Financial Statement Analysis for Sales and Marketing Executives

While it is not necessary to be a qualified accountant to design a Strategy for Sales Perfection, a basic understanding of what is involved in financial analysis is essential for anyone in sales and marketing. It is too enticing, and often too easy, to use “blue skies” thinking in planning sales and marketing activities. It is even easier to spend money without fully realizing the return one is getting for it. It is critical that sales and marketing executives be more disciplined and analytical in the way they go about planning, executing and evaluating the sales and marketing plans and strategy. One way of introducing more discipline into the process is by having a basic understanding of the financial implications of decision making, and how financial measures can be used to monitor and control marketing operations. The purpose of this text is to provide exactly that, and the first chapter deals basically with an introduction to the activities involved in financial analysis.

The Income Statement

The P&L (profit and loss) statement otherwise known as the income statement is illustrated below. This is an abbreviated version as most income statements contain much more detail, for example, expenses are typically listed based on their individual.

G/L ledger account:

The income statement measures a company’s financial performance over a specific accounting period. Financial performance is assessed by giving a summary of how the business incurs its revenues and expenses through both operating and non-operating activities. It also shows the net profit or loss incurred over a specific accounting period, typically over a fiscal quarter or year. The income statement is also known as the “profit and loss statement” or “statement of revenue and expense.”

Sales – These are defined as total sales (revenues) during the accounting period. Remember these sales are net of returns, allowances and discounts.

Discounts – these are discounts earned by customers for paying their bills on tie to your company.

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) – These are all the direct costs that are related to the product or rendered service sold and recorded during the accounting period.

Operating expenses – These include all other expenses that are not included in COGS but are related to the operation of the business during the specified accounting period. This account is most commonly referred to as “SG&A” (sales general and administrative) and includes expenses such as sales salaries, payroll taxes, administrative salaries, support salaries, and insurance. Material handling expenses are commonly warehousing costs, maintenance, administrative office expenses (rent, computers, accounting fees, legal fees). It is also common practice to designate a separation of expense allocation for marketing and variable selling (travel and entertainment).

EBITDA – earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization. This is reported as income from operations.

Other revenues & expenses – These are all non-operating expenses such as interest earned on cash or interest paid on loans.

Income taxes – This account is a provision for income taxes for reporting purposes.

The Components of Net Income:

Operating income from continuing operations – This comprises all revenues net of returns, allowances and discounts, less the cost and expenses related to the generation of these revenues. The costs deducted from revenues are typically the COGS and SG&A expenses.

Recurring income before interest and taxes from continuing operations – In addition to operating income from continuing operations, this component includes all other income, such as investment income from unconsolidated subsidiaries and/or other investments and gains (or losses) from the sale of assets. To be included in this category, these items must be recurring in nature. This component is generally considered to be the best predictor of future earnings. However, non-cash expenses such as depreciation and amortization are not assumed to be good indicators of future capital expenditures. Since this component does not take into account the capital structure of the company (use of debt), it is also used to value similar companies.

Recurring (pre-tax) income from continuing operations – This component takes the company’s financial structure into consideration as it deducts interest expenses.

Pre-tax earnings from continuing operations – Included in this category are items that are either unusual or infrequent in nature but cannot be both. Examples are an employee-separation cost, plant shutdown, impairments, write-offs, write-downs, integration expenses, etc.

Net income from continuing operations – This component takes into account the impact of taxes from continuing operations.

Non-Recurring Items:

Discontinued operations, extraordinary items and accounting changes are all reported as separate items in the income statement. They are all reported net of taxes and below the tax line, and are not included in income from continuing operations. In some cases, earlier income statements and balance sheets have to be adjusted to reflect changes.

Income (or expense) from discontinued operations – This component is related to income (or expense) generated due to the shutdown of one or more divisions or operations (plants). These events need to be isolated so they do not inflate or deflate the company’s future earning potential. This type of nonrecurring occurrence also has a nonrecurring tax implication and, as a result of the tax implication, should not be included in the income tax expense used to calculate net income from continuing operations. That is why this income (or expense) is always reported net of taxes. The same is true for extraordinary items and cumulative effect of accounting changes (see below).

Extraordinary items – This component relates to items that are both unusual and infrequent in nature. That means it is a one-time gain or loss that is not expected to occur in the future. An example is environmental remediation.

The Balance Sheet

The balance sheet provides information on what the company owns (its assets), what it owes (its liabilities) and the value of the business to its stockholders (the shareholders’ equity) as of a specific date. It is called a balance sheet because the two sides balance out. This makes sense: a company has to pay for all the things it has (assets) by either borrowing money (liabilities) or getting it from shareholders (shareholders’ equity).

Assets are economic resources that are expected to produce economic benefits for their owner.

Liabilities are obligations the company has to outside parties. Liabilities represent others’ rights to the company’s money or services. Examples include bank loans, debts to suppliers and debts to employees.

