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Business Basics: The Finance Fundamentals you need to master for growth

How to use business management information to drive and measure growth

Small to Medium Enterprises are quite exposed to the changes in the external environment. In the earlier phases of their business life cycle and before maturity, SMEs fight for their survivals; some little mistakes and wrong decisions can result in devastating consequences on their going concern.

 

In this scenario, during the growth stage even if the managers are experiencing profits and increasing sales, significant threats stand around the corner: everything in this phase happens very fast and any organisational weakness and a weak business model could turn an extraordinary moment into a nightmare. It is essential that the SME chases profitable growth and generates cash and profit.

 

Some of the critical questions that owners and managers need to answer are:

Is the business profitable? Is the business generating cash? Is in the long term the financial structure (the gearin, the debt – equity mix)  right balanced?

In this context, a sound understanding of the financial statement plays a central role.

 

Cash is different from profit: a capex investment is a cash out item and does not represent a cost , conversely,  the depreciation is an non cash operational expense.

 

The need for financial understanding is critical and the business must be followed in at least three dimensions.

  1. The profit and loss to track the profitability. Is the business is able to generate profits? I.E. revenue covers costs.
  2. The financial statement to track the short term cash generation and to monitor the long term financial structure debt/equity mix.
  3. The business generate cash and the financial structure, the gearing,  is balanced.

The decision makers will face the need to precisely understand and answer to the previous questions, the abrupt change in the environment during the growing stage will add incertitude that must be assessed via financial report.

 

Effective ways to raise capital to fund business growth

There are some fundamental questions to answer before raising capital.

Do I need external finance? Do I need debt or equity finance? Do I need short or long term finance?

A general suggestion is to look for external financing when you are at the investor ready stage. Is the company business model efficient? By reworking on the actual term and condition with your customers/suppliers, you may reengineer the cash conversion cycle by reducing the financial needs and improving the DSO, DSI and DPO.  

 

Has the business considered to reinvest the retained earnings? By increasing the profitability and changing the dividends policies you may generate one of the best long -term funding: the auto financing.

 

To challenge the business model is a necessary step, because the chances to obtain external financing, in case the company presents weaknesses, is remote and unprofitable: the bank will apply higher interest rates and the venture capitalist will require harder term sheets and more control on the business.

 

The typical medium long term debt finance solution is a loan. The institution, a bank or a private FCA registered company, asks to repay the loan at fixed intervals against a predefined interest rate. This instrument is generally secured by collaterals such as the company’s assets and by covenants, operational constraint, such as limitation to distribute dividends before the repayment of the debt.

 

On the other side, long term financing could be provided by equity. Equity must not be repaid but is expensive, the company must give away a percentage of its control so that the term sheet and the conditions applied by the private equity could be quite unaffordable.

 

My personal suggestion is to consider a debt solution if the company is profitable, alternatively a debt/equity mix within a reasonable gearing. If the control is given away, the company should expect to lose some strategical drive and conflicts could rise from the new investor. The venture capital firm could interfere in the company management, they could impose a heavy and bureaucratic reporting.

 

It is very important that the SME recognises the timing of the underlying asset that needs to  be funded. The rule of thumb is that current asset must be covered by current and short term financing, while fix asset needs more medium and long term instruments.

 

The working capital could be typically covered by short term financing such as overdraft and factoring invoices. Fix asset is covered by long-term financial instruments.

 

How to avoid Overtrading

Overtrading often occurs when companies expand their own operations too aggressively with evident issues in term of working capital and financing. Hyper growth represents an opportunity and a threat in the SME business life cycle. This could be a unique opportunity to scale up in a very short time but the risk of over trading is high.

 

The momentum here is to transform overtrading in profitable growth, but what are the steps that could minimise the risks of overtrading and ride the unique opportunity to scale up quickly?

 

The first and basic need is to start this phase with a ready and consolidated business model. The company should have developed a consistent and coherent bottom up strategy. Is the market we are targeting in line with our strategy? Some trade off choices between profitability and term and conditions could be suitable: focus on less profitable customers in exchange of better payment terms.

