This eBook highlights the top 13 critical Key Performance Indicators(KPIs) that will help finance executives to optimize working capital and streamline cash flow by prioritizing the important focus areas. It comprises more than 500 finance initiatives and shares actionable insights for leaders to achieve an agile business function in 2023.
Why it is important to leverage A/R for healthy financial operations
Working capital and cash flow directly influence day-to-day operations. A/R has a direct impact on the liquidity of a company as highlighted in the following examples:
An efficient collections process – one with the least DSO and minimum Bad Debt – leads to higher gross margins for the company.
The most evident pain-point of A/R processes is getting a grasp on what is going on. Due to a lack of standardized business processes, it is difficult to monitor the performance across processes. There is no transparency for tracking the productivity of analysts. Finance Execs cannot track:
Not knowing about the A/R operations, it is difficult to figure out what corrective actions need to be taken.
Sometimes only observing metrics doesn’t give the entire picture into the productivity of the processes. In the case of a high DSO, to identify if its origin is associated with collections or credit, it is necessary to drill-down on the productivity of each process.
Executives are busy and need to look at the end to end performance of finance and not just individual functions. They are often burdened with too much information which leads to analysis-paralysis. Hence, monitoring metrics that are suited to their own domain of business, business size and industry is paramount to run the business profitably.
Reporting is usually time-consuming and is done once in a month or a quarter. Plenty of time and resources are lost just to collate the data and prepare reports, but by the time the reports come in, the executives are in essence dealing with data that is at least a few weeks old.
Running a business is increasingly complex and finance leaders need to be up to date on the latest data and be nimble enough to apply course corrections without waiting for the quarter-end or the year-end. Real-time data on working capital, cash conversion cycle, DSO and bad-debt should be readily available without depending on analysts to prepare reports.
In this section, we will discuss the 13 metrics that every finance executive should rely on to run the business smoothly and profitably. Each metric either falls into the performance bucket, a measure of the process, or the productivity bucket where the focus will be on the efficiency of people.
Every business tries to collect receivables as fast as possible while delaying paying A/P until the due date. Suppliers produce with cash, sell on credit and again collect in cash. The cash conversion cycle(CCC) looks at the amount of time needed to sell inventory, collect receivables and pay bills without incurring penalties.
𝐶𝑎𝑠ℎ 𝐶𝑜𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝐶𝑦𝑐𝑙𝑒 = 𝐷𝑎𝑦𝑠 𝑆𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑠 𝑂𝑢𝑡𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 + 𝐷𝑎𝑦𝑠 𝐼𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑦 𝑂𝑢𝑡𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 − 𝐷𝑎𝑦𝑠 𝑃𝑎𝑦𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑂𝑢𝑡𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔
“As a rule, lower CCC is better and it should be calculated at regular intervals and benchmarked within the industry. Rising CCC should be tackled by focusing on the three parameters to identify the root cause.”
Lower Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) directly leads to a lower CCC. Lower DSO can be achieved by setting the right credit terms with policies and speeding up the conversion of receivables. Companies are leveraging techniques and best-practices including electronic invoicing for fast, accurate invoice delivery, automated and prioritized collection processes and improved credit scoring systems to collect faster.
Lower CCC leads to better working capital. Benchmarking against peers is useful as a lower CCC indicates that the organization’s processes in A/R and A/P are very strong. It should also be taken into consideration that CCC is valid only for retail companies or companies that sell products such as CPG, Automobiles and Electronics companies. This metric will not serve service provider companies such as Consulting, Staffing, Banking.
CCC should be calculated at regular intervals and compared with competitors. Rising CCC should be tackled by giving individuals focus on the three parameters to identify the root cause.
Working capital is the difference between a company’s current assets and current liabilities. It calculates whether a company has enough liquid assets to pay its bills that will be due in a year. When a company has sufficient current assets, that amount can be used to spend on its daily operations. Current assets, such as cash and equivalents, inventory, accounts receivable and marketable securities, are resources a company owns that can be converted into cash within a year. Current liabilities are the amount of money a company owes such as accounts payable, short-term loans and accrued expenses, which are due for payment within a year.
𝑊𝑜𝑟𝑘𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝐶𝑎𝑝𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑙 = 𝐶𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝐴𝑠𝑠𝑒𝑡𝑠 − 𝐶𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝐿𝑖𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑒𝑠
“Insufficient levels of working capital might cause financial stress on a company leading to borrowing loans, late payments to banks and suppliers thereby resulting in a lowered credit rating.”
