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Accounting & Bookkeeping Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Why do SMEs need to understand their balance sheet?

For years we’ve seen many SMEs who do not produce regular management accounts, which we would argue are far more important to the small company than year-end accounts.
Too many SMEs rely on the profit and loss and do not put enough time into understanding their balance sheets.
Yet it is the balance sheet that tells a business what is really in the ‘tank’ which is more than simply the cash in the bank. Current assets and in particular those like recent debtors, work in progress and easy to sell stock that can all be quickly turned into cash are key. The other item to monitor is current liabilities such as trade creditors and HMRC liabilities. Withholding payment can provide temporary respite and even improve the cash balance in the bank but creditors don’t go away.
A related issue is that a lot of SMEs are reliant on factoring or invoice discounting their book debts which essentially means that there is little cash to come back to them when the book debts are paid. All too often such companies have large liabilities without current assets to service them so they become reliant on new sales or prepayments which are in fact another liability.
If, for example, a business has book debts of £10,000 which are factored at 70% and a liability to trade creditors of £5,000, it has a problem because it really only has £3,000 to pay the trade creditors since the factoring company will keep £7,000 of book debts when they are paid.
It is crucial for all SMEs and in particular those planning to grow to understand their balance sheet and ensure that they have sufficient cash to fund growth without over trading, ie running out of cash.
I shall address monitoring the balance sheet and possible key indicators in a future blog.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting County Court, Legal & Litigation Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance Finance Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Can SMEs afford to recover debts?

From this week SMEs wanting to pursue recovery of a debt of £20,000 or more through the civil courts will have to pay an advanced fee of £1,000 or more.
The fees for civil courts have been increased by an estimated 600%, on a sliding scale calculated at 5% of the value of the amount claimed.
The payment has been increased by more than the actual cost of court action and is therefore called an “enhanced” fee.
The worry is that debtors will have even less incentive to pay what they owe if they suspect their creditor cannot afford the court fees to recover debts.
SMEs would be well advised to take even greater care to protect themselves when taking on new customers. For B to B services it is always advisable to check the credit history of a potential business client and be very clear on the wording of any contract.
Businesses should also check the small print of any credit insurance they might have. They need to know the cost of making a claim in addition to that for the credit insurance as claims normally require proof of default such as getting a court judgement and enforcing this before being able to make a claim.
This also may justify factoring where the finance provider normally collects the debts, although beware any recourse clause that allows them to transfer uncollected debts back to the company.
For both B to B and B to C businesses it is also advisable to review credit risk and terms such as deposits, significant early payment discounts and security including personal guarantees should be considered. Why wouldn’t a personal guarantee be provided if the client’s intention is to pay the debt?
A supplier of goods to Viper Guard, my vehicle parts company, offers a 30% discount for payment within 30 days. They always get paid on time.
While final approval was passed in the House of Lords last week, it is expected that the Law Society and other lawyers’ representative bodies will seek a judicial review of the legality of the new charges.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance Finance General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Is there a solution for SMEs struggling with lengthy payment terms?

Large companies that impose lengthy periods of ‘end of month plus 90 days’ for invoice payment present a dilemma for small businesses.
On the one hand it may bring in large orders and be good for their reputation as a supplier to a well-known large brand. On the other hand, however, the lengthy wait for payment can cause serious cash flow difficulties.
Large companies are getting away with imposing such terms despite being named and shamed, the latest being beer company AB InBev (payment in 120 days) and Heinz (payment extended to 97 days).
In an attempt to hold companies to account, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) has called for a compulsory code committing large companies to displaying their maximum and average payment terms.
While we can certainly sympathise with the outrage over this behaviour and agree with FSB’s request that firms disclose their longest and average payment terms, there are ways that SMEs can fund themselves while they wait for payment.
Apart from an overdraft or loan secured against assets such as the sales ledger the obvious solutions are factoring invoices (selling debt) or invoice discounting (borrow against invoices). There are other sources that can help fund working capital such as credit to customers. These include the alternative and online funding markets that have a number of sales ledger and single debt offerings including the prospect of selling or borrowing against as single invoice. Another solution is trade finance, although quite specialist it is useful for funding large transactions and especially useful for SMEs when they get a large one-off order.
K2 publishes a Business Finance Guide covering a wide range of options for business finance, available free through the Knowledge Bank on our website

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General

Is the Economic Recovery Being Imperilled by Banks’ Continued Failure to Lend to SMEs?

