12 Areas to Include in Your Financial Management Operations Manual

From a process perspective, Financial Management is the easiest and simplest business process to take care of no matter what business you’re in. But it’s often the most avoided and neglected area of any business. So why is that? Well, in my experience it often comes down to our fears around money.

The best way to tackle fear is by using knowledge. Not avoidance. I work with many clients who at first will try their absolute best to avoid looking at their numbers, or not paying attention to it, in the hope that it will go away. But unless we know where you’re at right now, there’s no way we can improve it. This is where putting together a financial management process and documenting this in a financial management operations manual can be of huge benefit both to yourself as a business owner and to your business!

The type of Financial Management process that I take clients through is a method that I devised because I was probably way behind where you are now. It comes down to understanding some simple systems that you can then enhance to build your very own financial management process. Then putting that knowledge into a financial management operations manual so that your financial records are maintained in a consistent manner that you can get the information you want.

I have to be very clear with you here. I am not an accountant. My understanding of financial management comes from learning the hard way – by it costing me a fortune to NOT know. So over time, I developed my financial know-how and then devised systems and procedures to help me to be able to better manage my business finances.

And by the way, I have always had great financial people on my team. But they are made great by the fact that I have a system that they follow. This ensures that my data is recorded in a consistent manner, and that I’ve got my finger on the pulse of my business by having all the right reports available at the right time.

Here’s a quick high level checklist of what should be included in putting together your financial management process and operations manual:

1. ACCOUNTING ROLES: Clearly indicate who’s responsible for your money in your financial management operations manual. Understand the different roles of people who are doing the numbers in your business. Be clear about the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant or financial manager and how each can benefit your business in the most cost effective way. Then put together job descriptions outlining who is responsible for what and how they interlink (or you can purchase complete job descriptions for your bookkeeper and financial controller at our website).

2. FINANCIAL REPORTS: Work out what reports you require to keep your finger on the pulse of your business – and then insist on receiving them on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Outline in your operations manual who is responsible for delivering these (this should be outlined in the job descriptions also!) and at what regularity. These reports should form the cornerstone of your business decisions. You can never have too much information.

3. YOUR ACCOUNTING SYSTEM: Many people rely on their bookkeeper or accountant to tell them what the best accounting system is to use. But don’t just take this information at face value. Investing in an accounting system is a big investment over time. Research the initial investment cost of any recommended system, as well as the continual costs to upgrade the system from year to year. Also consider how many bookkeepers are trained in this system. There is no point is purchasing an accounting system that is cheap as chips if there is no-one able to use it. This will just result in paying top dollar for a specialized bookkeeper and potentially more costs down the track to convert over to a less specialized system!

4. PROFIT AND LOSS PROJECTIONS: Every year prior to the end of your financial year, you should be putting together a profit and loss projection of what you want your business to be doing. This provides you with important “what if” scenario planning. It’s always better to know whether something is going to financially work before you embark on it!

5. BUDGETING: Budgets are the most known about and yet least used thing in most businesses. You should have an annual budget that has been derived from your Profit and Loss Projection then broken down into specific areas in your business. It also assists people (including your bookkeeper) in your business to know exactly what they can spend and what they can’t. It’s also an idea to ask your bookkeeper to enter the budget into your accounting system so that you can incorporate your budget into your Projected Versus Actual reports.

6. CASH FLOW ANALYSIS: I often get asked why a business is making a profit, but there’s never any money to spend. This is because there is a difference between cash flow and profit. It is essential that you ask for a cash flow analysis each month at a minimum – weekly would be better! This ensures that you have enough money in your bank to pay people when money is due, and allows you to chase up faster those that owe you money.

7. CONTROLLING COSTS: To control costs in your business you should have a purchasing system in place. Ensure that not a dollar is spent in your business without a purchase order and incorporate this into your company policy document. Every bookkeeper I’ve ever known baulks at this idea because it’s extra work for them. But at the end of the day, it keeps control over your money. With this system in place you will never have unexpected expenses arise that an employee has kindly organised for you.

8. ACCOUNTS PAYABLE: Outline and record in your financial management operations manual how your accounts are paid including the method and timeline. Also include any regular payments including direct debits, as well as other spending methods such as store cards or credit cards. Another tip is to include your petty cash system and employee (and director) expense reimbursement systems.

9. ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE: Often business owners think that it’s common sense for a bookkeeper to know what to do in accounts receivable. But never for one moment think that your common sense is the same as your employees! Ensure that your financial management operations manual includes an overview of the system for dispensing goods and/or services, your credit terms, how to raise invoices and how to follow up on outstanding payments. I also encourage clients to include phone scripts on debt collecting in their operations manual so that there is no doubt as to how to handle clients. Nothing annoys a good client more than an accounts person chasing them for money and conversely, nothing annoys a business owner more than an accounts person who can’t get a definite payment date!

10. BANK ACCOUNTS: Make sure that your financial management operations manual includes an outline of bank accounts, including GST accounts and who credit cards are issued to. Also include an overview of online payment systems. However NEVER include details on your PIN numbers. This should be divulged in person and never written down.

11. Other things to include in your financial management operations manual should include items such as Fixed Asset Register, Insurances, Depreciation Registers and End of Year Procedures. Although these are generally covered by your accountant at the end of the year, it should also be included in your financial management operations manual so that your bookkeeper and/or financial controller know what steps to take to prepare the information for your accountant.

12. DATA BACKUPS: Your money records are THE most important records in your business. Ensure that your bookkeeper is saving your records to a device that is stored externally to the computer. Include information on how to back up to this device in your financial management operations manual.

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Benefits of Making Use of Financial Management Consulting Services

Whether you are a private individual or a company, making use of financial management consulting services can prove very beneficial. These professionals have years of bookkeeping and accounting knowledge, which they use to provide you with a complete consultation service designed to help you maximize your cash flow and make necessary plans for financial growth moving forward.

The first benefit of any financial management consulting service, whether you are a private individual or a company, is that they help you plan and forecast for your financial future. These professionals will take a close look at your finances, your ledgers and your bank accounts. They will identify your assets and then work out an effective forecast based on what they see, helping you identify what to expect moving forward. They will also help you put a plan in place to meet the goals of the forecast, always working to improve your financial situation now and in the future.

The financial management consultants will take their time to analyses and assess your finances. As a private individual they will want to look at your bank statements, identify your spending, work on your income and expenditure. Analysis can help them pinpoint areas where you can reduce expenditure, while offing you a plan to help you build your financial products to achieve financial success in the future.

As a company, they will look at your bank balance and statements, they will identify your assets, they will work on your expenditure and then come up with effective ways to improve income and reduce expenditure, giving you a higher profit margin and an improved cash flow now and moving forward.

The financial management consulting service provider will also offer you effective and accurate reporting on a regular basis. They become your financial business partner, they will work with your in-house bookkeepers and accountants, ensuring that your company receives the most effective service, keeping you updated on progress, providing you with detailed reports and helping you when it comes time to appoint new suppliers, to ensure you continue to enjoy the best prices.

They will make certain recommendations. The benefit of them making recommendations is that their complete focus remains on helping you reduce your expenditure with ways to increase your income. As a private individual, you may not be able to increase your monthly income, but with the help of one of these consultants, you can make your money go further, even possibly making some good sound financial investment options to ensure your savings continue to grow at all times.

It is important that you pay close attention to some factors before you make any decisions and hire a financial management consultant. You want to choose a company that has years of industry knowledge and experience. The good news is that with cloud based solutions these days, you are not restricted to only hire the services of a company in your local area, you can choose a company anywhere in your country, which gives you access to the best management consultants that you can rely on and trust.

Ensure you do your homework, learning as much as you can about the company and the services they provide. Can they provide you with a complete financial management solution? Do they have an easy way for you to furnish them with essential financial information, such as a cloud based computer system? Do they guarantee accuracy and efficiency at all times? These are things you need to know to give you complete peace of mind when choosing your financial management consulting providers.

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Importance of Financial Management Degrees

At present, nearly all government or private organizations have at least one financial manager to guide investment activities, manage the groundwork of financial reports and develop and carry out cash-management schemes. These days, every organization, whether big or small has financial managers, and they hold a key and responsible position.

Although, responsibilities of a financial manager vary according to the position, but some of the common work includes preparing reports that are generally required by regulatory authorities. They also play important role in managing the preparation of financial reports, such as balance sheets, income statements and analyses of future earnings or expenditures. All these describe and determine the organization’s financial position. In many firms, financial managers are the key personnel who administer the accounting and budget departments.

