Commercial Lender Changes Hurt Small Business Financing Options

Most small business owners are likely to be severely impacted by recent commercial lender changes. In almost all cases, the business lending changes are permanent and cannot be avoided if a commercial borrower wants to continue their present banking relationship. One noteworthy exception is illustrated by a few new and more flexible commercial lending sources.One of the biggest commercial lending changes involves new guidelines for working capital financing. Most banks appear to be quietly eliminating business lines of credit or severely reducing the amount they are willing to finance to a level which is not helpful to an average business. Very few businesses can survive without a reliable source of working capital, so this change promises to receive the highest priority from most small businesses. To replace the disappearing commercial lines of credit, the most practical options for business borrowers include working capital loans and merchant financing from one of the alternative commercial finance sources still active in small business financing programs.Another business lender change is illustrated by the difficulty of locating investment property financing. An increasing number of banks will make commercial mortgage loans only when the commercial property is considered to be owner-occupied (which means that the commercial borrower occupies a substantial portion of the building). Commercial properties like apartment buildings and shopping centers are often owned by investors that do not occupy the property. For many banks, it appears that they are currently restricting their commercial lending activities to those which qualify for SBA loans (Small Business Administration) which generally exclude investor-owned situations.A third significant business lending change is demonstrated by revised guidelines for refinancing commercial real estate loans. In almost all cases, commercial lenders have dramatically reduced the loan-to-value percentages that they will lend. In some areas and for specific types of businesses, many banks will no longer lend over half of the appraised value. The difficulty for a commercial borrower refinancing an existing commercial loan reach a crisis level very quickly when this happens. In many cases the original business loan was based on a much higher percentage of business value than the bank is currently willing to provide. When a current appraisal reports a decrease in value since the original loan was made, the lending problem is further compounded. This outcome is especially common in the midst of a distressed economy which leads to decreased business income that in turn often produces a lower commercial property value.For a fourth commercial lending change example, many small business owners have already discovered an inflated fee structure from most banks for virtually all small business finance programs. Perhaps the bank perspective for some of the commercial financing fee increases is that they need to find a revenue source to replace the diminishing income from small business loans which has resulted from bank decisions to decrease commercial loan activity. Except for unusual and unavoidable circumstances, business borrowers should seek different commercial funding sources when they encounter suddenly increased business financing fees levied by their current bank.Banks changing their overall guidelines for small business financing produce a final and widespread example of commercial lender changes. Many banks have effectively stopped making any new commercial loans to small businesses regardless of business income or creditworthiness. Unfortunately these banks are not announcing publicly that they have discontinued small business finance activities. This means that while they might accept business loan applications, they do not intend to actually finalize commercial financing in most cases. Whenever it becomes obvious that the bank has no real intentions of making a requested working capital loan or commercial mortgage, this approach has clearly frustrated and enraged business borrowers.The five commercial lending changes described above are unfortunately the proverbial tip of the iceberg. As they approach business lenders to obtain commercial real estate financing, working capital loans and small business financing, business owners will need to be especially skeptical and diligent.

How Important Is Digital Marketing?

No matter what kind of business you’re in, marketing is the most important part. People want to buy goods or services from companies that are credible. The advertising strategy of any business determines the success of the business in the long run.We are now in the ‘internet age’, and businesses have a wide range of opportunities where they can gain potential customers. With a large group of consumers connected to the internet and other digital platforms, digital marketing has an edge over traditional marketing techniques. Older generations will mourn the slow death of newspapers, books, and make room for those who have grown up with the internet and mobiles and who are already embracing the new wave of digital consumption.If a business wants to participate in a digital marketing campaign it’s vital to figure out the right campaign that will appeal to their specific target audience. Out of the great selection of digital marketing methods, the internet stands out as it is the cheapest and most effective option. Online advertising, video advertising, blogging, e-mail, and social media are just a few tools that have stemmed from the internet, and its ability to reach a customer base that is global at great speed and at minimal cost compared to the more conventional marketing techniques.With all these options that are available it’s no surprise that businesses want to recognise the best method that helps them to reach and deliver the best results the fastest. So finding the right digital marketing agency is vital, one of many extremely important things to consider is the Web design-This may require expert advice. You need to make sure you website is attractive to potential customers and ensure that plenty of information is readily available and most importantly to you must ensure that your website is easy to navigate.There are many other specialist features which an agency can offer. If your business is in need of a digital marketing agency then make sure you look at their customer testimonials section of their website to make sure they are suitable for your business. An exceptional marketing agency will be able to increase your number of site visitors using Search Engine Optimisation Services.Internet marketing has many benefits, and some benefits are that digital marketing spreads fast, it’s one of the cheapest methods and is a great way to promote your brand on the Internet. So don’t get left behind, find how you can get your digital campaign up and running.
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Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.