Corporate Finance vs Project Finance

Updated on May 13, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between Corporate Finance and Project Finance

Corporate financing refers to the financial management of an overall company, like deciding the company’s financial model, then raising the finance and optimal utilization of funds, and enhancing the working of the company. In contrast, project financing refers to taking financial decisions like sources of funds, contracts with vendors, and negotiation.

Corporate finance and project finance are subjects you should read for at least 100 hours or more to understand the intricacies. But, in this article, we will discuss the overview with a few examples so that before you start studying and go into detail, you have some idea about what you’re trying to go through.

That doesn’t mean we will cover just the chicken feed. Nope. We will give enough material for you to ponder to get more interested in these subjects. Sounds good? Let’s get started.

Corporate Finance vs Project Finance

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Why Study Corporate Finance & Project Finance?

The basic reason you should study these two subjects is that you need to understand how these two are different from each other. Corporate finance is way different than project finance. Many students of finance who will join the organization after their graduation or post-graduation may face the difficulty of analyzing these two in greater detail. For example, if you complete your MBA in Finance and join an organization as Sr. Financial Executive and the organization is mainly a matrix organization that goes its way up through large projects, how would you handle it? You need to know project finance in depth.

On the other hand, if you work for an organization that maintains a flat structure and thrives on maintaining the proper debt-equity ratio, you need to know how you would be able to finance your operation and make your presence count. Corporate finance will help you with that.

Moreover, both of these subjects will teach you to understand the process of sourcing the money from the financial institutions or banks, the details of the documents, the parties involved in the process, and more. And these terms will make perfect sense. We will discuss it further in the next sections. Hang tight. The chaos will get settled as you read on.

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What is Corporate Finance?

In an organization where corporate finance is practiced, the objective of practicing it is to maximize the wealth of the shareholders wealth. Corporate finance mainly deals with the sources of funds and how the optimum capital structure will be achieved.

Let’s take an example to understand that.

ABC Ltd. loans 50% of funds from creditors with an assurance to give back 15% within five years. And the rest of the amount they source from their equity shareholders. They pay a dividend, and the dividend cost is 10% on the profit. These 15% and 10% are their cost of capital which they want to reduce by any means. So they need to find out a proper debt-equity ratio (now it is 50:50) which will reduce their cost of capital.

At the same time, if they can reduce their total cost of capital (debt and equity included), they will be able to keep better profits or think of reinvesting the profit into the business. Corporate finance will help ABC Ltd. figure out these things and help them find an optimum solution.

Now, you can understand why corporate finance is so very important. The above description is just an example, and there are many avenues of corporate finance, which we will discuss in later sections.

What is Project Finance?

Project finance is used to finance the project in a sequential process. It is useful in cases where finance is required in the case of a large industrial or renewable energy project. The whole amount is not invested upfront.

In project finance, financial institutions can’t see your balance sheet upfront in a project. They finance the project based on the projected cash flow. If the cash flow seems satisfactory and beneficial to the financial institutions, they invest in the project.

For example, if the X project needs to be started, they contact a bank or a financial institution and ask for 10% of the money required for the project by showing the projected cash flow for the future. Now, it’s the complete discretion of the bank or financial institution to decide whether to invest in that project or not.

Usually, there is a number of equity investors who invest in the project as sponsors and typically these loans are non-recourse loans (secured loans) that are given against project property. The loans are paid completely from the project cash flow, and if the parties default to pay back the loan, then the project properties are being seized. A special purpose entity is created for the entire project. This is how project finance works.

Corporate Finance vs Project Finance Infographics

Corporate Finance vs Project Finance Infographics

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Key Concepts

#1 – Corporate Finance

Many concepts in corporate finance will help you understand the whole process. We will look at the most common and most used terms to have an idea about them.