Financial managers also called as financial consultants or personal financial advisors use their knowledge of investments, tax laws, insurance and real estate to recommend financial options to individuals based on their short-term and long-term goals. Considering the work responsibilities and expectations of employers every firm looks for a skillful employee who can direct their business to the right path. Hence, to compete with ever changing requirements of employers getting a degree in financial management is must.

Typically, a career in the financial management needs at least a master’s degree. Courses available in the financial management in the United States include fundamentals of business law, accounting, management principles, e-commerce, ethics, finances, tax laws and other related topics. These programs help students learn the skills of focusing on different aspects of business like systems integration, business strategies, e-commerce, technology consulting, and human resources. With Master’s degree you can have a greater opportunity for promotion and advancement in your career field.

Since, financial managers can be found in every organization, their demand goes higher than any available positions in the market. Moreover, employment growth for financial managers is anticipated to be as fast as the average for all occupations. Apart from this greater demand for highly skilled financial professionals, make the career outlook even more excellent.

In fact, if we study the recent data then by the year 2016 the demand is expected to grow by 13%. Regulatory reforms along with the expansion and globalization of the economy will raise the need for financial expertise and drive job growth. Both the creation of new businesses and growth of established companies will spur demand for financial managers, controller, treasurer/finance officer, credit manager, cash manager, and risk/insurance manager.

Hence, to get into the rush of grabbing a honourable and responsible accounting position the first and foremost thing is to equip yourself with all the skills, which are in high demand in the financial market. For this you need to enroll in a recognized school where you can learn all the techniques of managing finance.

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The Importance of Financial Management

The present world is synonymous with consumerism; therefore, management of finances is often a difficult task. Individuals can spend their money on a wide range of products or services. Over-indulgence in such products can lead to high credit card bills. In many cases, individuals spend their money before earning it, which can lead to a fiscal crisis. At this point, a financial management book comes to the rescue.

Every individual dreams of becoming a millionaire, especially in a relatively short period of time. However, dreams are not enough, and you will have to demonstrate effective monetary management. A management book contains useful resources and tips on how to manage your money.

A finance management book will give you definite steps to optimize your income and prevent losses. By reading it, you can equip yourself with a definite road map toward economic independence.

An important strategy listed in a finance management book revolves around changing your mindset. As a consumer, you would have to curb spending and wisely invest the money that you earn. Your perception of money should change if you wish to become wealthy. Most financial management books list effective habits and strategies, and it will do you a load of good if you master these habits. You should be able to understand the cash flow and manage it effectively, so that your income is more than your expenditure.

Almost every individual stands a chance of benefiting from knowledge related to monetary management. Every individual and business has financial concerns and hence it is important to learn the nuances of finance.

Fiscal management can be a tricky issue, and hence a financial management book is very handy. Effective financial management should help curb stress related to finance. Financial management equips you to pay your bills on time, and simultaneously have a good social life. Some of these books have been written by experts in this field, giving great insight, depth and knowledge. Financial management books are worth the investment if you can learn and master the listed strategies.

An important financial management strategy is to limit purchasing products on credit. Effective management programs help you save money for future needs.

The first step in management is making a list of all the sources of income. Follow this by a list of all your monthly expenditures. If you still have money left after taking care of all your expenditures, then you would need to invest this money in an effective way. Having an emergency fund is a great way to tackle unexpected expenditures.

Financial management can help if you wish to have a healthy, post-retirement life and a nice vacation home. It also helps you to take care of your child’s education, especially college fees.

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Improving Your Profitability Via Financial Management System

A good part of the success or the failure of a business has to do directly with how much profit the organization realizes from the sale of the products or services that the company provides to its customers. In order to maximize a company’s profitability, it is very important to have a good and complete financial management system to handle the important aspects of money management.

One of the keys to a good business financial management structure is controlling the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly expenses of the operation. This comes down to simple math and cash management principles. Companies will not be profitable, and therefore won’t stay in business long, if they spend more than is required to produce and deliver their product, and end up trimming their profit margin so that it is just too thin to make the business viable.

Keeping overhead expenses in check and making sure that the cash in the business is managed effectively through a financial management system will help make a company better able to compete in the marketplace. When expenses get too high, it is hard to compete effectively and a competing company can easily start luring away customers based on price.

