Category Archives: budgeting

Why Have a General Ledger in a Budgeting Software?

A seemingly strange concept turns out to be a brilliant idea

At first this looks rather strange. A general ledger with both automated and manual journal entries capabilities is common place in all accounting software applications or in the ERP solution’s financial section. But why do they have that in a planning and budgeting software? After all, it’s not an accounting solution, there are no “real” transactions; all we are trying to do is project revenue and expenses and then monitor actual performance as communicated by the company’s financial statements and other reports against the agreed upon and management approved budget. Or is there something else going on?

I am referring here to Budget Maestro budgeting software by Centage Corporation (www.centage.com). A straight forward solution for SMB (small & medium size business) with built in business rules and logic where users never have to enter formulas or link worksheets together in the budget process. All this is great and really transforms the traditional, spreadsheet based process into a much more streamlined, more secure process and without the endless maintenance and troubleshooting of bad formulas and links so common with spreadsheets.

However, there is something else very important to consider. When you prepare your company’s annual budget or any other timeline based financial forecast, your primary goal is to propose to management, through the budget process while ultimately seeking approval, an anticipated company performance, communicated through reports. These usually consist of a forecasted P&L and maybe other financial reports, and some form of a cash flow projection. Very few budgets will also have a rudimentary balance sheet, almost always incomplete and rarely accurate.

Few finance professionals and managers would disagree that the forecasted Balance Sheet is a critical financial statement essential to understanding the future financial health of the organization and one greatly needed by management to make sound decisions.

However, the reason you usually don’t see a complete and accurate forecasted Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows is that you need a General Ledger (GL) to be able to compile these statements, and in my experience there is only one planning and budgeting solution that employs one (Budget Maestro).  Any actual accounting system keeps track of all account balances through both automated and manual journal entrees made in the GL.  This is how all account balances are maintained from period to period (Those Debits and Credits blog entry). Shouldn’t a budgeting solution use the same approach?

Anyone who claims they can do this accurately in a spreadsheet are underestimating the task at hand or simply mistaken. Your spreadsheets are not designed to accept journal entries from various areas in your budget. You cannot practically tell the spreadsheet to subtract a certain amount from the cash account balance when your fork lift operator in the Dallas regional distribution center got paid, or that your payroll tax liability just got higher due to that same paycheck. So you have to approximate or use other high level formulas (hoping there are no errors in them or bad assumptions, and that everything is linked together properly); a very bad idea.

On the other hand, having a GL that does all that tedious work, automatically in each budget period, taking into account every single attribute of every single budget item doesn’t sound like a bad idea anymore. In fact, those who use this approach think it’s a brilliant idea. I agree with that and hope that other software vendors in this space will adopt this GL approach. The way I see it, every organization deserves to benefit from their budget process using tools and reports that are identical in format and appearance to their actuals counterparts and using a similar workflow as their actual accounting process which means the budgeting software solution should always have a general ledger at its core (Budget Maestros Future Journal Entries).

Has your Planning, Budgeting and Analysis Process Reached the Finish Line?

Why most planning, budgeting and analysis processes are incomplete and what you can do to change that

There is a common saying that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. We don’t know who came up with this saying, although Albert Einstein, among several other notable individuals have been credited with the origin of it.

I don’t entirely agree with this definition and imagine it is inaccurate from a clinical standpoint, but understand well that continually performing the same set of tasks and settling for a limited set of results may often be fruitless and in the case of finance operations a poor way to achieve certain goals and deliver meaningful results to management.

One example that really stands out is the planning and budget process that usually begins several months before the start of a new fiscal year and for many companies ends around the beginning of the new fiscal year. This is a mystery to me since I always believed that this process should be a year-round process, always incorporating periodic analysis of actual results vs. budget with periodic reforecasting as needed following the analysis, as well as a clear forecast of the future financial position of the company, derived from the budget and its periodic re-forecasts.

