Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Purchase Order Financing Tips and Secrets for Canadian Firms Seeking Trade Finance

Your worst business nightmare just occurred. You got the order/contract! Now what?!

Purchase order financing is a great tool for firms that have unusual purchase order and contract sales financing needs but are potentially unable to access traditional financing via banks or their own capital resources within their firm. How does trade finance P O financing work, does your firm qualify, what are the costs, and how does it work? Great questions, now let’s explore some answers!

Typically Canadian firms looking for this type of financing are distributors, manufacturers, or perhaps wholesalers. A variety of industries in Canada have access to this type of financing, but those certainly tend to be the typical firms needing assistance.

Your need for purchase order financing arises out of what we call the classic working capital gap. What do we mean by that? It’s a case of your suppliers requiring payment either up front or within 30 days, with your firm unable to generate those funds for payment and therefore unable to fill large purchase order and contracts in your favor. Your supplier is asking your for payment in advance or 30 days, and you wont receive payment for at least 60-90 days, perhaps more depending on your build cycle, etc.

Naturally you don’t want to turn down orders or lose competitive market position.

The obvious solution for low cost large amounts of funds are Canadian chartered banks, but our observation is that many firms simply cant satisfy the banks requirements for this type of financing to occur. If your firm is growing, profitable, has a clean balance sheet and strong historical cash flows and history you of course have a solid chance of meeting bank requirements, however that typically is not the case, certainly in the amount of clients we talk to who are looking for alternatives to their growth challenge!

When you access p o financing you can have comfort that your suppliers will be paid, and at the same time you generally have access to all the funds you need. Typical purchase order financing applications take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to complete and involve basic financial due diligence on your firms ability to fulfill the order, who your customer is (they must be credit worthy), and your proper supplier sources must be identified and vetted. It’s as simple as that.

So what are the basic pre requisites for a solid P.O. Financing deal? Naturally your company must be in possession of a contract or order that is not cancelable by your client. The P O finance firm arranges to pay your suppliers directly, that alleviates all you cash flow and working capital concerns. The transaction is completed when you ship the goods and your receivables are generated on the sale. It is at this time the purchase order finance firm expects to be paid, and this is traditionally handled by your firms monetizing of its receivable via a bank or factoring facility. Factoring facilities are great partners to the P O financing strategy, because use of them guarantees payment to your P O firm.

Let’s cover off a couple tips and secrets around the cost of purchase order financing – It generally is in the 2-3% per month range in Canada, and that means you have to have solid gross profit margins in order to be able to sustain the finance charges. But let’s be honest, let’s say your firm has been doing 750k of revenue for the last couple years and you finally get the large order from a major customer for 1 Million dollars. Wouldn’t you give up 2-3 % of your profit margin in order to make one sale which is the equivalent of your entire year’s business? We think you should positively consider that! Clearly the higher cost of this type of financing covers off the complexity and risk that the P O finance firm takes in paying for goods, waiting to get paid, and having the belief that your firm will fulfill the contract order.

It has been our observation with certain clients that your successful completion of a purchase order finance deal typically significantly enhances your relationship with your major suppliers and of course customers, that’s a secret benefit that is intangible but invaluable at the same time.

Is P O financing for everyone. Maybe not. Could it be possibly the solution to major working capital needs if your business is growing and can’t be financed traditionally – we certainly think so? Speak to a trusted, credible and experienced purchase order finance expert to explore your options.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Who’s Financing Inventory and Using Purchase Order Finance (P O Finance)? Your Competitors!

It’s time. We’re talking about purchase order finance in Canada, how P O finance works, and how financing inventory and contracts under those purchase orders really works in Canada. And yes, as we said, its time… to get creative with your financing challenges, and we’ll demonstrate how.

And as a starter, being second never really counts, so Canadian business needs to be aware that your competitors are utilizing creative financing and inventory options for the growth and sales and profits, so why shouldn’t your firm?

Canadian business owners and financial managers know that you can have all the new orders and contracts in the world, but if you can’t finance them properly then you’re generally fighting a losing battle to your competitors.

The reason purchase order financing is rising in popularity generally stems from the fact that traditional financing via Canadian banks for inventory and purchase orders is exceptionally, in our opinion, difficult to finance. Where the banks say no is where purchase order financing begins!

It’s important for us to clarify to clients that P O finance is a general concept that might in fact include the financing of the order or contract, the inventory that might be required to fulfill the contract, and the receivable that is generated out of that sale. So it’s clearly an all encompassing strategy.

The additional beauty of P O finance is simply that it gets creative, unlike many traditional types of financing that are routine and formulaic.

It’s all about sitting down with your P O financing partner and discussing how unique your particular needs are. Typically when we sit down with clients this type of financing revolves around the requirements of the supplier, as well as your firm’s customer, and how both of these requirements can be met with timelines and financial guidelines that make sense for all parties.

The key elements of a successful P O finance transaction are a solid non cancelable order, a qualified customer from a credit worth perspective, and specific identification around who pays who and when. It’s as simple as that.

So how does all this work, asks our clients.Lets keep it simple so we can clearly demonstrate the power of this type of financing. Your firm receives an order. The P O financing firm pays your supplier via a cash or letter of credit – with your firm then receiving the goods and fulfilling the order and contract. The P O finance firm takes title to the rights in the purchase order, the inventory they have purchased on your behalf, and the receivable that is generated out of the sale. It’s as simple as that. When you customer pays per the terms of your contract with them the transaction is closed and the purchase order finance firm is paid in full, less their financing charge which is typically in the 2.5-3% per month range in Canada.

In certain cases financing inventory can be arranged purely on a separate basis, but as we have noted, the total sale cycle often relies on the order, the inventory and the receivable being collateralized to make this financing work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off