Cash Handling Procedures in Today’s Retail Environment

Implementing the right cash handling procedures can save a retailer time and money.

cash handling best practices, cash handling procedures retail

It’s estimated that one-third of the 1.5 million retailers in the United States aren’t ripe for investing in new cash handling technology—they’re simply too small or don’t have the revenue to see any benefit from an investment. However, that leaves legions of retailers that can—should they be convinced of the value—upgrade their current cash handling procedures.

The low end of this available market, which represents about another one-third of retailers, is fairly mature, with simple cash control devices penetrating about 75 to 80 percent of the workable market for such solutions, according to a 2017 study by the ATM Industry Association, Retail Cash Management.

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But at retailers with some level of automation, which have the size, level of profitability, or mindset to potentially automate aspects of cash management, there is significant room for growth. Penetration of the smart-safe workable market, which could be as much as 30 percent of the total retail space, is only at about 13 percent. And there are only 3,000 to 3,500 cash recyclers active in the US retail market space out of a serviceable market for recyclers of approximately 150,000 retailers, or just 10 to 12 percent penetration of the potential market for cash recyclers in retail.

The new research study concludes, “With the introduction and expansion of smart safes in the mid to late 1990s, and with the growth of the market over time, as well as the expansion of cash management to the fully automated recycler products, the retail market is poised for an explosive growth in products, solutions, services, and support in automated cash management.”

Potential for growth indicates opportunity—but also a complicated marketplace. Solutions range from entry-level systems to completely closed point-of-sale (POS) cash handling solutions in which cashiers have no access to cash at all to solutions that integrate back- and front-office solutions with those used by banks and cash-transit companies. There are traditional smart safes and newer cash recyclers, which include a bin for coin deposits in addition to a note recycler that provides retailers with access to in-store cash from which they can make withdrawals after it is validated and credited to their account. Associates can use recycler units to fill their registers, cashiers can trade large bills for smaller ones, and smaller bills are recycled back into operating cash inventory, reducing the need for change orders and providing an audit trail for each transaction.

It’s a maze of options, and at the risk of being distracted by cat videos, YouTube provides useful tutorials on the range of choices and a chance to watch units in action. Retail case studies offered up by major vendors in the field offer additional insight into specific projects undertaken by retailers, quick-serve restaurants, and others.

Critically, it’s important for LP to educate themselves about solutions while not looking for the “one right” answer. “A retail strategy is actually the first determinant of how you should manage your cash,” advised Mike Keenan, CPP, CFI, LPC, an industry veteran who has led LP at Macy’s, Ross, and Gap during his distinguished career. Risks, resources, cash intake, and a host of other factors are also determinants. “Different retailers will need different solutions,” Keenan noted.

In Search of Value through Cash Handling Procedures

Cash demand forecasting is an important part of a decision on investing in cash handling systems; so, too, is a complete accounting of current cash handling activities and their associated costs. While both areas may exceed the boundary of LP, executives should be aware of them—and the full scope of the financial and business impacts of cash management—to be a full partner in a retailer’s drive for profitability—today’s higher mandate for LP.

“It’s the direction of the industry, where we need to be expanding that value and changing what a project sponsor brings to the table,” explained John Van Slingerland, vice president of business development at G4S Retail Solutions, a provider of end-to-end retail cash management solutions.

It’s also why providers such as G4S have invested heavily in educating LP on cash management beyond the impact on risk. “In general, folks in LP and AP are being asked to do more. Moreover, they want to be asked to participate in the strategic part of the business,” he said. “It’s about supporting them as they go to their business partners with more benefits than just securing cash and a provisional credit at the end of the day. It’s also about other benefits that put them in a position to help drive consistency in the business.”

What are some of those other benefits? Broadly, a retailer that adopts a more efficient cash handling organization reduces the costs of cash management may increase levels of customer service, and benefits from a more transparent monitoring of cash payment flow. To maximize the effectiveness of a cash handling solution, experts say a retailer should examine the whole cash cycle and effectively involve all stakeholders, including LP, operations, finance, store owners and managers, banks, and cash-in-transit companies.

