How to manage financial risk through Brexit uncertainty
Barry Doyle and John Power, Directors of Strategic Growth Leaders (SGL) finance consultancy, outline the key considerations Irish SMEs should consider to respond to the challenges posed by Brexit.
The uncertainty generated by Brexit has highlighted important finance considerations for Irish businesses. Issues that impact SMEs in areas including managing multi-currency budgets, cash flow and projection, cash, currency and treasury management, optimising their capital structure and ensuring that appropriate types of funding are utilised, are heightened by the present and potential impacts of Brexit.
Too often, the finance function has been regarded as a cost, focused on historical reporting and compliance, rather than acting as a strategic, commercially-minded arm of the business. Brexit has created an impetus for companies to better structure and integrate their finance function, so that it acts as a strategic member of the management team, rather than a back office operation.
From the work SGL has done with Enterprise Ireland clients concerned about Brexit, it is clear that those who combine finance capability, resources, and a financial model that quantifies exposure, with a documented policy that explicitly states how each is to be managed, are better prepared to address any challenges that may arise.
Enterprise Ireland’s Be Prepared grant can be used to access financial and currency expertise and is a great resource for Irish SMEs eager to limit Brexit exposure. Finance is also one of the six pillars assessed by Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit SME Scorecard, an interactive online questionnaire that thousands of Irish businesses have used to assess exposure to date.
Take these six practical steps to help your business to minimise the financial risks posed by Brexit.
Quantify exposure to currency volatility
Although volatility is one of the most immediate concerns raised by Brexit, currency fluctuation is not new. Before Brexit, the narrow trading band of EUR/GBP was manageable. But volatility in exchange rates is now such that Irish businesses are experiencing significant margin erosion. With volatility expected to continue, the realisation has emerged that Irish companies must measure and manage exposure, establishing protective mechanisms to minimise uncertainty.
Analysing and quantifying exposure should be a prerequisite for every company, to enable a clear understanding of critical factors including cost base, market/product breakdown and margin, pricing strategy, cash to cash cycles, and currency breakeven FX rates. When a business can accurately quantify the financial risks of trading in foreign markets, risks that might relate to cost, currency or working capital, they can mitigate against them, over a duration that enables them to stay competitive.
Implement a treasury policy
Every company, from micro companies to large corporates, should design a currency and cash management policy, also known as a treasury policy. Essentially, that means documenting how your company manages finance. The document does not need to be complicated but should detail how the company manages all monies and transactions, including currency risk. The policy should also describe the relationships the finance function must have with other internal departments, as well as with external providers, such as banks. The policy should ideally be approved by the company’s Board of Directors and clearly identify the person(s) responsible for implementing and managing its component elements.
Use multi-currency cash flow forecasts
Determining your company’s foreign currency exchange risk can only be done by determining net receipts and payments of each currency in which it does business. Recognising that “Cash is King” for every business, cash flow forecasting is critical to ensuring active management of funds flow. It is particularly important for identifying net currency exposures. Forecasting monthly surpluses or foreign currency required, is the starting point for mitigating the impact of foreign currency fluctuations on business margin. Identifying receipts and payments that can be converted to domestic currency through negotiation with customers and suppliers to create a natural hedge position, is a crucial first step. Depending on the outcome of this exercise, it may be advisable to enter into FX contracts with a financial institution to buy or sell exposed amounts. Ultimately, it is important to bring certainty to the value or cost of your foreign currency exposure and avoid ‘playing’ the exchange rate market.
Conduct break-even analysis
Break-even (B/E) measures the level of sales required to cover fixed costs. In its basic form, it is defined as the point at which your income equals your costs, and profit is zero. As foreign exchange movements can directly impact on each component of sales receipts, cost of sales (including things like materials and tariffs) and overheads denominated in foreign currencies, modelling future B/E sales levels at different exchange rates provides management with essential information for deciding if and when price increases may be required to protect margin and ensure profitability. B/E analysis of different business units or sales territories provides management with a simple but effective comparison measure.
Understand cash cycle
Determining the working capital for each territory or market your business operates in is critical to ensuring effective cash management. Tracking timelines involved in your business of payments for overheads (labour or indirect costs), supply of materials, and conversion of sales to cash, is critical to understanding the additional permanent working capital needed as your business grows. Brexit may add significant requirements for investment in stockholding, new costs such as tariffs, reintroduction of VAT at point of entry, delayed payment terms with UK customers due to banking arrangements, and accelerated payment terms for suppliers. Understanding current cash cycles and modelling potential, or likely future cycle, will help identify the level of funding needed to maintain or grow your business in the UK. Businesses can fund additional investment required by lengthening the cash cycle through a combination of methods:
- Renegotiate terms at both ends of the cash cycle, with suppliers and customers
- Review in-house procedures for managing debtor collections and supplier payments
- Use alternative financing methods such as supplier finance or invoice discounting
- Scaling businesses should consider it as part of fund raising
- Loan finance from traditional lenders and new entrants
More and more options are available to help businesses to reduce cash cycle timelines or fund additional requirements through a funding mechanism.
While the uncertainties generated by Brexit will only become clear in time, companies can create a solid business and financial plan to mitigate against known, and as yet unknown, risks. There is no doubt that Brexit is real and can create challenges for businesses buying or selling in the UK. But Brexit is not a strategic problem.
Continue to drive your strategic plan and determine the modifications needed to stay on track. Also consider:
- Accelerating a diversification plan
- Implementing a strategic procurement approach to protecting critical supply and protecting margin
- Prioritising resources to a digital channel.
Once you’ve established a strategic plan, establish and measure the critical success factors and key performance indicators that will ensure you stay you on a strategic path.
A version of this article was originally published on Silicon Republic.
Learn how Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit: Act On Initiative can help your company prepare its finances for Brexit.