Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Leadership That Gets Results - Finance For Non-Financial Managers

Managers need to deal with several kinds of reports each day. And with all the different data they need to review, most non financial managers often feel perplexed at the mere sight of financial reports. To most non financial managers, fiscal reports speak their own language - a language that is quite unfamiliar to them. And without a strong finance background, they often find themselves overwhelmed with what these reports are showing. These conditions make learning finance for non-financial managers a must in any type of organization, especially if the organization places much value in a leadership that gets results.

It truly is vital for an organization that values leadership that gets results to have its non financial managers learn the financial side of things, in the same way that financial managers must also be aware of the other aspects of the organization other than their area. The good news is there are now several programs on finance for non-financial managers and they can prove to be quite helpful in making managers become aware of how the organizational finances can greatly impact the direction that their departments would take, and that of the organization as a whole.

Some might have the notion that courses on finance for non-financial managers are dreadfully boring. What these managers are not aware of are the different ways for one to get more knowledge in this area. There are of courses short courses on this topic, and there are also reading materials that managers can review at their own pace. There are also seminars and workshops that provide a more interactive form of learning.

Regardless of the form that the course is delivered, what is important is for participants to learn how to understand and speak the language of numbers. In this way, they can better relate to fiscal data they have to review everyday and they can better see how these can significantly impact the business decisions they make every single day. It is also important to have the program how and why fiscal decisions can significantly impact the organizational and operational goals and objectives.

It is quite important that organizational leaders and executive should not take finance for non-financial managers for granted. If they are after a leadership that gets results, this is something that they must support and they must encourage their people to learn more about it so they can start applying the valuable lessons to real world scenarios.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Should You "Bank" on Your Home?

We are just about to close on the selling of our home of 19 years and I was wondering what the appreciation was over the past two decades. This was inspired because my realtor keeps reminding me of how much I paid compared to our selling price. The actual cost can get really complicated (considering home improvements, tax benefits, repairs and maintenance, etc.) but I wanted to keep it simple.

I took our purchase price as the present value and our selling price minus realtor fees and updates to the house for selling as our future value. The 19 years of compounding yields a whopping 2.2% return on our house. I know all of you finance people want to look at my investment (down payment) and calculate the return based on that, with tax advantage on interest, also calculating in home repairs and maintenance, but that gets complicated really fast, and I don't have all of those records (shame on me). But this shows that our house appreciated an average of 2.2% over 19 years or about the average inflation over that period.

My grandfather always told me "you buy a house to live in and not as an investment." The house has served us well as a happy home to raise our three children; But as an investment? -Not so much. We are glad that we sold our house. We hope that the buyers enjoy the house as much as we did and they make it into their happy home (but not bank on it as their happy investment ever-after).  

Friday, 24 August 2012

Is a Lack of Financial Education the Reason for Poor Financial Management Decisions in America?

Americans study all of the essential things in school, algebra, science, history, languages and the arts. However, many people wonder why there may be a lack of financial management classes to learn basic financial planning strategies. Many students don't know the first thing about retirement, savings, credit cards, debt or even basic budgeting strategies. Although some might say this is something that should be taught by parents, today's parents are the byproduct of the credit card generation; therefore many parents only learned the cause and effect of their financial matters by trial and error.

It is not only the parents that are financially challenged. Even teachers lack the training because of an education system that lacks the teaching of fundamental skills needed to achieve fiscal responsibility. Some of those more savvy in the diligence of their finances may seek the services of a financial management advisor, however given today's economic turbulence, the very root of the problem has become apparent in our society's apparent financial illiteracy.

According to a recent survey, over 60% of all high school students failed certain questions about basic household financial management and were not given the proper role models for financial independence. Across the gamut, the media has highlighted examples of adults who have mismanaged their money, losing homes or severely damaging their credit by defaulting on their loan and credit card payments, as well as college students who default on student loans and many other examples. Even big businesses on Wall Street have gone bankrupt and the entire financial system of banking seems to be crumbling right before our very eyes. We expect our youth to learn about proper financial planning and financial management amid a society that has accepted financial failure as the norm?

