Net Present Value (NPV) Explained

A better understanding of NPV
NPV is an excellent measure of business value, but its calculation can be quite complex. When the business case ultimately reaches board level it is important that the correct method has been followed to quantify the value which will meet the board’s requirements. In this paper we examine some of the common sources of error and confusion and discuss the technique used in Shark which avoids these errors.

Explained

What is Net Present Value (NPV)?

Net Present Value is a financial measure of whether a proposal delivers a profit or a loss using an annual cost of money applied to the timing of spend and savings. It includes any upfront or monthly costs of the solution, compared to the agreed benefits accruing. The result is the change in shareholder value to be anticipated from project acceptance.

NPV is part of the family of Return On Investment measures which also includes Internal Rate of Return (the annual rate of profitability of an investment) and Payback (the time taken to repay the initial investment).

With an internationally recognised method of calculation defined by the finance community you can rely on NPV to be solution independent. This means that in a sales environment all you need to worry about is whether the size and timing of the costs and the benefits have been described correctly.

For any investment, most of the delivered value will be generated in the future and a mathematical technique called ‘discounting’ is used to calculate and convert this future value into today’s terms. If you doubt that future cash is worth less than the same amount today, ask yourself which would you rather have: $100 today or $100 in a year’s time?

A simple example will demonstrate the calculation of NPV:

Example 1
Spend $90 today, receive $110 in 12 months.
In cash terms there is an overall net profit of $20 but that $20 is only received in a year’s time so we need to find out what that future receipt would be worth today. This is where the mathematical technique of discounting applies (note that we are not talking about discounting the sales price here!).

When a business spends money there may be many different uses for those funds. One obvious use might be to deposit it in the bank and earn interest, but businesses must generate more than bank interest otherwise there would be no point being in business. If the business needs to earn a minimum 10% on investments, by applying 10% as the revaluation ‘discount rate’, the value in today’s terms of the $110 in one year’s time is $100. An alternative way of looking at this is that the business would have to put $100 in the bank to receive $110 in one year’s time if the rate of interest offered were a fixed 10% per annum.

$110 in 12 months is worth $100 today at a ‘cost of money’ of 10% therefore, in this example, the NPV is $100 less the initial investment of $90 leaving a net profit in today’s terms of $10.
Tip
If you’re trying to find a company’s discount rate it is often referred to as a ‘minimum return rate’ or ‘hurdle rate’ in annual reports.

Timing

Time the costs and benefits accurately.

When comparing the profitability of different investments, the valuation and timing of the various cash inflows and outflows is critical. A simple comparison of total benefits generated minus the total costs incurred does not allow a true value comparison. Take the following examples:

Example 2

Spend $100 today, receive $120 in 12 months. Cost of money is 10%.

NPV in this example is $9.09

Example 3

Spend $100 today, receive $120 in 6 months.  Cost of money is 10%.

NPV in this example is $14.42
As we can see, the NPV depends heavily on the timing of the receipt of the $120 benefit. The sooner the benefits are received the higher the NPV. This actually gives us an advantage when using Shark to produce an NPV because all benefits (and costs) are individually profiled on a monthly basis making the NPV very accurate. The added benefit of using Shark to profile the benefits is that customer sponsorship is easier if the start date for a benefit can be adjusted to suit the real-world onset of that benefit. Customers are reluctant to sponsor a 'general year 1 saving'!

Spreadsheets

Using Excel to calculate NPV

When comparing the profitability of different investments, the valuation and timing of the various cash inflows and outflows is critical. A simple comparison of total benefits generated minus the total costs incurred does not allow a true value comparison. Take the following examples:
Example 4

A simple NPV in Excel:

By only counting benefits at the end of the year, firstly this is not realistic and furthermore there is the likelihood that the NPV will be understated and that may lead to problems with project approval at board level.

Counting the benefits for longer

If the investment were to bring equal values of $120 in subsequent years, the NPV would of course be much greater (but would still be undervalued using Excel):
This illustrates how important it is to count as many benefits as possible. The longer the benefits continue for, the greater the NPV.

The solution

Using Shark to calculate correct NPV

In Shark every single benefit calculator (as well as costs) creates its own individual monthly cashflow. As we have highlighted above, this timing information is important when gaining customer sponsorship because a delayed benefit is easier to support than one which is claimed to start immediately.
You can see an individual benefit calculator cashflow by clicking on the icon highlighted.

Note that the average monthly savings are 685 x 30/36 = $571

Trying to put Shark values back into Excel to give a similar NPV

It is sometimes tempting to try and recreate the NPV from Shark in Excel but because of the lack of timing detail this is not possible. Rather than trying to compress Shark to conform to Excel by working out annual values, the above monthly cashflow really needs to be operated on to give the true NPV. But as we have seen Excel does not have the true monthly NPV valuation function, so this is not really an option.

Putting the numbers back from Excel into Shark

Shark is much more capable and flexible than Excel, so it is easier to work back from Excel if you have compressed the numbers into yearly values. In this instance, the NPV produced by Shark will match Excel numbers, but the NPV result will inevitably be wrong because the monthly timing information is not included.

Conclusion

Correct NPV calculation depends on the accurate management of the timing of the costs and benefits. The only way to ensure client sponsorship for the business case is to value costs and benefits in the months they occur – this is handled transparently and seamlessly in Shark.

What we do

At Shark Finesse we have developed an enterprise-grade cloud application to help businesses standardise and simplify their value engagements across the entire customer journey.

Shark, a business value engagement platform used by 1000’s of customer-facing teams globally (e.g. pre-sales, sales, value teams, and customer success) is easy to use, intuitive and usable directly with the customer to negotiate the likely business returns from investing in a solution.

By adopting the Shark approach you will fundamentally transform conversations with new and existing customers, close more business, and differentiate from the competition.
Find out how