Sources of Business Finance

Sources of business finance can be studied under the following heads:

(1) Short Term Finance:

Short-term finance is needed to fulfill the current needs of business. The current needs may include payment of taxes, salaries or wages, repair expenses, payment to creditor etc. The need for short term finance arises because sales revenues and purchase payments are not perfectly same at all the time. Sometimes sales can be low as compared to purchases. Further sales may be on credit while purchases are on cash. So short term finance is needed to match these disequilibrium.

Sources of short term finance are as follows:

(i) Bank Overdraft: Bank overdraft is very widely used source of business finance. Under this client can draw certain sum of money over and above his original account balance. Thus it is easier for the businessman to meet short term unexpected expenses.

(ii) Bill Discounting: Bills of exchange can be discounted at the banks. This provides cash to the holder of the bill which can be used to finance immediate needs.

(iii) Advances from Customers: Advances are primarily demanded and received for the confirmation of orders However, these are also used as source of financing the operations necessary to execute the job order.

(iv) Installment Purchases: Purchasing on installment gives more time to make payments. The deferred payments are used as a source of financing small expenses which are to be paid immediately.

(v) Bill of Lading: Bill of lading and other export and import documents are used as a guarantee to take loan from banks and that loan amount can be used as finance for a short time period.

(vi) Financial Institutions: Different financial institutions also help businessmen to get out of financial difficulties by providing short-term loans. Certain co-operative societies can arrange short term financial assistance for businessmen.

(vii) Trade Credit: It is the usual practice of the businessmen to buy raw material, store and spares on credit. Such transactions result in increasing accounts payable of the business which are to be paid after a certain time period. Goods are sold on cash and payment is made after 30, 60, or 90 days. This allows some freedom to businessmen in meeting financial difficulties.

(2) Medium Term Finance:

This finance is required to meet the medium term (1-5 years) requirements of the business. Such finances are basically required for the balancing, modernization and replacement of machinery and plant. These are also needed for re-engineering of the organization. They aid the management in completing medium term capital projects within planned time. Following are the sources of medium term finance:

(i) Commercial Banks: Commercial banks are the major source of medium term finance. They provide loans for different time-period against appropriate securities. At the termination of terms the loan can be re-negotiated, if required.

(ii) Hire Purchase: Hire purchase means buying on installments. It allows the business house to have the required goods with payments to be made in future in agreed installment. Needless to say that some interest is always charged on outstanding amount.

(iii) Financial Institutions: Several financial institutions such as SME Bank, Industrial Development Bank, etc., also provide medium and long-term finances. Besides providing finance they also provide technical and managerial assistance on different matters.

(iv) Debentures and TFCs: Debentures and TFCs (Terms Finance Certificates) are also used as a source of medium term finances. Debentures is an acknowledgement of loan from the company. It can be of any duration as agreed among the parties. The debenture holder enjoys return at a fixed rate of interest. Under Islamic mode of financing debentures has been replaced by TFCs.

(v) Insurance Companies: Insurance companies have a large pool of funds contributed by their policy holders. Insurance companies grant loans and make investments out of this pool. Such loans are the source of medium term financing for various businesses.

(3) Long Term Finance:

Long term finances are those that are required on permanent basis or for more than five years tenure. They are basically desired to meet structural changes in business or for heavy modernization expenses. These are also needed to initiate a new business plan or for a long term developmental projects. Following are its sources:

(i) Equity Shares: This method is most widely used all over the world to raise long term finance. Equity shares are subscribed by public to generate the capital base of a large scale business. The equity share holders shares the profit and loss of the business. This method is safe and secured, in a sense that amount once received is only paid back at the time of wounding up of the company.

(ii) Retained Earnings: Retained earnings are the reserves which are generated from the excess profits. In times of need they can be used to finance the business project. This is also called ploughing back of profits.

(iii) Leasing: Leasing is also a source of long term finance. With the help of leasing, new equipment can be acquired without any heavy outflow of cash.

(iv) Financial Institutions: Different financial institutions such as former PICIC also provide long term loans to business houses.

(v) Debentures: Debentures and Participation Term Certificates are also used as a source of long term financing.

Alternative Financing for Wholesale Produce Distributors

Equipment Financing/Leasing

One avenue is equipment financing/leasing. Equipment lessors help small and medium size businesses obtain equipment financing and equipment leasing when it is not available to them through their local community bank.

