FX International Payments
By Phillip Silitschanu
No one likes surprises, least of all when the surprise is an expensive one. That’s why business executives spend so much time and effort forecasting market demand, operating costs, turnover, profits – and perhaps most importantly in regards to operating continuity – payroll expense. When currency exchange rate fluctuations disrupt forecasted revenues and expenses for a business with international operations, the results can be catastrophic. Accurately predicting a business’s operating expenses is as critical as winning sales, as all the sales in the world would be for naught if the business’s operating expenses outpaced its turnover. If expenses are not accurately forecasted, a business cannot properly manage its operations, as it does not have an accurate grasp of how much those operational input increases or decreases will affect the business’s bottom line.
Notably, for most businesses the largest operating expense is payroll. Luckily, payroll is fairly predictable: unless there is a sudden unexpected increase or decrease in demand for a business’s products or services, it can be fairly certain of its employee base and corresponding cost. However, as predictable as the business’s payroll is for the year, uncertainty enters when that business has employees in foreign countries. Fluctuations between countries’ foreign exchange rates can wreak havoc on the most accurate payroll predictions.
The foreign exchange rate between a business’s home country and other countries where employees are based may be very unpredictable. When extrapolated across numerous countries, a bad run of FX luck could wipe out the business’s annual profits if exchange rate risks are not accurately forecasted and properly managed. A business cannot withhold pay from employees for a week or a month if foreign exchange rates move in an unfavourable direction – it must pay the staff even when a rising foreign exchange rate means that the amount is much higher in the business’s home currency.
When a business does not hedge against foreign exchange rate fluctuations, it can be exposed to significant losses due to increased currency costs or a fall in realised profits when its foreign income is repatriated. For example, as the U.S. dollar strengthened versus the euro in 2015, U.K. and European multinational corporations with significant U.S. businesses such as Unilever, Danone and Nestle attributed between 3.7 percent and 12 percent of their first-quarter sales growth to the favourable euro-USD exchange rate.1 At the same time, a prominent U.S. consumer products company with a large European business predicted that its full-year sales would decline by 5 percent and profit would fall by 12 percent due to the same exchange rate.2
So how can a business protect itself from being blindsided by foreign exchange rate fluctuations? The first step is to partner with a well-established foreign currency transfer service provider. Such providers can help a business implement a plan to address its foreign payroll obligations, as well as helping to execute the currency transfers necessary for a business to keep its employees around the world paid in a timely fashion. That same foreign currency transfer service provider can also help a business to repatriate its foreign currency holdings. It is important to understand that every country will have its own unique foreign exchange rate fluctuations and that predicting those fluctuations can be difficult, even for professionals who specialise in foreign-currency exchange.
But there are ways for a business to “lock-in” its foreign currency obligations. For example, consider a multinational business with employees in India. On average, their payroll obligation is 8.5 million rupees per month (approximately £100,000). So, every month the business must have 8.5 million rupees available in its local bank account in order to pay those Indian employees. The problem is that some months, that obligation may mean that it must transfer £100,000; in other months, £90,000; and still others, £115,000. These monthly variations can be unpredictable, making accurate forecasting difficult, if not impossible. This business can utilise a foreign currency transfer service to set-up future currency transfers at a locked-in foreign exchange rate. The business can enter into a future contract guaranteeing that it will have to transfer exactly £100,000 every month, regardless of the then-current sterling-rupee foreign exchange rate, to meet its 8.5 million rupee obligation. In this fashion, the business can accurately budget for its monthly foreign payroll obligations, avoiding expensive surprises.
A business spends time and effort carefully planning and forecasting its expenses and sales. All that planning can be for naught if foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations are not taken into account, and adequate measures are not taken to protect itself from those changes. Surprises are best left to birthday parties, not payroll obligations.
Phillip Silitschanu is the founder of Lightship Strategies Consulting LLC, and CustomWhitePapers.com. Phillip has nearly 20 years as a thought leader and strategy consultant in global capital markets and financial services, and has authored numerous market analysis reports, as well as co-authoring Multi-Manager Funds: Long Only Strategies. He has also been quoted in the US Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, BusinessWeek, CNBC, and numerous other publications. Phillip holds a B.S. in finance from Boston University, a J.D. in law from Stetson University College of Law, and an M.B.A. from Babson College.
1. "Unilever Boosted by Stronger Dollar", The Wall Street Journal; http://www.wsj.com/articles/unilever-sales-lifted-by-currency-impact-1429165779
2. "Procter & Gamble’s profit stung by currency woes", Fortune; http://fortune.com/2015/01/27/procter-gamble-forex-hurts-profit/