A company’s liquidity and cash needs are like a river. The short-term immediate needs flow pretty fast as cash moves in and out of the business. But the further you go down in the water — down to cash that’s only needed for a rainy day — the slower it moves. In fact, it can be too idle.
“Often, there is this big pool of excess cash for the off chance they need liquidity,” says John Whiting, CFP, principal at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors. “But what they give up in that scenario, by keeping that money highly liquid, is less yield and return on those dollars. It can grow to be a fairly significant amount of money that potentially, year-after-year, is pooling up in unproductive ways.”
Smart Business spoke with Whiting about maximizing your business’s treasury management to make assets as productive as possible.
Why is treasury management critical?
Treasury management is the strategic management of a company’s working capital and excess liquidity. By maximizing this, given the specific business needs, the company is more competitive with better earning potential through properly deployed assets.
Today, businesses have accumulated a lot of cash and may not deploy those assets with the economic uncertainty. Even in this low-yield environment, companies that have built cash over the past three to five years could be getting an extra 20 to 30 basis points. And by deploying excess liquidity, you not only can get an extra return, but also, with low interest rates, can use working capital lines to address unexpected needs.
Why do treasury functions not get the same scrutiny as inventory control, capital budgeting and accounts receivable?
It can be an afterthought, as it may initially start so small it doesn’t feel like it warrants a lot of attention. Typically, a controller or CFO is charged with making sure the liquid assets are positioned, but there isn’t anything defining the objective.
What’s a better approach?
You need to be disciplined, looking out over the horizon and anticipating company cash needs to a better extent.
The business should have a written investment policy statement that defines expectations and is used to segment liquid assets into different buckets based on the time horizon for the business’s needs. The statement also would say exactly what investments are appropriate for each bucket, including the necessary credit quality.
Further, the investment policy statement should help set up controls to monitor risk.
How should the guidelines for how funds are invested be structured?
Start with assessing the risk and the needs of the company. Then, look at the next business cycle or more to see possible cash flow needs. You can time assets to ensure the liquidity is there when you need it.
Let’s say, a business is sitting on $10 million in liquid assets and is anticipating either an acquisition or significant capital improvements that might take $3 million or $4 million of that in 18 months or two years. Understanding that allows you to position the assets by buying municipal bonds or high-quality corporate fixed income that would mature three months before the assets might be needed. Now, you’re getting the best and highest yield possible, given that expected need.
What’s important to know about monitoring these treasury functions?
It’s important to understand the real return on investments by having a reporting mechanism, which then determines your success. For example, many CFOs or controllers use multiple financial institutions in order to mitigate risk. However, they need to aggregate all of the information to really assess and score the overall management process.
The cost of management is not terribly opaque, even with the effort to create more transparency. With fixed income, you need an understanding of who is negotiating on your behalf and how are they going about procuring that fixed income for you.
Half the battle is asking the questions and getting straight answers. An outside adviser is often the best management choice, but be sure to have an open discussion about the fee structure and associated costs. In fact, it can be a line item on your investment report because understanding the real cost of managing assets is key.
John Whiting, CFP® is a principal at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors. Reach him at (707) 535-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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