Shareholders’ equity is the value of a business to its owners after all of its obligations have been met. This net worth belongs to the owners. Shareholders’ equity generally reflects the amount of capital the owners have invested, plus any profits generated that were subsequently reinvested in the company.

The balance sheet must follow the following formula:

Total Assets = Total Liabilities + Shareholders’ Equity

Each of the three segments of the balance sheet will have many accounts within it that document the value of each segment. Accounts such as cash, inventory and property are on the asset side of the balance sheet, while on the liability side there are accounts such as accounts payable or long-term debt. The exact accounts on a balance sheet will differ by company and by industry, as there is no one set template that accurately accommodates the differences between varying types of businesses.

Current Assets – These are assets that may be converted into cash, sold or consumed within a year or less. These usually include:

Cash – This is what the company has in cash in the bank. Cash is reported at its market value at the reporting date in the respective currency in which the financials are prepared. Different cash denominations are converted at the market conversion rate.

Marketable securities (short-term investments) – These can be both equity and/or debt securities for which a ready market exists. Furthermore, management expects to sell these investments within one year’s time. These short-term investments are reported at their market value.

Accounts receivable – This represents the money that is owed to the company for the goods and services it has provided to customers on credit. Every business has customers that will not pay for the products or services the company has provided. Management must estimate which customers are unlikely to pay and create an account called allowance for doubtful accounts. Variations in this account will impact the reported sales on the income statement. Accounts receivable reported on the balance sheet are net of their realizable value (reduced by allowance for doubtful accounts).

Notes receivable – This account is similar in nature to accounts receivable but it is supported by more formal agreements such as a “promissory notes” (usually a short-term loan that carries interest). Furthermore, the maturity of notes receivable is generally longer than accounts receivable but less than a year. Notes receivable is reported at its net realizable value (the amount that will be collected).

Inventory – This represents raw materials and items that are available for sale or are in the process of being made ready for sale. These items can be valued individually by several different means, including at cost or current market value, and collectively by FIFO (first in, first out), LIFO (last in, first out) or average-cost method. Inventory is valued at the lower of the cost or market price to preclude overstating earnings and assets.

Prepaid expenses – These are payments that have been made for services that the company expects to receive in the near future. Typical prepaid expenses include rent, insurance premiums and taxes. These expenses are valued at their original (or historical) cost.

Long-Term assets – These are assets that may not be converted into cash, sold or consumed within a year or less. The heading “Long-Term Assets” is usually not displayed on a company’s consolidated balance sheet. However, all items that are not included in current assets are considered long-term assets. These are:

Investments – These are investments that management does not expect to sell within the year. These investments can include bonds, common stock, long-term notes, investments in tangible fixed assets not currently used in operations (such as land held for speculation) and investments set aside in special funds, such as sinking funds, pension funds and plan-expansion funds. These long-term investments are reported at their historical cost or market value on the balance sheet.

Fixed assets – These are durable physical properties used in operations that have a useful life longer than one year.

This includes: Machinery and equipment – This category represents the total machinery, equipment and furniture used in the company’s operations. These assets are reported at their historical cost less accumulated depreciation.

Buildings or Plants – These are buildings that the company uses for its operations. These assets are depreciated and are reported at historical cost less accumulated depreciation.

Land – The land owned by the company on which the company’s buildings or plants are sitting on. Land is valued at historical cost and is not depreciable under U.S. GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

Other assets – This is a special classification for unusual items that cannot be included in one of the other asset categories. Examples include deferred charges (long-term prepaid expenses), non-current receivables and advances to subsidiaries.

Intangible assets – These are assets that lack physical substance but provide economic rights and advantages: patents, franchises, copyrights, goodwill, trademarks and organization costs. These assets have a high degree of uncertainty in regard to whether future benefits will be realized. They are reported at historical cost net of accumulated depreciation.

Current liabilities – These are debts that are due to be paid within one year or the operating cycle, whichever is longer. Such obligations will typically involve the use of current assets, the creation of another current liability or the providing of some service.

Bank indebtedness – This amount is owed to the bank in the short term, such as a bank line of credit.

Accounts payable – This amount is owed to suppliers for products and services that are delivered but not paid for.

Wages payable (salaries), rent, tax and utilities – This amount is payable to employees, landlords, government and others.

Accrued liabilities (accrued expenses) – These liabilities arise because an expense occurs in a period prior to the related cash payment. This accounting term is usually used as an all-encompassing term that includes customer prepayments, dividends payables and wages payables, among others.

Notes payable (short-term loans) – This is an amount that the company owes to a creditor, and it usually carries an interest expense.

Unearned revenues (customer prepayments) – These are payments received by customers for products and services the company has not delivered or for which the company has not yet started to incur any cost for delivery.

Dividends payable – This occurs as a company declares a dividend but has not yet paid it out to its owners.

