2021 Is Worse Than 2020 For Consumer Goods A/R Departments

26 July, 2021
4 min read
Brett Johnson, AVP, Global Enablement
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What you'll learn

  • Get a fresh outlook on how and why 2021 year could end up being more difficult than 2020 for CPG A/R teams
  • Identify the four challenges that CPG companies should look out for and what could they mean for A/R teams
  • Understand how slow adoption of technology could slacken the growth of consumer companies in the post-pandemic world
Decrease in demand
Delayed Inventory to Cash Conversion
Disrupted Market Conditions
Slow Adoption of Technology
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2020 was an extremely difficult year for the consumer goods industry. In the early months of the pandemic, major CPG companies saw a steep rise in demand owing to global lockdowns and the general public’s tendency to stock products in the face of uncertainty. Most of these companies could not keep up with this rise in demand and ended up with cleaned-out inventories. Remember the time when there was no toilet paper or sanitizers available in your nearest Walmart? Yeah, we are talking about that time.

As per a study: in these early months of the pandemic, the average sales volume spiked up to 10-20% across businesses, in contrast to the modest 1.8% in the previous years.

Now that we are in 2021, however, things are different. But are they really “good” different? With the world, a little bit more in order than it was amidst the chaos of 2020, most CPG organizations today are experiencing a decline in demand. While this is bad news for everyone, HighRadius spoke with A/R practitioners at 20+ leading CPG companies to dive deep into what this means for their department. Should they shift their focus to a certain task? Or should they explore different sales channels? Read on to learn more about our findings.

With continued loss of business, the Accounts Receivable (A/R) departments are facing increased pressure from executives to optimize working capital and collect past-due receivables. Increased awareness of potential roadblocks towards attaining these goals and conscious, proactive action is the only way ahead for the A/ R leaders today.

In summary, we understood that 2021 might be a more difficult year for CPG A/R practitioners than even 2020. Below are a few key concerns that our practitioners spoke about which brought us to this conclusion:

  1. Decrease in demand
  2. Delayed inventory-to-cash conversion
  3. Disrupted market conditions
  4. Slow adoption of technology

Decrease in demand

As a result of panic buying, companies dealing in essential goods such as sanitizers, toilet papers, packaged food, and office equipment experienced a tremendous surge in demand in the first few months of 2020. As inventories started cleaning up, many of these organizations put a lot of money into producing a high volume of products to keep up with the market. This continued until the last months of 2020 in a few cases.

Now, in 2021 however, consumers are more rational while shopping and panic-buying are not as prevalent. This means that CPG companies are expecting a decline in demand and sales for goods they invested a lot of money in producing.

What does it mean for the A/R department? 

The decline in demand would negatively impact the company’s revenue. As a means to make up for this loss, A/R departments will face high pressure from executives to collect past-due receivables, prevent revenue leakage via deductions and maintain a steady cash flow.

In order to collect receivables effectively, A/R leaders will not only have to drive better visibility to identify in real-time where receivables are stuck, but they will also have to figure out the appropriate technology and automation for tactical A/R tasks so that larger mindshare of the A/R team can be deployed towards collections. Practitioners also need to come up with a solid strategy to tackle the ever high volume of deductions in the CPG industry to minimize revenue loss.

Also Read: Revenue leakage reiterates the need for better deductions management in the consumer goods industry.

Delayed Inventory to Cash Conversion

The spike in demand for certain goods such as health and office essentials in 2020 led to the gradual rise in inventory levels for essential consumer goods manufacturers. With demand going down in 2021, the inventories are now overstocked. A stuck inventory means a significant delay in cash inflow. Moreover, it also contributes to an increase in the cost of carrying inventory. The decline in sales of goods with limited shelf-life directly affects the revenue as they need to be written off after a certain period.

What does it mean for the A/R department?

While they can’t do much to directly create an impact on the inventory levels, A/R executives can help drive sales further to clean the inventory faster and drive cash conversion. A/R teams need to closely collaborate with sales in helping them identify customer segments that are relatively low-risk and have available credit limits as potential targets for driving sales. Since credit segmentation and decision making require a good amount of human decision making and depth, this would require A/R analysts to be freed up on the repetitive, clerical work such as cash application or claims aggregation.

Disrupted Market Conditions

Since March 2020, uncertainty has become the new normal. One would expect that with a year and a half into the crisis, things would be looking better by now. But according to experts, that is far from the truth. While it is true that in some areas, companies have adapted well to disruption (such as remote working), there are other areas where things are still not looking up. The challenge is more evident in global businesses, who have different business units impacted to varying degrees and recovering at different speeds.

For example, while businesses that were regional to US (production and supply were all in the same country) had a good Q1 in 2021, many CPG organizations which had raw materials being sourced from eastern countries, or had shared service centers there were negatively impacted due to the second wave of the pandemic wreaking havoc in this part of the world in the first few months of 2021. Recovery all through 2021 would continue to occur at varying speeds, and disruption irregularities would exist at least for the remaining half of this year.

What does it mean for the A/R department?

The ability to forecast the future using the available customer and payments data becomes the greatest asset for organizations in an era of uncertainty. A/R teams today must be able to predict the impact of disrupting market trends on the overall business and make strategic recommendations to partner finance and non-finance functions to help the company emerge successful by the end of 2021.

A/R departments should frequently track information such as the following: Are more and more companies becoming delinquent? Are we getting paid in time? What line of business is most of our revenue coming from? What line of goods/products is completely out of demand? By getting a hold of this information, A/R can help partner teams such as sales, treasury and customer success to proactively take action, pivot strategies, and minimize loss to business despite disrupted supply chain and market conditions.

Also Read: Real-time credit risk monitoring by HighRadius allows credit departments to get real-time updates on the customer credit information.

Slow Adoption of Technology

While the CPG industry changed at the speed of light amidst the pandemic, most practitioners believe that their organizational processes and systems have become obsolete quite quickly in the digital acceleration that happened in 2020. Enterprise CPG companies, which usually have a slow adoption for technology, and long implementation periods, are therefore not in a great spot in 2021, stuck between needing next-gen technology and working with legacy, CRUD systems, especially in the back office. Today’s need is to adopt new technology that would help deliver value in the post-pandemic era of  Direct to customer services, eCommerce, and customer-centricity.

What does it mean for the A/R department?

The A/R teams of major CPG companies need to leverage technology to quickly adapt to the new “digital” landscape of the CPG world. a.) A/R teams need to implement robust automation solutions that eliminate a lot of manual work required while working with large eCommerce companies (such as Amazon) from whom most consumers are buying today. Many of these giants are infamous for their claims and dispute practices, which A/R reps can tackle easily while working with an advanced AI-powered automation solution. Also Read: How Robots Score 5-0 Vs. Amazon in the Dispute Resolution Challenge b.) AR teams must be ready to create interfaces with the company’s own order management and eCommerce portal (which have become more common in the last year) than they were ever before systems. They also need to review credit applications for orders being placed online in real-time and figure out how to apply payments being made through integrated payment portals. c.) A/R teams will have to explore and deploy the right digital tools within their team to capture remittance details automatically, invoice payment status, claims documents from third-party portals which are becoming increasingly common to send for retail A/P departments. In conclusion, any A/R leader who is optimistic about 2021 and expecting things to go back to the pre-pandemic normal is in for a shock. A lasting outcome of the pandemic would be a shift in how businesses innovate. The pulse of consumers across the world has changed drastically as they are more focused on the buying experience and convenience. CPG organizations need to reinvent digitally and ensure that their organization does not go down the wrong curve in 2021 by implementing these three tips while strategizing for the upcoming quarters of the year.

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