Plansmith Blog

Do You Balance Your Community Bank's Checkbook?

Posted by Shawna Brauer on 9/22/14 4:30 PM
It is always interesting to me to hear different people’s views of cash flow – from a personal perspective as well as a business perspective. I regularly ask people if they balance their personal checkbooks. Shockingly - to me, at least – I almost always hear "no". Most people feel comfortable checking an app or logging in online to view their balance periodically, scanning transactions for reasonableness rather than logging debits and credits in an old-fashioned check register. (Full disclosure time…I still use a check register for my personal accounts, so I’m biased here. I find it strangely comforting.) But most consumers feel they have a good handle on their cash flow without writing out the details. If they’re running short on cash they have back-up plans in mind - they can transfer money from another account, cut spending in the short term, ask relatives for a loan or cross their fingers, hold their breath and wait it out.

Interestingly, the response I usually hear from small businesses (outside of the banking industry) is that they do have a strong, more formal handle on their day to day cash needs. They keep a check register (albeit mostly electronically, for example in QuickBooks). They know how much cash they need to fund their regular business needs and they monitor their cash flow in detail. They know which customers they need to collect from up-front, and which ones are slow to pay. They have concrete back-up plans if cash runs tight – savings, lines of credit, which bills they can delay paying versus which payments are critical to be paid on time. They know where they’ve been and where they’re trending - positive cash flow is critical to staying in business, so cash flow is always top of mind. Otherwise they’re out of business (and hence not part of my survey.)

For community banks and credit unions, my completely unscientific research has led me to conclude that in the past bankers have relied on their intuitive sense and loosely documented plans – similar to consumers today - with an attitude of "I’ve got a handle on it – I know where I stand and what my back-up plans are". And in most cases that had been quite sufficient. But now banking regulators have put a renewed focus on documented and tested cash flow plans, back-up plans, back-ups to the back-ups, diversification of plans, testing of plans, cushions in plans, and so on. It’s the "belt and suspenders" approach.

Time will tell whether a more structured approach will produce better results. But as you are wading through the documentation details at the office, perhaps now is not the best time for me to suggest that you drag out those personal check registers and start using them at home…

Topics: bank strategy, interest rate risk, community bank, community bank strategy, community bank budget, community bank budget software, bank budget, fintech

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