The main objective of this research project is to create a new information model in the field of corporate financial literacy, with a special emphasis on the Hungarian SME sector – using our previous data collection and scientific results. The role of corporate financial culture, i.e. corporate financial awareness, is becoming increasingly important, and the reason for this is becoming an increasingly complex system. The Hungarian SME sector has faced many challenges over the past two decades. The first major challenge in this period was the 2008 crisis, which took years to overcome. This was followed by a period of relative calm (boom), and from 2020 onwards a series of crises hit the world, including Hungary: pandemics, the Russian-Ukrainian war, the energy crisis, soaring inflation, the collapse of the trade balance, etc. This study highlights the complexity of corporate financial literacy in the Hungarian SME sector and reveals the importance of corporate financial literacy and its measurement.
We found that companies with a higher financial culture should be able to deal with the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the Russian-Ukrainian war more effectively and behave more counter-cyclically. This is because companies with a higher financial culture have a stronger focus on risk management.
The global economy has been hit by a series of shocks over the past 3 years. The coronavirus crisis, followed almost immediately, after barely a year of calm, by the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war (Litvaj et al., 2022; PeriŠiĆ et al., 2022; Urbaniec et al., 2022; Pató et al., 2022).
In the meantime, however, a number of other problems have emerged: the economy was hit by supply-chain disruptions, the labor market was tightening, energy and commodity prices were rising, a drought, the exchange rate depreciated and funding costs increased, external demand have weaked, higher-than-expected global funding costs (Roubini, 2022). A war between Russia and Ukraine will exacerbate the supply chain problems and drive up commodity prices further (Krugman, 2022; Allam et al., 2022). These economic shocks have of course been mitigated by strong economic policy support, all over the world (including Hungary too), with tangible consequences. The loose fiscal policy pushed inflation sky high (above 20 percent in Hungary), and fueled a large external deficit. In such a situation, it is clear that economic policy have to intervene. The Hungarian National Bank has responded to rising inflation by significantly tightening monetary policy since June 2021. The Hungarian Government have taken measures to rein the fiscal deficit in 2022 and 2023. It can be seen that fiscal and monetary policy mix is crucial to tackle inflation and reduce vulnerabilities from economic imbalances (Prohorovs, 2022; IMF, 2022).
It is clear from the above that the current business environment is challenging, and this applies to businesses as well. It is clear that businesses are not in an easy situation, as they have to deal with several problems at the same time. Financing costs have risen to an extreme. In response to long-unprecedented inflation, the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) began raising interest rates in June 2021. Two years ago, the base rate was at a low of 0.6%, but today it is 13%, with the MNB paying an even higher benchmark rate of 18% on overnight deposits. The introduced overnight one-day deposit tender has become the de facto policy rate.
High central bank rates have both direct and indirect effects on financial markets. The most directly affected interbank rate in Budapest, BUBOR, has already exceeded its level of 10 years ago during the year and has been above 15% for the last two months. Given that this rate is now 18%, corporate borrowing rates are now above 20%. And this interest rate directly implies a contraction in corporate lending, which is now unaffordable. Companies are therefore faced with very difficult access to external finance. In addition to extremely high interest rates, banks have also become more cautious as their risk has increased significantly in the last few months.
Credit risks are expected to rise as growth slows, costs rise, particularly for energy-intensive industries (IMF, 2022). So business leaders and owners now have to think about the financial choices they will have to make in the face of cost pressures and the challenges of accessing finance. The situation is further exacerbated by steadily rising inflation, shortages in a growing number of areas (e.g. raw materials), a sharp rise in energy prices, a tight labour market, higher wages etc.
It is therefore clear that there are many challenges for states, and therefore for companies, to overcome. In this struggle, we believe that improving financial awareness can be one of the key tools. The SME sector has a decisive role in the improved competitiveness of Hungary (Lentner, 2014; 2015a,b). In this light, the improvement and development of economic actors in the sector are inevitable for economic and social growth. In full accordance with the intentions of the Hungarian Government I believe and conclude that the SME sector has to be put into position as soon as possible, and its competitiveness, efficiency and productivity have to be improved. In our opinion, this can only be achieved by taking a series of targeted and consistent measures, which should be based on corporate financial awareness and financial culture development. To do this, company leaders, entrepreneurs, and policymakers need to know and take into account the possible consequences of investing in financial literacy.