This means that the planning, budgeting and analysis process should be an integral part of finance operations and never stop when the annual budget is approved and the new fiscal year begins.

For some reason, perhaps more than one, this is not the case in many organizations. It’s like running a race and dropping out before reaching the finish line and not for any medical reason, like exhaustion, but simply because of not realizing that there is a finish line ahead. This analogy may seem strange but helps to illustrate this phenomenon.

I’ve seen more than a few very skilled financial analysts and finance departments equipped with powerful modelling and planning software solutions, spending an incredible amount of time developing elaborate revenue and expense models, with massive consolidations of dozens of business units’ budget worksheets. These were presented in a budget book for management to review and approve, at which time the budget process was complete, with the same type of activity repeating year after year. Some companies used their budgets year round to compare with the actual results but to my mind few of these organizations actually reached the finish line.

Where is the finish line in a finance department’s budget process, or more importantly, what is that finish line?

My view on this is that the traditional planning and budgeting process is only one piece, though essential, in the entire process The Benefits of an All Encompassing Budget. Adding periodic analysis of budget and actual data is the next logical step towards a complete and useful process, but one more very important step must exist in order for the finance department to be able to claim that they crossed the finish line.

That step is willing and actually being able to forecast the organization’s Balance Sheet and have that statement always synchronized to the forecasted Income Statement and all budget data and assumptions used in building the budget model. This is essential, and only by having an accurate and complete Balance Sheet for every period in the budget, can management asses the future financial position of their company.

With the forecasted Balance Sheet comes the benefit of having a complete and accurate forecasted Statement of Cash Flows, an indispensable tool that no business owner or manager should be without.

Most finance organizations don’t cross this finish line, at least not yet. Those that do, rely on the next generation of planning, budgeting and analysis software solutions that are becoming more available to even small and medium size companies. You must, however, be careful when selecting such a software solution, as you must choose an application that is an extension of your actual accounting GL, one that uses its own, independent GL Why Have a General Ledger in a Budgeting Software? where future budget period transactions are automatically made by the system, from your supplied budget data and company business rules entered in the software.

Other solutions that don’t have a built-in budget GL will never be able to achieve accuracy and completeness of the Balance Sheet and the Statement of Cash Flows. They may be able to arrive at a rough approximation of account balances through high level formulas but this should not be relied on for critical decision making.

By now you certainly realize that expecting different results from your current process is not going to happen unless you are willing to change your outlook about the process and acquire the right tools in order to be able to affect the change. Only when you do that, can management start to receive the data they urgently need to make more accurate and timely decisions. Only then, can you confidently say you have crossed the finish line.

Use of CPM Analytical Tools in the Budget Process

What really matters in the budget preparation and analysis process and why it should be implemented

I was just reading an article on TechTarget.com by Barry Wilderman of Wilderman Associates, titled: The Benefits of using CPM (Corporate Performance Management) analytical tools for budgeting. Here the author walks the readers through the benefits of using CPM data and specific analytical tools throughout the budget preparation process and during the entire budget period where the budget data is compared to the actual performance of the company as communicated by its accounting system reporting data.

The author also emphasizes the importance of using a central database where all of the organization’s business entities (divisions, departments, revenue centers, cost centers, etc.) have their individual budgets which consolidate to the corporate budget but with the ability to process each individual budget separately, arrive at individual approvals for the entity level budgets and then roll up to the corporate budget. This recommendation implies that there are software applications written specifically to handle these budget requirements and using a relational database as the storage medium for all the data.

I particularly like Mr. Wilderman’s assessment that there is great value in storing all data in a multi-dimensional structure, in addition to the implied row and column format that each relational database table provides. Additional data dimensions can be geographical territories, product lines, customer classes and others. The advantage of doing that, and assuming the budgeting application allows additional data dimensions, is that analysis of data can be more meaningful and lends itself to greater visibility and clarity of data and reports, when communicated to senior management.

