Because a company is likely to spend a lot of time examining the different scenarios that will become the basis for its financial plan, it seems reasonable to ask what the planning process will accomplish.
Examining Interactions As we discuss in greater detail in the following pages, the financial plan must make explicit the linkages between investment proposals for the different operating activities of the firm and its available financing choices. In other words, if the firm is planning on expanding and undertaking new investments and projects, where will the financing be obtained to pay for this activity?
Exploring Options The financial plan allows the firm to develop, analyze, and compare many different scenarios in a consistent way. Various investment and financing options can be explored, and their impact on the firm’s shareholders can be evaluated. Questions concerning the firm’s future lines of business and optimal financing arrangements are addressed. Options such as marketing new products or closing plants might be evaluated.
Avoiding Surprises Financial planning should identify what may happen to the firm if different events take place. In particular, it should address what actions the firm will take if things go seriously wrong or, more generally, if assumptions made today about the future are seriously in error. As physicist Niels Bohr once observed, “Prediction is very difficult, particularly when it concerns the future.” Thus, one purpose of financial planning is to avoid surprises and develop contingency plans.
Page 95For example, when Tesla Motors announced its new Model X in February 2012, the company promised that production would begin in 2013. In 2013, when production had yet to start, Tesla pushed backed production until late 2014. A company spokesperson stated that production was being delayed “to allow ourselves to focus on production and enhancements in Model S.” Of course, even though production of the Model S had begun on time several years earlier, production of that model was below expectations for at least a year. Thus, a lack of proper planning can be a problem for even the most hi-tech companies.
Ensuring Feasibility and Internal Consistency Beyond a general goal of creating value, a firm will normally have many specific goals. Such goals might be couched in terms of market share, return on equity, financial leverage, and so on. At times, the linkages between different goals and different aspects of a firm’s business are difficult to see. Not only does a financial plan make explicit these linkages, but it also imposes a unified structure for reconciling goals and objectives. In other words, financial planning is a way of verifying that the goals and plans made for specific areas of a firm’s operations are feasible and internally consistent. Conflicting goals will often exist. To generate a coherent plan, goals and objectives will therefore have to be modified, and priorities will have to be established.
For example, one goal a firm might have is 12 percent growth in unit sales per year. Another goal might be to reduce the firm’s total debt ratio from 40 to 20 percent. Are these two goals compatible? Can they be accomplished simultaneously? Maybe yes, maybe no. As we will discuss, financial planning is a way of finding out just what is possible—and, by implication, what is not possible.
Conclusion Probably the most important result of the planning process is that it forces managers to think about goals and establish priorities. In fact, conventional business wisdom holds that financial plans don’t work, but financial planning does. The future is inherently unknown. What we can do is establish the direction in which we want to travel and make some educated guesses about what we will find along the way. If we do a good job, we won’t be caught off guard when the future rolls around.