Today's Financial Buzz attributes many of these economic problems not entirely to the fault of any one entity, enterprise, or government but instead to the theory that the need for financial management practices should be taught early on to our youth. By teaching everyone how to become financially literate, we could create a society of fiscal responsibility. Instead, it is becoming rare to see a young person who doesn't abuse credit by either racking up high debt, paying late or even bouncing their checking accounts time and time again by relying on unsafe measures, such as online banking. Some do learn these best practices in college through economics or financial courses, but those students are becoming far and few between.

Some critics say that in order to add any more mandatory courses to the education system would require dropping some other important classes. Other say that the public school system is not supposed to be a lesson in life training manual and that those types of learning exercises should be enforced by parents. However, there are two sides to every coin and with many parents now in deep financial troubles themselves, they may not be the best role models for kids to follow. Foreclosures have reached an all-time high while stocks and securities have reached an all-time low, indicating a big problem with the entire system of financial management and not just a few sprinkled examples here and there.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Healthcare and Insurance Reform: Innovation Zones, Vertically Integrated Mutuals, and Hybrid Policies

McKinsey & Co. was supposed to publish this in some forthcoming piece about mutuals and co-ops but just called to say that it isn't going to publish anything so controversial during a presidential race. So I append below my original draft. There is some chance that the edited version will eventually appear, presumably after the election, and quite a lot of their editing went into it, so I won't post the that version, just my original IP. I realize I haven't blogged in awhile but I'll have some investment-related stuff very soon.

U.S. healthcare system is ill. Prices for medical services (and hence insurance
premiums) have increased faster than inflation for decades and now comprise
almost one fifth of aggregate economic output. No end to the trend appears in
sight. Some American hospitals and doctors offer the best medical treatment in
the world, bar none, but most Americans can afford access only to lower tier
services that palpably lag global best practices. Tens of millions have no
insurance whatsoever and suffer for it financially, psychologically, and biologically
when they are sick or injured.

            In 2010, the U.S. federal government
responded to those signs of illness by passing the Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The mammoth law, much of which phases in
incrementally with complete implementation coming in 2020, tries to address
perceived problems by direct fiat. Millions of Americans are uninsured, so the
law proclaims that they will be fined up to 2.5 percent of income (by 2016) if
they do not acquire insurance (the so-called individual mandate). Pre-existing
conditions raise insurance premiums or preclude coverage altogether so insurers
will be forbidden to use them in underwriting decisions by 2014. Copayments
reduce the number of scheduled appointments so they are to be banned for
preventive care and checkups in 2018. And so forth.

            The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) may
declare the individual mandate unconstitutional and could possibly strike down
the entire law. Regardless of the court’s decision, which will likely come down
to a single vote, America must face the reality that PPACA treats the
healthcare system’s symptoms without doing much to cure its underlying disease,
asymmetric information. Healthcare and its insurance is rife with adverse
selection, moral hazard, and agency costs and until those problems are reduced
the system will continue to perform in a suboptimal, if not dysfunctional,

            In the context of healthcare,
adverse selection is the greater propensity of people who are sick, or who are
likely to become sick, to seek insurance. Insurers reduce it by increasing the
premiums of people known to be sick or who have a history of illness and by declining
to cover pre-existing ailments. They also mostly insure employed individuals,
who unsurprisingly are on average healthier than people out of the labor force (other
relevant factors like age and gender held constant).

            Moral hazard manifests itself in
healthcare by the greater propensity of insured people to seek medical
treatment for any given medical complaint. Insurers traditionally reduce it
with copayments and deductibles. A copayment of $5 or $10 keeps insureds with
the lowest incomes and most trivial ailments from utilizing scarce medical
resources. Deductibles, healthcare expenses that insureds must pay out of
pocket before insurance becomes effective, have a similar effect, at least
until they are met.

            Agency problems occur when healthcare
providers (HCPs) exploit the presence of insurance coverage to over-diagnose and
over-treat patients. Doctors feel justified in breaking their Hippocratic Oath
(the most widely used modern version of which enjoins doctors to avoid the
“twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism”) by pointing to the high
costs of malpractice lawsuits: better to order yet another test lest the HCP be
sued later on. To protect themselves from those agency costs, insurers limit
what they will pay for specific procedures and refuse to pay for treatments that
they believe are unwarranted. Unfortunately, most healthcare insurers today
have incentives to behave in a short-sighted and niggardly fashion toward
insureds, most of whom cannot change insurers, and whose deaths would benefit
insurers’ shareholders.