 

Another tactical area to focus on is the cash conversion cycle. The company should have defined its Cash Conversion Cycle. For instance the company could choose to get on board customers that pay at 60 days instead of 90, even if less profitable.  Another component is to control the DSI, days on inventory. The company should operate as lean as possible. The goal is to minimise the lead-time from the receipt of the raw material to the finished good. The DPO is related to the suppliers’ payment and in general the SME tends to match it with the DSO. My suggestion is to apply the norm because it would be risky to annoy the suppliers and lose their loyalty.

 

In case you still face financial gap in the hyper growth phase, it is possible to  access to short term external financial instruments, such as factoring and overdraft. This is expensive, could reduce the operational freedom ie the need to balance the overdraft without notice and introduces some kind of accounting complexity.

 

Overtrading is risky but if the SME business model is strong and scalable, it is worth taking.  It represents a unique opportunity to quickly scale up organically the company.

 

Financial Decision Making

Any business decisions will directly / indirectly impact on the financial statements. For sake of simplicity let’s simulate the impact of a strategic and an operational choice that typically decision makers are asked to take.

 

What is the financial impact of a recurrent strategic decision such as a new investment in a new technology or in a new product line?  The effect of this decision will be in term of capex investments and financial returns. The cash out will impact in the financial statements and the returns will flow, hopefully, as additional profit in the P&L. What about product pricing increase? This will directly impact on company revenue, in their receivable and in the cash collection.

 

Operational day by day decisions such as changing the collection days, will impact immediately on the financial statement and in the generation of cash.

All the managers and the decision makers need to have a sound financial knowledge to evaluate the consequences and effects of their choices. Additionally the financial reporting and planning culture should be promoted to all levels and functions, instead of being considered a statutory  disclosing exercise, a waste of time keeping few qualified accountants busy.

 

The Importance of Business Plans

Determine the financial impact of the business decision is important, but not sufficient. The backward looking approach is fine but it becomes effective only if, complemented by forward looking actions. The importance of a control system lies in the fact that it is able to outline what did go wrong and to identify the future corrective actions to bridge the gap.

 

The growing stage is a complex phase in the company business life cycle, the environment is difficult to predict, there is limited visibility and high uncertainty of the future outcome. In this context there is a prolific school of thought, that recons no utility in the planning and budgeting process especially in erratic periods. Provided that there is low likelihood to hit the projections, better not to produce the budget and save the time and costs. In my opinion the more the environment is unstable the more budgeting and planning becomes key to success. In an unstable environment the company certainly needs to draw a possible scenario, a reference to follow, to evaluate the deviations of the actual results over the projection (backward view) and take actions to recover (forward view). The scenario comes from the company strategy and it will be used as an operational control system to manage the company consistently.

 

The likelihood to hit the financials  in term of profit and cash are low but the budget needs to be accurate not precise. It does not matter that you hit the sales figures and you generate profit  in the exact way you expected, but it needs to generate sales and profit in the direction to what was planned.

 

Without a planning process the company is basically blind and do not have any reference to compare. The company is unable to answer to its basic questions: Are we following the right path ? Are we executing and generating the right level of cash and profit?

 

More over the budget must be exploded into relevant and operational KPI’s and cascaded through out the organisation to grant an integrated and coordinated system of control.

 

All the organisation will look at the financials that are more relevant for their functions. Sales and Marketing will look at the Sales and customer satisfaction. Operation to headcount productivity and finance will keep an eye to cash collection and disbursements.

 

Advice for Planning and Funding a Growth Period

Do we have a growth strategy ? Is the growth aligned to our strategy and mission?

The company must follow a broad strategy, a SME simply has not enough resources, needs to be focused in some market / product. It could be that the strategy changes over time but this must be controlled , clearly communicated and cascaded thought out the organisation. At the strategic level the company should also determine different growth paths, such as should we grow organically or by external acquisitions? The latter is faster but expensive and very difficult to implement especially if there isn’t a consolidated strong business model.

