Business Loans In Canada: Financing Solutions Via Alternative Finance & Traditional Funding

Business loans and finance for a business just may have gotten good again? The pursuit of credit and funding of cash flow solutions for your business often seems like an eternal challenge, even in the best of times, let alone any industry or economic crisis. Let’s dig in.

Since the 2008 financial crisis there’s been a lot of change in finance options from lenders for corporate loans. Canadian business owners and financial managers have excess from everything from peer-to-peer company loans, varied alternative finance solutions, as well of course as the traditional financing offered by Canadian chartered banks.

Those online business loans referenced above are popular and arose out of the merchant cash advance programs in the United States. Loans are based on a percentage of your annual sales, typically in the 15-20% range. The loans are certainly expensive but are viewed as easy to obtain by many small businesses, including retailers who sell on a cash or credit card basis.

Depending on your firm’s circumstances and your ability to truly understand the different choices available to firms searching for SME COMMERCIAL FINANCE options. Those small to medium sized companies ( the definition of ‘ small business ‘ certainly varies as to what is small – often defined as businesses with less than 500 employees! )

How then do we create our road map for external financing techniques and solutions? A simpler way to look at it is to categorize these different financing options under:

Debt / Loans

Asset Based Financing

Alternative Hybrid type solutions

Many top experts maintain that the alternative financing solutions currently available to your firm, in fact are on par with Canadian chartered bank financing when it comes to a full spectrum of funding. The alternative lender is typically a private commercial finance company with a niche in one of the various asset finance areas

If there is one significant trend that’s ‘ sticking ‘it’s Asset Based Finance. The ability of firms to obtain funding via assets such as accounts receivable, inventory and fixed assets with no major emphasis on balance sheet structure and profits and cash flow ( those three elements drive bank financing approval in no small measure ) is the key to success in ABL ( Asset Based Lending ).

Factoring, aka ‘ Receivable Finance ‘ is the other huge driver in trade finance in Canada. In some cases, it’s the only way for firms to be able to sell and finance clients in other geographies/countries.

The rise of ‘ online finance ‘ also can’t be diminished. Whether it’s accessing ‘ crowdfunding’ or sourcing working capital term loans, the technological pace continues at what seems a feverish pace. One only has to read a business daily such as the Globe & Mail or Financial Post to understand the challenge of small business accessing business capital.

Business owners/financial mgrs often find their company at a ‘ turning point ‘ in their history – that time when financing is needed or opportunities and risks can’t be taken. While putting or getting new equity in the business is often impossible, the reality is that the majority of businesses with SME commercial finance needs aren’t, shall we say, ‘ suited’ to this type of funding and capital raising. Business loan interest rates vary with non-traditional financing but offer more flexibility and ease of access to capital.

We’re also the first to remind clients that they should not forget govt solutions in business capital. Two of the best programs are the GovernmentSmall Business Loan Canada (maximum availability = $ 1,000,000.00) as well as the SR&ED program which allows business owners to recapture R&D capital costs. Sred credits can also be financed once they are filed.

Those latter two finance alternatives are often very well suited to business start up loans. We should not forget that asset finance, often called ‘ ABL ‘ by those Bay Street guys, can even be used as a loan to buy a business.

If you’re looking to get the right balance of liquidity and risk coupled with the flexibility to grow your business seek out and speak to a trusted, credible and experienced Canadian business financing advisor with a track record of business finance success who can assist you with your funding needs.

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.