The goal for a distributor of wholesale produce is to find a leasing company that can help with all of their financing needs. Some financiers look at companies with good credit while some look at companies with bad credit. Some financiers look strictly at companies with very high revenue (10 million or more). Other financiers focus on small ticket transaction with equipment costs below $100,000.

Financiers can finance equipment costing as low as 1000.00 and up to 1 million. Businesses should look for competitive lease rates and shop for equipment lines of credit, sale-leasebacks & credit application programs. Take the opportunity to get a lease quote the next time you’re in the market.

Merchant Cash Advance

It is not very typical of wholesale distributors of produce to accept debit or credit from their merchants even though it is an option. However, their merchants need money to buy the produce. Merchants can do merchant cash advances to buy your produce, which will increase your sales.

Factoring/Accounts Receivable Financing & Purchase Order Financing

One thing is certain when it comes to factoring or purchase order financing for wholesale distributors of produce: The simpler the transaction is the better because PACA comes into play. Each individual deal is looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Is PACA a Problem? Answer: The process has to be unraveled to the grower.

Factors and P.O. financers do not lend on inventory. Let’s assume that a distributor of produce is selling to a couple local supermarkets. The accounts receivable usually turns very quickly because produce is a perishable item. However, it depends on where the produce distributor is actually sourcing. If the sourcing is done with a larger distributor there probably won’t be an issue for accounts receivable financing and/or purchase order financing. However, if the sourcing is done through the growers directly, the financing has to be done more carefully.

An even better scenario is when a value-add is involved. Example: Somebody is buying green, red and yellow bell peppers from a variety of growers. They’re packaging these items up and then selling them as packaged items. Sometimes that value added process of packaging it, bulking it and then selling it will be enough for the factor or P.O. financer to look at favorably. The distributor has provided enough value-add or altered the product enough where PACA does not necessarily apply.

Another example might be a distributor of produce taking the product and cutting it up and then packaging it and then distributing it. There could be potential here because the distributor could be selling the product to large supermarket chains – so in other words the debtors could very well be very good. How they source the product will have an impact and what they do with the product after they source it will have an impact. This is the part that the factor or P.O. financer will never know until they look at the deal and this is why individual cases are touch and go.

What can be done under a purchase order program?

P.O. financers like to finance finished goods being dropped shipped to an end customer. They are better at providing financing when there is a single customer and a single supplier.

Let’s say a produce distributor has a bunch of orders and sometimes there are problems financing the product. The P.O. Financer will want someone who has a big order (at least $50,000.00 or more) from a major supermarket. The P.O. financer will want to hear something like this from the produce distributor: ” I buy all the product I need from one grower all at once that I can have hauled over to the supermarket and I don’t ever touch the product. I am not going to take it into my warehouse and I am not going to do anything to it like wash it or package it. The only thing I do is to obtain the order from the supermarket and I place the order with my grower and my grower drop ships it over to the supermarket. ”

This is the ideal scenario for a P.O. financer. There is one supplier and one buyer and the distributor never touches the inventory. It is an automatic deal killer (for P.O. financing and not factoring) when the distributor touches the inventory. The P.O. financer will have paid the grower for the goods so the P.O. financer knows for sure the grower got paid and then the invoice is created. When this happens the P.O. financer might do the factoring as well or there might be another lender in place (either another factor or an asset-based lender). P.O. financing always comes with an exit strategy and it is always another lender or the company that did the P.O. financing who can then come in and factor the receivables.

The exit strategy is simple: When the goods are delivered the invoice is created and then someone has to pay back the purchase order facility. It is a little easier when the same company does the P.O. financing and the factoring because an inter-creditor agreement does not have to be made.

Sometimes P.O. financing can’t be done but factoring can be.

Let’s say the distributor buys from different growers and is carrying a bunch of different products. The distributor is going to warehouse it and deliver it based on the need for their clients. This would be ineligible for P.O. financing but not for factoring (P.O. Finance companies never want to finance goods that are going to be placed into their warehouse to build up inventory). The factor will consider that the distributor is buying the goods from different growers. Factors know that if growers don’t get paid it is like a mechanics lien for a contractor. A lien can be put on the receivable all the way up to the end buyer so anyone caught in the middle does not have any rights or claims.

The idea is to make sure that the suppliers are being paid because PACA was created to protect the farmers/growers in the United States. Further, if the supplier is not the end grower then the financer will not have any way to know if the end grower gets paid.