 

Are we growth ready?

The company needs to have in place some kind of control system and some KPI’s to follow: A sound financial planning system enters in the equation in order to evaluate the profitable growth in term of profit and cash generation.

If the company is not hitting the target it needs to understand why and detect the most appropriate corrective actions. Maybe the overall strategy should be revised, may be some processes must be reengineered.

 

Do we have the right talents in place?

Developing a strategy is a question of people. You need the right mix of talent and skills playing the same team. On one side the visionaries able to set up the path and on the  other side individual able to implement , execute the strategy and reporting the results.

 

Mario d’Aragona

Mario is a seasoned finance executive, who serves as CFO for fire & security, food, energy and clean-tech global companies. He has turn-around experience and managed to re-finance growing businesses. Mario is the Managing Partner at TML Venture Ltd. and supports companies in finding tailor-made investment solutions. His industry focus is on renewable technology, energy and food companies.

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Finance

2020: THE YEAR OPERATIONAL RESILIENCE AND CYBER-RISK TAKE CENTRE STAGE IN FINANCIAL SERVICES

Miles Tappin, VP of EMEA for ThreatConnect, explores how financial providers can build a cyber security strategy that enables operational resilience

 

Financial institutions are operating in a new digital landscape. New disruptive technologies – from Artificial intelligence (AI) to crypto-currencies and big data – have driven change and innovation. In retail banking, new fintech providers have seized the opportunity to offer personalised services and challenge existing providers. For example, Klarna, has successfully disrupted the payments sector and is now established as Europe’s biggest fintech firm. It has quickly emerged as an alternative to credit cards since bursting onto scene, allowing consumers to shop now and pay later with retailers, such as H&M, Ikea and Zara.

To compete with the rising number of fintech providers and fulfil growing consumer expectations, traditional financial institutions are developing robust digital ecosystems that can deliver omnichannel service models. However, it’s becoming clear that the pace of technological change is a double-edged sword. It enables innovation and change but it is also one of the most destructive forces in the financial services ecosystem today.

 

Financial services emerge as a hotbed for cybercriminals

2020 has emerged as a defining year for cybersecurity in the financial services industry. It started with an unprecedented attack against Travelex where hackers successfully took some of the currency providers offline for nearly a month. Then came Coronavirus which sparked a new wave of malware and phishing threats. Research from VMware Carbon Black Cloud revealed that threats against financial institutions have surged by 238% since the start of the pandemic.

The renewed interest from cyber criminals comes at a time when regulators are paying close attention to the resilience of the sector. After a string of IT failures and breaches, financial organisations in the UK have been given a mandate from regulators to improve operational resilience. This means ensuring business models can withstand disruptive events from hackers or adversaries and quickly recover to protect the stability of financial systems.

In December 2019, the UK’s financial regulators published a series of consultation papers outlining their proposed approach to achieving greater operational resilience. The proposals suggested that financial institutions will be required to map out the systems and processes that support business services in order to identify any potential vulnerabilities that would pose a risk to the stability of the UK financial system or the firm’s standing.

 

A mandate for change

Where cybersecurity used to be a classic back-office concern, it’s now a central part of digital strategies and a key pillar of both reputation and customer retention – financial legislation leaves no room for failure. All financial institutions need to ensure they have full visibility of their systems and can detect any potential threats.

The challenge for financial institutions is making the security tools they have purchased separately work together in tandem. Security teams buy a firewall, an email filter, threat intelligence feeds, antivirus software or enhanced endpoint protection, and whatever else they need individually. Each of them does a good job but they don’t talk to each other and valuable time is lost tending to individual systems that become a burden to run. At the same time, running multiple security systems is expensive. The more systems you have, the more highly skilled staff you need to manage them, and they’re few and far between.

