Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Robert A. Burgelman, Margot Sutherland, Kelly Dubois. The Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 (referred as “Schwab Pottruck” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Strategy & Execution. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Competitive strategy, Networking, Strategic planning, Technology.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 Case Study

Dave Pottruck, president and co-CEO of Charles Schwab Corp. (CSC), is contemplating a piece of news in the June 1, 1999 edition of the Wall Street Journal that was about to send shock waves through the brokerage community: Merrill Lynch's decision to launch online trading on December 1, 1999. Customers at Merrill Lynch would be able to trade online for $29.95/trade or, for a minimum annual fee of $1,500, make as many trades as they wanted. Now that Merrill Lynch had joined the online trading revolution, Pottruck wondered, how would this affect Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (Schwab), and what should the company do in response? Pottruck observes that Merrill Lynch, E*Trade, WingspanBank, and Schwab, although competing for similar customers, appeared to be doing so from very different starting points. Pottruck considers the competitive dynamics of the brokerage industry and wonders: How can Schwab maintain its growth trajectory in the face of so many, varied competitors? What other firms might enter the space? How could Schwab protect and grow its existing customer base? Was Schwab getting "squeezed in the middle" or could it create a "category of one"?

Case Authors : Robert A. Burgelman, Margot Sutherland, Kelly Dubois

Topic : Strategy & Execution

Related Areas : Competitive strategy, Networking, Strategic planning, Technology

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10002524) -10002524 - -
Year 1 3452063 -6550461 3452063 0.9434 3256663
Year 2 3954992 -2595469 7407055 0.89 3519929
Year 3 3970481 1375012 11377536 0.8396 3333692
Year 4 3242772 4617784 14620308 0.7921 2568579
TOTAL 14620308 12678864

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2676340

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Payback Period
2. Net Present Value
3. Internal Rate of Return
4. Profitability Index

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Schwab Pottruck shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Schwab Pottruck have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Strategy & Execution Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Schwab Pottruck often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Schwab Pottruck needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10002524) -10002524 - -
Year 1 3452063 -6550461 3452063 0.8696 3001794
Year 2 3954992 -2595469 7407055 0.7561 2990542
Year 3 3970481 1375012 11377536 0.6575 2610656
Year 4 3242772 4617784 14620308 0.5718 1854065
TOTAL 10457057

The Net NPV after 4 years is 454533

(10457057 - 10002524 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10002524) -10002524 - -
Year 1 3452063 -6550461 3452063 0.8333 2876719
Year 2 3954992 -2595469 7407055 0.6944 2746522
Year 3 3970481 1375012 11377536 0.5787 2297732
Year 4 3242772 4617784 14620308 0.4823 1563837
TOTAL 9484810

The Net NPV after 4 years is -517714

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9484810 - 10002524 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Schwab Pottruck to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Schwab Pottruck has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Schwab Pottruck can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Schwab Pottruck, then the stock price of the Schwab Pottruck should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Schwab Pottruck should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Robert A. Burgelman, Margot Sutherland, Kelly Dubois (2018), "Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. (A): In 1999 Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.