Difference Between Profits and Cash Flows

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on February 24, 2023

One of the most common misconceptions about business is that the profit an organization makes is equal to—or roughly equal to—the increase in cash (or bank) balances recorded in a financial year.

Many investors who provide capital for a company (by purchasing shares) but are not managerially active find it hard to believe that their company has recorded a profit in a particular year and yet it is in a net borrowing situation at the end of that year.

Erroneous as it might seem to an accounting student, it is not difficult to sympathize with a person holding this view.

Not very long ago, many businesses dealt strictly in cash. If they ever needed to buy an asset, they always asked the owner to pay for it.

In this way, their cash in hand was the net result of their business activities and roughly equal to their profits.

However, the situation is much different today.

Profit, as disclosed by an income statement, represents the excess of revenue earned by a business over the expenses incurred in a given financial period. The two important phrases are: "revenue earned" and "expenses incurred."

Now, you are well aware that all revenue that is earned by a business may not necessarily be received in cash within the same accounting period; some revenue may be outstanding in the form of trade receivables at year-end.

On the other hand, some customers may have paid for their orders in advance. Such advance receipts do not form part of the firm's revenue earned.

Similarly, some of the expenses incurred in a period may not have been paid for in that period and may, therefore, appear in the closing balance sheet as accruals.

Hence, with these examples in mind, it is easy to see why profit disclosed in an income statement may not equal the cash generated by the business in a financial period. In fact, prepayments and accruals are not the only reasons for this discrepancy.

Just as all profit does not translate into cash, all cash receipts do not equate to profit. For example, funds received as a loan increase the cash balance of a company but do not qualify as profit.

Similarly, certain expenses (e.g. depreciation) may not result in cash outflow. And all payments may not necessarily be expenses (e.g., purchase of a fixed asset).

In order to manage a business unit efficiently, its management needs to keep an eye on both profits and cash flows.

Profits are controlled by preparing budgeted income statements and regularly preparing actual income statements. A separate mechanism is needed to keep a watch on cash flows.

This is achieved by periodically preparing a statement called a statement of sources and applications of funds (or, in short, a Fund Flow Statement).

Difference Between Profits and Cash Flows FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.