Faltering supply chains and cashflow concerns
In the UK, COVID-related restrictions are most definitely a thing of the past. However, the protests in China at the end of last year were a stark reminder of the country’s ongoing zero-COVID policy and the restricted freedom of movement. Without getting involved in the human rights dimension of this issue, China’s zero-COVID policy continues to impact global supply chains. While it’s true that businesses are adapting, they’re doing so by holding more raw materials and finished products for longer — and moving away from just-in-time production.
This has implications for cash flow and, therefore, for finance teams. Indeed, cash flow is one of the biggest contributors to company closure and bankruptcy. For this reason, I suggest that finance teams pay even closer attention to order books, delivery schedules, balance sheets, and invoices to avoid unplanned and unmanageable shortfalls.
Price rises and greener spending decisions
With the Energy Bill Relief Scheme for households due end of February, it’s worth reiterating that businesses did not receive any equivalent support — and there are no commercial energy price caps. This has made for a tough winter and many difficult decisions — often based on intelligence gathered, interpreted and presented by finance teams.
It’s difficult not to let emotions get involved when sharing data that could lead to job cuts, office closures and other hard choices. But my advice would be to present the information logically, accurately and responsibly to make the right decisions — and then help the business to grow stronger and more resilient.
While the war in Ukraine plays a significant part in keeping fuel and energy prices high, a lack of long-term planning around the UK’s energy security policies has left us more vulnerable than we might otherwise be to global market price fluctuations. Moving away from fossil fuels and continuing our commitment to net zero is admirable — and, in my view, essential. Finance teams may feel that this falls outside their remit. But it’s possible to effect small changes that can have a significant impact — for example, making the economic case for switching to 100% renewable energy tariffs and championing hybrid/electric vehicles.
Inflationary pressures and back-to-basics accounting
The biggest problem for the remainder of this year still comes from inflationary pressures. This ongoing financial uncertainty means accounting and finance teams need to get back to basics: Are you running finance and accounting systems that can cope with change while also monitoring gross margins, month-on-month profitability, costs, and overheads? Do you have access to reporting capabilities — potentially through big data analysis — to help identify heat graphs, visualise where changes are happening, and make early interventions when necessary?
As the year progresses, this ability to analyse and interpret large amounts of data will be even more crucial for making informed financial decisions and presenting findings promptly, clearly and concisely to senior managers. This will be key to navigating the year ahead because, as Stripe, Amazon, Meta, and Twitter are demonstrating right now, it’s not just important to have a good business; you’ve got to run a good company for it to succeed in the long term.
We haven’t talked about the ongoing skills shortage across our industry. But I’d like to see this addressed in 2023 by more positive encouragement and support to improve diversity within finance and accounting teams. This isn’t a short-term fix, but if we make genuine in-roads here, our industry and society will be all the better.
More widely, I hope that as 2023 progresses, some financial pressures will begin to subside. Raw materials may decrease in price as economies are depressed by inflationary and recessionary impacts. Therefore, the cost of commodities and raw materials could be lower, so products and services could come down in price.
But ultimately, who really knows what will happen during the rest of 2023! Last year, we didn’t know there would be a war in Ukraine, and many people didn’t see the energy crisis coming. So, there will most likely be plenty of unknowns to negotiate as we travel through the year. But close financial monitoring and management will keep you ahead of the problems, allowing you to adapt before the circumstances become irrecoverable.
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