Corporate financial literacy
The conception of corporate financial literacy has received significant attention from research scholars, academicians, policymakers and economists in the international financial environment, particularly in the last decade (Agyei, 2018; Agung et al., 2020; Avram et al., 2019; Murugesan et al., 2022). Corporate financial culture is a very complex set of tools, which includes knowledge and awareness of financial products, understanding of financial institutions and financial skills, and abilities such as financial planning and money management (Seraj et al., 2022; Sumidartini–Muhyi, 2022). In addition, many studies include conscious investment management and the development of a balanced capital structure as part of the tools of corporate financial culture (Thung et al., 2012; Saptono, 2018; Dvorský et al., 2020).
Beyond the financial management toolkit, many analyses show that corporate financial culture is closely linked to the education and learning culture of the company. Drexler et al. (2014) also investigated the significance of education in the Dominican Republic. Their study involved the relationship between financial literacy and professional training, and they analysed the methods used to develop financial literacy, and also whether there is a relationship between the outcome of financial decisions and the level of financial literacy. One of the most important findings of their research is that the positive outcome of various financial and accounting training programmes is definitely reflected in the company staff’s level of knowledge, and its positive effect is also manifest on the operational level of business (in terms of income and profit) (Tóth et al., 2021).
Financial literacy plays a central role in the relationship between financial markets and potential lenders in general (Burchi et al., 2021; Fanta et al., 2021). The more financially aware businesses are, the better financial decisions they make, including in the area of lending (Yang et al., 2018; Ngyugen et al., 2019; Hussain et al., 2018). This means directly that better financial decisions reduce risks on both the corporate and the banking side. It follows that improving corporate financial awareness is also in the interest of the banking system.
Financial proposals based on corporate financial awareness
For the majority of small enterprises – and in many cases for medium enterprises – maintaining cash-flow balance is one of the greatest problems; however, it is one of the bases for the survival and growth of the company. If this ratio is positive, it indicates that a company’s liquidity is appropriate, and it enables the company to meet its current payment obligations, raise its wealth, repay its existing external debts, and possibly build a financial reserve. On the contrary, negative cash-flow means that the company’s liquid assets are decreasing. The main aim should be keeping expenditure at the lowest minimum, while keeping revenues at the highest possible value. Consequently, the constant monitoring of cash-flow is of outmost significance in every company’s life. There are of course a number of methods that can improve corporate cash-flow. One of these techniques is optimising, shortening payment deadlines, as well as assessing new clients’ creditworthiness. This is usually a sensitive issue, since overly firm client 18 rating can lead to loss of clients, while too lax client policies may cause losses. Therefore, it is advisable to use the services of, for example, a factoring company. Corporate cash-flow may not only be improved through the clients, but also inside the company. For example by optimising, accelerating corporate processes: the fastest possible product delivery, followed by immediate invoicing, or the constant monitoring of payment deadlines and taking necessary measures. In terms of cash-flow it is also important that the company uses cash-flow forecasting. Its significance lies in getting prepared for unexpected events that are sure to come in any company’s life, to which small businesses in particular can react more slowly. If a business has cashflow forecasting, there is no need to waste time on finding out the possible effects, instead management strategies can be developed immediately.
The present day market turbulence, that is, the rapid changes in the market environment require flexibility, high levels of adaptability, agility and being solution-oriented from today’s entrepreneurs. In this respect, companies need to pursue the use of such tool systems in their operative and strategic functions that ensure the best possible operation. Such solutions are strategic planning, business planning, financial strategy planning, human resources planning, investment planning, savings planning and cost planning. Corporate management can only make sound decisions in the possession of up-to-date necessary information, and having a clear understanding of level of expected costs, and the direction of its possible changes. Thus, it may be concluded that the major aim of companies is profitable operations, so every company needs awareness in cost management, cost-management activities. It can be established that a precise knowledge of costs is far more important than expected turnover, since in the knowledge of costs it may be determined how much turnover is required for profit making. With regards costs, investor’s vison is also important, which means that all costs need to be returned, that is, costs have to produce their own return and also expected profits. Building an appropriate cost structure cannot be ignored either. Its basis is optimisation, which, however, does not equal cost reduction. It all means that during the course of everyday operations there are certain types of costs that need to be reduced, while the reduction of other types might hinder growth.