Despite government rhetoric, evidence continues to pile up that the banks are still not lending to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).
We are hearing that when companies apply for any lending the banks are only considering loans or overdrafts secured on tangible assets, with most also demanding personal guarantees from the directors in addition.
Total net lending by the UK’s five main banks fell in 2011 and they missed their lending target to small firms, whose use of bank overdrafts and loans has also declined over the past two years.
The FSB reports that of 11,000 SMEs just one in 10 obtained a bank loan in 2011 and that 41% of applicants had been refused loans in the three months to February 2012. The FSB believes the UK banking system is not geared up to lower end loans of less than £25,000, because “there’s no money in it”.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that recovery is being imperilled by the “yawning mismatch” between bank lending and SME demand for finance and at the end of April economists at Ernst and Young predicted that they expected lending to reduce further this year by 6.8 per cent, to £419 Billion.
Meanwhile invoice discounting and factoring have increased significantly, though banks are seemingly no longer offering these facilities, leaving the door open for independent companies such as Bibby, Close, Centric, SME, Ulitmate and the new British bank, Aldermore.
Are the banks struggling or are they simply withdrawing from the SME market?
We think the banks are being deceitful. Whatever the rhetoric, they are using PR tactics to report new loans, which are in fact not really new lending but the refinancing of existing facilities such as turning an overdraft into a term loan or a factoring facility.
This is piling even more pressure onto small businesses because there is a net decline in the flow of money into SMEs, and furthermore any new money is being provided at a very great cost in terms of fees and interest. While high rates of lending may be justified by the risk when it is unsecured, it is not justified when the loan is secured.
K2 would be very interested to hear from SMEs that have managed to secure a bank loan.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

Businesses Should Pay Down Debt and Beware Offers That Seem Too Good to be True

Many businesses are overburdened with debt and desperate for ways to deal with pressure from banks, HMRC and other creditors. All too often they are prepared to pay off old debt by taking on new debt which leaves them vulnerable to unscrupulous lenders.
Prior to 2008, interest-only loans and overdrafts were a common method of funding, and were reliant on being able to renew facilities or refinancing.
Like many interest-only loans, an overdraft is renewed, normally on an annual basis, but it is also repayable on demand. What happens when the bank doesn’t want to renew the overdraft facility?  With the economic climate continuing to be volatile and uncertain and banks under intense pressure to improve their own balance sheets, they are increasingly insisting on converting overdrafts to repayment loans and interest-only finance is disappearing.
This has created a vacuum for alternative sources of funding to enter the market where distinguishing between the credible salesman and the ‘snake oil’ salesman can be very difficult. Desperate businesses are desperate often try to borrow money and become more vulnerable to what at first sight seem to be lenders that can offer them alternative funding solutions that the banks cannot.
Generally the advice is to beware, as the recent eight-year prison sentence handed to “Lord” Eddie Davenport illustrates.  The charges related to a conspiracy to defraud, deception and money laundering, also referred to as “advanced fees fraud”. 
The court found Davenport and two others guilty in September. Meanwhile a large number of businesses had paid tens of thousands of pounds for due diligence and deposit fees for loans that never materialised and left victims even deeper in debt. The case only became reportable in October, when restrictions were lifted.
Many businesses just want to survive and are trading with no plan or in some cases no prospect for repaying debt. In such instances they should be considering options for improving their balance sheet by reducing debt. Options might include swapping debt for equity, or debt forgiveness by creditors or setting up a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement).

