Stress Testing the Owner-Managed Business

Conducting a thorough stress test on an owner-managed business will determine strategic planning deficiencies and enable the success of the business. A stress test for a cardiac patient consists of monitoring the patient on a treadmill to see how well the heart reacts when placed under the stress of sustained exercise. A stress test for a structure involves placing it under a higher than expected load to see if it is as strong as engineering predicts. Financial regulators place banks under stress tests by using sophisticated software models that allow the testing of certain stresses alone and in combination with other events to see if banks have sufficient capital. These testing procedures consist of the initial inquiry, the application of the stress situation or situations, and an analysis of the performance under stress. It is not necessary to construct a complicated piece of equipment or a sophisticated computer model to accomplish a stress test on an owner-managed business.

The inquiry is to ask “What if…?” The application is to follow through the consequences of the event. If a probable event could occur in the marketplace, the application of the inquiry would be to forecast the business experience in the year after the event occurred. If the occurrence of the event will cause the business to lose money without recovery, the application of the inquiry causes the business to fail the stress test. If a business has three owners, the inquiry could be “What would the business experience in the year after the death of one of the owners?” Depending on the role of each in the business, the application of the inquiry would have a different result depending on which owner died. Would it make a difference if a certain owner quit owning because of disability instead of death? Most definitely, for example, if the buy-sell agreement is funded with life insurance, in the case of disability there would be no immediate funding from a life insurance policy. Would it make a difference if the owner left the business? Most definitely, for example, if the owner left to compete with the business and reduced the foreseeable revenue for the business. Would the application of the inquiry cause the business to fail the stress test under any of these inquiries?

While a computer model is not needed, there must be a way to project the economic activity of the business. Generally this can be the profit and loss format of the business accounting on a spreadsheet showing month-to-month performance for a year and allowing for adjustments. With some businesses it may be more meaningful to use a cash-flow format rather than a strict profit and loss format.

Where a probable event in the market will cause the business to lose money without recovery such that the application of the inquiry causes the business fails the test, the analysis and action required will be to anticipate that event with action to create new products or services for the market or find different markets for existing products and services so that the event no longer will cause a failure of the business. If the business cannot generate as extra cash the amount required to make payment to an owner pursuant to existing buy-sell arrangements within the term of time required for the payment such that the stress of one owner leaving the business in a certain way will cause the business to fail the test, the analysis and action required is to adjust the payment and terms of the owners’ agreement to more realistically reflect the reality of the business so that the owner can be paid and the business continue.