Financing Your Organization
This chapter explains the importance of using an accounting system, which will be especially important if you are interested in becoming an auditor.
Budgets, forecasts, and alternative scenarios
Earlier, we discussed cash flow forecasts and how they are used. An extension of the cash flow forecast concept is the operating budget. Most organizations have them. A budget is the financial expression of an organization's operating plan for a period of time, usually at least a year. Prior to the beginning of the year, managers prepare a plan for what they hope to accomplish in the coming year in terms of revenue, expenses, and net profit.
A more formal definition of a budget is:
"A budget is a financial document used to project future income and expenses. The budgeting process may be carried out by individuals or by companies to estimate whether the person/company can continue to operate with its projected income and expenses.
A budget may be prepared simply using paper and pencil, or on computer using a spreadsheet program like Excel, or with a financial application like Quicken or QuickBooks.
The process for preparing a monthly budget includes:
- Listing of all sources of monthly income
- Listing of all required, fixed expenses, like rent/mortgage, utilities, phone
- Listing of other possible and variable expenses".
Then, as the year unfolds, actual income and expenses are posted to the accounting records, and compared to what was budgeted, and a variance from budget for each item budgeted (e.g. sales, selling expenses, advertising costs, etc) is calculated. Managers responsible for the various income and expense items then examine each variance and, if it is substantial, search for an explanation. For example, it is one thing if electricity costs are 20 percent higher than what was budgeted for one month because workmen were using power tools to repair the roof. In that case, we can expect costs to return to normal when the repair work is completed. It is quite another thing if costs are higher because the electric company raised its rates. In that case, we can expect that costs will be at least 20 per cent higher in the future.
Most organizations take budget variance to date into consideration each month, and then prepare a revised budget (or forecast) for the balance of the year. This step is particularly important if variances to date vary from the original budget in a major way. For example, if sales are less than projected because market conditions are less favorable than anticipated when the budget was prepared, managers may look for ways to increase sales or reduce expenses in order to avoid a loss for the year.
There are many other forecasts that managers ask for in order to try and anticipate what the future might hold so they can prepare contingency plans in case of unforeseen events. Examples of unforeseen events that may well affect future outcomes are the arrival of a new competitor, a change in the overall economic outlook which could affect costs and/or revenues either positively or negatively, or even the arrival of a new company in another line of business that could raise prevailing wage rates in your region.
So, what managers like to do is to develop forecasts of sales, costs, cash, profits, interest rates and the like using different assumptions which, of course, result in different outcomes, some good and some bad. Another word for such forecasts is scenarios. For example, let us assume that a forecast of the income statement for a business at the end of the year assumes that sales will grow by 8 per cent over the previous year and costs will grow by 6 per cent. A manager might ask for an alternative scenario where sales increase by 12 per cent and costs increase by 9 per cent and another scenario where sales decrease by 3 per cent and costs increase by 1 per cent.
The Wall Street Journal had a story recently on how businesses use scenarios for planning purposes. Quoting from it: "Each spring, executives at JDS Uniphase Corp. plan for three potential sales scenarios for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July. Last year, rattled by financial-market turmoil, they included an extremely pessimistic sales outlook and outlined potential cost cuts.
"The planning proved useful when the economy stalled and customers began delaying orders later in the year. "We knew what levers to pull", says Dave Vellequette, chief financial officer at the Milpatis, Calif., maker of fiberoptic telecommunications equipment.
"The experience highlights the value of scenario planning, or preparing responses to imagined changes in conditions. "It's not about predicting the future", says Peter Schwartz, a partner at Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Mass. Consulting firm. "Scenario planning is a tool for learning" and making better decisions".