A Guide to Commercial Lighting Fixtures

Although incandescent lamps are more frequently used in residential lighting applications, some commercial lighting fixtures also used this technology. Incandescent lamps pass current through a filament, which causes the filament to give off light. Because they are relatively short lived, incandescents are used mostly as decorative commercial lighting fixtures. Their ability to render warm colors effectively without ballast makes them well suited to this application, and the enormous variety of bulb designs make them highly soft after source of any type of accent lighting or decorum based commercial lighting design.Fluorescent Lighting Fixtures
Fluorescent lamps are used extensively in commercial lighting fixtures for a number of reasons. First and foremost of these reasons is their ability to use less power than other commercial lighting fixtures, making them very cost effective from an energy conservation perspective. Fluorescent bulbs also produce a very bright light that is evenly distributed, making them ideal commercial warehouse lighting fixtures, canopy lights, security lights, in interior retail lights in discount stores where high levels of general lighting help psychologically motivate larger bulk purchases of discount merchandise.Fluorescent bulbs produce light by activating phosphors on the interior of the bulb using ultraviolet energy generated by a mercury arc. Ballast helps start and operate the fluorescent lamps by regulating electron flow through the gaseous arc. Trends in fluorescent technology have made them more compact, increasing lumens per watt efficiency as high as 100 lumens per watt, and reducing the amount of toxic mercury within the bulbs interior. Fluorescent commercial lighting fixtures are best deployed underneath building eaves (as in the case of canopy lights), near loading docks, in wall packs on the sides of buildings, or as large grocery store or warehouse lights. Placing them too far out into open spaces tends to diffuse their light output and diminish their intensity.High Intensity Discharge (HID) Commercial Lighting Fixtures
HID stands for High Intensity Discharge. It refers to a technology where light is produced by a gaseous arc discharge using a variety of elements. Typical elements include mercury vapor, metal halide, and high pressure sodium. The arc tube within an HID lamp will contain one or more of such elements, and when current passes between the electrodes at either end of the tube, the current creates an arc that generates visible light.HID lamps feature the highest efficiency in lumens per watt output and also feature a greater level of lighting control. They also last longer than other commercial lighting fixtures, making them a wise investment for a company on a Spartan budget that cannot afford to continually replace equipment. High intensity discharge sources include mercury vapor, metal halide, and high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps. Light is produced in HID and low pressure sodium (LPS) sources through a gaseous arc discharge using a variety of elements. Each HID lamp consists of an arc tube which contains certain elements or mixtures of elements which, when an arc is created between the electrodes at each end, gasify and generate visible radiation.Light Sources and Lamp CharacteristicsMercury Vapor (MV) Lighting Fixtures
Mercury vapor lights were the first HID commercial lighting fixtures developed. They were designed originally to meet a rising demand for a very compact, high output, and energy efficient source of light. They are used extensively in a number of landscape lighting applications, being commonly deployed as tree lights in high-end commercial outdoor lighting systems. In other applications they have proven somewhat less effective duo to their inferior color rendering abilities, although this has improved to a certain extent over the years by phosphor coated interior bulb walls.The life of mercury vapor lamps is good, averaging 24,000 hours for larger wattage lamps. However, because the output diminishes so greatly over time, economical operational life is often much shorter. Efficacy ranges from 30 to 60 lumens per watt, with the higher wattages being more efficacious than the lower wattages.As with other HID lamps, the starting of a mercury vapor lamp is not immediate. Starting time is short, though, taking 4-7 minutes to achieve maximum output depending upon the ambient temperature.High Pressure Sodium (HPS) Light Fixtures
High Pressure Sodium (HPS) commercial lighting fixtures gained huge popularity in the 1970s to meet the needs of a powerful, yet super efficient, source of HID lighting. Lumens per watt output in an HPS lamp can be as high as 140 lumens per watt, approximately 7 times the luminance as incandescent lamps and twice that of MV or Fluorescent. They also last for approximately 24,000 hours—the longest lamp light on the market.The problem with HPS commercial lighting fixtures has always been the quality of light they create. HPS lamps give off a yellowish or orange-tinted color and are not acceptable light sources for situations where illuminating a brand, architectural keynote, or any type of ornate exterior landscaping requires a high level of color rendering. For the most part, they are used in applications such as commercial parking garage lighting, warehouse lighting, and certain outdoor applications such as security flood lighting.Metal Halide (MH Lighting Fixtures
Metal Halide (MH) commercial lighting fixtures are fast becoming the preferred source of HID lighting in most commercial environments. This is because they produce a very bright white light that nearly equivalent to daylight in its color rendering ability. The variety of applications is significant as a result, ranging from decorative street lighting, commercial parking lot lighting, car lot lighting, outdoor landscape lighting, architectural lighting, security lighting, and general site lighting. Traditionally, their biggest drawback has been their short lamp life, only 7,500 hours on the average.Newer designs in Metal Halide commercial lighting fixtures include pulse start technology and ceramic metal halide design. These improvements have increased lumens per watt efficiency, control of the light itself through superior dimmability, better stability of color rendering, longer lamp life, and shorter start time.Unfortunately, recent legislation has called for the phase out of certain standard forms of MH commercial lighting fixtures due to their use of incendiary elements that fall under the classification of greenhouse gas sources. This in turn paves the way for the most sophisticated lighting ever developed on our world, and quite possibly, the singular source of lighting used both commercially and residentially in the very near future: LED commercial lighting fixtures.LED Commercial Lighting Fixtures
As technology improves, the ability to create truly white LED light continues to evolve. LED commercial lighting fixtures are featuring higher lumens per watt efficiencies than their initial prototypes initially offered. This has opened the door for a number of architectural lighting and site lighting applications that were previously the exclusive domain of HID commercial lighting fixtures.We are also seeing an upsurge in the use of led commercial lighting fixtures in street and roadway lighting, where a number of municipalities in the United States and Europe have reported some very promising findings in regards to both power cost reduction and the overall quality of street lighting itself.Look for quarterly leaps and bounds in the engineering gains made by LED commercial lighting fixture manufacturers.