Working capital can be used to forecast plausible financial difficulties that may arise. Insufficient levels of working capital might cause financial stress on a company leading to borrowing loans, late payments to banks and suppliers thereby resulting in a lowered credit rating. A low credit rating leads to higher interest rates from banks and obstacles in doing business.
Accounts Receivables is an integral component in current assets. For B2B industries, it is important to have positive working capital. This means A/R should be secured as fast as possible with the least amount written off as bad debt.
Better Working Capital can also be achieved by lowering the Current liabilities, which could be lowered by faster accounts receivable turnover thereby reducing the need to borrow.
For B2C companies with high inventory turnover rates, negative working capital won’t affect much since they generate cash very quickly. In contrast, B2B companies that operate on credit can’t raise cash instantly. For them having sufficient working capital is beneficial to avoid falling under tough financial adversities.
The Cash Asset Ratio (or current ratio) is a liquidity ratio that measures a company’s ability to pay short-term obligations. It is calculated as a company’s Total Current Assets divides by its Total Current Liabilities.
𝐶𝑎𝑠ℎ 𝐴𝑠𝑠𝑒𝑡 𝑅𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜 = 𝑇𝑜𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝐶𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝐴𝑠𝑠𝑒𝑡𝑠/𝑇𝑜𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝐶𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝐿𝑖𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑒𝑠
“Acceptable cash asset ratios vary across industries and are generally between 1 and 3 for healthy businesses”
As discussed earlier, A/R is an integral part of current assets. An efficient collection process coupled with a liberal credit policy leads to a higher Cash Asset Ratio.
The cash asset ratio can give a sense of the efficiency of a company’s operating cycle or its ability to turn inventory into cash. Companies facing problems in collecting receivables or long inventory turnover might land into liquidity problems. Acceptable cash asset ratios vary across industries and are generally between 1 and 3 for healthy businesses.
The higher the cash asset ratio, the more likely the company is of paying its obligations. A ratio under 1 suggests that the company would be unable to pay off its obligations if they came due at that point. Given all other parameters constant, a creditor waiting to be paid in the next 12 months would prefer a high cash asset ratio because the company is more likely to meet its liabilities.
Days Sales Outstanding (or DSO) is the value of receivables outstanding or waiting to be collected from customers, expressed in the equivalent number of days of revenue
𝐷𝑎𝑦𝑠 𝑆𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑠 𝑂𝑢𝑡𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 = (𝐴𝑐𝑐𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑠 𝑅𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒/𝐶𝑟𝑒𝑑𝑖𝑡 𝑆𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑠) × 𝑁𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟 𝑜𝑓 𝐷𝑎𝑦𝑠
“Reducing DSO can be attributed to frequent credit reviews of high-risk customers, boosting electronic payment adoption among customers, automated electronic invoice generation and strategic collections techniques”
As we have discussed above, DSO is relevant to both CCC and Working Capital. The lower the DSO is, the more cash is available for investing in other avenues, be it marketing, sales or operations. Reducing DSO can be attributed to frequent credit reviews of high-risk customers, boosting electronic payment adoption among customers, automated electronic invoice generation and strategic collections techniques that involve automated dunning and reminders.
For more information on how ShurTech Brands, Yaskawa Electric and Airgas reduced DSO by 15%, refer to this e-book 9 Proven Strategies to Reduce DSO by 15%.
Different industries have different credit terms and DSO needs to be benchmarked across close industry peers. As a thumb rule though, DSO should be slightly higher (no more than 50%) than the payment terms. To elucidate, if the operating payment terms are of 30 days and payment comes in 45 days, then the company has a decent DSO. A high DSO indicates:
Past due A/R is the amount that is collected after the due date or payment term. While DSO is a performance metric in that it shows how late the collectors collect on an average, past-due and aging buckets allow finance leaders to go deeper and analyze how much A/R is past-due.
“To eliminate past dues, a proactive collection strategy should be in place. identifying when a customer is likely to pay and applying dunning methods according to payment trends of the customer would lead to lower past-due A/R.”
In an ideal world, all receivables are collected on time. But in reality, not all customers belong to the Lannister family (pun intended). Past-due A/R lowers the liquidity of the company and affects the working capital. To eliminate past dues, a proactive collection strategy should be in place. The collectors should act even before the invoice goes overdue. Identifying when a customer is likely to pay and applies dunning methods prioritized according to payment trends of the customer would lower past-due A/R. Sending timely invoices and offering convenient payment options will compel the customers to pay in time.
Past-due A/R denotes the outstanding invoices. It is used as a metric to determine the financial health of a company’s customers. High past dues demonstrate that a company’s receivables are being collected much slower than normal. Higher the past due duration, the less likely it is to be collected and eventually end up as bad debt.
