Money makes the world go round, and no entity lives, breathes, and talks money more than businesses do. The primary function of any regular business is wealth creation. Regulating, monitoring, and predicting cash flow in and out of business is imperative for all business leaders. This is why companies do cash flow forecasting.
Cash flow forecasting helps businesses ensure how their business would perform financially in the future. In other words, it helps ensure that there will be money in the bank account and plenty of it to go around.
What is cash flow forecasting?
Cash flow forecasting predicts and estimates the value of future sales, investments, and expenses over a specific period. Cash flow forecasting helps businesses predict the future cash performance of the companies, probable risks, cash shortages, earnings, and surpluses. Eventually, it allows business leaders to make informed financial decisions.
The company’s finance team usually performs cash flow analysis and forecasting. However, the process of cash forecasting is tricky and necessitates collaborative efforts from multiple departments, leaders, and stakeholders.
Why is cash flow forecasting crucial for a company?
Cash flow forecasting is key to the overall profitability of a company. A cash flow forecast helps companies anticipate and prepare for upcoming cash movements.
1. Risk aversion
In cash flow forecasting, the finance teams analyze the expected sales performances and purchase activities and consider all upcoming business costs, opportunities, and risks to develop an insightful and actionable forecast report. These forecasts become crucial for risk aversion and help businesses prepare for probable crises.
2. Recovery from debt
Cash flow forecasting helps finance officers get detailed insights into the cash on hand and future spending. This allows them to ascertain if they have enough resources to make debt and interest payments when they are due.
When businesses are in debt, lenders often place certain financial restrictions on them. Lenders want firms to maintain a certain level of financial standing to ensure the company can repay the debt without delays or issues. These restrictions are called debt covenants. Cash flow forecasting helps the finance teams detect cash flow bottlenecks that may violate the debt covenants early and take necessary actions.
3. Execution of growth strategy
Cash flow forecasting helps businesses know when they can expect cash surpluses and, in turn, plan their growth phase strategy.
Components of a cash flow forecast
1. Cash inflows
Cash inflows represent the money expected to come into the business or individual’s cash reserves during the forecast period. These can include sales revenue, loans, investments, rental income, or other cash receipts. Cash inflows are crucial for maintaining liquidity and funding the business or individual’s operations.
2. Cash outflows
Cash outflows refer to the payments expected to be made by the business or individual during the forecast period. These can include expenses such as raw materials, salaries, rent, utilities, inventory purchases, loan repayments, taxes, and any other cash payments. Cash outflows need to be carefully managed to ensure enough cash is available to cover them without jeopardizing the entity’s financial stability.
3. Opening cash balance
The opening cash balance is the cash available at the beginning of the forecast period. It represents the cash reserves carried over from the previous period. The opening cash balance serves as the starting point for the forecast and influences the overall cash position during the period.
4. Closing cash balance
The closing cash balance is the cash remaining at the end of the forecast period. It is calculated by subtracting the total cash outflows from the total cash inflows plus the opening cash balance. The closing cash balance indicates the final cash position at the end of the forecast period and can be used as the opening cash balance for the next period.
Cash flow forecasting techniques and methods
Cash flow forecasting can sometimes feel like trying to predict the weather – you might have a general idea, but it’s always a bit unpredictable. But fear not, some several techniques and methods can help you navigate the tumultuous seas of cash flow forecasting.
1. Direct cash flow method
Think of this method as the straightforward, no-nonsense approach. With the direct cash flow method, you predict your cash inflows and outflows by closely tracking the actual cash movement in and out of your business.
2. Indirect cash flow method
This method deduces cash flows by starting with your net income and then adjusting it for non-cash items, such as depreciation and changes in working capital. It’s like solving a financial mystery with clues hidden in your income statement and balance sheet.
3. Rolling cash flow forecast
Picture yourself in a rowboat on a river, gently flowing with the current. That’s the rolling cash flow forecast – it keeps on rolling, rolling, rolling. This method involves regularly updating your cash flow forecast by adding or dropping periods as time progresses.
4. Bottom-up and top-down approaches
These approaches sound like dance moves, but they’re actually cash flow forecasting techniques. Bottom-up forecasting starts at the ground level, where you estimate cash flows for individual items, such as sales, expenses, and investments. You then aggregate these estimates to determine the overall cash flow picture.
Remember, cash flow forecasting is both an art and a science. These techniques can help you navigate uncertain waters. However, you must always keep a keen eye on the changing tides.
Cash flow forecasting process
The process of cash flow forecasting differs among businesses. It depends on what you want to achieve from the forecast, your business objectives, management and workforce requirements, and your company’s data availability and transparency. However, no matter the end goal, the following steps will help you in your cash flow forecasting process.