Example: A fresh fruit distributor is buying a big inventory. Some of the inventory is converted into fruit cups/cocktails. They’re cutting up and packaging the fruit as fruit juice and family packs and selling the product to a large supermarket. In other words they have almost altered the product completely. Factoring can be considered for this type of scenario. The product has been altered but it is still fresh fruit and the distributor has provided a value-add.

Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

There are several potential financing options available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option that owners think of – and for businesses that qualify, this may be the best option.

In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, qualifying for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-up companies and those that have experienced any type of financial difficulty. Sometimes, owners of businesses that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options.

But are they really? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.

Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are really two different types of financing.

Working capital – or the money that is used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term in nature, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions or the purchase of long-term assets, which are defined as assets that are repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity by the fact that there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake gained in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost as well as soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares that are sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting working capital into businesses in this situation. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such businesses are:

1. Full-Service Factoring – Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable on an ongoing basis to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing – A/R financing is an ideal solution for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. Here, the business provides details on all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) – This is a credit facility secured by all of a company’s assets, which may include A/R, equipment and inventory. Unlike with factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its own receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the reports.

In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
Professional collateral management can be included depending on the facility type and the lender.
Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
It may provide the business with access to more capital.
It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business’ needs.

It’s important to note that there are some circumstances in which equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. This is especially true in cases of business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally this should be done at a time when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing and ABL can provide the working capital boost many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing need – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Taking the time to understand all the different financing options available to your business, and the pros and cons of each, is the best way to make sure you choose the best option for your business. The use of alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?

Alternative Sources of Business Growth Finance: There Is More Than One Way to Fund Growth

Talk to any business owner or read the business section of any newspaper and you’re likely to come across stories of struggles to access sufficient finance to grow or maintain their business. But we are beginning to witness a change in how business owners access finance with many now actively seeking out alternative sources.

A survey carried out by the UK’s Forum of Private Business found that 26% of businesses were hunting out alternative financial products, with 21% seeking them outside of the traditional main High Street lenders. In fact, in another survey undertaken by the Federation of Small Businesses, it was discovered that only 35% of respondents used a traditional overdraft facility in 2011.

So, if banks are continually reluctant to lend to all but the lowest risk businesses, how can the remainder of the UK’s business population finance growth? Here are some of the increasingly popular alternative sources of finance to investigate.

Better Management of Working Capital

This may appear to be an odd source of finance but very often businesses are sitting on undiscovered cash reserves which can be used to finance growth. A report issued by Deloitte in 2011 revealed that the UK’s largest businesses were sitting on £60 billion of unproductive working capital. Inefficiencies in how working capital (debtors, stock and creditors) is handled can unnecessarily tie up your cash. Cash can be unlocked and released back in to the system thereby allowing self-financed growth plans by taking a close look at credit procedures, how credit terms are granted and how outstanding payments are chased.

Ensuring that stock is kept at an optimum level via better inventory management is another area where cash can be released to support and finance growth. Take a good look at your inventory management process and identify areas where cash is trapped.

Good management of working capital is not just about better control of debtors and stock, it is also about maximising the terms given by creditors. Are you too eager to maintain a first class relationship with your suppliers by paying well before the due date? You can positively impact your cash position by taking full advantage of terms offered by your suppliers. Have you fully leveraged your position by seeking an extensive of terms from say 30 days to 45 days?

Being more efficient in how working capital is managed can release sufficient funds to self-finance growth plans.

Personal Resources

With traditional avenues of funding being more difficult to access business owners are now looking to their personal resources to fund growth. Whether it be drawing on cash savings, using personal credit cards or taking additional mortgages on residential properties, such sources are an instant solution. A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 33% of respondents had utilised their savings to fund growth. As well as being more immediately accessible using personal resources is often a cheaper source of finance.

Family and Friends

Sometimes referred to as the three F’s – family, friends and fools – this can appear to be a less stressful way of raising finance. In some ways it can but it can also be a journey fraught with danger. Tapping into their personal network business owners source finance by either seeking a loan and offering to pay an interest rate higher than that on offer on a High Street savings account, or offering a slice of equity in the business in return for investment.

Raising finance in this way can be relatively easy because the request and fulfilment is very much based on personal trust. Typically a Business Plan would be presented highlighting both the investment opportunity and the risks but at the end of the day success is down to the depth of the relationship and level of trust.

The danger in raising funds this way is that the nature of the relationship will change from that of a personal nature to a business transaction. Failure to regularly pay as per agreed terms, or even total failure to pay, can irreparably damage the relationship so tread with care.