On the business side, when a retailer can get a near real-time picture of its cash assets, it can make use of that working capital, make better business decisions, reduce bank fees and risk, and improve compliance. And as interest rates climb, the value to retailers of having nearly real-time access to cash deposits increases. And it’s not just LP and finance that can make use of the data that today’s solutions can generate. Marketing can use the intelligence to make a correlation between an advertising campaign or sale and cash intake, for example.

Different technologies and features yield different value. Cash counting machines, for example, reduce errors and cash drawer counting to under a minute. Using a cash recycling machine also saves a retailer from depositing costs, automates the counting process, and makes it easier to track the reconciliation process. The benefits of smart-safe technology are broadly known—they sort cash and automatically credit accounts—but enhanced business intelligence from them is expanding their value.

Cutting costs associated with maintenance and service is one example. Connected cash systems can continually perform health checks, issue status reports, and permit remote troubleshooting. And updating permissions, such as adding or deleting authorized users, can be made at the central repository. Configuration changes can be pushed out to 1,000 stores at once. “For larger retailers there is significant administrative burden associated with profile management and having technicians go out and do local updates. Now that it’s cloud-based, all of that can be done remotely,” explained Jim Poteet, executive vice president at FireKing.

If a retailer is experiencing high cash shortages in its stores, advanced cash management technology can be particularly beneficial, according to Keenan. By improving accountability and control, the technology can reduce actual cash losses, enhancing the ROI equation.

Time saving has been a major driver of business value for 7-Eleven from its investments in automated cash handling technology. “It has allowed for agreements that we don’t have to separate bills. The stores can take entire bundles as they are fed, rather than sorting, and that saves the stores time,” said Smith. “And with integration at POS, we can identify employees and to whom the machine dispenses change if they need more in the till. That level of intelligence has improved the time spent managing cash at shift changes and at start and end of day.”

That can bring a retailer substantial value. Administration accounts for 72 percent of cash handling costs, according to data from Gunnebo, a provider of cash handling solutions. The average time spent on till reconciliation during shift changes is nearly fifteen minutes, and even more is spent on manual consolidation in cash offices for each checkout. Replenishing tills, reporting, safe reconciliations, cash transport preparation, ordering change, and other administrative tasks that technology can automate consume additional time.

Indeed, retailers in case studies most frequently cite time saving as a primary source of payback for automated cash handling technology. For example, Tony Lawson, director of asset protection for Goodwill of Southeast Wisconsin and its sixty-four locations, estimates his organization is saving two to four hours per day by switching from counting all cash by hand to use of a Tellermate intelligent cash counter with an integrated keypad and printer. Schnuck Markets, Panda Express, and Rack Room Shoes tell similar stories of saving money by eliminating manual money handling.

By conducting a pilot study in which time spent managing cash is measured pre- and post-implementation of cash handling technology, it’s possible for a retailer to make an assessment of the potential ROI from this aspect of automation. It’s an important step for all retailers to take because the value from faster cash handling will vary, according to Mike Keenan. While use of cash recyclers helped one major retailer eliminate thousands of back-office jobs in 2017, those types of major savings aren’t a sure thing. “Cash counting machines help people be more efficient and increase accuracy, but the value you’ll get from that depends on the business environment.”

Keenan explained that if a store has personnel who just handle cash, there is an opportunity to reduce headcount, which would translate into significant savings. “But so many retailers have moved to lean payroll models that they may just have a manager responsible for handling the cash.” And although automation could allow a manager to increase his or her productivity, that is a substantially more squishy value-add than trimming payroll.

Keenan believes that LP executives need to take a judicious approach in general. “Today’s cash management solutions are very creative, and they have lot of bells and whistles. They may sound good, but you have to thoroughly examine them—what will the ROI truly be?” He noted that for a retailer looking at purchasing units for thousands of locations, it’s far from a guarantee that the payback period will be quick enough to make for a winning business case. “So an important part of looking at cash solutions is to be extremely clear on exactly what the unit or solution is going to bring you.”

To that end, retailers should be wary of taking a siloed approach to examining cash handling solutions. As for LP, experts we talked to suggested that they should educate themselves on the broad business benefits of advanced cash management solutions—such as achieving working capital benefits by getting cash more quickly into accounts—as well as measure and communicate the security risks and benefits associated with different cash handling options.

Learn more about reducing risk through cash management processes by reading the full article, “Cashing In on Security,” which was originally published in 2017. This excerpt was updated October 5, 2017.

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