Step 1: Setting your objectives
The first step in cash flow forecasting is outlining your business objectives and aligning them with the goals of the forecast. Cash flow forecasting can be used for several reasons: short-term liquidity planning, debt reduction, risk management, and growth planning.
Step 2: Set forecast period
Depending on your cash flow forecasting objectives, decide on the time duration for which you want to perform the cash flow forecast. Selecting the suitable forecast period can affect the accuracy of the forecast as the further into the future you estimate the values, the higher will be chances of inaccuracy and data contamination.
Step 3: Opt for the suitable forecasting method
The forecasting method you choose depends on your forecasting objectives and period. Majorly, there are two types of forecasting methods: the direct forecasting method and the indirect forecasting method.
The direct method is for short-term forecasting and shows cash needs and working capital fund requirements. It is done by analyzing upcoming payments, receipts, credits, and debts.
The indirect method is for long-term forecasting and shows the amount of cash required to pay for long-term projects and growth strategies. It is done by analyzing income statements, pro forma balance sheets, etc.
Step 4: Forecast your cash inflows
To forecast the sales for a specific period, look at the sales data from previous years. Find a pattern and trend and pinpoint the influencing variables and factors against which the sales increased, decreased, or stayed the same.
You can also forecast your income by estimating how much cash inflow is needed to sustain the business’s profitability. If any assets are set to be sold, you must account for those earnings in the forecast and any other atypical gains that the company incurs.
Remember that sales predictions can never have 100% accuracy because sales have many variables like sales personnel’s performance, customer needs, attitude, economic condition changes, competitor’s activities, etc.
Step 5: Estimate your cash outflows
To estimate your cash outflows, you need to ensure you are aware of all kinds of expenses that your business incurs. While a company’s cash inflows are limited, the expenses seem almost endless. Make sure you account not just for the cost of goods sold and operating expenses but also for non-operating expenses and depreciation on capital expenses.
Step 6: Compile the data for the cash flow forecast
Cash flows are time-sensitive. While compiling the final data, start with the cash you have. You can add cash inflows and minus outflows for specific periods. At the end of each period, you will get an amount that will be the closing cash balance, which will be the opening balance for the following period.
Free Cash Flow = Net Income + Depreciation- Change in WC – CE
Operating Cash Flow or cash flow from operating activities = Operating Income +Depreciation – Tax +Change in WC
Cash Flow Forecast = Beginning Cash + Projected Income – Projected Expenses = Ending Cash
Step 7: Review and revisit the forecast report
The last and most crucial step is to revisit the forecast report whenever you get new information or data. You can supply new data to the report and improve the accuracy of your forecast.
This also helps you analyze your forecasting methods and highlights the differences between the actual cash flow and your expectations.
How to forecast your cash flow?
Forecasting your cash flow is like peering into a crystal ball to glimpse the financial future of your business. While it may not be an exact science, following a structured approach can help you make more informed predictions. So, let’s dive into the steps of cash flow forecasting.
- Gathering historical financial data
To begin your cash flow forecasting journey, gather the financial data from your past. Look at your income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for previous periods. This historical data will serve as a foundation for understanding your business’s cash flow patterns and trends. It’s like retracing the steps of the past to gain insight into the present.
- Identifying and projecting cash flows
Next, focus on the mystical art of predicting cash inflows. Analyze your sales forecasts, accounts receivable, and any other sources of incoming cash. Consider factors like customer payment terms, seasonal variations, and market trends to estimate the timing and amounts of your cash inflows. It’s like deciphering the hidden messages in the stars to determine when the riches will come pouring in.
- Estimating and planning cash outflows
Now it’s time to turn your attention to the outflows of cash. Identify and estimate your various expenses, such as rent, salaries, inventory purchases, utilities, and loan payments. Consider fixed and variable costs, and be mindful of upcoming large expenditures or financial obligations. It’s like casting spells to foresee the expenses that might drain your coffers.
- Incorporating non-cash items
Cash flow is not just about cold, hard currency. You must also consider non-cash items that affect your cash flow, such as depreciation, changes in working capital, and non-cash expenses or revenues. These elements can impact the overall cash movement in your business, so include them in your forecast. It’s like weaving a magical tapestry, blending your financial realm’s tangible and intangible elements.
By following these steps, you can create a cash flow forecast that gives you a glimpse into your business’s financial future. However, you must remember that your forecast is not set in stone and may require adjustments as circumstances change.
How to improve cash flow forecast?
Improving your cash flow forecast requires careful analysis, proactive measures, and a sprinkle of financial finesse. So, let’s unlock the treasure chest of techniques and strategies.