Current portion of long-term debt – The currently maturing portion of the long-term debt is classified as a current liability. Theoretically, any related premium or discount should also be reclassified as a current liability.

Current portion of capital-lease obligation – This is the portion of a long-term capital lease that is due within the next year.

Long-term Liabilities – These are obligations that are reasonably expected to be liquidated at some date beyond one year or one operating cycle. Long-term obligations are reported as the present value of all future cash payments. Usually included are:

Notes payables – This is an amount the company owes to a creditor, which usually carries an interest expense.

Long-term debt (bonds payable) – This is long-term debt net of current portion.

Deferred income tax liability – GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) allows management to use different accounting principles and/or methods for reporting purposes than it uses for corporate tax fillings to the IRS. Deferred tax liabilities are taxes due in the future (future cash outflow for taxes payable) on income that has already been recognized for the books. In effect, although the company has already recognized the income on its books, the IRS lets it pay the taxes later due to the timing difference. If a company’s tax expense is greater than its tax payable, then the company has created a future tax liability (the inverse would be accounted for as a deferred tax asset).

Pension fund liability – This is a company’s obligation to pay its past and current employees’ post-retirement benefits; they are expected to materialize when the employees take their retirement for structures like a defined-benefit plan. This amount is valued by actuaries and represents the estimated present value of future pension expense, compared to the current value of the pension fund. The pension fund liability represents the additional amount the company will have to contribute to the current pension fund to meet future obligations.

Long-term capital-lease obligation – This is a written agreement under which a property owner allows a tenant to use and rent the property for a specified period of time. Long-term capital-lease obligations are net of current portion.

Statement of Cash Flow

The statement of cash flow reports the impact of a firm’s operating, investing and financial activities on cash flows over an accounting period.

The cash flow statement shows the following:

How the company obtains and spends cash

Why there may be differences between net income and cash flows

If the company generates enough cash from operation to sustain the business

If the company generates enough cash to pay off existing debts as they mature

If the company has enough cash to take advantage of new investment opportunities

Segregation of Cash Flows

The statement of cash flows is segregated into three sections: Operations, investing, and financing.

Cash Flow from Operating Activities (CFO) – CFO is cash flow that arises from normal operations such as revenues and cash operating expenses net of taxes. These include:

Cash inflow: is the positive influx of funds from (1) positive revenue from sale of goods or services (2) interest from indebtedness and (3) dividends from investments.

Cash outflow: is the negative (payments) most commonly categorized as (1) Payments to suppliers (2) payments to employees (3) payments to the government (4) payment to lenders (5) payment for other expenses.

Cash Flow from Investing Activities (CFI) – CFI is cash flow that arises from investment activities such as the acquisition or disposition of current and fixed assets. These include:

Cash inflow is the receipt of cash from (1) the sale or disposition of property, plant or equipment (2) the sale of debt or equity securities or (3) lending income to other entities.

Cash outflow is the payment of (1) the purchase of property plant and equipment, (2) purchase of debt or other equity securities, or (3) lending to other entities,

Cash flow from financing activities (CFF) – CFF is cash flow that arises from raising (or decreasing) cash through the issuance (or retraction) of additional shares, or through short-term or long-term debt for the company’s operations.

Financial Statement Analysis

Vertical Analysis

Analyzing a single period financial statement works well with vertical analysis. On the income statement, percentages represent the correlation of each separate account to net sales. Express all accounts other than net sales as a percentage of net sales. Net income represents the percentage of net sales not used on expenses. For example, if expenses total 69 percent of net sales, net income represents the remaining 31 percent. Vertical analysis performed on balance sheets uses total assets and total liabilities for comparison of individual balance sheet accounts.

Horizontal Analysis

Horizontal analysis is the comparison of data sets for two periods. Financial statements users review the change in data much like an indicator. Optimistic analysts look for growth in revenue, net income and assets in addition to reductions in expenses and liabilities. Calculating absolute dollar changes requires the user to subtract the base figure from the current figure. Expressing changes with percentages requires the user to divide the base figure by the current figure, and multiply by 100.

Trend Analysis

Review of three or more financial statement periods typically represents trend analysis, a continuation of horizontal analysis. The base year represents the earliest year in the data set. Although dollars can represent subsequent periods, analysts commonly use percentages for comparability purposes. Users review statements for patterns of incremental change representing changes in the business in questions. Financial statement improvements include increased income and decreased expenses.

Ratio Analysis

Ratios express a relationship between two more financial statement totals, and compare to budgets and industry benchmarks. Five common categories of ratios exist: liquidity, asset turnover, leverage, profitability and solvency. Reviewing ratios for performance compared with prior periods or industry specific benchmarks provides financial statements users with recognition of strengths and weaknesses.

