuance of stock, and the payment of dividend are some of the activities that would be included in this section of the cash flow statement.
How Do I Practice Good Cash Flow Management?
Good cash management is simple. It involves:
- Knowing when, where, and how your cash needs will occur
- Knowing the best sources for meeting additional cash needs
- Being prepared to meet these needs when they occur, by keeping good relationships with bankers and other creditors
The starting point for good cash flow management is developing a cash flow projection. Smart business owners know how to develop both short-term (weekly, monthly) cash flow projections to help them manage daily cash, and long-term (annual, 3-5 year) cash flow projections to help them develop the necessary capital strategy to meet their business needs. They also prepare and use historical cash flow statements to understand how they used money in the past.
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