Customers are categorized into Aging Buckets based on the past due duration of A/R, e.g. Past Due 0-30, Past Due 31-60, Past Due 61-90. A customer belonging to a lower aging bucket is low risk and a customer belonging to a higher bucket is high risk.
“According to Atradius, 52% of 90-days past-due invoices are written-off.”
Customer correspondence strategy and account coverage are critical to ensure that most receivables stay current i.e. within payment terms. By employing proactive reminders/early payment discounts before the invoice is due and dunning letters after the invoice is due will largely prevent invoices from aging. Collections departments have to focus on not letting accounts move beyond the 90 days bucket. This is one of the reasons why collections analysts rely on aging buckets to prioritize who to call.
The longer a debt is owed, the less likely it is to be repaid. According to Atradius, 52% of 90-days past-due invoice values are written-off1. Aging Buckets provide insights on identifying the risk category of customers and accordingly take suggested actions. Aging Buckets, however, should not be the only metric for identifying high-risk customers and should be strengthened with credit data, cash application data and deductions data to prioritize collections. Learn more in this webinar – 7 Leaks in Aging Buckets that Inflate Past-due A/R by 130%.
CEI compares how much money was owed to the company and how much of that money was collected in the given time. While DSO and past-due A/R allow leaders to go deeper into delinquent accounts in terms of delays and dollar amounts, CEI takes the tracking a step further to see how the collection department is performing. CEI allows the company to assess how productive their current collections policies and procedures are and whether or not changes need to be made.
𝐶𝐸𝐼 =((𝐵𝑒𝑔𝑖𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒𝑠 + 𝑀𝑜𝑛𝑡ℎ𝑙𝑦 𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑑𝑖𝑡 𝑠𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑠 – 𝐸𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡𝑜𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒𝑠)/(𝐵𝑒𝑔𝑖𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒𝑠 + 𝑀𝑜𝑛𝑡ℎ𝑙𝑦 𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑑𝑖𝑡 𝑠𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑠 – 𝐸𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒𝑠)) × 100
“A low or dropping percentage means it is time to re-evaluate policies on selling on credit and the processes the collectors are following.”
Although CEI if often confused with DSO, they serve different purposes. DSO measures the amount of time it takes to collect on an invoice after it is sent, while CEI measures the effectiveness at collecting invoices. To improve CEI it is important to track A/R reports providing analytics on which collection strategy is the most effective across various customers in different aging buckets.
The closer the resulting percent is to 100% the stronger is the collections processes and policies. A low or dropping percentage means it is time to re-evaluate policies on selling on credit and the processes the collectors are following.
Accounts Receivable Turnover is used to quantify a firm’s effectiveness in extending credit and in collecting debts on that credit. The receivables turnover ratio is an activity ratio measuring how efficiently a firm uses its assets.
The receivables turnover ratio can be calculated by dividing the net value of credit sales during a given period by the average accounts receivable during the same period. Average accounts receivable can be calculated by adding the value of accounts receivable at the beginning of the desired period to their value at the end of the period and dividing the sum by two.
𝐴𝑐𝑐𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑠 𝑅𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑇𝑢𝑟𝑛𝑜𝑣𝑒𝑟 = 𝑁𝑒𝑡 𝐴𝑛𝑛𝑢𝑎𝑙 𝐶𝑟𝑒𝑑𝑖𝑡 𝑆𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑠 ÷ (𝐵𝑒𝑔𝑖𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝐴/𝑅 + 𝐸𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝐴/𝑅)/2
“A high turnover ratio indicates a conservative credit policy coupled with an aggressive collections department, as well as a number of low-risk customers.”
A higher ratio means A/R is being converted to cash infrequent intervals. The more frequently A/R is collected the higher cash flow and liquidity.
Several different tactics improve the accounts receivable turnover:
The ratio is intended to evaluate the ability of a company to efficiently issue a credit to its customers and collect funds from them promptly. A high turnover ratio indicates a conservative credit policy coupled with an aggressive collections department, as well as several low-risk customers. Credit policies that are too conservative would act as bottlenecks to revenue generation so it is critical to balance out credit terms and risk.
It is necessary to write off bad debt when an invoice is considered to be uncollectible. This amount affects the current assets and working capital of the company.
“Along with periodic credit reviews, frequency of credit reviews should be based on internal factors such as payment history, aging buckets and external triggers such as lowering of credit rating, bankruptcy alerts”
To prevent bad debt write-offs from happening, thorough credit evaluations need to be done during the onboarding of customers as well as periodically. Along with periodic credit reviews, the frequency of credit reviews should be based on internal factors such as payment history, aging buckets and external triggers such as lowering of credit rating, bankruptcy alerts.