One of the most important people involved in good business financial management is the treasurer of the board. He or she is typically charged with the responsibility to oversee the money management for a corporation. The person in this role should come to the job with a wealth of business cash management experience, a strong level of wisdom and a firm understanding of corporate financial management. With the treasurer strongly armed with these money management skills, the corporation stands a much better chance of being strong financially and being able to ride out the storms of business and economic challenges.

Another key person on the team that oversees the entire business financial management practices for a corporation is, of course, the accountant. It is the corporate accountant and his team, depending on the size of the company, that will deal with the minute and detailed money management for the company on a daily or sometimes hourly basis.

The accounting department of a company will keep the books for the organization, will generate the various financial statements that are required both by government agencies and by the board of directors, and will conduct the financial analysis of the financial reports. This is the department that is entrusted with managing and enforcing departmental budgets, which is such an essential part of financial management systems, and essentially handles and accounts for every penny that flows in and out of the business coffers.

Nowadays, with the ubiquitousness of computers at every level of business and commerce, there is no doubt that any company that takes advantage of a complete financial management system for their operation will also be using sophisticated money management software as well. Even though the people in the organization bring the expertise and knowledge to the task of business financial management, the software chosen to help them do their jobs is critically important and much be chosen only after careful research and comparisons, with regard to the options available.

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How to Choose Relevant Financial Literacy Plans

Record debt, skyrocketing foreclosures and a large number of people suffering from financial stress…sound familiar? Many of the problems people face today could have been avoided if they had received a practical financial education.

Teens and young adults tend to learn more from practical financial literacy lesson plans. Having a practical financial literacy curriculum as support will help you teach important guidelines to your child. This allows them to be more financially responsible in the way they deal with everyday finances as well as long-term expenses. It is essential that you instill your spending habits in your children in order to get the ready for their financial independence.

Many schools have started offering a financial literacy curriculum to their students, either in the form of economics classes or classes geared specifically towards preparing students financial responsibility in college or independent living.

In light of the current financial situation it is vital that we arm our young people with the financial information they need to be successful in the financial real world. If you want to make a lifelong difference in a child’s quality of life then choose an engaging and relevant financial literacy course. But, how do you choose a financial literacy curriculum that students will actually implement? That is the question that will be answered in this article.

Studies indicate that less than adequate financial training has a negative effect on students. They report boredom and confusion which in turn turns them off to learning more about money matters. The instructors had good intentions when they begin implementing the financial education course; regrettably, the financial lesson plans had a negative effect instead.

To ensure your financial education class makes a lasting difference in students lives it is important you choose a financial literacy curriculum that are designed to keep the students engaged and motivated to learn more. The following are seven ways to help you choose the most effective financial literacy lesson plans in order to help your students live a life of financial freedom.

1) Review the Curriculum Designers Background. Most financial literacy curriculum is written by people who have not had significant money or business experience. Make sure the financial education lesson plans you choose have been designed by a team of experienced professionals. Look for curriculum that is developed by a team of financially successful entrepreneurs and teachers that have a track record of curriculum development experience. Finding a curriculum that combines top teachers with business leaders will put you immediately on the right track.

2) Find Curriculum that Motivates & Educates. Having reviewed hundreds of financial literacy lesson plans and talked to thousands of youth many of them have been turned off ‘learning about money’. Many students have complained about past financial literacy classes being boring and confusing. A well designed financial literacy curriculum, taught properly, can be a rewarding and entertaining experience. A good test is to review the curriculum late at night and see if it passes the snooze test.

3) Find Lesson Plans that Grow with Students. In a perfect world financial lessons would be taught over time and your students would build their money skills over time. Since this is a luxury most educators will not receive, it is important to choose curriculum that builds on the prior lessons and covers the key principles that make up the foundation knowledge of their education.

4) Lesson Plans Cover the Mental Game of Money. Talk to any financially successful person out there and the majority will agree that the mental game of money serves as a foundation for our financial decisions. It is also well documented that the average person makes most of their financial decisions because of emotional responses, not logic. That is why it is critical that the financial literacy curriculum you choose covers the mental game of money.

5) Financial Success Training Curriculum. The ultimate goal of financial literacy lesson plans is to help our youth reach the level of financial success they desire. Implementing curriculum that focused on providing real world money lessons will not only keep students interested but will also put them on track to achieving financial security.

