cash-in-cabinetEditor’s Note: This is the latest installment in a series of “Find Hidden Cash” white papers written by Hal Ethington and provided by ADP Lightspeed Inc. This article focuses on office management.

$12,000. That’s the amount of cash I found in my first two days on the job as the replacement accountant in a dealership. Yes, found, as in looking in drawers, under desk blotters, in filing cabinets and in the unlocked safe. Currency, coin, contracts. You name it, I found it. All because the fellow who preceded me – the same one that was walking out the door as I walked in – that guy, was totally mystified about how to handle money.

So he filed $100 bills with deals in the filing cabinet. He piled credit card receipts in stacks under the desk blotter. Signed contracts were carefully settled in an in-box, and five days of receipts were still securely in the floor safe. And that is why the owner had called me. He wanted to know where his cash was, because it surely wasn’t in the bank.

So I whipped everything into shape, got the money to the bank, gave the owner a good bank balance and thus started my career in the dealership business. It has now lasted some 37 years, and in that time I have come across a few other office practices that are almost as disastrous as the simple mishandling of coin, contracts and currency. Try these on for size, and I hope they don’t fit.

  • Dealership was taking parts special order deposits, literally stapling the cash to the invoice, and putting it in a big plastic garbage bag-money and all, waiting for the parts to come in. Money in a bag. What a concept. I’m sure those customers were impressed with this one, to say nothing of how much money was lost in the process. Not smart. Not smart at all.
  • Or how about those dealerships that pay their bills twice? Or, pay bills they don’t even owe? Happens all the time. As a test, one dealer I know mailed a small bogus bill to his 20-group friends. Sixteen of them paid. Promptly. He walked around the table at their next meeting and handed back the 16 checks, ribbing them all the while about their sloppy internal controls. Audit what you pay. Demand explanations. Match invoices and check invoice numbers. And if you are still sometimes getting an embarrassing refund check, you’re not there yet. Keep working.
  • Payroll: Watch to see that all 940s and 941s are first, filed on time, and second, paid on time. There is a penalty for simply not filing (or filing late), and there is a second penalty for not paying on time. The consequences of not performing these two small tasks are enormous. Take care of this one. Always file, no matter if you can’t pay. Avoid the compounded error.
  • And speaking of payroll, constantly audit your worker’s comp and your unemployment taxes. These numbers change as your work force changes, and as your claim history builds. Get the instructions on what is firing for cause (no benefits), and what is reduction of force (you pay). Document all departures, and make sure the employees who quit are not doing so because of job conditions. If they quit because the workplace is unsafe, you may pay. If they quit to move closer to home, you don’t pay. Watch your back here. Document everything. It can be a free-for-all (literally) when the unemployment folks start making their calls.
  • More: Do your pay plans create debilitating contention, or healthy co-operation? Are you filing for all your advertising co-op? Are you aware of state and local programs for training of your employees ($5,000 per year last place I was at)? Have you tried interns from your local college who may come with payroll help for certain jobs?

And the list goes on. There is much you can do to minimize costs and maximize value received. It may not be as easy as searching one room and finding $12,000 as I did so many years ago, but you will be surprised at the money you will find if you, or a good controller, start looking into every corner of your business. My friend, Sandi Jerome, long-time controller for multiple auto dealerships, said this about her job:

It didn’t take me long to understand that nobody cared much about my beautiful schedules that reconciled perfectly to my balance sheet. No. That wasn’t what impressed my GMs, partners and owners. They couldn’t have cared less. It wasn’t until I started finding money in the operation that they began to take notice. Operational inefficiencies, dead inventory, pay-plan math errors, penalties and interest due to missed deadlines-all of this. Finding it, and fixing it. This is what got their attention. Sure, you still have to have the perfect schedules, but that is just for starters. Find cash in the operation, and you quickly become the most valued member of the team. – Sandi Jerome

Money no longer flowing, money stranded in the backwaters, money you can’t use, is found and recovered by people who have time to think, who have auditing skills and who know how to ask hard questions. I can’t guarantee $12,000, but I can guarantee peace of mind if you know these things are constantly under scrutiny.

Start finding hidden cash in your operation. It is there. The only question is, how much?