Cash, Dodd-Frank, FASB, and the Uncertainty Quotient

  September 5, 2012

  Read Time: 3 min 00 sec

At the most fundamental level, there is no denying the fact that when it comes to business, cash is clearly king. Cash is the lifeblood of business and acquiring cash is the underlying purpose of any commercial endeavor. On a more personal level, cash is the reason that people get up every morning and go to work. Life isn’t free and if you want to enjoy it, you need cash to do so.

The recession has had a tremendous impact on how people and businesses manage their cash. Individuals lucky enough to have a job have put major purchases on hold, adopting a “wait and see” attitude. The unemployed are simply trying to make ends meet and worrying about paying for necessities—major purchases or investments aren’t even on the table. All of these factors are contributing to lackadaisical progress for the recovery.

Businesses have reacted in much the same way. Companies who are doing well are reluctant to make major capital investment decisions, opting instead to wait and see what happens. They are sitting on the investment sidelines, hoarding cash until the economy stabilizes. Companies who aren’t doing so well are struggling to find to customers while trying to stay in business.

Regardless of whether sales were up or down, internal processes across the board are being reengineered and streamlined, so that businesses can slash costs and add to razor thin margins wherever possible. Credit lines were managed closely, and were only used when emergency situations required the influx of additional capital.

The debate as to whether we’re in a recovery and just how strong the recovery is (or isn’t) rages on. That is part of the uncertainty quotient. If you have a job and your company’s doing well a recovery might seem apparent, or at least imminent. If you’re unemployed at the present because your company went out of business, the argument that a recovery is underway might be hard to believe. Since there are undoubtedly a significant number of people and businesses on both sides of this equation, it’s safe to say that collectively we are still uncertain where this is headed.

This kind of uncertainty has a profound impact on capital investment and how businesses undertake it. It also has a profound impact on the economic recovery, because if businesses aren’t investing, it’s going to be exceptionally difficult for the economy to get going.

For example, businesses seeking bank loans need to understand one of the largest pieces of legislation to hit the banking industry in decades. Apart from unpredictability of the economy in general, banking institutions are dealing with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act, referred to by most people simply as “Dodd-Frank.”

This highly complex piece of legislation represents the most sweeping changes to the financial industry since the reforms that followed the Great Depression in the 1930’s. Introduced into the House of Representatives by Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank and into the Senate by Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, the bill was intended as a response to the global credit crisis that accompanied the Great Recession.

The uncertainty stems from the fact that Dodd-Frank has put many things in motion that are far from over. Dodd-Frank doesn’t represent the end-game so much as it does the beginning of a race, and the starter’s pistol has just now gone off. According to CFO Magazine, when asked if the Dodd-Frank Act will hinder access to capital, one in three CFOs said they didn’t know, one way or the other. More telling is the fact that the majority of the CFOs who were polled believed that Dodd-Frank would ultimately hinder access to cash.

On another front, Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has set about to “develop a new approach to lease accounting that would ensure that assets and liabilities arising under leases are recognized in the statement of financial position.” In other words, they want companies to report leases as balance sheet liabilities, instead of simply expensing monthly lease payments.

This is the world that we live our lives and operate our businesses in. It is an uncertain, unpredictable, and continuously evolving world. So between the cyclical economy, the combined uncertainty of Dodd-Frank and the new rules the FASB is working on, it appears as though now is not a very good time for owners, managers or business executives to invest in their business—and in the future—correct? Obviously, the answer to that question is a resounding “Nonsense!”

The fact is that business cannot wait for a cloudless sky before it sails into the future. The future is now, and regardless of the uncertainty that surrounds it, the only way to grow and succeed is to conduct business as usual, aggressively, every day. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for the economy to stabilize, or for the Dodd-Frank and the FASB changes to take effect could easily mean missing the game entirely. The changes and the changes to the changes will undoubtedly be going on for years.

Dodd-Frank and the FASB are not going to restart the economy or speed up the recovery. Ultimately, the changes to the financial system may make things a bit safer—nobody knows for sure. But don’t wait for the economy or Dodd-Frank or the FASB to accelerate your revenue or to boost your profits. That won’t happen. Growing your business and making it more profitable are entirely up to you.

Yes, cash is king. And whatever uncertainty exists, there is capital out there if you need it.

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