Asset Finance

The Asset Finance industry is based on the concept of either preserving cash or speeding up access to it. Asset finance, which consists of invoice discounting, factoring and funding of asset purchases, has been available as a source of finance for many years, yet it’s only now gaining more recognition. Figures released by the Asset Based Finance Association, a trade association representing the industry, show that to the third quarter of 2011 the amount financed by the Association’s members increased by 9% compared to the same period in the previous year. Whilst the increase may not seem significant it is against the backdrop of a fall in traditional bank lending.

In a world where ‘cash is king’ asset financiers help preserve cash by financing the purchase of assets such as vehicles, machinery and equipment. Because the financier is looking to the underlying asset as security there is usually no requirement for additional collateral. According to the Asset Finance and Leasing Association one in three UK businesses that have external finance now utilise asset finance.

Asset financiers can help speed up the flow of cash within a business by allowing quicker access to cash tied up in the debtor book. An invoice discounting and factoring facility gives businesses the ability to immediately access up to 80% of an invoice instead of waiting for the agreed credit terms to run their course. Such finance facilities will speed up the velocity of cash within the business thereby allowing the business to fund a high rate of growth.

New players such as Market Invoice are entering the market to allow businesses to raise finance against selected invoices. Tapping into high net worth individuals and funds Market Invoice acts as an auction house with funders ‘bidding’ to advance against certain invoices.

Crowfunding and Peer-to-Peer

A relatively new phenomenon is the concept of raising finance by tapping into the power of the crowd. The historically low rates of interest payable on savings have led to depositors seeking out new ways to increase their returns. With business owners struggling to raise the funding they need it’s only natural that a market would be created to bring these two parties together.

CrowdCube entered the market in 2010 to match private investors seeking to be Dragons with those businesses looking to raise capital. Once a business passes the initial review stage their proposal is posted on the site and potential investors indicate the level of investment they wish to make with the minimum amount being as low as £10.

Businesses looking for a more traditional loan should consider Funding Circle. Established in 2010 Funding Circle also matches individual investors looking for a better return with those businesses seeking additional finance. Businesses can apply for funding between £5,000 and £250,000 for a period of 1, 3 or 5 years. As a minimum the business has to have submitted two years Accounts with Companies House and be assessed in order to arrive at a risk rating which guides potential investors.

As the crowd sourcing concept matures we are likely to see more players enter this market to capitalise on the need for better investor returns and easier access to business finance.

Car Finance – What You Should Know About Dealer Finance

Car finance has become big business. A huge number of new and used car buyers in the UK are making their vehicle purchase on finance of some sort. It might be in the form of a bank loan, finance from the dealership, leasing, credit card, the trusty ‘Bank of Mum & Dad’, or myriad other forms of finance, but relatively few people actually buy a car with their own cash anymore.

A generation ago, a private car buyer with, say, £8,000 cash to spend would usually have bought a car up to the value of £8,000. Today, that same £8,000 is more likely to be used as a deposit on a car which could be worth many tens of thousands, followed by up to five years of monthly payments.

With various manufacturers and dealers claiming that anywhere between 40% and 87% of car purchases are today being made on finance of some sort, it is not surprising that there are lots of people jumping on the car finance bandwagon to profit from buyers’ desires to have the newest, flashiest car available within their monthly cashflow limits.

The appeal of financing a car is very straightforward; you can buy a car which costs a lot more than you can afford up-front, but can (hopefully) manage in small monthly chunks of cash over a period of time. The problem with car finance is that many buyers don’t realise that they usually end up paying far more than the face value of the car, and they don’t read the fine print of car finance agreements to understand the implications of what they’re signing up for.

For clarification, this author is neither pro- or anti-finance when buying a car. What you must be wary of, however, are the full implications of financing a car – not just when you buy the car, but over the full term of the finance and even afterwards. The industry is heavily regulated in the UK, but a regulator can’t make you read documents carefully or force you to make prudent car finance decisions.

Financing through the dealership

For many people, financing the car through the dealership where you are buying the car is very convenient. There are also often national offers and programs which can make financing the car through the dealer an attractive option.

This blog will focus on the two main types of car finance offered by car dealers for private car buyers: the Hire Purchase (HP) and the Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), with a brief mention of a third, the Lease Purchase (LP). Leasing contracts will be discussed in another blog coming soon.

What is a Hire Purchase?

An HP is quite like a mortgage on your house; you pay a deposit up-front and then pay the rest off over an agreed period (usually 18-60 months). Once you have made your final payment, the car is officially yours. This is the way that car finance has operated for many years, but is now starting to lose favour against the PCP option below.

