Get a Handle on Working Capital

Kirsch CPA Group

Jun 24, 2024

Working capital management is a top priority for businesses today. Consulting firm The Hackett Group’s 2023 Working Capital Survey reports that many companies are carrying high amounts of working capital on their balance sheets — as much as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. This data suggests that some companies may be leaving money on the table, thereby losing out on lucrative business opportunities.

The 2023 survey found that working capital metrics generally deteriorated from 2021 to 2022. In particular, the cash conversion cycle — the number of days it takes to convert inventory purchases into cash from customers — increased by 3% from 2021 to 2022. And the days payables outstanding (DPO) ratio — the number of days from the time a company buys raw materials to payment of suppliers — fell by 8%. Key reasons cited for less-efficient working capital management include geopolitical instability, inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges.

How have your company’s working capital metrics changed in recent years? If working capital has increased over time, it may suggest inefficient management practices. Here’s what you can do to improve your company’s performance in 2024.


Balancing Risk and Efficiency

Working capital — current assets minus current liabilities — is traditionally a measure of liquidity. It answers questions such as: How fast can assets be converted to cash? Are there enough current assets to cover current obligations? In general, higher liquidity equates with lower risk.

But companies can have too much of a good thing. An alternative perspective on working capital is to compare it to total assets and annual revenue. From this perspective, working capital becomes a measure of operating efficiency. Excessive amounts of cash tied up in working capital may detract from other spending options, such as expanding to new markets, buying equipment and paying down debt.


Implementing Best Practices

No magic formula exists for optimizing working capital, but ongoing due diligence is key. Effective management requires an assessment of the key components of working capital: cash, accounts receivable, inventory and accounts payable. Consider these five tips:

1. Put cash to good use. Does your company tend to stockpile cash? Excessive cash reserves encourage management to become complacent about working capital management. For example, if there’s plenty of money in the bank, managers might be less hungry to collect receivables and less disciplined when ordering inventory.

When cash is generated through debt rather than improved operating cash flow, it’s important for the borrower to earn a higher return on its assets than it’s paying in interest. But those that employ sloppy working capital practices are unlikely to achieve adequate returns. Eventually, debt and interest payments can overwhelm a business.

2. Expedite collections. When a business sells on credit, it effectively finances its customers’ operations. Stale receivables — typically any balance over 45 or 60 days outstanding, depending on the industry — may be a red flag of impending financial distress.

Managing collections starts by honestly evaluating which items should be written off as bad debts. Then viable balances need to be “talked in the door” as soon as possible. Enhanced collections efforts might include early bird discounts, electronic invoices and collections-based sales compensation programs.

3. Hire dedicated collections personnel. These individuals will be charged with approving and monitoring customer credit, sending out collections letters, and making phone calls for any invoices more than 30 days late. Alternatively, these tasks may be outsourced to agencies that specialize in collecting debts from customers. Some companies might even sell or “factor” receivables to a third party at a discount, typically 20% to 30% off the invoice amount.

4. Carry less inventory. Inventory represents a huge investment for manufacturers, distributors, retailers and contractors. But it can be difficult to track and value. Enhanced forecasting and data sharing with suppliers can reduce the need for safety stock and result in smarter ordering practices. Computerized technology — such as barcodes, radio frequency identification and enterprise resource planning tools — also improve inventory tracking and ordering practices.

5. Postpone payments to suppliers and vendors. Businesses shouldn’t pay a bill the day it’s received. Instead, they should extend terms as long as possible, without losing out on early bird discounts. If your company can extend its average days in payables from, say, 45 to 60 days, you “train” suppliers and vendors to accept the new terms, particularly if your company is a predictable, reliable payor.


Eyes on Working Capital

Managers tend to focus their attention on the top and bottom lines of the income statement (revenue and earnings). But the balance sheet warrants your attention, too. Contact Kirsch CPA Group to discuss ways to optimize working capital accounts by speeding up cash inflows and delaying cash outflows.


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About The Author

Kirsch CPA Group is a full service CPA and business advisory firm helping businesses and organizations with accounting,…

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