Business guide to Coronavirus

Cash flow options for business recovery

With the economy in recovery mode, many businesses are considering options to maintain cash flow and stay afloat. 

While the Federal Government introduced a stimulus package which may provide some relief to business, on its own, it may simply not be enough. 

The purpose of this article is to share guidance on options for accessing cash to help your business continue.

Managing cash flow 

Your cash flow is a key ingredient in the mix, and so before diving into ideas for accessing lump sums of money, I want to talk briefly about managing cash flow. The question you need to ask yourself is this: “what can I do to protect money in and minimise money out to improve my net cash flow?” 

Let’s start by looking at how you may be able to decrease and defer expenditure. Here are five ideas: 

1. Be ruthless on spending: Don’t spend money on anything you don’t absolutely need. Cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions, memberships, etc. 

2. Buy on sale: If you do need to buy something – for example additional technology gear or support – then be ruthless in getting the best price. You may be able to access a 30-day software trial with little trade-off in functionality. Be prepared to buy little rather than big brand names – do your research of course, but you may find that you can secure great product at a lower cost – and support another small business in the process.  

3. Negotiate on everything: None of us knows how long this is going to take to play out. Perhaps you can vary contract terms – simply ask the question and discover avenues to reduce your costs.  

4. Defer payments: If you must buy essential items, then see if you can arrange a deferment of payment. You may be able to negotiate with suppliers to pay in instalments which could help buy you time. 

5. Government initiatives: Take advantage of the government initiatives in relation to allowing businesses to vary Pay as you go (PAYG) instalment amounts to zero for the full year – including getting a refund for instalments you have already paid. For more information, visit the ATO’s website

The other side of the equation is inflow: 

  • Many businesses are doing what they can to continue earning income. Can you offer products or services online? Can you partner with other businesses to offer a needed new product or service? 
  • Explore whether your business may be eligible for grants or financial assistance. You can also contact your local Council to see if they offer any assistance. 

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A framework for prioritising access to lump sum cash 

For a temporary period, the Government allowed people to apply for early release of superannuation. Applications closed on December 31, 2020 so if you require access to your superannuation, the default rules apply. 

These include: 

  • you have a terminal illness 
  • you have less than $200 in your super fund 
  • you’re a temporary resident permanently leaving Australia 
  • you are in severe financial hardship 
  • you meet ‘compassionate grounds’ 
  • you’re temporarily or permanently incapacitated. 

Remember, superannuation is meant for your retirement. Under normal circumstances, you can’t withdraw from your super until you’re at least age 60. 

Using a hierarchy based on ease of access and cost of redeeming – let’s consider some options for prioritising access to lump sum cash.  

1. On-call cash accounts: these are clearly the easiest and lowest cost source of funds. Cash should be readily available and with interest rates so low there is little cost of withdrawing funds. 

2. Home mortgage offset or redraw facilities: if you have a home loan and either has money in your offset account or funds available within your credit limit, you may be able to draw on these monies. With interest rates at historic lows, this could be a very low-cost source of funding. It is advisable to talk to your tax accountant about how best to structure any transfer of funds between personal accounts and your business. 

3. “Family bank”: do you have family members who have significant cash savings who may be happy to act as your bank and provide you with a loan? This can be an attractive arrangement for both parties – particularly where the lender gains a better rate of interest than having cash in a bank account or term deposit, and the borrower (you) gains access to funds to tide you through. It’s usually a good idea to have a solicitor assist you with drawing up a loan agreement, and again, gain advice from your tax accountant on any tax implications. 

4. Credit cards, car finance and other unsecured loans: the cost of the borrowing is very expensive – credit cards can have annual interest rates as high as 20% and car finance as high as 15%. I would usually recommend always paying credit card debt within the interest-free period. However, we need different strategies for difficult times. Talk to your bank about options for a line of credit for your business. Consider applying for an additional credit limit on your credit card, or seek a new card. It could just buy you time. If you have a vehicle that you own, you may be able to finance it to free up lump sum cash. 

5. Personal or trust fixed interest (bond) investments: if you have a personal or trust investment portfolio, you may be fortunate enough to have a financial adviser who has separated your fixed interest (or bond) investments from your equity investments. Because fixed interest investments are more stable, these investments are less likely to have devalued with the market shock. They are likely to be relatively liquid, and so easy and low cost to sell. You should be aware this strategy will tilt your portfolio to a higher weighting in riskier assets like shares which may be okay in the short term – but maybe a position from which you wish to rebalance in future. 

6. Super fixed interest (bond) investments: the same applies as in point 5 – except this time it relates to your money in super. 

7. Personal or trust share investments: with share markets having taken a significant tumble, it is generally not a good time to sell your share investments – as you make real the losses (which really only exist on paper if you can hold onto your shares until they recover). However, if you need cash, then it may make sense to sell down some shares. Perhaps you have some shareholdings that have withstood the downturn better than others. The silver lining is that you may have fewer capital gains tax – or even a capital loss that you can carry forward and use to offset future gains. Again, talk to your financial adviser and accountant before selling. 

8. Residential or commercial property: this is one of the last things that you want to have to sell. Property is a highly illiquid asset, and it’s not divisible – you can’t sell off a bedroom or the kitchen, you have to sell the whole property. What’s more, typically selling a property takes time – not days or even weeks but months – and involves significant cost. The key challenge with illiquid assets in times of distress is that it can be hard to find a buyer – and if you can, it’s often at a depressed price. 

Think of these eight ideas in our framework as pieces in a puzzle – you can rely on some or one. The best answer is what works for you and your business. And of course, do seek advice from your tax, financial adviser or legal professionals at this critical time.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Business Australia. 

Kate McCallum

Director & Advisor – Multiforte Financial Services

Kate is an award-winning financial adviser. She co-founded Multiforte Financial Services after working in executive roles at Westpac and Commonwealth Bank. She is co-author of The Joy of Money: The Australian Woman’s Guide to Financial Independence.

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