Direct vs Indirect Cash Forecasting: What’s The Difference?

Direct Cash Flow Forecasting And Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting: What Suits Your Business Better?

23 April, 2023
12 mins
Gerry Daly, AVP Product Strategy - Treasury

Table of Content

Key Takeaways
Understanding Direct Cash Flow Forecasting
Understanding Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting
Comparing Direct and Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting
When Should Each Method Be Used?
How to Use Cash Flow Forecasting for Smart Business Decisions
Moving Forward With Cash Flow Management

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t let cash shortages or surpluses catch you off guard – Learn how accurate cash flow forecasting can help you make informed financial decisions.
  • Understand how to pick the right cash flow management method for accurate and reliable forecasts that keep your business on track.
  • Unlock the power of AI-powered cash forecasting for more effective cash flow management: Learn how to get accurate, timely forecasts and visibility into potential risks and opportunities with AI.


In most businesses, finance professionals, especially treasury managers, are tasked with the critical responsibility of overseeing financial operations, maintaining liquidity, and mitigating risks. If you are someone resonating with these responsibilities, one of the key tools in your arsenal needs to be cash flow forecasting- a process that allows you to anticipate and plan for the inflow and outflow of funds.

However, the journey towards accurate cash flow forecasts is paved with choices, one of the most important being the selection between two distinct approaches: direct forecasting and indirect forecasting. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of these approaches, highlighting their differences, benefits, challenges, and best practices. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of which method suits your company’s needs and how to leverage it to enhance your cash flow forecasting capabilities.

Understanding Direct Cash Flow Forecasting

Direct cash flow forecasting is the process of predicting how much money you will get and spend in the future. This method of forecasting helps you track the cash that comes in (Ex. sales) and the cash that goes out (Ex. expenses and debts) and helps you decide if you’ll have enough money for a certain period. 

While direct cash flow forecasting will provide you with reliable insights for a limited timeframe, it’s mostly effective when combined with long-term cash flow forecasting techniques for comprehensive financial planning.

Methods for Direct Cash Flow Forecasting

Below are two very popular methods to perform direct cash flow forecasting.


  1. Analysis of Upcoming Receipts: Using this method, you need to analyze the expected cash inflows from customers based on the invoices, purchase orders, and agreements you have had with them.
  2. Analysis of Payments: In this second method, you need to analyze the expected outflows of cash to vendors and other obligations that you might have.

Benefits of Direct Cash Flow Forecasting

The direct method of forecasting is not only easy to use but also helps you quickly spot and fix any issues with cash flow before they turn into problems. Let’s look at some of its advantages:


  1. Accuracy: Direct forecasting relies on real data, therefore it ensures a highly accurate cash flow prediction that helps you plan financials better.
  2. Real-Time Insights: Since this method of forecasting depends on current financial activities, you gain the ability to respond quickly to any unexpected changes.
  3. Detailed Insights: Direct forecasting gives a detailed, granular understanding of the cash inflows and outflows, and helps you manage cash effectively.
  4. Operational Transparency: Direct forecasting provides a clear view of your company’s financial health and operational efficiency, and helps you with decision-making and strategic planning.

Limitations of Direct Cash Flow Forecasting

Although direct cash flow forecasting has its benefits, some limitations can make it hard to understand how accurate your financial situation would be in the long run. Here are a few limitations to keep in mind:


  1. Data Complexity: When you’re using direct forecasting, you’ll need a strong financial setup to handle the collection and processing of real-time transaction data effectively.
  2. Fluctuations: Keep in mind that uncertainties in the market and economy could potentially make your cash flow forecasting inaccurate. 
  3. Inaccuracies: Mistakes in recording transactions could also compromise the accuracy of the projected cash flows.
  4. Short-Term Focus: Direct forecasting tends to be more geared toward immediate insights, so for long-term financial planning, you might need to consider other approaches that offer a broader perspective.

Understanding Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting

Indirect cash flow forecasting helps you look at your money differently by taking your past financial data such as sales, expenses, assets, debts, and ownership value into consideration. It even considers how things such as depreciation (when things you own become less valuable) affect your money over time.