Our study population includes Hungarian enterprises with 25-250 employees and an annual turnover or balance sheet total of less than 50 million euros (according to EU SME proposal 2003/361). We used a 95% confidence level and 5% standard error to estimate the ideal sample size.
Our survey used a systematic random sampling method: companies were contacted during national roadshows between February and May 2019 (so the sample includes companies with 2018 financial data), and a second sampling was conducted among the same respondents between May and August 2021 and again in May and August 2022. These three independent samples become our models. Due to the method’s rigour, these samples had to be shortened, therefore incomplete or outlier replies were deleted.
Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) is a multivariate statistical technique used to examine the degree to which measured variables accurately indicate the number of constructs. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and exploratory factor analysis (EFA) are comparable procedures, however in exploratory factor analysis (EFA), data is only investigated to determine the number of components necessary to describe the data adequately. All measurable variables are associated to each latent variable in exploratory factor analysis. In contrast, in confirmatory factor analysis, researchers may define the number of needed factors in the data and which measured variable is associated with which hidden variable. The purpose of confirmatory factor analysis is to validate or reject the measurement hypothesis. The estimated method used was the maximum likelihood method; following the recommendation of Thompson (2004). The threshold values for these two indicators should be CR > 0.7; CR > AVE; AVE > 0.5 (J. Hair, Black, Babin, & Anderson, 2010). The classification of convergent validity measures is described by Fornell and Larcker (Fornell & Larcker, 1981).
We give the test findings of the confirmatory factor model for all three samples in this study. Our financial culture model is validated using a confirmatory factor model. In a confirmatory factor analysis, establishing validity is crucial, particularly convergent and discriminant validity (Carmines & Zeller, 1979). If the components lack adequate validity and reliability, our attempts to analyse the causal models based on them will be futile; they cannot be appropriately comprehended.
In addition, we must ensure that the model we develop is the best possible and cannot be improved. To do this, it is necessary to conduct all three kinds of fit tests of the constructs (absolute, incremental, and parsimonious fitting) until the test results improve. Best construction is achieved when further improvement is no longer significant. To calculate the threshold values for the indicators, it is advantageous to use the literature’s stricter values.
(Mulaik et al., 1989; B. Wheaton, Muthen, Alwin, & Summers, 1977) There are a variety of goodness-of-fit indicators for testing the fit of statistical models. According to published research, four to six goodness-of-fit indices are often used and suggested to evaluate the fit of models to a data structure (Medsker, Williams, & Holahan, 1994). To determine the robustness of particular indicators, it is important to establish a number of non-fit indicators (Blair Wheaton, 1987). In light of this, Hair et al. (Hair et al, 1998) advise using at least three categories of fit indicators:
1. absolute fit indices: they quantify how well the model explains the observable covariance of the data (Hu & Bentler, 1995)
2. incremental fit indices: assess how well the proposed model fits the data to a baseline model that implies variable independence (Bentler, 1990)
3. parsimonious fit indices: permit the examination of the fit of competing models on the same basis (Wong et al, 2014)
Results and findings
The primary objective in developing the Corporate Financial Literacy Index (hereafter: CFLI) is to measure the financial awareness of businesses. The question arises as to the basis on which the variables that have been included in the construction of the CFLI have been defined. Basically, they come from the literature review identified the variables that are considered by some national and international authors to be part of corporate financial awareness.
In addition, the design of the corporate FLI was intended to refer to the exercise of planning, analysis and control functions, the conscious management of liquidity, awareness of short- and long-term strategic planning, broad information, the use of modern banking services, capital strength and indebtedness, and the management of financial risks. The indicator is constructed in an additive way, taking into account the variables below, with given weights. Within the indices, all variables are given equal weight. In total, after grouping the variables, seven sub-indices have been developed, as follows.