1. Refine data accuracy and frequency
One of the keys to a more accurate cash flow forecast is to ensure the data you use is reliable and up to date. Review your historical financial data and refine it if necessary, removing any outliers or anomalies that could skew your forecast. Additionally, increase the frequency of data updates to capture any recent changes or emerging trends. It’s like polishing your crystal ball to see a clearer future picture.
2. Monitor and analyze cash flow drivers
Identify the key drivers that impact your cash flow and closely monitor them. Monitor factors such as sales volumes, payment terms, customer behavior, and inventory management. Regularly analyze and evaluate these drivers to spot any patterns or deviations that could affect your cash flow. It’s like unraveling the threads of causality to understand how they weave into your financial tapestry.
3. Embrace scenario planning
Cash flow forecasting is inherently uncertain, so preparing for different scenarios is wise. Develop multiple forecast scenarios based on various outcomes, such as optimistic, pessimistic, and realistic scenarios. Assess the potential impact of each scenario on your cash flow and identify the necessary actions to take in response. It’s like branching paths in a choose-your-own-adventure book, preparing for whichever plot twist the financial realm throws at you.
4. Improve cash flow management
Effective cash flow management can significantly enhance your forecast accuracy. Implement strategies to optimize your cash inflows and outflows. For example, negotiate favorable payment terms with suppliers, incentivize early customer payments, and actively manage your working capital. Embrace the art of cash flow juggling, keeping a close eye on timing and ensuring the smooth flow of funds.
5. Continuously review and adjust
Remember, a cash flow forecast is not a one-time endeavor. Regularly review your forecast against actual cash flow results and compare the variances. Identify any discrepancies and analyze the underlying reasons for the differences. This will allow you to fine-tune your forecasting techniques, adjust assumptions, and improve future forecasts. It’s like an ever-evolving dance, where you adjust your steps to stay in sync with the rhythm of your business’s financial movements.
Improving cash flow forecasting requires a commitment to ongoing analysis, adaptability, and a willingness to learn from the past. By implementing these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to sharpening your cash flow forecasting skills and better understand your business’s financial future.
Cash flow forecast format
The table above represents a simple format for a cash flow forecast. You can customize it based on your specific needs and preferences.
Here’s a breakdown of each column:
- Period: Indicates the time period for each row, such as months, quarters, or years.
- Opening cash balance: The cash balance at the beginning of the period, carried over from the previous period.
- Cash inflows: The total amount expected to be received during the period. Include all sources of cash inflows, such as sales revenue, investments, loans, etc.
- Cash outflows: The total amount expected to be paid during the period. Include all expenses and payments, such as salaries, rent, utilities, inventory purchases, loan repayments, taxes, etc.
- Closing cash balance: The calculated cash balance at the end of the period. It is obtained by subtracting the cash outflows from the cash inflows and opening cash balance.
You can extend the table with as many rows as needed to cover your desired forecast period. Each period’s closing cash balance becomes the subsequent period’s opening cash balance.
Remember to provide accurate and realistic estimates for cash inflows and outflows to ensure the forecast provides meaningful insights into your cash position.
Factors affecting cash flow forecasting
When forecasting cash flow, several factors can influence the accuracy and reliability of your projections. These factors include:
- Seasonality and business cycles: The nature of your industry and its seasonal patterns can impact cash flow. Understanding the cyclicality of your business and accounting for seasonal fluctuations in sales and expenses is crucial for accurate forecasting.
- Market conditions and competitive landscape: Economic conditions, market trends, and competitive dynamics can influence customer behavior, pricing, and payment patterns. Monitoring and considering these external factors are vital for realistic cash flow forecasts.
- Customer payment terms and behavior: The terms you offer customers and their payment habits affect the timing and reliability of your cash inflows. Analyzing historical data on customer payment patterns can help estimate future collections.
- Supplier and vendor relationships: The payment terms negotiated with suppliers and vendors impact your cash outflows. Understanding their terms and managing the timing of payments can help optimize your cash flow forecast.
- Inventory management: Efficient inventory management is critical to cash flow. Balancing stock levels, lead times and sales projections can help avoid cash shortages due to excessive inventory or missed sales opportunities due to insufficient stock.
Using cash flow forecasts for decision making
Cash flow forecasts provide valuable insights that can inform strategic decision-making within your business.
- Managing working capital: Cash flow forecasts help you determine the necessary working capital to support your business operations. By analyzing expected cash inflows and outflows, you can optimize inventory levels, manage receivables and payables, and maintain adequate liquidity.