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting County Court, Legal & Litigation Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Interim Management & Executive Support Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Companies are failing to manage Debt Collection and Credit terms

Many companies are risking their own solvency and ability to carry on trading because they neither manage their debt collection proactively nor have clear procedures for setting and imposing credit terms with their customers. Consequently they are suffering from late payments, or worse having to write off invoices due to bad debts.
They compound the problem by extending credit to customers who turn out to be a bad risk.  If a customer is itself borrowing money under a factoring or invoice discount facility then the company is depending on their customer’s customers thus creating a pack of cards that if recoursed as a bad debt after 90 days could bring down everyone in a supply chain.
I believe the root of the problem to be the company’s own credit management where I find that very few companies have a robust system in place.
The key steps are to do a credit check on any new customer, to set limits, manage them and regularly review customers’ credit levels.
Getting paid however requires more than just a credit check, it involves starting management of invoice payment long before it is due. Checking the invoice is approved for payment for example, will avoid discovering that the order was not fulfilled exactly as required, or the invoice has not been received! 
Paperwork is crucial. There should be a procedure in place whereby the delivered/ completed order is signed for/ off with a clause on the document that includes written confirmation that the customer’s requirement has been satisfactorily fulfilled.
In addition companies also need late payment procedures. If an invoice remains unpaid after the due date, a robust system for managing late and non paying customers should include putting a stop on processing any further orders and debt collection that may result in litigation, and enforcement if necessary.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Do Small Businesses Understand Working Capital and Liquidity?

When borrowing against current assets, such as the sales ledger using factoring or invoice discounting or against fixed assets like plant and machinery or property, there seems to be a widespread misunderstanding among businesses about business funding and, in particular, working capital.
While credit is the most common form of finance there are many other sources of finance and ways to generate cash or other liquid assets that provide working capital. Understanding these is fundamental to ensure a company is not left short of cash.
Businesses in different situations require finance tailored to their specific needs. Too often the wrong funding model results in businesses becoming insolvent, facing failure or some degree of painful restructuring. In spite of this, borrowing against the book debts unlike funding a property purchase is a form of working capital.
Tony Groom, of K2 Business Rescue, explains: “Most growing companies need additional working capital to fund growth since they need to fund the work before being paid. For a stable business where sales are not growing, current assets ought to be the same as current liabilities, often achieved by giving and taking similar credit terms. When sales are in decline, the need for working capital should be reducing with the company accruing surplus cash.”
Restructuring a business offers the opportunity of changing its operating and financial models to achieve a funding structure appropriate to supporting the strategy, whether growth, stability or decline. Dealing with liabilities, by refinancing over a longer period, converting debt to equity or writing them off via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), can significantly improve liquidity and hence working capital.
While factoring or invoice discounting, like credit, are brilliant for funding growth, businesses should be wary of building up liabilities to suppliers if they have already pledged their sales ledger leaving them with no current assets to pay creditors.

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Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Factoring and Invoice Discounting: Be Wary of Hidden Fees

Factoring and invoice discounting (borrowing money against invoices) can be a helpful tool for funding the working capital of a business.
While it used to be regarded as a means of borrowing by businesses in financial difficulties, it is now a common source of finance for managing cash flow and has the additional benefit of imposing discipline on the collection of outstanding sales invoices.
The service charge fee is pre-agreed with the finance provider and generally relates to the level of service provided. Fees for factoring are generally at a higher rate of between 0.8% and 3%, than for invoice discounting because the factoring service charge includes debt collection.
However, hidden in the small print are usually contingency fees that can be triggered by a default. These fees are sufficiently large to justify some lenders looking for reasons to trigger them.
There are many examples of companies in financial difficulties where the factor or invoice discount provider pull the plug on a facility and collects in the outstanding debts to recover funds loaned as well as their retaining the default and recovery fees.
Typical default fee are 10% of the ledger held plus recovery fees which are generally not specified. Such is the scope for earning fees that advisers to lenders might be persuaded to recommend the exercising of rights under a default knowing that they, as advisers, can be paid out of the recovery fee clause as well as repaying their lender client the loan and default fee.
Such self interested behaviour may swell the coffers of lenders but it doesn’t help preserve businesses or improve the reputation of the finance community.