The following are some examples of modern financial management theories formulated on principles considered as ‘a set of fundamental tenets that form the basis for financial theory and decision-making in finance’ (Emery et al.1991). An attempt would be made to relate the principles behind these concepts to small businesses’ financial management.
Agency theory deals with the people who own a business enterprise and all others who have interests in it, for example managers, banks, creditors, family members, and employees. The agency theory postulates that the day to day running of a business enterprise is carried out by managers as agents who have been engaged by the owners of the business as principals who are also known as shareholders. The theory is on the notion of the principle of ‘two-sided transactions’ which holds that any financial transactions involve two parties, both acting in their own best interests, but with different expectations.
Problems usually identified with agency theory may include:
i. Information asymmetry- a situation in which agents have information on the financial circumstances and prospects of the enterprise that is not known to principals (Emery et al.1991). For example ‘The Business Roundtable’ emphasised that in planning communications with shareholders and investors, companies should consider never misleading or misinforming stockholders about the corporation’s operations or financial condition. In spite of this principle, there was lack of transparency from Enron’s management leading to its collapse;
ii. Moral hazard-a situation in which agents deliberately take advantage of information asymmetry to redistribute wealth to themselves in an unseen manner which is ultimately to the detriment of principals. A case in point is the failure of the Board of directors of Enron’s compensation committee to ask any question about the award of salaries, perks, annuities, life insurance and rewards to the executive members at a critical point in the life of Enron; with one executive on record to have received a share of ownership of a corporate jet as a reward and also a loan of $77m to the CEO even though the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US bans loans by companies to their executives; and
iii. Adverse selection-this concerns a situation in which agents misrepresent the skills or abilities they bring to an enterprise. As a result of that the principal’s wealth is not maximised (Emery et al.1991).
In response to the inherent risk posed by agents’ quest to make the most of their interests to the disadvantage of principals (i.e. all stakeholders), each stakeholder tries to increase the reward expected in return for participation in the enterprise. Creditors may increase the interest rates they get from the enterprise. Other responses are monitoring and bonding to improve principal’s access to reliable information and devising means to find a common ground for agents and principals respectively.
Emanating from the risks faced in agency theory, researchers on small business financial management contend that in many small enterprises the agency relationship between owners and managers may be absent because the owners are also managers; and that the predominantly nature of SMEs make the usual solutions to agency problems such as monitoring and bonding costly thereby increasing the cost of transactions between various stakeholders (Emery et al.1991).
Nevertheless, the theory provides useful knowledge into many matters in SMEs financial management and shows considerable avenues as to how SMEs financial management should be practiced and perceived. It also enables academic and practitioners to pursue strategies that could help sustain the growth of SMEs.