Regardless of a company’s size or industry sector, working capital is an important metric in assessing the long-term financial health of the business. Managing working capital effectively should be one of the CFO’s top priorities, since the main purpose of working capital management is to ensure that the company always maintains adequate cash flow to meet its short term commitments.
Efficient working capital management helps to improve the company’s profitability and smooth its financial operations. However, a report by PwC finds that since the financial crisis, the focus on working capital performance has reduced which could have longer term implications for any company as it seeks to achieve its strategic objectives. Read our 5 tips for effectively managing working capital which will help you to ensure your company meets its liabilities.
1. Manage procurement and inventory
Prudent inventory management is an important factor in making the most of your working capital. Excessive stocks can place a heavy burden on the cash resources of any business. On the other hand, insufficient stock can result in lost sales and damage to customer relations. When looking at inventory, it’s important to monitor what you buy, just as much as what you sell. The key challenge for companies is to establish optimum stock levels: promoting better communication between departments and forecasting demand are steps to take in order to prevent your company from holding unnecessary levels of stock. As well as driving up costs for physical storage and insurance, the stock may be wasted if it is time-sensitive.
If stock levels are unknown, then it is difficult to manage the optimum level and the company risks experiencing a loss in sales as a result of a shortfall in materials. Periodic inventory checks are useful in monitoring levels of different types of stock and alerting finance to any recurring overstock or understock issues.
It’s extremely important to control what’s purchased. Investing in procurement automation solutions can greatly boost working capital. Streamlining and centralizing the purchasing process enables a rigorous authorization process. This helps to prevent maverick spend by ensuring that procurement officers are only permitted to order approved products/services from preferred vendors.
2. Pay vendors on time
Enforcing payment discipline should be a key part of your payables process. Analysis of working capital levels shows that the biggest improvement comes from improved payables performance and reduced days payable outstanding (DPO). Companies that pay on time develop better relationships with their suppliers and are in a stronger position to negotiate better deals, payment terms and discounts. It seems like a counter-intuitive way of maintaining a steady working capital, but if you keep your suppliers happy, it could save you money in the long run when it comes to getting larger discounts for bulk buying, recurring orders and maximizing the credit period.
3. Improve the receivables process
In order to shorten the receivables period, the company needs to have a good collections system in place. One important aspect of working capital is to send out invoices as soon as possible. Companies should reassess invoicing processes to eliminate inefficiencies that may be causing delays in sending invoices to your debtors (manual processing, lost invoices, high volume of invoices to manage etc.). Professional services firm, Deloitte recommends using technology to deliver invoices electronically in order to speed up billing and collection, and ultimately shorten the cash conversion cycle. It’s also vital to ensure that invoices are accurate before they are sent to your debtors to avoid delays in getting paid. Maintaining an accurate debtors ledger ensures that you are on top of debtor collection dates and can send timely reminders to your customers regarding payment.
4. Manage debtors effectively
The best way to ensure you have working capital is to make sure money is coming in on time. Reassessing your contracts and credit terms with debtors may be necessary to make sure you are not giving debtors too big a window to pay for goods and services – as this may be impacting negatively on your own company’s cash flow. CFOs should review credit terms with company management to ensure that the level of credit being offered to debtors is appropriate for your company’s cash flow needs. To reduce bad debts, you should implement more rigorous credit checks and ensure that effective credit control procedures are in place to chase late-paying customers.
5. Make informed financing decisions
Working capital is interest free with no conditions, making it the cheapest and fastest source of cash for a company. A recent survey finds that 65% of organizations have no immediate need to finance (Fig. 1). Prioritizing working capital allows companies to make strategic investment decision, which drives operational performance and efficiencies. Conversely, not having enough operating liquidity because assets are tied up in inventory or unpaid invoices can have a huge effect on cash flow.
The way to make sure that working capital is managed is to use key performance indicators (KPIs) all the way down the business to operational level. As you map out receivables and payables over time, include inventory metrics and KPIs such as days sales outstanding, days payables outstanding, and days inventory outstanding. Continuous monitoring of the metrics is crucial to maintaining a sound working capital management strategy.
Fig. 1. EY survey results depicting the companies’ debt/financing situation
Determining business requirements is the first step in deciding on the best way to fund working capital. Whether your business is starting out in its first few years, or whether it’s time to expand may require different financing solutions. As there are better suited means of financing for different stages of your company’s lifecycle, it’s important to regularly discuss plans and requirements internally with the senior management team and with external financial providers so that you can carefully plan and assess your capital needs in accordance with the strategic objectives of the company.