Limitations

Analyzing financial statements presents an opportunity for reviewing past data and possibly budgets. However, the data used is historical in nature, indicating it may not be a good representation of the future due to unforeseeable circumstances. Market value of assets and liabilities can be under or overstated significantly leaving statement users unaware of the real value of a balance sheet. Pro forma statements, or forward-looking financial statements, provide estimates at best resulting in speculation.

Cost-Volume-Profit

Cost-volume-profit analysis provides owners and managers with an understanding of the relationship between fixed and variable costs, volume of products manufactured or sold and the profit resulting from sales. The financial relationship includes contribution margin analysis, break-even analysis and operational leverage. Financial statements provide the data to perform cost-volume-profit analysis.

Contribution Margin

Contribution margin analysis allows managers to look at the percentage of each sales dollar remaining after payment of variable costs, including cost of goods, commissions and delivery charges. Managers and owners use this analysis to help determine the pricing, mix, introduction and removal of products. Contribution margin analysis also aids managers with determining how much incentive to use for sales commissions and bonuses. Comparing each product offered affords the opportunity to look at product profitability and product mix.

Break-even

Break-even analysis considers the sales volume at which fixed and variable costs are even. Owners and managers must consider two primary figures when calculating the break-even. First, gross profit margin, which is the percentage of sales remaining after payment of variable costs. And fixed costs, including administration, office and marketing. Financial statements provide both sets of data necessary to calculate the break-even volume.

Operational Leverage

Every business model contains slightly different operating leverage, which compares the amount of fixed costs to sales. Businesses with higher fixed costs will experience a larger multiplier in their operating leverage, indicating less sales growth results in more profit. However, the same is true for losses, where small reductions in sales exponentially increase net losses. Less operating leverage results in less growth of net income.

Financial Ratios

A financial ratio expresses a mathematical relationship between two or more sets of financial statement data and commonly exhibits the relationship as a percentage. Profitability, solvency, leverage, asset turnover and liquidity comprise the five standard ratio categories. Managers and owners should review the ratios period over period, determining where unfavorable trends exist. After reviewing trends, benchmark ratios against industry standards, which managers can acquire from a variety of sources including industry-specific organizations.

A financial ratio (or accounting ratio) is a relative magnitude of two selected numerical values taken from an enterprise’s financial statements. Often used in accounting, there are many standard ratios used to try to evaluate the overall financial condition of a corporation or other organization. Financial ratios may be used by managers within a firm, by current and potential shareholders (owners) of a firm, and by a firm’s creditors.

Ratios can be used to judge the organization’s “liquidity”, i.e. can it pay its bills, its “leverage”, i.e. how is it financed and its “activities”, i.e. the productivity and efficiency of the organization. Taking liquidity analysis only, this has a bearing on new product planning, marketing budgets and the marketing decisions.

Financial analysis can be used to serve many purposes in an organization but in the area of marketing it has four main functions:

Gauge how well marketing strategy is working (situation analysis)

Evaluate marketing decision alternatives

Develop plans for the future

Control activities on a short term or-day to-day basis.

Understanding a company’s financial performance is critical to developing a solid Strategy for Sales Perfection as well as being an educated and well informed company executive. The purpose of this discussion is to introduce you to the concepts and points of analyzing financial statements and using ratios to develop informed business decisions. The information discussed in this chapter in no way will substitute the job function of your CFO or your CPA.

Financial statements can be quite complex and accounting principles may have significant effect on the way they are reported. Understand that a coordinated dialogue with your accounting staff is critical to obtain clear and concise knowledge of your company financial statements. Financial ratios have limitations and specific uses if interpreted properly. Attention should be given to the following issues when using financial ratios:

A reference point is needed. To be meaningful most ratios must be compared to historical values of the same firm, your company forecasts, or ratios with similar companies.

Most ratios by themselves are not highly meaningful. They should be viewed as indicators, with several of them combined to draw on a conclusion of the purpose of the analysis.

Take into account seasonal factors and business cycles when using financial ratios. Average values should be used when they are available.

Communicate with your accounting department to understand their philosophy and accounting principles.

Sales and Profit Ratio Model

Several profit models have been introduced over the years to gauge the performance of a company and to build a statistical measure to peak performance. We have developed a very simple model that measures four critical areas of performance: gross profit margin %, net profit margin %, RONA – return on net assets, and GMROI – gross margin return on inventory. Earlier in the chapter, we introduced a set of financial statements of which we will use the data from those as part of our illustration of the Sales and profit model.

Not Knowing This About Your Financial Advisor Will Cost You

As an In-House Tax Strategist for a “Wealth Management” office, I had the unique perspective of watching and observing the gyrations a wealth advisory team will go through in order to “land a client”. My job, of course, was to bring value added services to the existing and potential clientele. Well, not exactly. I had the mindset of that purpose but in truth, it was just one more way for the “financial advisor” to get in front of another new prospect. In fact, that one purpose “get in front of another prospect” was the driving force in every decision. Think about it this way. A Financial Advisory Firm will make tens of thousands of dollars for each new client “they land” versus a few hundred dollars more for doing a better job with their existing clientele. You see, depending on how a financial advisory firm is built, will dictate what is most important to them and how it will greatly affect you as the client. This is one of the many reasons why Congress passed the new DOL fiduciary law this past spring, but more about that in a latter article.