- Assessing financial health and stability: Regularly comparing your actual cash flow against your forecasted cash flow helps evaluate your business’s financial health. Identifying any significant deviations can indicate underlying issues or potential risks, enabling you to take corrective measures.
- Identifying cash shortages or surpluses: Cash flow forecasts highlight periods of potential cash shortages or surpluses. This insight allows you to plan and allocate resources accordingly. For example, during periods of anticipated cash shortages, you might explore financing options or adjust expenses to bridge the gap.
- Making strategic investment and financial decisions: Cash flow forecasts aid in evaluating the feasibility of investment opportunities and determining the need for external financing. By assessing the impact of potential investments or loans on your cash flow, you can make informed decisions aligned with your business goals.
Monitoring and updating cash flow forecasts
Creating a cash flow forecast is not a one-time task. It requires ongoing monitoring and updates to ensure accuracy and relevance. Here are key considerations for managing and updating your cash flow forecasts:
- Regular review and evaluation: Compare actual cash flow data against forecasted amounts on a regular basis. Analyze any variances and identify the reasons behind them. This evaluation helps improve the accuracy of future forecasts and allows for timely adjustments.
- Adjusting forecasts and actual performance: As new information becomes available or circumstances change, update your cash flow forecasts accordingly. Incorporate actual performance data and adjust your projections based on the current business environment.
- Scenario analysis and sensitivity testing: Conduct scenario analysis by simulating different scenarios and assessing their impact on cash flow. Sensitivity testing involves evaluating the effect of changes in key variables on your forecast. These techniques provide insights into potential
Advantages of cash flow forecasting
Cash flow forecasting offers several advantages that can greatly benefit businesses.
Here are some key points:
- Improved financial planning and decision making: Cash flow forecasting provides visibility into your future cash position, enabling better financial planning. It helps you make informed decisions regarding investments, expenses, and financing options by considering their impact on your cash flow.
- Early identification of cash shortages and surpluses: You can identify potential cash shortages or surpluses in advance by projecting your cash flow. This allows you to take proactive measures to address cash shortfalls or optimize the use of excess cash, minimizing financial risks and maximizing opportunities.
- Enhanced working capital management: Cash flow forecasting helps optimize working capital by providing insights into cash inflows and outflows. It enables you to manage receivables, payables, and inventory levels more effectively, improving overall liquidity and operational efficiency.
- Better negotiation and relationship management: A clear understanding of your future cash flow strengthens your negotiating position with suppliers, lenders, and investors. It helps you secure favorable terms, negotiate appropriate financing options, and build stronger relationships based on transparency and reliability.
- Increased confidence for shareholders: Accurate cash flow forecasts instill confidence in stakeholders, including investors, lenders, and shareholders. They provide a realistic and transparent view of your business’s financial health, demonstrating your ability to meet obligations and achieve financial goals.
Disadvantages of cash flow forecasting
While cash flow forecasting offers numerous benefits, it’s important to acknowledge its limitations.
Here are a few disadvantages to consider:
- Uncertainty and inaccuracy: Cash flow forecasting relies on assumptions and estimates, making it susceptible to uncertainties and inaccuracies. Unforeseen events, changes in market conditions, or unpredictable customer behavior can significantly impact the accuracy of forecasts.
- Limited predictive power: Cash flow forecasts are projections based on historical data and assumptions. They may not fully capture unexpected events or sudden market shifts. Therefore, relying solely on cash flow forecasts for decision-making may lead to missed opportunities or ineffective risk management.
- Complexity and resource intensiveness: Creating and maintaining accurate cash flow forecasts can be complex and time-consuming. It requires meticulous data analysis, regular updates, and ongoing monitoring. Small businesses with limited resources may find it challenging to allocate the necessary time and expertise to this process.
- Dependency on external factors: Cash flow forecasts are influenced by various external factors beyond a company’s control, such as economic conditions, industry trends, or regulatory changes. Reliance on these external factors introduces additional uncertainties and can impact the accuracy of the forecasts.
Cash flow forecasting tools and technologies
Cash flow forecasting can be aided by various tools and technologies that streamline the process and enhance accuracy.
These tools may include:
1. Spreadsheet software
Spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets provides a versatile platform for creating and managing cash flow forecasts. They allow for data entry, calculations, and the creation of visual representations like charts and graphs.
2. Accounting and financial management software
Dedicated accounting and financial management software, such as QuickBooks, Xero, or Sage, often include built-in cash flow forecasting features. These tools integrate with your financial data, automating calculations and generating forecasts based on the information entered.
