When a crisis hits, your business needs to hold enough cash to survive. But where do you start? Daniel Haag, Global Head of Corporates at BIL, explains how best to optimise your cash flow management and safeguard your business as much as possible during these uncertain, challenging times.
What is cash flow? Why is it important?
A company’s cash flow is the amount of funds it has available. Company bosses are in charge of cash flow management. With the help of a cash flow statement – an accounting document listing all incoming and outgoing cash movements over a particular period – they get a clear, detailed overview of all payables and receivables and of their available cash. In the bank’s view, cash flow statements are an essential tool for all businesses.
For some years now, companies and banks alike have been operating against a backdrop of negative interest rates. This means that negative interest is charged on large deposits, resulting in an incentive to minimise cash flow. Getting the right balance is essential. Having cash available is a financial cushion that allows you to weather shocks caused by extraordinary events – like the pandemic. If your operations slow down or come to a complete stop, it’s that cash that will cover your expenditure and prevent you from having to make tough managerial decisions.
How can I pre-empt a crisis and optimise my cash flow?
Being proactive is key. Introducing particular tools and adopting good habits will allow you to solve problems before they arise. Medium-sized and large enterprises, for example, tend to use cash flow forecasts – these give bosses a clear overview of their available funds and allow them to make projections over several days, weeks, months or years. They also draw attention to impending cash flow issues or times when receivables will not cover payables, like when contracts expire or suppliers need paying. You need to be able to pre-empt these cash flow problems to give you enough time to review your business model and find solutions with your banking partner. The bank also uses these tables and models various scenarios (e.g. worst case and best case) when deciding whether to grant loans. A clear overview is crucial for making well-informed decisions.
To protect assets, managers can also have a think about the company’s legal structure. If their private assets are not separate from those of the company, then both are at risk when times get tough. So make sure to keep them separate.
Crises also give businesses the chance to review and optimise their model.
Crises also give businesses the chance to review and optimise their model. Some companies have been quick to react to the current circumstances – think about how many restaurants switched to home delivery despite never having considered it before. During challenging periods, agility is key. You have to find ways to survive, even if that means accepting that you may get less out than you put in for a while. Why not look around for examples of good management for inspiration?
My finances have taken a hit, but I still need to pay my employees, clients and suppliers. What do I do?
Try not to worry. First and foremost, take a good look at your cash flow statement and find any outflows you can stop. If you have a good relationship with a supplier, you could ask them to extend their payment terms from 30 days to 2 months, or even longer. And are there any ways you can boost the cash held by the company? It might be worth trying to shorten the payment terms for your invoices to clients. You could also speak to your landlord to see if your rent can be reduced or deferred, or reduce your salary costs by furloughing some staff. You can mull these things over yourself or get help from schemes such as Fit 4 Resilience – programmes like this are there precisely for tough periods like we’re experiencing at the moment.
What are the main risks I face as a result of bad management or poor foresight?
There are some financial risks. If you find yourself in a difficult situation like this, we cannot overstate how important it is that you talk to your banking partner. Companies sometimes decide to go against the terms of their contract with the bank in order to stay afloat but this is really not a good idea, even if the intentions were good. In that event, the bank is free to demand the immediate repayment of the loan, and this would only exacerbate the situation. So speak to your banking partner as soon as possible to find a way forward.
Recognising there are issues and reaching out for help is crucial – it is not a sign of weakness.
There are also some psychological risks. When times are tough, our mental health can suffer. And it’s even worse if the issues hang over us for a long time, like with COVID-19. Recognising there are issues and reaching out for help is crucial – it is not a sign of weakness. Keeping things bottled up can cause significant harm. There may be solutions available, but if you don’t talk to the right people you may never find them.
How can my bank help me?
The bank is there as your partner to help you figure things out. It will cast a rational, objective eye over your company’s cash flow while helping you to come up with creative solutions.
The best way out of this situation is to speak to your banking partner as soon as possible, chat openly about the issues and find solutions together. To make sure you get the right support and financing, your banking partner will check that the cash flow statements were prepared in advance and that you took all the necessary measures. To be eligible for this financial support, you will have to show that your company has taken a hit due to the pandemic – companies that were already in trouble or had been poorly managed before the pandemic won’t have access to this help.
What support am I entitled to?
Luxembourg has various business support instruments available, which may vary depending on the type of company. Your banking partner is best placed to help you decide on the most appropriate financing.
Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic can cripple companies and their cash flow. It’s extremely difficult to pre-empt situations of this magnitude, but you can stop the situation reaching breaking point by introducing certain procedures and speaking openly with your banking partner.