When a financial advisory firm concentrates all of their resources in prospecting, I can assure you that the advice you are receiving is not entirely to your benefit. Running a successful wealth management office takes a lot of money, especially one that has to prospect. Seminars, workshops, mailers, advertising along with support staff, rent and the latest sales training can cost any size firm hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, as you are sitting across the glossy conference table from your advisor, just know that they are thinking of the dollar amount they need from the procurement of your assets and they will be allocating that into their own budget. Maybe that’s why they get a little ‘huffy’ when you let them know “you have to think about it”?

Focusing on closing the sale instead of allowing for a natural progression would be like running a doctor’s office where they spend all of their resources how to bring in prospective patients; how to show potential patients just how wonderful they are; and the best way for the doctor’s office staff to close the deal. Can you imagine it? I bet there would be less of wait! Oh, I can just smell the freshly baked muffins, hear the sound of the Keurig in the corner and grabbing a cold beverage out of the refrigerator. Fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t experience that when we walk into a doctor’s office. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The wait is long, the room is just above uncomfortable and a friendly staff is not the norm. That is because Health Care Providers spend all of their time and resources into knowing how to take care of you as you are walking out the door instead of in it.

As you are searching for financial advice, there are a hundred things to think about when growing and protecting your wealth, especially risk. There are risks in getting the wrong advice, there are risks in getting the right advice but not asking enough of the right questions, but most importantly, there are risks of not knowing the true measure of wealth management. The most common overlooked risk is not understanding the net return on the cost of receiving good financial advice. Some financial advisors believe that if they have a nice office with a pleasant staff and a working coffee maker they are providing great value to their clients. Those same financial advisors also spend their resources of time and money to put their prospective clients through the ‘pain funnel’ to create the sense of urgency that they must act now while preaching building wealth takes time. In order to minimize the risk of bad advice is to quantify in real terms. One of the ways to know if you are receiving value for your financial advice is to measure your return backwards.

Normally, when you come to an agreement with a financial advisor there is a ‘management fee’ usually somewhere between 1% and 2%. In fact, this management fee can be found in every mutual fund and insurance product that has investments or links to indexes. The trouble I observed over and over again as I sat through this carnival act, was that management fees, although mentioned, were merely an after-thought. When presenting their thorough portfolio audit and sound recommendations, the sentence used to the unsuspecting client was that the market has historically provided an average of 8% (but we’re going to use 6% because we want to be ‘conservative’) and we’re only going to charge you 1.5% as a management fee. No big deal, right?

Let’s discover why understanding this management fee ‘math’ is so important, and how it could actually save your retirement. This could actually keep you from going broke using a financial advisor simply by measuring your financial advice in reverse. Let’s look at an example to best demonstrate a better way to look at how good your financial advisor is doing.

Now, before we begin, I have always understood that whoever gets paid first wins. We only have to look at our paycheck to see who gets paid before we do to understand that perspective. It is equally important to know that management fees are taken out first, unless you are lucky enough to have the income, the assets and a willing financial advisor to only get paid when they make you money. Funny though, this is exactly how you should review your own historical performance with your financial advisor and if they should be fired. Let’s say you have investable assets of $250,000 as you sit down with a wealth management team. They have just provided you with PowerPoint presentations, marketing materials and a slideshow on their 50″ HD Computer Screen in their freshly redecorated conference room showing that you can make 8% and they’re only going to charge you 1.5% annually (quick math $3,750 every year). You see in their presentation your investable assets appreciating over the next 10 years all the way up to $540,000. Sweet!

Now, this is not the article on why using the “Average Rate of Return” is absolutely the wrong measurement to use because it uses linear math when it is more appropriate to use geometric math in Compound Annual Growth Rate which incorporates time… But let’s look at how fees have a depreciating element to your investments.

After consideration, you agree to a 1.5% annual management fee to be paid quarterly. The financial advisor needs to get paid first so your portfolio’s management fees come out first. Consequently, your $250,000 becomes $249,000 and at 8% average annual rate of return, your assets after the first quarter are now $254,000. After the first year? Your assets are now worth $266,572 after fees of $3,852.