            PPACA does not develop better ways
of mitigating the costs associated with any of those three types of asymmetric
information and in some instances, like abolishing the use of pre-existing
conditions, even exacerbates them. (Some critics argue that its main purpose is
to drive insurers out of business, thereby opening the door to a
government-based healthcare system.) That PPACA does not address key economic
issues is unsurprising given that it was clearly a political solution to what
many took to be a largely, if not purely, political problem. A more economic,
less hubristic approach would be to allow market participants to experiment to
find ways of mitigating the problems of asymmetric information that plague the
healthcare system. That might entail nationwide deregulation of healthcare and
health insurance markets or, more conservatively, the establishment of one or
more healthcare innovation zones (HCIZs) where such experimentation could
lawfully take place. (Judging by reactions to PPACA in some parts of the nation,
there would be no shortage of volunteer states or regions.)

            When free to look after their own
interests, sellers and buyers of simple goods and services are so efficient at
determining equilibrium price, quality, and quantity that only the most
despotic governments intervene in the process, almost invariably with
disastrous results. With more complex services, however, especially those
involving a high degree of asymmetric information, governments become more
heavily involved. The efficacy of government involvement varies depending on
its exact nature but is often sufficiently uncertain to prevent a consensus from
forming, at least among more empirically-driven (less ideologically-driven) policymakers
and wonks. Moreover, the measuring rod against which the current healthcare
system should be measured remains unclear. International comparisons with
Canada, Netherlands, Switzerland, Cuba, and so forth are tricky, as are
historical comparisons to earlier policy regimes.

            Given the obvious power of markets
to solve difficult questions of production and distribution with the protection
of, but without any guidance from, government, nations like the United States
that purport to be dedicated to free market principles ought to compare the
outcomes of regulated and unregulated markets. In other words, it should make its
regulatory regimes compete with more market-based alternatives. (America’s
failure to do this is one cause of otherwise outlandish claims that this policy
or that politician are “socialist.”) Unregulated markets may not be perfect,
but the nation would save tremendous resources, not to mention much angst, if
they prove themselves superior to a regulated status quo. Based on my reading
of the history of healthcare, insurance, and business in America, I believe that
a relatively efficient private healthcare system would emerge if allowed to and
can even speculate about what it might look like.

            First, HCPs and insurers would join
forces in the same company, as many did before the Great Depression, because vertical
integration reduces agency costs by uniting the interests of insurers and
doctors and by reducing incentives to overcharge or over-treat. Throughout
history, U.S. businesses have often merged in order to reduce dependency on
market conditions and align the interests of suppliers and distributors. There
is no obvious economic reason why HCPs and health insurers should not do

            Second, the most successful HCP-insurers
(HCPIs) would be organized as mutuals, or in other words as for-profit
corporations owned by their policyholders. Mutual accident, fire, life, and
health insurers date to the nineteenth century, when elites anxious to help
solve perplexing social problems lent their brains, energies, and expertise to
mutual formation and operation. They acted not to enrich themselves directly –
most were already well-off if not wealthy – but to improve the world in which
they and their families lived by meeting the financial needs of the masses at
the lowest possible cost.

Because non-bank corporations, including
mutuals, were chartered by states, not the federal government, considerable
variation reigned at first. The healthcare and insurance space was further
enriched by the presence of numerous non-profit organizations ranging from free
clinics to fraternal lodges. Even after an initial set of best practices
emerged, ample room for innovators to test new organizational and policy forms
against reality remained until the Great Depression. That great shock destroyed
established institutions and practices and induced the federal government to
favor joint-stock insurers and employer-based group policies, the flawed system
left largely intact by PPACA.

Mutuals often dominated important
segments of the insurance industry because their organizational form contains
intrinsic incentives to provide safe, low-cost, long-term contracts. Mutual life
insurers, for example, offer participating whole life policies that repay
premiums to policyholders (in the form of so-called dividends) when mortality,
expense, and/or investment returns prove better than expected. Lacking
shareholders eager for short-term stock market gains, mutuals share profits
with policyholders and invest safely for the long-term. Most mutual managers
earn far less than their joint-stock peers and see themselves as stewards or
risk managers rather than as risk-taking innovators.