Given the paucity of resources and 90%+ valid disputes/deductions, teams often write-off a large number of deductions. Due diligence by the analysts in resolving disputes/deductions instead of writing off is yet another avenue to reduce bad-debt. The limit for write-offs should be kept low such that the bad debt amount is not high.
An effective collections practice should be in place to send frequent follow-up correspondences once the account goes delinquent.
A high bad debt indicates that the company is prone to high credit risks. Bad debt may arise out of many reasons such as customers going bankrupt or a high number of disputes. Reducing bad debt write-offs requires a thorough evaluation of the credit policy of the company.
Reducing bad-debt as much as possible is critical given that for every dollar that a company writes off the company has to sell many more dollars (depending on the gross margin) and collect on time to make up for the lost dollars in bad-debt.
The cost of credit is the amount of money that a firm pays to banks for running the business on a trade credit model. Banks consider several parameters while deciding on interest rates for loans. These include prevailing interest rates, loan duration, late-fees, cash asset ratio, working capital and so on.
“CCC, Working Capital, and Cash Asset Ratio dictate the credit risk for banks and interest rates for short-term and long-term liabilities. Superior A/R performance is one of the easiest ways that companies could lower the cost of credit.”
Ensuring enough liquidity without borrowing too much from banks is the only way companies could reduce the cost of credit and as discussed earlier converting A/R to cash is the only option. To improve A/R it is important to set up strategic payment terms. Offers like early payment discounts will give the customers an incentive to pay early, thereby decreasing the DSO and improving the overall financial health of the company. The company should also include trade discounts to boost sales.
Even measures such as late payment penalties might compel difficult customers to pay on time. This minimizes the bad debt along with improving the DSO.
Over the past decade, CFOs, in general, have made progress in reducing the overall cost of finance. Ten years ago, the typical large company (APQC defines large as having more than $100 million in annual revenues) spent about 1.5% of its revenue on running its finance organization. Today, the best companies spend 0.6% or less. There’s still a lot of opportunity for bottom performers as they still spend 2% or more of their revenues on finance.
There is plenty of scope for reducing costs in resource-intensive A/R operations. Simplifying the ERP landscape, i.e. getting rid of disparate vendors can significantly lower the cost of financial operations. Key business processes also need to be standardized to a large extent to remove the need for manual intervention.
The specific areas where a high amount of low-value grunt work incurs the majority of the financial costs are:
“The bottom performers spend 2% or more of their revenues on finance.”
Automation could bring in plenty of savings by eliminating low-value manual work including the capture of financial data including remittance and credit data, data entry and reconciliation of documents. These activities are time-consuming as well as liable to errors.
Even to get statistics or a report on the performance of the different A/R processes, it requires lots of time, additional resources, third-party vendors. This pain-points have necessitated the need for utilizing Technology. Automation will help uplift the quality of work for analysts as well as significantly reduce the cost of financial operations.
A major chunk of the cost of financial operations has been consumed by manual effort. Having the right set of tools helps finance execs reduce the menial tasks as well as have managerial visibility to improve underlying processes.
Deductions are a low hanging fruit to add dollars to the bottom-line through recovering invalid deductions and improving the productivity of what is a very manual and tedious process. The volume of deductions provides the range of total deductions across different customers and periods.
“The majority of the deductions (~90%) are valid. The deduction analysts spend the bulk of their time identifying the remaining ~10% of the invalid deductions.”
According to a study by attaining a consulting group, the majority of the deductions (~90%) are valid. The deduction analysts spend the bulk of their time identifying the remaining ~10% of the invalid deductions. Their responsibilities include collecting claim documents from customers and POD and BOL documents from carriers from various sources such as email, website portals. Then they have to match claims with the information from the ERP and verify the authenticity. Most of the time is spent researching the deduction rather than the resolution. Automation eliminates these manual efforts by automatically aggregating the documents and predicting if the deduction is valid or not based on the payment trends of the customer.
Reports and analytics on a volume of deductions to drill-down on recurring disputes from the same customer or a particular warehouse, the most common reason code, volume of trade deductions vs volume of non-trade deductions provide a lot of insights into operations. Reducing the volume of deductions and recovering more of invalid deductions could straight away improve profitability.
Payment Error Rate focuses on the rate of payments that have not been applied automatically.
“The advantage of machine learning and AI is that it can replicate the decisions of analysts and self-learns as it studies the payment patterns of multiple customers.”
Payment Error Rate is affected by many factors including errors in manual entry, missing remittance information and improper placement of data in payment file.
