Ineffective Colleges & Universities: Go Green and Gold

The following combines information from government and standardized testing company resources, years of experience with college fairs/marketing, working with, through, against and in spite of school administrations, direct consumer-query challenges to college admissions teams, and that acquired via numerous other strategies employed to understand the business of college education.The school colors are green and gold. The pom-poms shake and free gifts are offered generously at the Fall college fairs. Prospective students and their families are offered free tickets to home football games with one hand, and marketing or application materials with the other. The high school counselors scurry around the gym, their faces glowing, proud of the events they coordinated.Two days later, the newspaper reports the contents of an interview with a local university President. The President quite reluctantly responded to queries about the school’s very poor graduation rates, the high percentage of students they allow to matriculate into remedial courses (paying full tuition to take non-college credit classes), and regarding their apparent failure to work with the regional high school systems so that their incoming students would be better prepared to start college work.


Interestingly, if you look at historical student performance statistics, for the vast majority of schools these findings are not new (good or bad). What may be new is that increasing numbers of prospective applicants are looking at graduation rates, the average number of years taken to graduate, as well as average post-graduation student debt, and school-assisted job placement effectiveness. Unfortunately, under duress, college administrations are casting blame upon the students.Of course, too many students reach campuses believing that every week should include sports entertainment and elements of contemporary “Animal House” experiences, with a modicum of adjustments for the schools’ specific missions, the local environments, and reflecting the student bodies. However, most incoming students actually understand the true objectives of their attendance. That said, the admissions committees are professionals, as are those employed to teach, counsel, perform research, manage finances, and provide all other administrative support. By history, the institutions know exactly who they recruit and accept; their student body profile. They know the student body strengths as well as the distribution of academic, social and financial challenges they will face with their students. As such, by accepting the students and their money, they are saying “We are able [in every manner] to successfully instruct, develop, graduate and deliver these student-customers to quality positions in the market.”


But, colleges and universities have not been effective. The average school graduates only fifty percent of its students in six (6) years, and most cannot afford to spend more than six years in college, thereby never graduating. Schools do not want to be accountable to “helicopter parents” who wish to kept in the “progress loop” regarding more than unpaid bills. Additionally, as many senior leaders are unwilling or unable to explain the shortcomings of their business models, educational institutions simply blame the failures on the students and all those associated with them (family, guardians, associates, prior educational systems, and so on). Who needs colleges and universities with such attitudes as those?… Not you!!

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.

Alternative Financing for Wholesale Produce Distributors

Equipment Financing/Leasing

One avenue is equipment financing/leasing. Equipment lessors help small and medium size businesses obtain equipment financing and equipment leasing when it is not available to them through their local community bank.

The goal for a distributor of wholesale produce is to find a leasing company that can help with all of their financing needs. Some financiers look at companies with good credit while some look at companies with bad credit. Some financiers look strictly at companies with very high revenue (10 million or more). Other financiers focus on small ticket transaction with equipment costs below $100,000.

Financiers can finance equipment costing as low as 1000.00 and up to 1 million. Businesses should look for competitive lease rates and shop for equipment lines of credit, sale-leasebacks & credit application programs. Take the opportunity to get a lease quote the next time you’re in the market.

Merchant Cash Advance

It is not very typical of wholesale distributors of produce to accept debit or credit from their merchants even though it is an option. However, their merchants need money to buy the produce. Merchants can do merchant cash advances to buy your produce, which will increase your sales.

Factoring/Accounts Receivable Financing & Purchase Order Financing

One thing is certain when it comes to factoring or purchase order financing for wholesale distributors of produce: The simpler the transaction is the better because PACA comes into play. Each individual deal is looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Is PACA a Problem? Answer: The process has to be unraveled to the grower.

Factors and P.O. financers do not lend on inventory. Let’s assume that a distributor of produce is selling to a couple local supermarkets. The accounts receivable usually turns very quickly because produce is a perishable item. However, it depends on where the produce distributor is actually sourcing. If the sourcing is done with a larger distributor there probably won’t be an issue for accounts receivable financing and/or purchase order financing. However, if the sourcing is done through the growers directly, the financing has to be done more carefully.

An even better scenario is when a value-add is involved. Example: Somebody is buying green, red and yellow bell peppers from a variety of growers. They’re packaging these items up and then selling them as packaged items. Sometimes that value added process of packaging it, bulking it and then selling it will be enough for the factor or P.O. financer to look at favorably. The distributor has provided enough value-add or altered the product enough where PACA does not necessarily apply.

Another example might be a distributor of produce taking the product and cutting it up and then packaging it and then distributing it. There could be potential here because the distributor could be selling the product to large supermarket chains – so in other words the debtors could very well be very good. How they source the product will have an impact and what they do with the product after they source it will have an impact. This is the part that the factor or P.O. financer will never know until they look at the deal and this is why individual cases are touch and go.

What can be done under a purchase order program?

P.O. financers like to finance finished goods being dropped shipped to an end customer. They are better at providing financing when there is a single customer and a single supplier.

Let’s say a produce distributor has a bunch of orders and sometimes there are problems financing the product. The P.O. Financer will want someone who has a big order (at least $50,000.00 or more) from a major supermarket. The P.O. financer will want to hear something like this from the produce distributor: ” I buy all the product I need from one grower all at once that I can have hauled over to the supermarket and I don’t ever touch the product. I am not going to take it into my warehouse and I am not going to do anything to it like wash it or package it. The only thing I do is to obtain the order from the supermarket and I place the order with my grower and my grower drop ships it over to the supermarket. “

This is the ideal scenario for a P.O. financer. There is one supplier and one buyer and the distributor never touches the inventory. It is an automatic deal killer (for P.O. financing and not factoring) when the distributor touches the inventory. The P.O. financer will have paid the grower for the goods so the P.O. financer knows for sure the grower got paid and then the invoice is created. When this happens the P.O. financer might do the factoring as well or there might be another lender in place (either another factor or an asset-based lender). P.O. financing always comes with an exit strategy and it is always another lender or the company that did the P.O. financing who can then come in and factor the receivables.

The exit strategy is simple: When the goods are delivered the invoice is created and then someone has to pay back the purchase order facility. It is a little easier when the same company does the P.O. financing and the factoring because an inter-creditor agreement does not have to be made.

Sometimes P.O. financing can’t be done but factoring can be.

Let’s say the distributor buys from different growers and is carrying a bunch of different products. The distributor is going to warehouse it and deliver it based on the need for their clients. This would be ineligible for P.O. financing but not for factoring (P.O. Finance companies never want to finance goods that are going to be placed into their warehouse to build up inventory). The factor will consider that the distributor is buying the goods from different growers. Factors know that if growers don’t get paid it is like a mechanics lien for a contractor. A lien can be put on the receivable all the way up to the end buyer so anyone caught in the middle does not have any rights or claims.

The idea is to make sure that the suppliers are being paid because PACA was created to protect the farmers/growers in the United States. Further, if the supplier is not the end grower then the financer will not have any way to know if the end grower gets paid.

Example: A fresh fruit distributor is buying a big inventory. Some of the inventory is converted into fruit cups/cocktails. They’re cutting up and packaging the fruit as fruit juice and family packs and selling the product to a large supermarket. In other words they have almost altered the product completely. Factoring can be considered for this type of scenario. The product has been altered but it is still fresh fruit and the distributor has provided a value-add.

The idea for factoring/P.O. Financing is to get into the nuts and bolts of every single deal to ascertain if it is doable.