6) Practical Education before Theory Based Memorization. While the more advanced financial theories should be taught it is important to emphasize practical financial lessons that translate to the real world for students. The advanced theories will can be taught once the practical financial curriculum has been mastered. Considering the fact that over 40 million Americans do not have bank accounts, locate curriculum that walks students step-by-step through basic account structure and includes activities that helps to build their financial foundation.

7) Teach with Entertaining & Engaging Curriculum. By the time a student graduates high school many have sat through more than 10,000 classes. There is not much time to teach financial literacy, so it is exceptionally important that it stands out from the thousands of other lectures students must sit through. Choose curriculum that engages the students with activities, multi-media, celebrities, movement, props and other tools to help our students internalize financial literacy lesson plans so they benefit from this knowledge throughout their life.

Maximize the effectiveness of your time and financial literacy class by getting financial literacy curriculum designed to get students excited to learn about money. The confidence that a practical financial education can bring to students will have long-term positive benefits that affect many area of your student’s life.

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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.

Most wealth management teams will start with the same basic “financial plan” for your assets: short-term money that has no volatility (this is where you have your emergency/vacation/play money); then you will have near-short term money (usually about 3 – 7 years of very little volatility; and then the last division of your assets is long term money (10 years or more) with a lot of volatility (managed money). Please be aware that this is the exact moment where financial advisors practice in order to “land the prospect”. They will have you write in the percentage of how much your assets you want in the first, second and third ‘buckets’ according to your “Risk Tolerance”. I’ll explain in a later article why this entire methodology is mathematically inhibitive to long term financial success. In lieu of writing in percentages, you’ll better served to focus on two facets: the fees for the first two ‘buckets’ (your rate of interest is generally very low so any fees will have a higher detrimental effect) and the entrance and exit strategy for your managed money held in the last bucket. They will tell you that “long term growth is omnipotent to the success throughout your retirement years. So, if that’s the case they had better ‘show you the money’!

Bottom line: There is a historical performance of your wealth management team that can be shown… so ask for it. Oh, another hint, make sure it is actual performance and not ‘back tested” performance. The financial industry now has software programs that allow us to take a computer-based allocation model and utilize financial data of domestic stocks and bonds for the past 20 years to show a simulated historical performance within a 3% margin of error. I don’t know about you, but I would want my money manager to have more than a couple of years of experience no matter how pretty their brochures are or wonderful their office smells.

So, how are We Really Doing?

Earlier, we compared what an average financial advisor (giving them the benefit of the doubt that they indeed performed better over a 10 year period) did compared to a Do-It-Yourself portfolio made up of S&P 500 and Barclays US Bond Aggregate ETFs. But how did the same portfolio do against the Nasdaq (QQQ) over the same time period? Given the same 80/20 allocation, the QQQ Portfolio gained an average of 12.73% annually versus the 6.05% for the Financial Advisor. The Nasdaq (QQQ) plus Bonds (AGG) gained over $471,000 more in assets over that same time period, or roughly $47,000 per year. Now, I need to point out that if we looked at QQQ returns of 2000-2009 then the portfolio would have lost an accumulated 9.12% of value in assets. The QQQ ETF Net Average Annual Rate of Return since 2000 is 2.38%. Our focus in putting together client portfolios is to minimize inhibitors like fees, taxes and risk since those are in our control (can’t control the market). When viewing portfolios and net worth statements of our clients through this prism and then bringing it through our proprietary software, we can grade ourselves as well as our portfolio managers with real, audited data. For example, one of our money managers has a computer-based, moderate growth portfolio (70/30 allocation split) that has a 12.68% average rate of return over the same time period as all 3 portfolios. Loosely translated, this Moderate Growth Portfolio outperformed the S&P 500 ETF Portfolio by $342,000. When it comes to the accumulation portion of our client’s financial plan, we can ascertain what is working and what isn’t by quantifying the NET performance.