For that very reason, mutuals are often
criticized, sometimes accurately, for being unresponsive to changing market
conditions. The most successful mutual insurers, like Guardian and MassMutual,
stay energetic due to pressure from their sales agents, whose future commission
streams depend upon appropriate policy innovations. The Guardian’s general
agents (GAs), for example, play much the same role as large stockholders do in
joint stock companies. Because their stakes in the mutual insurer cannot be
sold nearly as easily as stocks, however, GAs have more incentive than
stockholders do to encourage projects that maximize long-term value and
minimize inappropriate short-term risks.

The most successful HCPIs would offer participating,
non-cancelable (by the HCPI) policies providing both life and health insurance
(hybrid). The actuarial problems involved in setting premiums for hybrid policies
are non-trivial but not insurmountable (especially if participating policies are
issued) and any additional cost is outweighed by the benefits hybrids would
provide. The life insurance component effectively bonds the HCPI to provide a
level of healthcare rationally consistent with the life insurance benefit. (No
HCPI, for example, would deny a $50,000 surgery with a 95 percent chance of
extending the life of a 40 year old patient for at least two decades if she was
entitled to $1 million in life insurance because the investment returns on the
$1 million and the continuation of premium payments would more than compensate.)
In borderline cases, the HCPI could lower the death benefit in exchange for
added medical care. Such policies would induce people to seek fewer heroic
end-of-life treatments, which are currently a large portion of healthcare
expenditures, because the costs would fall palpably and directly on their
children and other life insurance beneficiaries.

Mutual HCPIs issuing hybrid policies
would have strong incentives to minimize costs without endangering patient
health. They would increase the number of qualified doctors and other
providers, rationally allocate patients to the proper provider (e.g., nurse
practitioner or physician’s assistant for simpler diagnoses), and provide
policyholders with high levels of quality preventative care, rendering the
government’s food pyramid, anti-smoking initiatives, and other preventative
health programs unnecessary once again. Those incentives would be strengthened
even further if patients received premium discounts during periods of illness.

            If left to their own devices, HCPIs
would minimize adverse selection by issuing individual policies in utero,
before any health screenings. Most parents would voluntarily purchase such
policies for their unborn children because they would be cheaper than any
issued thereafter, especially for children who turned out to have health
problems. Abortion, contraception, gender reassignment, and other sensitive
medical issues would all be left private, matters for policyholders and HCPIs
to work out amongst themselves and not targets for politicians or pundits.

Again, the conjectures proffered
here are based on precedents from U.S. business history, especially the history
of mutual life and health insurers. Healthcare and its insurance is humbling due
to its complexity so HCPIs issuing hybrid policies in utero may or may not work.
Under current policy, however, Americans will never know because nobody can
lawfully test them, or any other healthcare-insurance innovations for that
matter, in real markets. Without HCIZs, policymakers and their ostensible
bosses, the American people, are effectively flying blind when it comes to
healthcare reform. PPACA may not crash and burn; future court decisions,
reforms, loopholes, or just plain luck may save it. Nobody should be surprised,
however, if it fails to lower healthcare costs or improve outcomes. When costs
reach 25 or 33 percent of GDP, will the federal government finally allow
healthcare entrepreneurs to (re)introduce and test innovative policy and
organizational forms or will it continue to pretend that it can solve major
economic problems with politically-driven policies? Or will it nationalize and
thus further politicize healthcare? Or will Americans continue to sink ever
larger portions of their household budgets into an inefficient system grown too
large and powerful to be reformed?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Financial Management and Budgeting in Business

Importance of Financial Management

Finance is a key functional area of business management. This area is commonly referred to as Financial Management. The term defines the achievement of key financial objectives by making investment and financial decisions. Essentially, it is the management of all the processes associated with the efficient acquisition and deployment of both short and long-term financial resources. Financial Management assists an organisation's management to reach its financial objectives such as the creation of wealth, solvency, liquidity, growth and return on investment achieved through a process of financial planning, control and decision-making.