Financial Advisor Portfolio or Self-Managing ETF Portfolio

Self-Management Portfolio

I’d like to take this time to explore the differences in doing your own portfolio built on buying two ETFs (SPY and AGG). For the purposes of this illustration we will be allocating 80% to the S&P 500 (SPY) and 20% Barclay’s US Bond Aggregate (AGG). This is the time to say, I am not recommending any specific investments: this is for illustrative purposes only. The actual average rate of return for this allocation for the past 10 years is 4.24%, so without considering fees, an initial investment balance accumulates to $381,292. These ETFs have an embedded annual management fee of.15% (SPY) and.08% (AGG) with an aggregate of.14% for this allocation producing $4,178 in total ‘out of pocket’ fees over the 10 years. If we understand that our portfolio appreciated $130,319 and it cost you $4,178 for a Net Gain in your portfolio, then your NET COST of FEES is 3.21%. But it doesn’t end there, to truly quantify how fees eat away at your portfolio we must take this process a step further. The TRUE COST of FEES is calculating the difference of your portfolio with and without fees, in this case is $5,151 and comparing that to the Net Gain in your portfolio or 4.1%. In other words, over a ten year period, the cost of having these investments was 4.1%, $381,292 (without fees) versus $376,141 (Ending Balance with fees).

Financial Advisor Portfolio

For the sake of this illustration we are going to assume the financial advisor does better over the same 10 year period, about 6% annual average rate of return. You agree to let them take a 1.5% annual management, paid quarterly. Your $250,000 portfolio accumulates to $392,308 over 10 years with ‘out of pocket’ fees of $47,108, or $4711 per year. Your portfolio’s NET COST, or the fees of $47,108 to gain $189,416 in your portfolio, is almost 25%. More than that, your TRUE COST of Financial Advice is 44.7%. Plainly, your Financial Advisor’s portfolio is $63,617 less than if you had no fees and it accumulated to $455,926. As expected, your portfolio realized an average rate of return of 5.69%. In this illustration, the financial advisor portfolio did ‘out-perform’ the DIY portfolio of ETFs by $16,167 by outpacing the average rate of return by.61% annually.

Utilizing our proprietary software and a hundred test cases, we wanted to see how much better does a financial advisor need to realize to bring value to the client advisor relationship? This number is dependent on a number of factors: amount of investable assets, length of time, management fees charged and of course, the rate of return. What we did experience, is that the range went from its lowest to 1.25% to as high as 4%. In other words, in order to ‘break-even’ on bringing value to the client-advisor relationship, the financial advisor must realize at least a 1.25% higher net gain in average rate of return.

Please know, that we are not trying to dissuade anyone from utilizing the services of a financial advisor. We would be making our own clientele pretty unhappy. Instead, we want to present more transparency on how to measure the competency level of your financial advice. Heaven knows an experienced, knowledgeable advisor brings much more to the relationship than can be quantified by a number, but we do want the ability to truly measure the cost of this financial legacy. Just like most things in life, the line between success and failure is razor thin. In the above illustration, if the financial advisor portfolio’s ending balance was lowered by just $25,000 that would mean the annual average rate of return lowers.5% resulting in a lower ending balance than the self-managed account by $6,527. What if we changed the allocation to 70/30 allocation split? The Financial Advisor’s portfolio underperforms by $12,144 while still costing the client almost $60,000 in fees over the 10 years.

One final thought as we wrap things up here. You may be interviewing for a new advisor now or possibly in the near future. One of the most important questions you would want to ask and most of them do not want to answer or know how to answer is, “How good is your historical performance?” Now, this is usually where you get the song and dance from the wealth management team. They will extol the virtues of “every portfolio is different” or “all circumstances and risk tolerances inhibit us from ‘projecting’ rates of return” or, my favorite, “It’s about the plan! Your dreams and goals will be much different than anyone else, even if they have the same amount assets, income and risk assessment.” These of course are all true statements, but it does not preclude a wealth management team from the ability to show past performance of how they manage money. Going out on a limb, isn’t that why you are interviewing advisors? To see if they can do better than what you are currently doing either on your own or with your soon-to-be-ex financial advisor?

A Look Behind the Curtain

What most financial advisors won’t tell you is just how similar the construction of each client portfolio really is. I can’t tell you how many multi-million dollar firms have every client’s portfolio look pretty identical from one another. It’s usually made up of “3 Buckets”. Now these have different meanings for different advisors such as “Soon – Not so Soon – Long Term Money” or the “Safe – Moderately Safe – Risky” purposes for your investable assets. Believe me when I say this, most advisors pay a lot of money and spend a lot of their time on how to tell this story, to get the client to change their mindset of what they have been taught all along since childhood from their parents. It is not necessary for financial planning to be this complicated, unless of course, there is salesmanship going on. We learned from an early age and then proactively budgeted our entire adult lives to make more than we spend, save as much as we can so we can live off of what we have accumulated. But somehow, wealth advisors have created this sales system to get people to worry (“The Pain Funnel”) that they will outlive their money or worse, not be able to keep the lifestyle clients so richly deserve. You see, in sales, you create pain, step on it and then provide a solution. I believe we can be a lot more honest here and focus our advice transparently without resorting to ‘scare tactics’. Building an investment portfolio, retirement income strategy or legacy plan should be as comfortable as they are obvious.