  • Capital Structure: To understand corporate finance, you need to know the capital structure well. Capital structure is how a firm finances its operations and growth by sourcing money from different avenues. A firm that runs its operation on a day-to-day basis (not project-wise) needs to find the source of funds. The source of funds can comprise their capital funding or sourcing the money from IPO, or taking a loan from creditors around in the market.
  • Dividend Policy: Many firms source their major funds from equity shareholders. Equity shareholders buy shares from the firm and invest their money. They are called the owners as they are only paid if the company profits. Otherwise, they won’t be paid anything. Now, the dividend policies for firms are often different. Some companies give equity shareholders cash dividends, and some keep the entire profit for re-investment. There’s an argument with the dividend relevancy and irrelevancy on the market price of the share. Taking into account all these things, a firm decides upon its dividend policy.
  • Working Capital Management: The firm needs money to run the operation in simple terms. The money for day-to-day operations is called working capital. In different terms working capital is the difference between current assets and current liabilities on any given day. If current assets are less than current liabilities, then the working capital is negative. The working capital management is not thought of in the way long-term capital is being perceived. There are few things to consider while thinking about working capital management – first of all, cash flow is most important in the case of working capital management. It’s also termed liquidity; another thing that firms need to consider is profitability or return on capital.

#2 – Project Finance

There are many things to consider in project finance. This section will learn about a few important concepts and the parties involved in the process.

Project Development: Project development is an important concept in project finance. As financing is done on the sequential progress of the project, understanding project development is important. There are three stages in project development –

  • Pre-bid stage
  • Contract negotiation stage
  • Money-raising stage

Parties Involved: There are many parties involved in project finance. Let’s look at all these parties in brief –

  • Sponsors: People who sponsor the project.
  • Lender: Financial institutions that lend money for the project.
  • Financial advisors: They help the parties to understand how much return on investment they can make. They can be on both sides – lenders or borrowers.
  • Technical advisors: Often for effective execution of the project, technical consultants are hired. They act as technical advisors for the project.
  • Legal advisors: As the name suggests, they help in legal matters.
  • Debt Financier: People who give secured loan for the project on the basis of project assets.
  • Equity Investors: People who invest the money in lieu of shares.
  • Regulatory agencies: Generally, government authorities who take care of the regulations in regard to the project intricacies.
  • Multilateral agencies: The agencies are part of the World Bank group.

Financial Model: The sponsor who will invest in the project needs to know how the project will do. Thus they take the help of an expert to do the financial modeling to understand how the project may go in the future. He will also get an idea of how much projected cash-flow he can expect. On the basis of that, he will decide to invest. Actually, the financial model is a spreadsheet that is being used for calculating the financial model.

Document required: There are a few documents that are of utter importance. Let’s have a look at them –

  • Shareholder/sponsor documents
  • Finance documents
  • Project documents
  • Other project documents

There are many more things that are important in project finance. The above are the most important things to consider.

Comparative Table

Points of differenceCorporate FinanceProject Finance
StageIn the early stage of the company, corporate finance is being introduced. When an organization is just starting up, corporate finance is what suits the company to finance through.In the case of companies that run projects usually seek the help of project financier when they are 3 years or little less in the operation. At this moment they need expansion.
Proof of conceptIn the case of corporate finance, in the first stage of the company, financier looks for “commercial proof of concept” and that is revenue.In the case of project finance, they look for the projected cash flow as usual.
RiskAs the company is starting, the investor’s risk is much higher than normal.Usually, the risk is much lower.
ReturnsAs the risk is higher, the returns (ROI) are usually higher. But some investors accept lower returns thinking about the impact on society and environments (if any).As the risk is lower and the payment is given from the cash flow (principal plus interest), the returns are usually lesser.
CollateralThe financier usually gives the loan on the assets of the company.The financier looks at the project assets as collateral.
Decisional basisThe investors look at the balance sheet of the company before they invest.The financiers look at the projected cash flow by following the route of financial modeling.
How equity is definedEquity is the ownership of the company with several benefits. First, there would be voting rights and then management may classify equity ownership (common vs. preferred).Equity comprises various direct investments including mezzanine debt, grant, cash or other forms of funds.

Career Opportunities 

Corporate Finance

There are many opportunities in corporate finance. The key opportunities will lie in two main areas – accounting and finance, which would be your key functions. You will work as an investment banker, financial analyst, among other finance roles.

Project Finance

In project finance as well, there are many opportunities. You can be on either side. Either you can work as a financier for a bank or arrange the finance for the project. But you need to understand the process well before you chase your dream.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, it’s clear that corporate finance and project finance are completely different concepts. The companies are utilizing them at different time points in their growth chart.

The thing that will give you a huge boost is understanding both of them well. If you want to be a top-rated financial professional, it would be prudent for you to get some experience in each of them. Then if you want, you can start your own finance consulting firm where you would be helping both parties (lenders and borrowers) to get the desired results. Both of these are exciting in terms of career opportunities. All you need to do is have the practical experience to get the hang of them.

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