3. Cloud-based forecasting solutions
Cloud-based forecasting solutions offer collaborative features
Read More: 10 Best Financial Management Tools for CFOs
Challenges faced during cash flow forecasting
As discussed above, investing in cash flow forecasting is worth it. However, it does not nullify that it comes with a set of challenges. It consumes a lot of resources from the company.
Although cash flow forecasting and different expense management software have made life easier, many companies still rely on manual processes for their forecasting needs. Manual forecasting is an even longer and more tedious process which may lead to the following cash flow problems.
- Time and effort: Finance teams are already overstretched. Cash flow forecasting then makes them source, centralize, standardize, and organize data from multiple departments. When done manually, cash flow forecasting requires long hours with Excel spreadsheets making the process even more time-consuming.
- Data contamination: Manual data collection can lead to errors and inconsistencies during data inputs and lead to data contamination. This can skew the final forecast reports.
- Delayed collection of data: While the finance teams understand the importance of cash flow forecasting well, other stakeholders in the company may not be able to understand the time-sensitivity of data. This may mean that they will provide data later than required or in a format that is not optimal.
Embrace technology for cash flow forecasting
Cash flow forecasting requires a trustworthy repository of a company’s financial data. Using automation-empowered platforms like revenue management tools or expense management software can give you access to accurate live and historical data.
Leverage the power of technology to produce accurate and effective cash flow forecasts and push your organization toward a more innovative financial future.
Cash flow forecasting software
Float is a cash flow forecasting software providing real-time insights and forecasting capabilities. It integrates with accounting software like Xero and QuickBooks, automatically importing data to generate accurate forecasts. Float offers scenario planning, cash flow monitoring, and customizable reporting.
Dryrun is a cloud-based cash flow forecasting tool designed to help businesses create accurate forecasts and scenario models. It allows you to import financial data, create what-if scenarios, track cash flow trends, and collaborate with team members. Dryrun integrates with popular accounting software, making syncing and updating data easy.
Pulse is a cash flow forecasting software that focuses on simplicity and ease of use. It offers intuitive features to create visual cash flow forecasts, scenario analysis, and cash flow tracking. Pulse allows you to monitor your cash position, identify trends, and forecast cash flow over customizable timeframes.
PlanGuru is a comprehensive financial planning and cash flow forecasting software. It provides tools for budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis. With PlanGuru, you can create detailed cash flow forecasts, perform sensitivity analysis, and generate reports. It integrates with accounting software and supports multiple forecasting methods.
CashAnalytics is a cash flow forecasting and working capital management software. It offers advanced analytics, scenario modeling, and cash flow reporting capabilities. CashAnalytics provides visibility into cash flow drivers, helps optimize working capital, and enables forecasting accuracy through data integration and automation.
Read More: 6 Best Cash Flow Management Software
Cash flow forecasting involves estimating the future inflows and outflows of cash for a specific period. It is typically calculated by starting with the opening cash balance, adding cash inflows (sales receipts, loans, or investments), and subtracting cash outflows (expenses, loan repayments, or taxes). The resulting figure represents the projected closing cash balance for that period.
The three types of cash flow forecasts are short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Short-term forecasts cover a period of up to three months; medium-term forecasts typically span three months to a year, and long-term forecasts project cash flow beyond one year.
The three benefits of a cash flow forecast are:
1. Improved financial planning and decision-making.
2. Enhanced working capital management.
3. Early identification of cash shortages or surpluses.
A cash flow forecast is a prediction or projection of expected cash inflows and outflows for a given period. It uses historical data, assumptions, and future expectations to estimate cash flow movements.
There are three main types of cash flow forecasts based on the time horizon: short-term forecasts, medium-term forecasts, and long-term forecasts.
The purpose of a cash flow projection is to provide insight into a business’s expected cash inflows and outflows. It helps businesses plan and manage their finances, make informed decisions, optimize working capital, identify potential cash shortfalls or surpluses, and ensure sufficient liquidity to meet obligations and achieve financial goals.
A cash flow forecast focuses specifically on projecting cash inflows and outflows over a specific period. It provides insights into the timing and magnitude of cash movements. On the other hand, a budget is a comprehensive business plan that covers all aspects of a business’s income, expenses, and anticipated revenues. It includes projections for various financial elements, including cash flow, but also encompasses other items like sales, production, and expenses.
A cash flow forecast is typically prepared by the finance or accounting department within a company. This responsibility may fall on the CFO (Chief Financial Officer), financial analysts, or accountants with expertise in financial planning and analysis.
The number of periods in a cash flow forecast can vary depending on the business’s needs and the purpose of the forecast. It can range from a few weeks to several years. The number of periods is typically determined based on the desired level of detail and the time horizon considered relevant for accurate financial planning and decision-making.