A Bumpy Ride For Business Financing

Based on how chaotic the commercial banking climate is currently, the situation described in this article is expected to prevail for a long (but unpredictable) period of time. In spite of the confusing and frustrating commercial loans environment, a prudent business financing strategy is likely to produce the most effective results that can be hoped for by small business owners. With working capital financing and business loans, commercial borrowers need to be prepared for a long and bumpy ride.

Misinformation and insufficient information will play a somewhat unpredictable role in achieving the desired outcome of business borrowers finding appropriate commercial finance solutions. The eventual success of commercial financing efforts will depend on an individualized and detailed assessment of the unique financial circumstances for a specific business, although it is appropriate to note that there are new and effective business loan options that will satisfactorily fill the commercial funding gap for many small business owners impacted by their current ineffective commercial bankers.

Anticipating the long and bumpy ride that lies ahead for even the most ordinary business financing request will be prudent and wise for small businesses. It has not been unusual for commercial borrowers to wait for one to two months before their bank finally declines to make a commercial loan that had appeared to be a mere formality when the lending process began, either because banks do not want to publicly admit that they are not presently making business loans or perhaps due to their somewhat secretive and changing guidelines for making such loans. Regardless of their prior description of “normal” for working capital management and commercial financing options, many business owners have already discovered how much and how quickly this has changed.

A prevailing banking climate that is characterized by misinformation as well as insufficient information about current commercial finance options for small businesses provides sufficient rationale for describing the journey to business financing success as being both long and bumpy. After they have finally been informed by their current bank that needed business finance help is not forthcoming, because they simply do not have enough information to successfully complete their task, a small business owner might be unsuccessful in their attempt to find a new source of commercial funding in one typical scenario involving insufficient information. When a commercial banker misleads a prospective business borrower by advising the business owner that the bank will be able to help in providing an unsecured working capital loan when the banker has already been told by senior bank officials that such financing will not be provided except for specific established business clients, this is an increasingly frequent misinformation scenario. Most banks are in fact eliminating or reducing working capital financing to small businesses as indicated by one public report after another.

More successful results should be produced by realistic expectations of what lies ahead in business financing efforts. This article represents a sincere attempt to accurately portray the recent confusing and unpredictable state of commercial banking for small business owners, and this fulfills a primary purpose in describing current attempts to obtain small business loans as potentially being a long and bumpy ride.

How To Deal With Your Small Business Finance Needs

One of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks for any business owner is to finance even a small business. While it is considered an essential part of running and expanding a business, it should be done properly and carefully so that it won’t hinder the establishment of the business as a whole. Small business finance is basically the connection between cash, value, and risk. Maintaining the balance of these three factors will ensure the good financial health of your business.

The first step that a business owner needs to take is to come up with a business plan as well as a loan system which comes with a well structured strategic plan. Doing this will certainly result to concrete and sound finances. It is of necessity that prior to your financing a business, you figure out what exactly your needs are in terms of small business finance.

In trying to determine your business’ financing requirements, keep in mind that you have to have a positive mindset. As the owner of the business, you should be confident enough in your own business that you will be willing to invest as much as 10% of your small business finance needs from your own pocket. The other 30% of the financing can be from venture capital or other private investors.

In terms of the private equity aspect of your business, you would want it to be around 30 to 40 percent equity share in your company for a period of at least three years and a maximum of five years. But of course, this will still be dependent on the value of your small business along with the risk involved. Maintaining this equity component in your company will assure you majority ownership of the business. As a result, you will be able to leverage the other 60 percent of your small business finance needs.

It will also be easier to satisfy the remaining financing needs of your growing business. You may opt to get the rest from a long-term debt, inventory finance, short-term working capital, and equipment finance. Remember also that as long as you have a steady cash position in the business, many financial institutions will be more than willing to lend you money. In this respect also, it is recommended that you get an expert commercial loan broker who will do the selection of your financing options. This is also a crucial stage as you would want to find the most appropriate financing offer to meet all your small business finance requirements.

These are just some of the important considerations that need to be taken when financing a small business. There are, however, so many business owners who do not pay enough attention to these things unless their business is in crisis. As a business owner, what you should keep in mind always is how you can grow and expand. Therefore, have a small business finance plan as early as possible so that you can make sure that every financial aspect of your business is in good condition.

How to Sharpen Financial Competence for Directors and Executives

Financial competence is not a static variable, in that it is something that is ever-changing, and the skills associated with being financially competent must be sharpened consistently. The fact is that failure to have financially competent decision makers can be highly destructive to an organization. What is meant by “financially competent” goes well beyond being able to identify credits or debits or being able to properly read financial reports. Being financially competent should focus on one’s ability to break down the financial information provided in those reports and analyze how they should be used to determine the financial path of the organization going forward.