With so many choices, it is difficult to ascertain subjectively who you should trust as a financial advisor, if you should trust one at all! As a consumer, when we purchase just about anything, we constantly compare the price versus the benefit of ownership with an understanding the sliding scale of risk associated with owning whatever we are buying whether it’s buying a gallon of milk, a haircut or a piece of furniture. The higher the price, usually higher the risk, the more we want to weigh the attributes of doing something or doing nothing; measure the value of hiring it done or doing it yourself. The legacy of ownership greatly effects the amount of risk involved in getting the right information in order to act on the right advice for results that are satisfactory to your needs and expectations. Our purpose for creating this proprietary software was to come up with a simple ‘report card’ to measure between advisors and to affirm the decision to have someone else manage your investable assets and your financial future. We believe that as financial advisors, we should be held to a measurable account definitive to always doing what is best for the client’s interest. The largest service we provide is inherently, producing a higher net rate of return on the overall net worth of our clients than if they simply could manage their own financial assets. In today’s financial environment, we cannot afford to make any mistakes no matter how minuscule. This is why having the ability to simply, clearly quantify the value of your advice is truly omnipotent to your financial success.

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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.

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Financial Planning Helps You Make Your Money Count For The People You Love

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make when it comes to financial planning is to ignore it completely or put it off for so long that the big benefits of financial planning expire worthless. The earlier you start planning the more bang you’ll get for your buck, however, financial planning is valuable at any age.

Most people put off thinking about planning because of misconceptions about what the process involves or how it can benefit them. As part of its public education efforts, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) surveyed CFP® professionals about mistakes people make when approaching financial planning. The survey showed the public’s most frequent mistakes included:

· Failing to set measurable financial goals.

· Making a financial decision without understanding its effect on other financial issues.

· Confusing financial planning with investing.

· Neglecting to re-evaluate their plan periodically.

· Thinking that planning is only for the wealthy.

· Thinking that planning is for when they get older.

· Thinking that financial planning is the same as retirement planning.

· Waiting until a money crisis to begin planning.

· Expecting unrealistic returns on investments.

· Thinking that using a planner means losing control.

· Believing that financial planning is primarily tax planning.

Make Your Money Count with A Plan

To avoid making the mistakes listed above, realize that what matters most to you is the focus of your planning. The results you get from working with a planner are as much your responsibility as they are those of the planner. To achieve the best ROI from your financial planning engagement, consider the following advice.

Start planning as soon as you can: Don’t delay your financial planning. People who save or invest small amounts of money early, and often, tend to do better than those who wait until later in life. Similarly, by developing good financial planning habits, such as saving, budgeting, investing and regularly reviewing your finances early in life, you will be better prepared to meet life changes and handle emergencies.

Be realistic in your expectations:Financial planning is a common sense approach to managing your finances to reach your life goals. It cannot change your situation overnight; it is a lifelong process. Remember that events beyond your control, such as inflation or changes in the stock market or interest rates, will affect your financial planning results.

Set measurable financial goals: Set specific targets of the results you want to achieve and when you want to achieve them. For example, instead of saying you want to be “comfortable” when you retire or that you want your children or grandchildren to attend “good” schools, quantify what “comfortable” and “good” mean so that you’ll know when you’ve reached your goals.

Realize that you are in charge:When working with a financial planner, be sure you understand the financial planning process and what the planner should be doing to help you make your money count. The planner needs all relevant information on your financial situation and your purpose (what matters most to you). Always ask questions about the recommendations offered to you and play an active role in decision-making. Being in charge means your financial planner doesn’t take all the responsibility for every decision.

Understand the effect of each financial decision and the big picture: Each financial decision you make can affect several other areas of your life. For example, an investment decision may have tax consequences that are harmful to your estate plans. Or a decision about your child’s education may affect when and how you meet your retirement goals. Remember that all of your financial decisions are will impact the big picture of your overall plan. This is where the skills of a professional financial planner can make a big difference.

Re-evaluate your financial situation periodically: Financial planning is a dynamic process. Your financial goals may change over the years due to changes in your lifestyle or circumstances, such as an inheritance, marriage, birth, house purchase or change of job status. Revisit and revise your financial plan as time goes by to reflect these changes so that you can stay on track with your long-term goals.

Successful planning offers many rewards in addition to helping you Make Your Money Count and achieving what matters most to you. When CFP® professionals were surveyed about the most significant benefit of financial planning in their own lives, the top answer was “peace of mind.” Over my career, many clients have told me that their purpose for financial planning is the same – peace of mind. When you invest the time and money to work with a competent and trustworthy planner, you are far more likely to go to bed at night knowing you did everything possible to make your money count for the people you love.

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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.

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