Crisis planning: don’t forget to focus on agility

Jonathan Faurie
Founder: Turnaround Talk

As we have seen over the past five to ten years, and more specifically during the Covid-19 Pandemic, companies can enter into financial distress very quickly, and their level of distress varies as the risk that drives the market ebbs and flows.

This is significantly challenging for companies who are not in financial distress. Long term planning becomes challenging and companies will be tempted to fortify their positions returning to austerity measures and crisis management levels to address the challenges that they face.

Focusing on cash flow is a key coping mechanism that companies need to pay attention to in times of crisis. Last week, we focused on the first five interventions mentioned in a report by Deloitte (Managing cash flow during a period of crisis). Today, we will focus on the next five steps which will highlight the importance of agility and the role that it plays as an important coping mechanism.

Revisit capital investment plans
The report points out that, with cash flow forecasts in mind, consider what’s really necessary for the near term. What capital investments can be postponed until the situation improves?  What capital investments should be reconsidered? What capital investments are required to position for the rebound and for creating competitive advantage?

Companies need to focus on inventory management
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Focus on inventory management
The report adds that companies are at risk of experiencing supply chain disruptions due to shortages in raw material and component parts. Inventory safety stock parameters will most likely need to be updated to reflect the increased demand and supply-side volatility, which will have the effect of increasing overall inventory levels, assuming that’s possible.

At the same time, businesses will be thinking about securing additional inventory, or strategic stock, as a further buffer against the potential impact of a prolonged or much broader supply chain disruption. Also at the same time, from a cash flow perspective, companies may be considering actions to reduce finished goods inventories, especially in perishable products, where waste is an important consideration and markets remain difficult to access.

The report points out that balancing the demands for more buffer inventory and managing cash flow may not be as easy as it sounds. Companies that still use simplistic approaches to inventory management might be able to do a quick assessment and find some immediate opportunities to drive down inventory. However, many companies are likely to find that significant inventory cuts have an adverse effect on customer service and production. Sustainable savings will most likely require fundamental improvements in end-to-end supply chain inventory visibility, demand planning, inventory and safety stock policies, production planning and scheduling, lead-time compression, network-wide available-to-promise, and SKU (stock keeping unit) rationalization.

Extend payables, intelligently
The report adds that one way to preserve working capital is to take longer to pay your suppliers. Some companies may unilaterally decide to delay their payments and force the extension on their suppliers, especially when stuck with inventory they can’t deliver into impacted margins. Of course, such an approach is likely to damage your supply relationships.

Even worse, it might deprive supply chain partners of the cash they need to maintain their operations, which could lead to late deliveries and quality problems, never mind the added strain to supply relationships. We recommend working with suppliers to establish an agreement that both of you can live with. There might even be situations where you need to accelerate payables for a critical supplier that is on the brink of failure in order to preserve the integrity of your supply chain and prevent a critical disruption.

Manage and expedite receivables
The report points out that companies tend to get lax about receivables when the economy is booming, interest rates are relatively low, and cash flow is not a concern. But, as supply chains are affected and managing cash flow becomes more important, it’s worth taking a hard look at how your receivables are being managed.

In the point above, we mention the strategy of delaying payments to your suppliers; don’t be surprised if your customers are thinking about doing the same thing to you. That’s why it’s important to improve the rigour of your collection processes. Focus on customer-specific payment performance and identify companies that may be changing their payment practices. Also, get the basics right, such as timely and accurate invoicing. Any errors in your billing process can lead to costly delays in receiving payment.

Future survival will depend on agility
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Consider alternate supply chain financing options
the report adds that, depending on what your cash flow scenario planning reveals, you may also need to consider tactics to generate faster cash flow from your receivables. Aggressive techniques such as factoring your receivables, although relatively expensive, may be your best option to improve cash flow quickly.

You may also consider working with your customers to offer dynamic discounting solutions for those that are able to pay more quickly (e.g., discount terms can be defined in advance, and the customer calculates the appropriate discount based on a defined payment schedule). With this technique, you are essentially paying customers to provide you with short-term financing. But the cost may be substantial: a conventional 2% net 10 early payment discount translates into a 36% APR. However, if government loans or bank credits are not available, this might be one of your only options. There are also a number of other supply chain financing possibilities that can be implemented in the short to medium term, such as collaborating with your key trading partners to optimize cash flow across the extended supply chain.

The role of the BRP
Considering alternate supply chain financing options, managing and expediting receivables, and revisiting capital investment plans all require companies to think creatively and out of the box.

This means that companies need to embrace agility and have the ability to move with industry trends before the bandwagon moves past them. As we read in a thought leadership article last week, the ability to do this is what has transformed Netflix into the business it is today. The inability to do this almost cost Kodak who slipped into relative obscurity when the rest of the world was embracing digital photography.

Dealing with this challenge may be a bridge to far for many companies to consider on their own. This is where business rescue and turnaround professionals step in to provide this innovative thinking and measures to help companies address these challenges in an effective manner.