Furthermore, a person must be able to understand how risk factors into the financial decision making matrix and how that risk should affect the courses of action taken by the company. These are the things that separate competent financial management from incompetent financial management. This is likely a major reason why roughly 21% of all CEOs serve in a financial oversight position prior to becoming a CEO and why almost a third of CEOs have served in a financial capacity at some point in their careers. It is also important to realize that the outcome of certain situations has no bearing on the competence of the decisions that have been made. The fact is that poor financial leadership can still yield success from a periodic standpoint. In the same manner that an unskilled Poker player can have a run of “good luck” and win big in a night of gambling, so to can incompetent financial managers “GET LUCKY”.

The problem with depending on luck to manage the financial infrastructure of an organization is two-fold:

1. Luck does; and will always run out at some point in time
2. Financial management isn’t gambling; especially when considering what’s at stake whether it is the shareholders, the market, the employees, or the customers; there is simply too much at stake to make financial management a “Coin Flip.”

To ensure that the key decision-makers are financially competent it is incumbent upon management to analyze the knowledge of these individuals and provide opportunities for them to update and hone their skills as it relates to financial management. The good news is that most organizations generally select the financial decision-makers within their organization by doing a thorough search; this generally allows them the opportunity to select the person that they feel best can handle the position.

Furthermore, most organizations that utilize committees to help manage operations have a financial management committee (as it is considered to be the most common among companies with three or more committees). The problem is that many companies don’t understand the position enough to fully handle this search, so they end up hiring people that have had past success without determining whether the source of that success was luck or skill.

If the current global economic calamity has taught us anything; it has taught us this: When the economic climate is advantageous to organizations it is much easier to seem competent than when things go bad. In a good economic climate decision-makers can take huge risks and if they win they are superstars; if they lose there are generally opportunities to mitigate that loss (either by acquiring debt capital; increasing sales, or raising equity funds just to name a few).

In a bad market we have discovered that THE SAFETY NETS ARE GONE; and risky decisions have real consequences. In this market we are finally paying the price to learn that there is a real difference between corporate sponsored gambling and effective financial management. What we need to do now is train current and future financial decision-makers about what makes an executive financially competent, and what does not. This will produce more effective financial decision-makers and more importantly it will provide a future asset for companies that will assist them in diverse market situations; NOT JUST WHEN TIMES ARE GOOD.

The solution: The following are some of the steps that key decision-makers need to take in order to assist the company in building a more competent and more effective financial management infrastructure.

1) Your executive Finance team: To have a financially competent executive team; YOU NEED A TEAM; there is ALWAYS an inherent danger in leaving major financial decisions to a few individuals. The fact is that we are talking about money; and when that is the subject then many times self interest replaces corporate interest in the decision making hierarchy. Furthermore a company that has a properly chosen team of individuals to make decisions provides a system of checks and balances which mitigate the risks associated with these decisions.

2) Training Courses in Finance: Another conduit would be to get a day or two day workshop in financial training where current decision makers receive tutelage in financial decision making from an application standpoint instead of an academic or theoretical standpoint. Bringing in people that have a history of being competent financial managers will be helpful. But also teaching examples of how poor decisions have destroyed companies would be helpful as well. Many course offer sound coverage of financial topics of importance. However, it is important to check background, experience and credentials of the trainer before embarking on a course.

3) Get a Coach or Corporate Consultant: Coaching at executive level has proven to be popular in many parts of the world. Experts believe that the value an executive coach (whether it is a successful consultant, former executive, or entrepreneur) adds, significantly impacts progression and drives performance to a higher level. There are many coaches available but you need to ensure you get a coach who will listen to your concerns at the same time offer the right and relevant professional advice. With the advent of the internet, organizations also offer virtual coaching support.

4) Have self-analysis meetings: At least once a year all organizations should seek to have a meeting with all people involved in the financial decision making process (executives, senior financial/accounting personnel, board members, etc.) and simply have a brain-storming session that focuses on the direction of the organization; future financial needs, current financial position, etc. These meetings have a way of bringing issues to light that otherwise would stay in the dark; and furthermore you want all of these people to work well with each other, and this is a good platform to start from.

While most organizations believe that the decision making aspect of their financial infrastructure is at least competent; the fact is that many organizations aren’t aware of what constitutes competence as it relates to financial decision making. The fact is that, no matter where your organization is located, the WORLD HAS CHANGED for companies; to stay prosperous companies must focus on sustainability and not luck; they must focus on consistency and not major peaks. Financial competence has little to do with an education in finance, it has everything to do with how your executives can use that information and analyze the health and the future of the organization. Those that understand this are in an advantageous position; those that don’t are playing with fire.

CAUTION: While all the above (and others) may prove useful, the idea is not to micromanage and get bogged in deep financials. Keeping it simple is the message. I believe if boards can set criteria through Executive Policy Development from the onset, keeping it simple yet covering all financials of your organization is the way forward. Subsequent monitoring of the financial health at appropriate intervals will help you shape your organisation’s financial strength further. After all, it is all about accountability at board level.