There are several benefits to a Hire Purchase. It is simple to understand (deposit plus a number of fixed monthly payments), and the buyer can choose the deposit and the term (number of payments) to suit their needs. You can choose a term of up to five years (60 months), which is longer than most other finance options. You can usually cancel the agreement at any time if your circumstances change without massive penalties (although the amount owing may be more than your car is worth early on in the agreement term). Usually you will end up paying less in total with an HP than a PCP if you plan to keep the car after the finance is paid off.

The main disadvantage of an HP compared to a PCP is higher monthly payments, meaning the value of the car you can usually afford is less.

An HP is usually best for buyers who; plan to keep their cars for a long time (ie – longer than the finance term), have a large deposit, or want a simple car finance plan with no sting in the tail at the end of the agreement.

What is a Personal Contract Purchase?

A PCP is often given other names by manufacturer finance companies (eg – BMW Select, Volkswagen Solutions, Toyota Access, etc.), and is very popular but more complicated than an HP. Most new car finance offers advertised these days are PCPs, and usually a dealer will try and push you towards a PCP over an HP because it is more likely to be better for them.

Like the HP above, you pay a deposit and have monthly payments over a term. However, the monthly payments are lower and/or the term is shorter (usually a max. of 48 months), because you are not paying off the whole car. At the end of the term, there is still a large chunk of the finance unpaid. This is usually called a GMFV (Guaranteed Minimum Future Value). The car finance company guarantees that, within certain conditions, the car will be worth at least as much as the remaining finance owed. This gives you three options:

1) Give the car back. You won’t get any money back, but you won’t have to pay out the remainder. This means that you have effectively been renting the car for the whole time.

2) Pay out the remaining amount owed (the GMFV) and keep the car. Given that this amount could be many thousands of pounds, it is not usually a viable option for most people (which is why they were financing the car in the first place), which usually leads to…

3) Part-exchange the car for a new (or newer) one. The dealer will assess your car’s value and take care of the finance payout. If your car is worth more than the GMFV, you can use the difference (equity) as a deposit on your next car.

The PCP is best suited for people who want a new or near-new car and fully intend to change it at the end of the agreement (or possibly even sooner). For a private buyer, it usually works out cheaper than a lease or contract hire finance product. You are not tied into going back to the same manufacturer or dealership for your next car, as any dealer can pay out the finance for your car and conclude the agreement on your behalf. It is also good for buyers who want a more expensive car with a lower cashflow than is usually possible with an HP.

The disadvantage of a PCP is that it tends to lock you into a cycle of changing your car every few years to avoid a large payout at the end of the agreement (the GMFV). Borrowing money to pay out the GMFV and keep the car usually gives you a monthly payment that is very little cheaper than starting again on a new PCP with a new car, so it nearly always sways the owner into replacing it with another car. For this reason, manufacturers and dealers love PCPs because it keeps you coming back every 3 years rather than keeping your car for 5-10 years!

What is a Lease Purchase?

An LP is a bit of a hybrid between an HP and a PCP. You have a deposit and low monthly payments like a PCP, with a large final payment at the end of the agreement. However, unlike a PCP, this final payment (often called a balloon) is not guaranteed. This means that if your car is worth less than the amount owing and you want to sell/part-exchange it, you would have to pay out any difference (called negative equity) before even thinking about paying a deposit on your next car.

Read the fine print

What is absolutely essential for anyone buying a car on finance is to read the contract and consider it carefully before signing anything. Plenty of people make the mistake of buying a car on finance and then end up being unable to make their monthly payments. Given that your finance period may last for the next five years, it is critical that you carefully consider what may happen in your life over those next five years. Many heavily-financed sports cars have had to be returned, often with serious financial consequences for the owners, because of unexpected pregnancies!

As part of purchasing a car on finance, you should consider and discuss all of the various finance options available and make yourself aware of the pros and cons of different car finance products to ensure you are making informed decisions about your money.

Stuart Masson is founder and owner of The Car Expert, a London-based independent and impartial car buying agency for anyone looking to buy a new or used car.

Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for nearly thirty years, and has spent the last seven years working in the automotive retail industry, both in Australia and in London.

Stuart has combined his extensive knowledge of all things car-related with his own experience of selling cars and delivering high levels of customer satisfaction to bring a unique and personal car buying agency to London. The Car Expert offers specific and tailored advice for anyone looking for a new or used car in London.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.