Another important feature according to the author is the ability to employ drivers within the budgeting solution, as well as availability of financial modeling were KPIs (Key performance Indicators) can be created in the planning process, based on actual, historical data, as well as desired forecasted data.

Finally, Mr. Wilderman mentions the importance of data visualization, where CPM data can be visually displayed, using both actual and forecasted data, and communicated in a manner that is simple to read and understand by managers and those in charge of the organization (CEO, CFO, etc.).

While I was reading this article, I was thinking to myself that these important points are what really matters in a planning, budgeting and analysis environment, where senior management must be given exactly the data they need to make informed decisions. This data must be communicated periodically and timely, so these decisions can be made in response to actual accounting data compared with anticipated results (represented by the budget) plus all relevant economic and market changes as they unfold during the budget period.  The formatting and appearance of this data must be such that management can easily see and understand the data.

The points raised by Mr. Wilderman are exactly the points delivered by Budget Maestro / Analytics, commercially published by Centage Corporation, an application I use regularly and recommend to organizations in various industries. Many of the blog entries here make reference to it and why its design and implementation provide CPM data and aid company managements in making more timely and accurate decisions and with greater confidence.

The Dreaded Statement of Cash Flows

How you can automatically generate an actual Statement of Cash Flows regardless of what ERP software you use

Those who have experienced the manual preparation of a Statement of Cash Flows using beginning and period end Balance Sheets plus a periodic Income Statement know that this can be a chore and can cause a little confusion along the way with figuring out how to place the different numbers in the designated sections of this statement.

Fundamentally, the preparation of a Statement of Cash Flows is not that complicated and you would expect all accounting and ERP software vendors to provide a working template with each installation. Many of the software solutions targeted at the small to medium size companies not only do not provide such a template but are not capable of programing this statement and as such, a Statement of Cash Flows is not available to users of these software packages. The result is that a Statement of Cash Flows is not produced in many small and even medium size organizations.

Many companies that are required to submit a periodic Statement of Cash Flows, either because they are SEC filers or their lender asks for it, must produce this statement manually for each required period.

I’ve talked to several ERP software vendors and their typical response was that their GL software was not designed to automatically produce a Statement of Cash Flows because there is no way to tag each GL account with the proper treatment for this statement (i.e., how to use each specific GL account activity or changing balance in the compilation of this statement). This confirms that users of these vendors’ software have to perform this chore manually; that is, if they care to do it at all.

I’ve devised a way to automatically produce an accurate and complete Statement of Cash Flows, in each required period, regardless of what ERP software is used and whether or not its GL can accommodate this statement. To do that I use Budget Maestro from Centage Corporation which is a planning, budgeting and analysis software, primarily designed for small and medium companies in a variety of industries, where actual and budgeted financial statements and various reports can be generated in almost real time from available actual accounting and operations data and existing budget and forecasting data.

Budget Maestro was designed to produce all three major financial statements: An Income Statement, a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows for every period included in every version of the budget implemented at the company and consolidated across all business entities that make up the organization.

As such, these financial statements are also available in a special version of the data known as Actual Plan. Here, actual accounting data (e.g., period-end Trial Balance) populate this Actual Plan through an export from the ERP GL or via a direct link available for several of the more popular SMB ERP software.

If you transfer your closed period (e.g., month) GL account balances into the Actual Plan in Budget Maestro (something you really need to do to be able to perform analysis of Budget vs. Actual), you will automatically gain access to all three financial statements (plus many other reports you can set up in the system). The actual Statement of Cash Flows will automatically be generated and available to publish. It will be complete and accurate and you will have the choice between using the Direct Method or the Indirect Method.

The secret to accomplishing this in Budget Maestro is careful planning of the chart of accounts and reporting format. This should closely match the setup of your actual GL and its reporting hierarchy. From that point on it is only a matter of periodically performing the data transfer and updating Budget Maestro with any changes to the chart of accounts as they occur in the ERP GL.

