Cash flow forecasting is a vital financial practice that predicts future cash inflows and outflows, assists in managing liquidity, identifies shortfalls or surpluses, and allows to make informed financial decisions for businesses and individuals. This article covers questions regarding the importance of accuracy, different approaches, benefits, and practical aspects of cash flow forecasting.
Cash flow forecasting plays a critical role in the financial management of companies, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It provides valuable insights into companies’ financial health, allowing to monitor cash positions and make informed strategic decisions. However, despite its significance, cash flow forecasting is often plagued by inaccuracies, leading to suboptimal decision-making. In this article, we will explore why accurate cash flow forecasting is vital, how to approach this process in the most effective way, and how it drives effective financial decisions.
Cash flow forecasting serves as a compass for businesses, guiding us through financial challenges and opportunities. It helps us gain a clear understanding of our future cash inflows and outflows, allowing us to make well-informed decisions regarding investments, expenses, and working capital. Here are key reasons why accurate cash flow forecasting is essential:
A good and useful cash-flow forecast has to be based on accurate data. It has to intelligently mix a bottom-up approach for short-term previsions and top-down calculation for the longer term and it needs to be kept up-to-date through iterations. Here are more details on these points:
Data sources and reliability: The accuracy of cash flow forecasts heavily relies on the quality and reliability of the data used. Businesses must ensure that they have access to comprehensive and up-to-date financial information. This includes bank accounts, accounts payable and receivable data and . Integrating real-time data from reliable sources is a must to ensure forecast accuracy.
Bottom-up VS Top-down: because cash is such a critical element of survival for businesses, short-term cash forecasts should always be calculated via a bottom-up approach. Concretely, this means that when forecasting for the next 1–3 months we should only take into account items that are definite (invoices sent as opposed to contracts signed, bills received as opposed to budgeted costs etc.). Then, when looking further into the future, we have to revert to a top down approach, taking into account sales data, budgeted costs and investment. The key here is to remain conservative and to build some margin in our forecast, while treating any non-definite data point as liable to change.
Updates and iterations: A great forecast that respects points 1 and 2 above will unfortunately only remain great for a short period of time. It is essential to update it as frequently as possible, reviewing hypothesis (especially on sales data) and reconciling our forecast with our actual numbers. This can of course be very time consuming but is the most essential part of the process. A simple, summarised forecast that is updated daily will always beat a very complicated model that is updated monthly. The good news here is that we now have automated solutions at our disposal that are getting smarter and smarter every day to take this workload away from entrepreneurs.
Here are the key benefits that accurate cash flow forecasting brings to financial management:
Overall, the ability to accurately forecast cash flows is one of the superpowers that helps run successful businesses. It removes a lot of stress from day-to-day management, allows for the anticipation of problems before they become threats, and builds confidence. It’s not a trivial exercise and becomes more complex as the business grows, but it is nevertheless attainable with some key habits, the right approach (bottom-up vs. top-down), and the right technological tools. It’s an investment for the future, and you will never regret devoting time and resources to the process, as it will pay dividends throughout the life of your business.
At Sway Finance, we strongly believe that cash is THE crucial metric that startups and SMEs need to monitor and fully understand. It serves as a vital indicator of the overall financial health of a business. Just like how efficient lungs are essential for the proper functioning of the body, tracking cash outflows and inflows, observing various scenarios, and having a solid understanding of available cash are key elements for effective financial planning. By sourcing data directly from the bank, we can avoid relying on transformed and potentially unreliable data (see article on Open Banking). This direct access allows us to obtain accurate and real-time financial information. We then apply advanced analytics and intelligence to provide best-in-class advice and insights thanks to artificial intelligence. This in effect takes care of the bottom-up part of your cash flow forecasting.
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