Until recently, many senior executives regarded managing cash flow and liquidity as tactical functions left to administrative managers. Yet when the global financial crisis choked off credit, it became clear that executives needed to think more strategically about cash management and capital allocation. Our perspective is that companies that aggressively manage cash and liquidity create opportunities to prosper regardless of what is happening across the broader economic landscape.
Bain helps clients around the globe in liberating cash, increasing the velocity of capital through the system, improving ROIC and instilling a disciplined approach to driving cultural change. In most cases, the effort is self-funded with very short payback periods.
We work with clients across the liquidity spectrum. This includes helping firms with strong balance sheets improve resource deployment across lines of business to generate higher and better returns for investors. At the other extreme, it encompasses recognizing if and when an imminent cash pinch will threaten a company, and devising ways to address the issues, no matter how severe.
Our approach combines strategic, tactical and organizational elements to ensure quick wins and creates a dynamic process and new, ongoing organizational capabilities to ensure sustained results:
- We begin with an assessment of whether case and capital are aligned with strategic principles, followed by a deep examination and prioritization at the product level. This process typically begins with charting a clear cash picture of the receipts and disbursements over a 13-week period to gain visibility into the real-time differences between expected and actual results. Detailed analysis of any variances highlights the differences between one-time, timing-related and persistent variances. Persistent variances are a warning sign that could indicate emerging problems in product lines, customer channels or vendor relations.
- Visibility leads to addressing problems actively before it is too late. This can have strategic implications, as shown in the chart below:
- Once we have this visibility, we model various scenarios informed by daily, weekly or monthly cash-flow and liquidity measures. These create a foundation for contingency planning. For instance, they can provide powerful insights into which rivals are vulnerable, which customers are strongest and which vendors might not survive. Unlike analyzing accrual statements, which are like reading yesterday's news, cash focused analysis is forward-looking.
Hundreds of companies have relied on Bain's cash and capital management expertise to help transform capital and liquidity management into a strategic platform of differential investment. Indeed, the downturn has only underscored the need for ongoing liquidity discipline and deep understanding of cash cycles. These inform the discovery of new and better ways to deploy scarce resources that strengthen business units, create desirable products, serve new geographies and meet customer needs better.