Existing and new users of Budget Maestro now have a viable and practical option to generate an actual period Statement of  Cash Flows. This should no longer be a mystery to many accounting and finance managers and depriving company executives of vital information about the financial performance of their organizations should no longer exist.  Furthermore, by using Budget Maestro as an all-encompassing budget solution, The Benefits of an All-Encompassing Budget, company managements can finally gain real insight into the future financial health of their organizations.

The Benefits of an All-Encompassing Budget

Why using inadequate tools and approximating the balance of forecasted Balance Sheet accounts is a bad approach for budgeting

I recently had a discussion with a colleague who is a partner in a local management consulting firm about organizations’ attitude toward the planning and budgeting process and the benefits they reap from these activities. I expressed my views on how a proper budget should be prepared and why it is vital to budget the entire chart of accounts with the benefit of obtaining a complete set of future period financial statements. I further explained that all accounts that contribute to creating the Balance Sheet must have their balances updated throughout the budget period, performed through increases and decreases (debit and credits) which are derived from the forecast of revenue and expense accounts (Income Statement accounts).

The argument against doing this was (according to this person) that you can use a spreadsheet to forecast the ending balances of all critical Balance Sheet accounts using simple assumptions and the data from forecasted revenue and expense accounts. He recognized that this would be a rough approximation of  account balances but argued that since most budgets are not accurate anyway and companies almost never hit their revenue and expense targets, even if there was a way to accurately and completely forecast the Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows, they would be inaccurate due to the inaccuracy of the revenue and expense account balances all due to bad assumptions, inaccurate budget data supplied by the various reporting entities and other reasons.

The reason I bring up this subject is that I have heard these arguments before from finance executives and professionals who were tasked with preparing their companies’ annual budgets but not given the appropriate tools to do so, added to old traditions, misconceptions and workloads only allowing these people to repeat traditional processes without taking the initiative to look for more advanced ways to obtain meaningful and useful results.

If you accept the fact that budgets are never accurate and therefore no additional effort should be put into forecasting what really matters (e.g., cash account balances, other assets and liability account balances, etc.) than you are left with repeating the same budget process chores year after year with little or no benefit to the company. With this attitude, how can we expect company managements to make solid business decisions, let alone have insight into the future financial health of their organizations?

It is true that advanced software solutions such as Budget Maestro by Centage Corporation can produce inaccurate budget period Balance Sheets as compared with the actual accounting Balance Sheets. Of course, the forecasted P&L will also be different than the actual period P&L. But these forecasted Balance Sheets and Statements of Cash Flows are always going to be accurate and true to their corresponding forecasted Income Statements through the built-in logic and automated journal entries that ensure that each Balance Sheet account’s balance is correct.

If you are approximating or grossly estimating the balances of your forecasted Balance Sheet accounts through use of spreadsheets or purpose designed Planning and Budgeting software solutions that behave like spreadsheets (e.g., require user supplied formals and links and with no built-in business logic and automated journal entries) your errors are likely to be compounded by the errors in the forecast of revenue and expenses.  Essentially, what you get is an inaccurate P&L forecast driving a flawed Balance Sheet forecast causing its account balances to be removed from reality; that is if the Balance Sheet is forecasted at all.

In contrast, if you use a solution that ensures your forecasted Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows are systematically complete and accurate by the nature of the system logic and automated forecasted transaction processing, you can focus on good planning and budgeting with built-in tools and business logic that will allow your P&L forecast to be complete and reasonably accurate; as accurate as your assumptions. The accuracy and completeness of your forecasted Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows will follow and match the accuracy of the Income Statement.

That is a giant leap from traditional budgeting approaches, those based on tradition, bad habits and inferior tools. I think it is time to evaluate the new alternatives.

