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It is easy to predict the future when it is business as usual. However, if your business environment is suddenly impacted by something like the coronavirus, a delayed product launch or an unplanned acquisition, your corporate budget may become obsolete very quickly.

How Do I Know it is Time To Replace the Budget with a Forecast?

Sometimes unexpected events happen and it is clear the company’s actual performance is moving so far above or below the annual budget that it no longer provides value in the following ways: 

  • A cost control tool
  • A target for employee compensation plans
  • A detailed financial break-down of corporate strategic goals
  • A financial plan for various corporate initiatives

There are many signs that you need to create a budget reforecast because it is becoming obsolete due to unexpected events, such as:

  • Management comments why a revenue or expense budget variance is occurring
  • Complaints from sales teams that their targets are too high due to XYZ event
  • Lack of budget ownership from department heads

In addition, you will start hearing from executives that the budget column in the financial statements is “useless” or that the budget target figure in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is no longer valuable. 

Some organizations have a predefined monthly, quarterly or semi-annual reforecasting process, and when the unexpected happens, they simply take this into account next time they reforecast. These companies often have budgeting and forecasting software such as Solver, Adaptive Insight or Planful to speed up and automate the time and effort it takes to create budgets and forecasts.

Other organizations’ forecasting techniques only include a single annual budget version as a baseline, and for these companies a “forced” reforecast due to unexpected events might involve a lot more arms and legs and interruptions to people’s work schedules.  

What to do When the Corporate Budget Becomes Obsolete?

Companies generally do one of the following when their budgets become obsolete: 

  1. Do nothing and live with the undocumented comments and questions until next year’s budget is launched
  2. Leave the budget as is and use report comments to explain big budget variances (see sample screenshot below).
  3. Reforecast the rest of the year and replace the now defunct budget with the new forecast

Most companies enter their corporate forecasts at a higher level than the annual budget, and often it is only done at the Profit & Loss account level and sometimes also for Balance Sheet and Cash Flow.

In most cases, smaller organizations with well organized, home-grown Excel models can forecast in their spreadsheet and then re-import the forecast into their ERP system or third-party reporting tool. In mid-sized and larger organizations even forecasts at the GL account level may require a lot of work due to requirements to do this by division or department. These companies either have more human resources available to perform the work or they use a budgeting tool to automate it.

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How to Reforecast Your Budget?

Whether your forecasting requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or your company is using a modern budgeting tool, there are ways to avoid the painfully slow bottom-up data entry process. The problem with the latter is that the new forecast may already be old by the time you are done. In these cases, the unexpected event that led to the reforecast could have changed again, leading you to start all over.

Budgeting and forecasting software automation typically means that your input model is highly formula driven. For example, your forecast model can rapidly calculate all the required entries automatically such as % Revenue Increase, Target Net Income, Reduction/Increase in Headcount, etc. This functionality has many names such as:

  • Top-down planning
  • Driver-based modelling
  • Break-back modelling (see sample screenshot below)
  • What-if analysis

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Regardless of what you call it and the type of planning tool you use, an automated reforecasting model can create an entire forecast in minutes or hours versus days or weeks with manual methods. 

 An automated model also allows you to create multiple scenarios. For example, armed with a “Best Case”, “Worst Case” or “Likely” forecast scenarios, you can be prepared for unexpected events without rushing to reforecast. Instead, you replace the “Likely” budget version with the already created “Best Case” or “Worst Case” scenario and you are done. 

If the situation calls for a brand new scenario, you adjust the drivers in the automated model and it will recalculate and store the underlying account-level forecast transactions.  

When your company has the right tools and plans ready for a budget reforecast they will be prepared for a virus outbreak, stock market crash or exciting acquisition of a competitor. Planning ahead will reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s finance team.

liquidityriskanalysis

Nobody likes a budget that is far off target, especially when it could result in a liquidity crisis. Luckily, most companies rarely have to experience such a stressful event. Although, in a turbulent economy where interest rates and stock indexes move up and down like yo-yos and news about corporate layoffs are part of daily news headlines, strong financial clarity does not seem like a bad idea.

So, what does a cash flow forecast mean to most people?

Here is a definition: A cash flow forecast is a plan that shows how much money a business expects to receive in, and pay out, over a given period of time. 

Based on the definition above, it seems logical that all businesses should have a cash flow forecast perfectly ingrained in their corporate processes, but is that the reality? Let’s take a closer look at this.

Are All Businesses Doing Cash Flow Forecasting?

As much as it seems to make perfect sense to have a good estimate of your future cash outflows and inflows, many companies never get around to doing it. This is especially true in small and mid-sized businesses. Some of the reasons for the lack of cash flow forecasting models are the following:

  • The finance staff don’t have time to prepare it
  • Lack of tools that automate cash flow forecasting
  • Complexity in creating a good cash flow model
  • Lack of accuracy in past models leading to reduced appetite to repeat it
  • Other business tasks or fires keep executives focused in other areas
  • The financial planning team is exhausted after then annual budget process with no time or motivation to re-forecast the budget during the year

Regardless of the reason for not doing a cash flow forecast, healthy cash flow is the lifeblood of all businesses, so there is no lack of motivation.

Let’s look at the potential benefits of accurate cash flow forecasting.

Why Do Companies Want to Project Their Future Cash Outflows and Inflows?

Most executives know they would sleep better at night if they had a mechanism that fairly accurately could tell them if the liquidity of their business is healthy or not in the months ahead.

Below is an example of a report using simple color indicators and charts to help managers analyze the company’s projected cash position based on underlying cash flow forecast.

liquidity risk analysis

There are several very logical reasons why a company can benefit from regular cash flow forecasts, including:

  1. Reduce the risk of insolvency – by having a clear idea of any upcoming liquidity issues, management can react early and avoid drama and stress
  2. Move faster on investment opportunities – if you, thanks to a cash flow forecast, early on know that the business will be flush with cash in the months ahead, you can start planning acquisitions, down payment of high interest debt, purchases of strategic capital assets, etc.
  3. Satisfy bankers to enable debt financing or other bank-backed financial transactions

In other words, solid cash flow forecasts can be of tremendous value to a management team. However, if many financial teams dread the additional work of doing planning and performing a cash flow analysis, how can companies still get it done?

How to Automate Cash Flow Forecasts?

As in many other cases, technology can help automate laborious tasks. In the case of cash flow forecasting, there is a cloud software category often referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions that includes vendors such as Adaptive Insights, Centage and Solver that specialize in planning, budgeting and forecasting.

Benefits of CPM tools include scenario forecasting to predict “great”, “good” and “bad” scenarios so managers can plan accordingly. In other cases, CPM solutions provide entire driver-based forecast processes. Driver-based means that the forecast includes assumptions that help automate and simplify creation of sales, payroll, expenses, balance sheet and cash flow forecasts.

Sometimes managers don’t have the time or the need for a full forecast to analyze projected liquidity, in which case they can use simulation models to quickly adjust elements of their cash outflows and inflows to see the impact on the cash position as seen in this example:

cashflowanalysis

Most executives would agree that accurate cash flow forecasts provide numerous benefits to their business. During economic turmoil cash flow forecasts can help lower the risk of running into liquidity problems and increasing the chance to be ready to jump on investment opportunities. Regardless of the motivation, there are good tools available to help automate and simplify such financial planning processes.

At Solver, we offer Corporate Performance Management Solutions that help you establish cash flow forecasts and analyses and prepare for uncertain times. Contact one of our expert team members to learn how we can help you improve your cash flow processes.

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