Tag Archives: Cash Flow Forecasting Software

Cash Flow Forecasting Best Practices

It is time to demystify existing misconceptions and practices

Earlier this year I participated in a discussion on the Proformative.com site, titled: Cash Flow Forecasting Best Practices. A Proformative member asked a question which is very common in many finance organizations: What are the best practices when it comes to developing a cash flow forecast model? The person indicated that it was for a large publicly held company with global operations and that they have a comprehensive P&L forecast but struggle with a large and cumbersome Excel model which must be tied to the budget (P&L). This person was looking to start from scratch and build a more robust and manageable model. It was clear that they needed help. Does that sound familiar?

  • Is your company struggling in forecasting its cash flow or is unable to forecast its Balance Sheet and the derived Statement of Cash Flows?
  • Are you using home grown spreadsheets you inherited from a person who is no longer with the company?
  • Have you noticed broken link messages and suspect that other errors may exist in these worksheets?
  • Are you unable to maintain these spreadsheets, or add records without introducing new errors?
  • Are these new additions properly linked into the model?
  • Most importantly, is the output from these worksheets meaningful and reliable?

If you answered yes to any of the first four questions and no to one or more of the last two you probably realize that you must make a change in this process. You also realize that you are not alone which explains why many people responded to this question on Proformative.com and why the topic of cash flow forecasting is popular on that site.

What surprised me was that a good number of the answers were focused on developing a more robust spreadsheet approach to solving this problem, convinced that the spreadsheet is the answer to this challenge; some claiming that they have a model that works and is able to provide a forecast of the cash going in and leaving the organization.

What about the sources of this cash, or the inflows and outflows of cash into and out of each of the three main categories and in each forecasted accounting period? And what about the one or two people who suggested that a cash flow projection can be easily obtained if you have a reliable forecasted Balance Sheet? But how do you reliably forecast a Balance Sheet, complete and accurate and always synchronized to your P&L forecast?  Do you use another home grown Excel model to do that?

As I have written before on this blog and in other forums, Excel is a fine application with a tremendous amount of power and features. One, however, must understand its limitations (and their own limitations in using this application) when using Excel in certain financial processes such as financial reporting, planning, budgeting and forecasting, processes that should always include a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows. The blog post titled “Should Excel be Expelled” touches on this idea.

It seems to me that many finance professionals, greatly skilled in using and programming Excel, don’t realize that much of Excel’s apparent power and seemingly endless features may lead to a false sense of believing that anything can be done with the software. This results very often in gigantic models being developed, incorporating many workbooks containing many worksheets each. The risk of having material errors in these models increases exponentially as the complexity of the model increases. To that add the often lack of documentation and rarely used change management controls, even in large organizations, and you begin to see the magnitude of these unmitigated risks.

Even in a perfect world with perfect Excel programming, a robust internal control environment and other positive factors, a cash flow forecast, or more accurately, a forecasted Statement of Cash Flows cannot realistically be modeled in Excel because it requires a complete and accurate forecasted Balance Sheet, perfectly synchronized to the P&L budget model. My blog posts “Can you Really Forecast your Cash Flow?”, “Forecasting a Balance Sheet in a Spreadsheet World”, and “Why you Must Forecast your Balance Sheet(and Part 2), further explain these concepts.

To me it makes a lot more sense to implement a purpose designed solution to accomplish the tasks of planning, budgeting, forecasting and analytics. Many of the blog posts on this site cover this critical set of business processes. Before embarking on new, complex projects, we need to realize Excel’s strengths and limitations, and our own challenge of controlling our desire to solve any problem with this tool.

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.