Don’t Deprive your Company Management of Meaningful Financial Information

Why you must make sure financial information is periodically, timely and properly communicated to those who really need it 

There are many blog posts here that focus on how important accurate and complete data is in assessing the financial health of any organization, past, present and future. I’ve also written on more than several occasions on how critical it is to employ the right tools in analyzing financial data spanning historical periods, the current fiscal year and all future periods presented through a plan and budget.

All these data, when correctly used, can provide insight into the company’s performance and even project the financial direction it is headed in and influence the decisions that management must make along the way, such as:

  • Will the company be able to continue and sustain its growth (given that marketing and sales opportunities are executed according to plan)? Are specific changes needed to achieve that?
  • Will it have the cash required for this growth? Will it require additional financing? When? In what amount?
  • What additional employees are going to be needed? In what departments? When?

Or conversely:

  • Will the company have to restructure its operations anticipating a downturn in the economy? Will the workforce have to be reduced? How? When?
  • Will new financing be required in order to be able to weather this economic downturn?
  • Will selling of certain assets be required? When?
  • Is the company facing new competition? Will it need to change its strategic and operational plans?

There is little doubt that such important decisions must be supported by reliable facts; this is true both personally and in business. Simply relying just on experience, intuition or speculation usually does not work. We all see how even large organizations make poor choices and decisions (this is usually discovered months and sometimes years later). We witness badly executed acquisitions (or acquisitions that should not have been made in the first place) and expansions into new product lines and new territories without proper research and analysis of existing data and business intelligence. We observe decisions that were not based on facts or reliable data, or due to inability to properly read and understand that data because of lack of a structured analytics process or poorly chosen tools for this job.

Yet finance executives and professionals are tasked with providing management with this needed information, delivering presentations that are both complete and accurate and also easy to understand.

I’ve seen organizations that had the need and opportunity to set up financial tools that would achieve analysis and reporting excellence, but decided not to. They were simply too wrapped up in their daily work, period end closes and delivery of internal and external reporting. Added to that was tradition and taking the path of least resistance which was often doing the same thing they have always done and were comfortable doing.

This is when finance leadership, driven by a progressive CFO, Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics) can make a tremendous difference. They must break the old pattern of doing what they have always done, usually limited to collecting and compiling budget data only pertaining to revenue and expense items, while frequently not even comparing it to actual results and certainly not in a timely manner. A much more progressive approach, which surprisingly does not take more time or resources to complete, yet affords management the right information they need: Why you Must Forecast your Balance Sheet Part 1 and Part 2, every accounting period and in concert with actual accounting results for each closed period and immediately after each close.

When company CEO’s are measured by their organizations’ results and often are replaced when expectations are not met, it is vital that those who lead the organization are given the best possible view of their organizations’ performance, through meaningful reports and presentations obtained from a comprehensive data delivery system, Analysis of Everything that draws from past, present and future (forecasted) data. With a proper system setup, there is no reason why company managements should be deprived of critical information needed for them to successfully lead their organizations.

Head in the clouds

Get Your Head in the Cloud

An easier approach to budgeting, planning, and forecasting

I recently started using Microsoft Office 365 with both on-premises and web based versions and cloud storage of data, accessible from any computer, anywhere as if the data were stored locally. I must say that after a few days and as my skepticism subsided I began to really like this approach (I have been exposed to web-based software solutions for several years now but only in large corporate environments). My experience with certain web based software applications was far from pleasant and with the not very intuitive user interface where hundreds or even thousands of menu items and options were scattered across many web pages I constantly ran into a serious navigation challenge each time I was logged into these applications.

When I found out that Centage Corporation was offering a Cloud version of Budget Maestro I decided to try it. I was assured that the user interface was identical to the desktop version, and all I needed was an Internet connection. I was sent an e-mail with the download link of the VMWare Client which I had to install on my desktop computer, or any device I wanted to be able to access Budget Maestro from. I downloaded the file and installed the VMWare client and within minutes I had access to the latest version of Budget Maestro that looked very familiar and ready to go.