Financial Control

Financial control consists of different strategies to manage finances necessary to achieve the primary purpose of every business; which is to earn profit. Budgets are the traditional financial control method and provide a measuring basis which performance can be assessed. By engaging in a yearly budgeting process a business can make plans and forecasts for the year ahead. Control action should be taken when actual performance appears not to be matching the outline of the budget. Therefore by monthly monitoring of expenses, controlling methods can be put into place when expenses becoming higher than figures stated in budget (such as spending cut backs or extra working hours). And by determining the reasons why figures do not match the yearly budget plan, a business can therefore make necessary plans for this not to occur in the future. Monthly monitoring of expenses is another example of a financial control. Such data includes cash balance, total wages costs and hours worked key sources of income, unusual or above budget expenditures.

Three Main Financial Statements

The 3 main financial statements necessary to analysis and improve on finance viability:

1) Balance sheet - 'A statement of financial position that shows the assets of a business and the claims on those assets'

2) Income Statement - 'A financial statement (also known as profit and loss account) that measures and reports the profit (or loss) the business has generated during a period.'

3) The cash flow statement - 'A statement that shows the sources and uses of cash for a period'

By analysing these three financial statements on a regular basis a business can proactively forecast problems or opportunities before they arise. The 3 main financial statements are also considered as financial controls as these statements are used to understand and interpret the financial conditions of a business as a means of management and control. The statements enable a business to set guidelines and policies that enable growth and business success. An annual Profit and Loss statement is considered the most important financial statement and UK businesses are legally required to lodge a Profit & Loss Account with Companies House. In regards to cash flow, cash inflows are payments for products or services and interest on savings and investments. Cash outflows are a combination of many things including purchasing stock, daily operating expenses, fixed assets and government taxes. A business is also required to produce a balance sheet annually for reporting purposes. It provides a report of assets or liabilities.

Budgeting and Budgetary Control

A budget as a qualified statement, for a defined period of time, which may include planned revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities and cash flows. It is a short-term plan of working towards financial objectives. There are several styles of budgeting, these styles include -

* Fixed - does not allow for variations

* Flexible - Adjusts or flexes

* Continuous or rolling - continually amended

* Zero-based - needs assessed

* Incremental - uses previous budget with increment

Budgets are necessary to provide a basis for control, helping identify short-term problems and promote forward thinking. However, there is a need for budgets to be adaptable if they become unrealistic due to sudden changes in the business environment. This is known as 'Flexing the Budget' (which simply means revising the budget).

A variance report is required to indicate whether performance is below or above the budgeted level. It is the difference between the budgeted level of costs and revenue and the actual levels of costs and revenues also referred to as variance analysis. Budgets can also have a behavioural effect motivating the management team and staff to achieve better performance and help promote forward thinking.

Effective Business Planning

A business plan is made up of many elements but no business plan is complete without this financial information. For business planning to be effective, the budget and the three main financial statements (Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet and the cash flow statement) must be taken into consideration. A financial statement is the core of a business plan as they are used to identify various business strategies. Financial planning is interlinked with all elements of a business plan. Five key strategic plans interlinked with a budget (plan); 1) establishing mission and objectives, 2) undertaking a position analysis, 3) identifying and assess the strategy options, 4) selecting strategic options, 5) perform, review and control. By taking all of these elements into considering, a business can create an effective business plan containing financial data and projections.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Paying for College – Your Award Letter

Sallie Mae just released a study conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs titled “How America Pays for College 2012”. The burden is shifting to the student, up from 25% in 2009 to now 34% in 2012.  As a student, after you complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and send it to your school, the school will send you an award letter, stating scholarships, grantos, work study, and amount available through federal subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. As you start the fall semester, it is a good time to start paying on your student loans. How are you going to pay?

If you borrow money for college, you should take advantage of subsidized federal student loans before unsubsidized federal and tap private student loans as a last resort. The difference between these options is that the interest of a subsidized student loan does not accumulate until you are done with school while the interest in an unsubsidized student loan starts to accumulate while you are still in college. Private student loans have the highest interest rate; the interest and payments start immediately. But, should you borrow all you can while in college?