Internal financial literacy index elements:
- financial management index (profitability; efficiency; cashflow management; regular controlling reports; financial reserve; investment; cost management; growth; conscious financial, strategic management; use of modern banking and financial services),
- analysis index (review of the financial situation; revenue structure analysis; liquidity analysis; analysis of the possibilities of obtaining application funds; cost structure analysis; profitability analysis; plan- fact analysis; asset analysis)
- planning index (planning: revenue and expenditure plan; design premises and conditions; written strategy; short-term operational plan; financial strategy; financing strategy)
- finance index (borrowing; liquidity management; financial and capital structure; use of internal financing instruments; conscious design of capital structure)
External index contains:
- risks and insurance index(risk management; acquisition and analysis of financial information; credit insurance)
- taxation index (search for tax optimization; applying tax optimization; considering the tax implications of financial decisions)
- external financing index (following the communication of the Hungarian National Bank; monitoring macroeconomic processes; monitoring the operation of the state and changes in economic policy; use of counseling; monitoring inflation and the central bank base rate).
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine have had significant impacts on the financial situations of many companies. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread economic disruption and business closures, leading to significant financial losses for many companies. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has also disrupted trade and economic ties between the two countries and all across Europe as well which has had negative impacts on the financial performance of companies that do business with either country or which is as embedded in the European economy as Hungary. In addition, the conflict has led to increased economic sanctions and other economic measures that have further disrupted trade and economic activity, which has had negative impacts on the financial performance of companies operating in the region. Hungarian companies could potentially be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the global economy, and Hungary is no exception. The pandemic has led to widespread economic disruption and business closures, which could have negative impacts on the financial performance of Hungarian companies.
In terms of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Hungarian companies could potentially be affected if they have business ties with either country or if they operate in industries that are impacted by the conflict or economic sanctions. However, the specific extent to which Hungarian companies have been affected by these events will depend on the individual circumstances of each company.
From the analysis of the data, we can see that the internal folds of the indices have not changed in nature, the order of importance among them has not changed significantly in absolute terms, but we can observe relative changes.
The role and importance of all the sub-indices in the financial performance of companies has therefore increased, but the most significant increases have been in the planning index and the index of external financial elements. At the same time, the importance of the risk and insurance index has increased significantly, and the role of the taxation and analysis index has increased by a similar amount.
These associations and changes can be observed in the diagram below.
The economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to job losses, reduced income, and financial uncertainty for many individuals, which could have increased their need for financial awareness and financial planning. In addition, the pandemic may have led to increased financial distress and financial insecurity for some individuals, which could have made it more important for them to be aware of their financial situation and to make informed financial decisions. Similarly, the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine could potentially affect financial awareness if it leads to economic disruption or financial insecurity for individuals or businesses in the region. However, the specific impact on financial awareness will depend on the individual circumstances of each person or business.
However, there are some steps that companies can take to try to survive during difficult economic times, such as the effects of COVID-19 pandemic or the war between Russia and Ukraine. Some potential strategies that companies may consider include cost cutting (reducing expenses can help a company conserve cash and improve profitability. This can be achieved through a variety of means, such as reducing headcount, negotiating lower prices with suppliers, or streamlining operations, diversification (expanding into new markets or products can help a company spread risk and reduce its reliance on any single market or product line, innovation (developing new products or services, or finding new ways to deliver existing ones, can help a company stay competitive and attract new customers, financial awareness and planning, and improving their efforts in developing the FLI parameters (careful financial planning can help a company anticipate and prepare for economic challenges which may involve building up cash reserves, reducing debt, or finding alternative sources of funding), collaboration (collaborating with other companies or organizations, either through partnerships or strategic alliances, can help a company access new markets, resources, or expertise.
Ultimately, the specific strategies that will be most effective for a given company will depend on its industry, market, and individual circumstances.
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Dr. Róbert Tóth PhD
Senior Lecturer, Institute of Economics and Management
Faculty of Law of the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary
Prof. Dr. László Ungvári PhD
Technische Hochschule Wildau
Dr. Imre Túróczi PhD
College associate professor, University of Debrecen
Dr. habil. Richárd Kása PhD
Faculty of Finance and Accountancy, Department of Management, Budapest Business School,
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