Then, with a simple copy and paste function I moved all my plan files to the directory I chose on the network and from there I was able to restore each plan into Budget Maestro (Cloud Version). This whole process was easy as all I had to do was copy files in a familiar environment.

Then I installed the VMWare client on an additional computer, my MacBook Pro. Same great experience as before. This time I didn’t have to copy any plan files since everything was already there. Within minutes I was up and running.

Today, when I started Budget Maestro (Cloud Version) I had a pleasant surprise. I was prompted that my plan version was older than the application and whether I wanted the program to upgrade my plan file in order to make it compatible with the latest maintenance release of Budget Maestro. I replied with a yes and within a few seconds my plan was upgraded and I was able to enter it. I confirmed that the cloud version was higher than my desktop one and realized how great it is to always work with the latest release and have my data files always compatible with this release. Now I have to download the latest version to my desktop computer and reinstall the software, a slight inconvenience.

My next endeavor will be installing the client application on a tablet and maybe on my phone, although I can only imagine that using a phone to access Budget Maestro is mainly meant for viewing data and not for serious data entry and editing.

It’s been over a month now and I can’t speak highly enough of this software solution’s delivery method. Now I have the latest version of Budget Maestro always there and one set of data files – always the most recent versions. The user interface is identical to the desktop version – nothing new to learn. There are no IT issues to be concerned with and access is available globally, anywhere there is an Internet connection. I also verified that the software works great with slower Internet connections (lower bandwidth) which is occasionally the case when I travel.

Is It Time to Switch from Spreadsheets to Business Budgeting Software?

Spreadsheets are common in the workplace and are the most used tool for preparing corporate budgets and forecasts mainly in small enterprises, but surprisingly also in larger organizations. With their familiar user interface, low cost of ownership and readily available functions and a powerful formula builder among the many tools these spreadsheets comprise, it is very tempting to use spreadsheets in the planning and budgeting process. This, however, becomes an increasingly more difficult task as companies grow larger, with more complex operations, more product and service lines, as well as more sophisticated reporting needs. CFOs and other finance executives and professionals soon discover that spreadsheets are not the right tool to use in this process for several compelling reasons. Among them are the inability to effectively scale the model without major redesign, the high risk of errors and omissions and of course the inability to generate complete and accurate financial statements such as a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows. More and more CFOs are starting to realize that and switch to a software-based business budgeting solution.

Your Company Involves Many Departments

Even small and medium size organizations have multiple departments and often several or more locations, with distinct product or service lines, often organized in dozens or more business entities, departments and cost centers. Each reporting entity is expected to propose and maintain its own management approved budget, while a consolidation of all the individual budgets is performed in the finance organization according to the company hierarchy. This cannot be reasonably accomplished with a spreadsheet due to the numerous individual worksheets and workbooks linked together to accomplish the consolidation. As many finance professionals have experienced, the slightest change to any of these worksheets can wreak havoc in the budget consolidation, requiring tedious troubleshooting and repair of broken links, displaced formulas and functions and dealing with other issues. This can bring the entire budget process to a halt, usually when there is a process completion deadline on the near horizon.

Collaboration Requires Dealing with Multiple Time Zones

With different reporting entities located in different parts of the country or even in different foreign countries it becomes apparent that a centralized database must be used in conjunction with a dedicated planning and budgeting solution. Reliance on a spreadsheet is no longer an option even if there are only a few persons involved with accessing the data files.

Maintaining a Single Production Version

Maintaining document control for spreadsheets is a difficult task in any corporate environment even if there are only a few users of the master budget set of spreadsheet files. It is common to find that multiple persons are working on multiple versions of the same spreadsheet while there is no one file containing the latest data. It is much more preferable to use a database application to perform the planning and budgeting functions.  Purpose designed planning and budgeting applications can allow many users in many reporting entities to be in the same database while simultaneously update data. Review and approval of the budget by finance management is done using one set of data which is always the most current version.