To me, the answer is ‘No’ to borrowing. Take full advantage of grants and scholarships – you don’t have to pay those back, but be careful of how much you borrow. Loans have to be repaid. If you don’t need it, don’t borrow it. This will require you to create and stick to a year-long budget. Once you create a budget, you can determine how much you will need to borrow for college. You can also work on campus through work-study programs which will help reduce the amount you need to borrow.

With total student loan borrowing exceeding total credit card borrowing in the United States, as a student, you will want to take a hard look at how much you should borrow for your education. Student loan money is not free money and the less you borrow, the less you will have to pay back. Complete a budget for college and seriously consider how much you need tn borrow when you get your awards letter from your school. I challenge you not to take your full award if you have to borrow on subsidized, unsubsidized or private student loan. However, if you need the money to stay in college, borrow the minimum amount so you can graduate on time.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Importance of Finance For Non-Financial Managers

There are companies who are willing to have their employees be enrolled in courses that can help them gain a better understanding of the different aspects of the business. In this way, they too can have a grasp of where other departments are coming from, especially during meetings with different departments. And there are actually courses that can help employees gain basic knowledge about different areas of the business. One example of this are courses on finance for non-financial managers. Non-financial managers can truly learn a lot from this kind of course, especially in terms of having a better understand of different financial concepts.

It can prove to be quite helpful for non-financial managers to have knowledge about finance and accounting, especially that these two areas are quite significant in any kind of business. Through a course on finance for non-financial managers, they would be able to better understand the different concepts of finance and accounting, and use the knowledge in these concepts to make better decisions for the company that involve finances. And it can be good to note that this kind of lessons is especially designed to help managers who do not have backgrounds in the fields of finance and accounting.

One can expect that while enrolled in this kind of course, one can be given a crash course on the basic concepts and terms involved in finance and accounting, including trial balancing, financial decision-making models, cash flows, fixed assets, depreciation, budgeting, and financial strategies. But there is no need to worry, especially those who do not have a basic knowledge of these terms and concepts because these courses are designed to be easily understandable by people who are quite new to the world of finance and accounting.

Finance for non-financial managers can be seen as a great way to improve the skills and abilities of non financial managers, especially if the company places much value on leadership that gets results. This kind of course can help equip non financial managers so they too can better understand what financial reports really mean.

Through having an understanding of reports made by accountants and financial experts, managers will be able to better interact during management meetings as they can now make comments that they believe would be helpful in improving the of work being delivered by accountants. In the same manner, they will also be able to foresee financial problems that might develop in the future, enabling them to develop control measures to so these problems can be avoided.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Who Do You Trust?

Peregrine Financial Group and a missing $200 million? Cedar Falls, Iowa, the Heartland, where corn is tall and people are honest. It's of small towns where people leave their keys in their cars and they don't lock their front doors. Embezzlement of this nature happens in New York, Greece, but not in Iowa.

Peregrine Financial Group was an Iowa-based brokerage firm and the CEO allegedly used $200 million of his clients’ money to keep the business going. He attempted suicide and confessed to embezzling in his suicide note.

If this can happen in Iowa, it can happen in your neighborhood and with you investment counselor. I do not want to imply that all financial advisors are dishonest, but the few bad ones remind us to keep on our toes. A few basic points to keep in mind as you talk to your financial professional:

1. No one is going to be or should be more concerned about your financial wellbeing than you. It is your money and your future. You need to take responsibility for your financial future. This may require you to increase your financial literacy by talking a personal finance class, researching the investment on your own, and being aware of market trends. Don't bury your head in the sand when it comes to financial knowledge - you can learn it, you can do it.

2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. How often have you heard that? If you are making money on your investment and everyone else is losing, it may be time to question your investment broker.

3. Ask questions. If you don't understand an investment or investment strategy, question it. This is a great way to increase your knowledge.

4. Use your BS detector. If an investment doesn't feel right, smell right, and you have an uneasy feeling about it, it may not be the right investment for you.

5. Be aware of the con-artist. The "con" in con-artist stands for confidence. The goal of the con-artist is to get you to trust him or her so he or she can rip you off. Be aware of these phrases: "this is standard language and you don't need to read every detail," "trust me, everyone is doing this." I have a special deal for you that not everyone can have."

Again, it is your money and being knowledgeable about the investment options helps you make wiser investment decisions.