 

Improving intelligence sharing across borders and communities

To reduce complexity and simplify decision making, financial organisations need to unify processes and technology to harness the security intelligence that comes from across their own security programmes and external sources to drive down risk. However, no financial institution can tackle the problem alone. Experienced threat actors using advanced techniques are constantly targeting the financial sector. The industry needs to come together as a whole to foster a sense of collaboration and data sharing.

In the same way that financial institutions have introduced open banking to deliver a fairer service to customers, the same needs to apply to security – all parts of the financial ecosystem need to unite and share information to learn from one another and succeed in the fight against adversaries that operate across borders.

By sharing alerts on cyber hazards and risk across financial institutions and with law enforcement, government agencies and other relevant authorities, it’s possible to build industry specific insights into cyber security threats and quickly pivot to gain more information on those specific threats and threat actors. By working together, a picture can be painted on threats coming from all manner of malicious activity, from malware to ransomware, to phishing and software vulnerabilities.

 

Breaking down barriers

Having the right intelligence is not enough to ensure that intelligence is turned into action. Breaking down information and process silos across security teams allows financial organisation to analyse and act on the most pertinent information. Everyone has access to the risk and threats that matter most, and orchestration and automation of response helps overwhelmed security teams prioritise response plans and improve efficiencies in their security programme.

Integrating internal security tools and technologies, while also connecting to external sources of intelligence, creates a single source of intelligence that feeds operations and enables organisations to direct action against the threats that matter most. The outcomes of those actions further feed intelligence, providing the ability to further refine the efficacy of the entire security lifecycle.

This approach provides a continuous feedback loop for the people, processes and technologies that make up the security programme. It allows financial institutions to keep up with threat actors that have consistently adapted their methods to profit at the expense of the financial industry. Something that won’t stop anytime soon.

 

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Finance

GROWTH OF FINANCIAL MARKETS AND TECHNOLOGY

Ashish Jain,CEO, Future FX

 

The economic development of any nation completely depends on its financial structure both in long term and short term. The financial system and its efficiency determines the success of the nation in terms of economic growth.

As most of the sectors are taking advantages of the technology evolved since 1980, financial sector has also transformed immensely.

The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), dating back to 1875, started as a broker’s forum under a tree on Dalal Street, and is Asia’s oldest stock exchange. For over a century, registered brokers have made trades happen.

The National Stock Exchange (NSE) came up in 1994 to provide screen-based electronic trading. It gave fibre-optic access to brokers in other cities who could join the trading in the centralized exchange located in Mumbai.

Dematerialization of shares started in the late 1990s and online trading began at the turn of the millennium where investors could buy and sell shares through electronic brokers such as ICICI Direct and Sharekhan.

As more and more elements of the stock market get digitized, it increases its potential to attract a new generation of investors.

Online financial services company Zerodha brought “discount broking” to India in 2010, applying a flat fee of ₹20 on a trade whatever its size. This attracted young investors who could do a trade in less commission. Now, we have all the marketing and trading apps on our phones and we can easily make trades.

The insurance sector has eliminates the role of broker and now anyone can buy insurance through mobile phones. Some such apps are HDFC ERGO insurance, Insure, Caringly Yours, etc.

Trade has always been shaped by technology but the rapid development of digital technologies in recent times has the potential to transform international trade profoundly in the years to come.

From the moment we wake up to check how the markets performed overnight until the time we go back to bed before doing another check of how the market is set to open on the other side of the globe, technology now plays a critical role in everything we do and the way we do things.

For the financial markets, the coming of advanced technology has been the key factor behind the transformation in the way things are done. Technology is also at the core of how companies operate and maintain their competitive edge in this vicious environment.

While forex trading and trading in general used to be the domain of institutional and corporate players, today even retail and private investors consider forex an essential component of their overall portfolio. And this is no doubt due to the ease of access and price transparency offered on the electronic platform.

Nowadays, providers need to have the latest technology all the time. They need to add new and build more features to their platform to attract and retain clients.

Traders are now able to monitor their trades from anywhere as long as there is an internet connection. This gives traders more freedom, mobility and flexibility.

The trading in global markets has thus become easy and convenient like never before.

 

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