Exceedingly Large Revenue and Expense Budget Lines

As companies grow their accounting and reporting needs become increasingly more sophisticated. An increase in the number of revenue and expense accounts usually dictates a similar increase in the number of revenue, cost and operating expense budget lines. Organizing a large number of budget lines across multiple reporting entities makes the use of spreadsheets impractical. The purpose designed budgeting software with its dedicated database can naturally hold and maintain a much larger amount of data with division of data into logical and functional modules such as revenue and cost, operating expenses, fixed assets, personnel, liabilities and others.

International Operations

International operations add additional challenges when using spreadsheets to create and maintain corporate budgets. One obvious challenge is maintaining and calculating currency translations from local currencies to the functional currency of the consolidated budget. This can be much easier handled in a corporate planning and budgeting software solution where all local currencies are defined and can easily be maintained as they change during the budget preparation period as well as during the forecast period. Other challenges such as multiple time zones, many reporting entities and large and increasing budget lines were mentioned above.

Numerous Product Offerings and Locations

The greater the number of company locations, divisions, departments and overall reporting entries, coupled with a large and increasing number of product or service lines the more difficult it becomes to prepare and maintain a corporate budget in a spreadsheet or a set of spreadsheets. This is a perfect example where finance executives must look for a dedicated budgeting solution with an underlying database, where multiple product lines, across multiple locations, and other data dimensions can be reliably set up and maintained without the worry of constantly updating and troubleshooting spreadsheets.

Government Regulators to Report to?

When a company is required to undergo an annual audit of its internal controls, end-user computing is one of the topics external auditors examine for proper design and effectiveness. Spreadsheets rarely have an internal control framework mitigating the inherit risks that they present. A change management process, as applies these spreadsheets, is very rare and often doesn’t exist which implies that the results produced by these spreadsheets cannot and should not be relied on. A dedicated planning, budgeting and analysis software solution with its built-in logic and pre-defined options and calculations is a much more robust alternative to the use of spreadsheets in this process.

Using business budgeting software such as Budget Maestro™ is inevitable as your business grows. The only question remaining is, how soon?

 Businesses of every description rely on the Budget Maestro™ family of software solutions by Centage Corporation to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business budgeting and planningfinancial forecastingfinancial consolidation and reporting processes. For more information, take a tour of Budget Maestrocontact Centage, or call 800-366-5111 now.

You Should Not Rely on Spreadsheets for Cash Flow Forecasts

Finance executives and professionals must rely on purpose-designed planning, budgeting and analysis software solutions that will deliver complete and accurate forecasted financial statements for all budgeted period. Use of spreadsheets or pure guessing of anticipated future results can never deliver this level of completeness and accuracy and any cash flow projections done in this manner will be a gross estimate that should not be relied on.

How is Cash Flow Affected When Your Company Records Revenue and Expenses?

Most companies use the accrual method of accounting. This means that all revenue is recorded in the period it was earned and all expenses are recorded in the period they were incurred. Both activities, however, do not usually coincide with cash receipts and cash disbursements due to varying payment terms extended to customers and received from suppliers. These can be 30, 60 or even 90 days and each customer or supplier may have different payment terms. This makes cash flow projections very difficult and actually impossible to implement. Use of spreadsheets for cash flow projections will typically produce results that are grossly inaccurate. The solution is to employ a planning and budgeting software application that has all the business logic built in where all payments and cash receipts are automatically applied in the correct budget periods. This will help generate a much more complete picture of all future cash receipts and cash disbursements.  The generated forecasted Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows will allow finance executives and professional to evaluate future cash requirements or cash surplus.

Inventory and its Effect on Cash Flow Forecasting

Inventory purchases often represent the highest cash outflow in many businesses. Forecasting cash needed for inventory purchases can be a daunting task unless proper planning and budgeting tools are used. Each forecasted sales transaction will affect inventory levels and require the purchase (or making) of additional inventory, affecting the forecasting of cash needs. Sale of inventory will also create a future in-flow of cash that must be part of the cash flow analysis built into the planning and budgeting process.