However, this way of forecasting is more complicated than the direct method, since you have to carefully study your financial statements, make educated guesses, and create a balance sheet that helps you figure out how your cash would change over time.

Methods for Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting

There are mainly three indirect forecasting methods widely used- Adjusted Net Income (ANI), Pro Forma Balance Sheet (PBS), and Accrual Reversal Method (ARM). Now, each of these methods has good things and not-so-good things, so you need to choose the one that works best for your business.


  1. Adjusted Net Income Method: When you use the Adjusted Net Income Method, you begin with the money your business has made, called net income. Then, you add back things that aren’t actual money going out, like money you’ve set aside for later but haven’t paid yet. This helps you see how much real money you’re going to have.
  2. Pro Forma Balance Sheet Method: With the Pro Forma Balance Sheet Method, you look at specific parts of your financial records, like how much money people owe you and how much you owe to others. By comparing these changes, you can figure out how much money you’re likely to get or spend.
  3. Accrual Reversal Method: This method changes the way you look at your financial records. Instead of counting money when it’s promised, you only count it when it’s actually in your hands. This helps you see exactly how much real cash is moving in and out.

Benefits of Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting

If your business has a complex revenue structure and a lot of transactions, indirect cash flow forecasting could be a great way to get an accurate picture of your cash flow over time.


  1. Long-Term View: Indirect forecasting helps you visualize your cash flow over a longer time, giving you a clearer view of your future financial needs and where things might be heading.
  2. Strategic Insights: This method gives you cash flow patterns and helps you with long-term planning, so you can make smarter decisions for the future.
  3. Less Data Dependence: This is handy when you don’t have real-time numbers available. In situations where getting lots of detailed data is tough, indirect forecasting can still give you good information. 
  4. Non-Cash Elements: Indirect forecasting also helps you in understanding how things that aren’t actual money, like payment promises and deals, affect your real cash flow.

Limitations of Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting

Even though the indirect method of cash flow forecasting has its benefits, it also has some limitations to consider. Depending on how complicated your business is, using the direct forecasting method might be a better choice. Here are some things to remember about the limitations of the indirect method:


  1. Inaccuracies: Indirect forecasting assumes consistent relationships between non-cash items and cash flows, which might not hold true in all cases.
  2. Lack of Precision: It might not catch quick changes in your cash flow as well as direct forecasting does, especially for short-term situations.
  3. Limited Details: Indirect forecasting doesn’t give you specific details about where your cash is coming from or going.
  4. Accounting Guesses: How accurate this is depends on the guesses accountants make about how money connects, so it can be tricky if those guesses aren’t right.

Comparing Direct and Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting

Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Direct forecasting excels in accuracy and real-time insights, while indirect forecasting offers simplicity and broader strategic perspectives. The choice between the two depends on your organization’s financial structure, industry, data availability, and forecasting goals.


Direct Cash Flow Forecasting

Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting

Time Horizon

Short-term (Immediate to a few months)

Both short-term and long-term planning

What Should it Show?

Transaction-level cash inflows and outflows

Overall trends and expected cash flow changes

How is it Constructed?

Analyzing upcoming receipts and payments

Adjusting net income or using balance sheet data


1. Real-time accuracy

1. Long term view


2. Real-time insights

2. Strategic Insights


3. Detailed operational insights

3. Useful in data-limited scenarios


4. Operational transparency

4. Highlighting non-cash impacts on cash flows


1. Data complexity

1. Assumes consistent relationships


2. Susceptible to market uncertainties

2. May lack short-term accuracy


3. Potential errors in data recording

3. Less granularity in specific cash flows


4. Short-term focus

4. Relies on underlying accounting assumptions

When Should Each Method Be Used?

Think about how big and complicated your business is before you pick a forecasting method. If your business is small and you haven’t had lots of money coming in, using direct forecasting might be good. But if your business is complicated or has lots of different money things happening, indirect forecasting could be better.