Automation can greatly improve the auto-posting rate by utilizing technologies including artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and Optical Character Recognition to accurately capture remittance information across email, websites, EDI and checks. The advantage of machine learning and AI is that it can replicate the decisions of analysts and self-learns as it studies the payment patterns of multiple customers. Letting a process-driven system handle cash posting to auto-populate the information directly into the ERP system would eliminate the chances of errors due to manual data entry. This saves a lot of time and effort in posting cash.
It is imperative to track the payment error rate based on graphical representations to have an overall picture of the % of payments that get posted straight-through vs the ones which do not. This helps in isolating discrepancies associated with payment errors and ameliorating them so that exceptions do not occur again. Improving straight-through processing rates will help in refocusing resources from low-value cash application
processes to high-value credit and collections processes.
Out-of-the-box reports for credit, collections, deductions, cash application, and billing enable teams to measure process performance and KPIs while eliminating the time lost in report generation with traditional self-service reporting systems. Customizable dashboards enable financial executives to maintain a strong overview of all process metrics on a day-to-day basis. The ability to drill-down on individual reports and datasets allows decision-makers to perform in-depth root cause analysis and deliver long-term process optimization insights. Reports and data access controls to ensure that the right stakeholders attain the right reports, with the power to schedule key reports and metrics delivered right to the inbox for senior executives and decision-makers. It allows business users to make data-driven decisions in real-time without having to rely on IT support for custom reporting.
HighRadius Receivables Analytics provides out-of-the-box reports and insights by connecting and analyzing data across credit and A/R data sources for analysts and managers to achieve an end-to-end overview across all credit-to-cash processes. Businesses can capture intelligence and insight to take corrective actions, modify A/R strategies and make proactive decisions. Replacing traditional reporting systems with out-of-the-box, real-time reporting and analytics saves time and provides organizations the tools to implement a fully optimized accounts receivable management process and improve A/R performance.
Dynamic dashboards provide a snapshot view of your key A/R data for quick and easy data analysis/visualization
Interactive drill-down functionality enables a thorough root-cause analysis and provides key operational insights.
Reports on individual process performance and efficiency provide metrics to gauge analyst-level and process-level productivity.
Report filters provide greater flexibility to specify the user-specific information filtered on the reports.
HighRadius is a Fintech enterprise Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company. The HighRadius™ Integrated Receivables platform optimizes cash flow through automation of receivables and payments processes across credit, collections, cash application, deductions, electronic billing and payment processing.
Powered by Rivana™ Artificial Intelligence Engine and Freeda™ Virtual Assistant for Credit-to-Cash, HighRadius Integrated Receivables enables teams to leverage machine learning for accurate decision making and future outcomes. The RadiusOne™ B2B payment network allows suppliers to digitally connect with buyers, closing the loop from supplier receivable processes to buyer payable processes.
HighRadius solutions have a proven track record of optimizing cash flow, reducing days sales outstanding (DSO) and bad debt, and increasing operational efficiency so that companies may achieve strong ROI in just a few months. To learn more, please visit https://www.highradius.com/.
Integrated Receivables is a solution to optimize accounts receivable operations by integrating all receivable and payment modules to work as a unified business process. At the core of the Integrated Receivables platform are solutions for credit, collections, deductions, cash application, electronic billing and payment processing – covering the entire gamut from credit-to-cash. The HighRadius™ Integrated Receivables platform is a stand-out as it enables every credit and A/R operation to execute real-time from a unified platform with an end goal of lower DSO, reduced bad-debt, faster dispute resolution, and improved efficiency, accuracy for cash application, billing and payment processing.
HighRadius™ Integrated Receivables leverages Rivana™ Artificial Intelligence for Accounts Receivable to convert receivables faster and more effectively using machine learning for accurate decision making across credit and receivable processes. The Integrated Receivables platform also enables suppliers to digitally connect with buyers via the radiusOneTM network, closing the loop from the supplier A/R process to the buyer A/P process.
HighRadius Integrated Receivables Software Platform is the world's only end-to-end accounts receivable software platform to lower DSO and bad-debt, automate cash posting, speed-up collections, and dispute resolution, and improve team productivity. It leverages RivanaTM Artificial Intelligence for Accounts Receivable to convert receivables faster and more effectively by using machine learning for accurate decision making across both credit and receivable processes and also enables suppliers to digitally connect with buyers via the radiusOneTM network, closing the loop from the supplier accounts receivable process to the buyer accounts payable process. Integrated Receivables have been divided into 6 distinct applications: Credit Software, EIPP Software, Cash Application Software, Deductions Software, Collections Software, and ERP Payment Gateway - covering the entire gamut of credit-to-cash.