Formulas, Functions and Links

Formulas, functions, links and other user programming done in a spreadsheet environment often results in undetected errors, broken links and other programming issues that can have an adverse effect on the integrity and accuracy of the work performed. Maintaining large and complex spreadsheet files used in corporate planning, budgeting, and especially scaling the models is often an exercise in futility. Cash flow forecasts that rely on these spreadsheets are usually unreliable, grossly inaccurate and can seriously mislead management into making wrong tactical and operational decisions.

Forecast as an Extension of Actual Period Accounting

Similar to financial statements of past accounting periods, a properly prepared plan and budget should  also include a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows, in additional to the commonly seen forecasted Income Statement. Using a software solution (either In the Cloud or On Premises) that was specifically designed to be an extension of an organization’s actual accounting system will allow company managements to gain visibility into their organizations’ future financial health.

Don’t guess with spreadsheets. Upgrade to business budgeting software such as Budget Maestro™ instead.

Businesses of every description rely on the Budget Maestro™ family of software solutions by Centage Corporation to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business budgeting and planningfinancial forecastingfinancial consolidation and reporting processes. For more information, take a tour of Budget Maestrocontact Centage, or call 800-366-5111 now.

The last day of the accounting period phenomenon

Is shipping on the last day of the month that important and at any cost?

In my work in management consulting in the areas of accounting and finance I get involved with many client companies’ financial statement preparation, disclosure work and internal control (plus internal audit in several of the larger companies). What is common to all of these companies, regardless of size and industry, is the fact that in the last few days of any accounting period there is this frenzy of activities, mostly shipping, with several of these companies stuffing trailers with products until midnight of the last day of the fiscal period.

What seems odd to me, although I perfectly understand the motivation behind this, is that all of that hard work in shipping and accounting on that long Friday (or Saturday) night will only result in these trailers being hauled away by the common carriers the following Monday. I always questioned the fact that this behavior does not really comply with GAAP rules as to me the earning process is not complete if these trailers are left in the rain or snow to sit there for more than 48 hours while the customers who ordered the products hidden in these containers have no idea that ownership had already been transferred to them.

Besides, If I am the seller who recognizes revenue on the last day of the month, it is implied that my customer must recognize the inventory in transit as well as a liability to me on the same day (which may or not be the last day of their accounting period). Is that what the customer really wants? Probably not, unless their requested ship date happens to fall on the last day of the seller’s accounting period.

Of course, this assumes that revenue recognition can take place when products are shipped and there are no other conditions that must be met (such as installation, or training and acceptance by customers, among other things) before the seller of the goods can include these amounts in gross revenue for the period.

While I have no problem endorsing the fact that a “for-profit” business must make every effort to maximize financial results and increase the value of shareholders’ equity, I question this type of behavior as it implies that in the first two or three weeks of each month there is no urgency to get things done, or to follow customer delivery request dates that are captured on company sales orders that drive the entire manufacturing process. If there are approximately 22 working days per month, shouldn’t manufacturing and especially shipping activities be spread more evenly across those days?

So now that these last minute shipments have made it into the trailers, I don’t think there will be much left to do on Monday, the start of a new accounting period, and we will need to wait for finished goods to appear on the shipping docks, once again late in the month, for this process to only repeat itself.

As for billing these shipments, unless the earning process is really complete, I would wait for that to happen, and who knows, this might increase the real sales in the following period. What do you think?

I realize that management puts pressure on operations to perform in order to deliver the forecasted (and desirable) financial results, but I think that more important is to follow a strategic plan, coupled with a solid budget and meaningful analysis year round, while focusing on customer demand (including following the very important customer requested delivery dates) and not just on “how much more can we get out the door before the clock strikes midnight”.