Look at what your business needs and what information you have. If you need to know about money in the short term or you don’t have old money papers, direct forecasting might work. But if you want to see what your money will be like in the long run and you have lots of details, then indirect forecasting is a better choice.

If you’re not sure which way is best, get help from a professional. Someone who knows a lot about money and business, like a CFO can look at your business and tell you which method will work best.

Alternatively, you can also choose to use both methods together. Combining both methods can provide a comprehensive view of cash flow dynamics. Direct forecasting can offer short-term accuracy, while indirect forecasting can contribute to long-term strategic insights.


How to Use Cash Flow Forecasting for Smart Business Decisions

Cash flow forecasting is one of the most powerful ways to safeguard your business. It not only helps you predict cash flow but also gives insights needed to make the right decisions. Here are some ways cash flow forecasting helps you with smart decision-making:


  1. Liquidity Management: Cash flow forecasts guide the allocation of funds to ensure your organization has enough liquidity to cover expenses.
  2. Investment Opportunities: Accurate forecasts can help you identify optimal investment options without affecting day-to-day operations.
  3. Debt Management: Predicted cash inflows can be used to plan debt repayment strategies efficiently.
  4. Budgeting and Planning: Forecasts enable precise budget creation, aligning expenditures with expected cash inflows.
  5. Risk Management: Identifying potential cash shortfalls can help you devise contingency plans and risk mitigation strategies.


Moving Forward With Cash Flow Management

Managing cash flow as a business grows is super important. You want to make sure you’ve got enough money to cover expenses and invest in growth. This is where HighRadius Comes in. HighRadius’ AI-based Cash Forecasting Software helps you predict your cash flow accurately. It connects with your bank and financial systems to gather data automatically and helps you make better financial choices while keeping your business on the success track.

Here’s how HighRadius’ Cash forecasting Software could help you.

  1. Plan for the Unknown with AI Scenarios: Our software helps you see what might happen in different situations. So, if things get shaky in the market, you can adjust your plans to avoid running out of cash. 
  2. Smart Decisions for More Profits: Our software looks at cash trends and predicts where things are headed. This means you can make smart choices about how to use your money and boost your profits.
  3. No More Guesswork with Automation: Our software takes the guesswork out of comparing forecasts, budgets, and real results. It helps you figure out what’s working and what’s not. Plus, you can zoom in on different areas to find hidden cash opportunities. 

In today’s fast-changing economy, using AI-based cash management software is a no-brainer. It’s always improving, getting better at predicting cash flow using real-time info. This makes it super reliable. Plus, it saves you time and stress by handling the tricky parts of money management. So, if you want your business to thrive no matter what’s going on, embracing AI-based software for cash forecasting is the way to go. Wish to learn more? Check out HighRadius Cash Forecasting Software.



How do you do a cash flow forecast?

To create a cash flow forecast, project expected inflows and outflows of cash over a specific period. Estimate income sources (sales, investments) and outgoing expenses (supplies, bills). Deduct outflows from inflows to predict cash fluctuations and ensure adequate liquidity. Update and adjust regularly for accuracy.

How do you calculate indirect cash flow?

Indirect cash flow is calculated by adjusting net income with non-cash expenses, changes in working capital, and other operating activities. It starts with net income and then incorporates changes in balance sheet accounts to derive the actual cash flow from operating activities.

What is the best way to forecast cash flow?

The best way to forecast cash flow involves analyzing historical data, projecting future income and expenses, considering market trends, and adjusting for potential uncertainties. Utilizing financial software and consulting with experts can enhance the accuracy and reliability of the forecast. Regularly reviewing and updating the forecast is crucial for effectiveness.

Do most companies use direct or indirect cash flow?

Most companies use the indirect method for presenting their cash flow statements, as it provides a reconciliation between net income and cash flow from operating activities. This method is preferred due to its simplicity and alignment with standard accounting practices.

Which is better: direct or indirect cash flow?

There’s no inherently better choice between direct and indirect cash flow methods; both provide insights into a company’s financial health. The direct method shows cash inflows and outflows directly, while the indirect method adjusts net income. Businesses often use indirect due to simplicity, but direct offer more detailed information.

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