Are you a busy MD of a strong SME who really knows their products and markets, but has frankly left financial matters of the Finance Director and now feels they need to catch up?

Our senior financial consultant, Mark Andrews, looks at four different types of finance now available and explains how these may be used.

Invoice Finance

Invoice finance, debtor finance or cash flow finance are generic terms for a range of products which, as the name suggests, help provide cash to fund the day-to-day operations of running a business. Many of these products involve the lender (the factoring company) advancing money against the value of invoices issued for completed work. There are a number of basic services and specialist hybrids available to businesses. It is also possible to arrange facilities which cover international trade.

These facilities are only available to companies which issue invoices for work done and often have to wait weeks before they receive payment. It is a way of releasing money tied up in invoices. It follows that it is only suited to B2B. Businesses which deal with the public – B2C – retail, bars, restaurants, pubs, are not suited as they are usually paid in cash / plastic and don’t have money tied up in unpaid invoices. Occasionally businesses serve B2B and B2C (taxi business with cash customers and also money owing on accounts) can factor the B2B element. Factoring companies generally offer a full range of services although some serve specific niche industries such as construction.

Mark-Andrews

Factoring

Factoring is a type of invoice finance where the company issues an invoice to its customer for completed work / service with instructions that payment should be made directly to the factoring company

A copy of the invoice is sent to the factoring company who immediately advances a percentage of the invoice value (perhaps 60%-90%). The customer is aware that the company is factoring.

When the customer eventually pays the invoice the factoring company pays the balance to the company – less its charges.

The lender relies mainly on the debtor ledger (ie the invoices) as its security. For it to be cost effective the business should be turning over £50k-£100k pa and growing. Factoring is often available to start-ups.

Invoice Discounting

Invoice discounting is another form of invoice discounting and this differs from factoring (mentioned above). Here, the company issues an invoice to its customer for completed work / service. A copy of the invoice is sent to the factoring company who immediately advances a percentage of the invoice value (perhaps 60%-90%).

The customer is generally not aware that the company is using this facility and is often referred to as “confidential invoice discounting”.

When the customer eventually pays the invoice (directly to the company) it then any charges due to the factoring company.

The lender relies mainly on the debtor ledger (ie the invoices) as its security.

This is used for larger, more established businesses where the ledger is well maintained and there is a good system of credit control and is generally cheaper than factoring because the interest rate lower (more established business so perceived lower risk) and the company manages its own ledger and invoices.

Asset Based Lending (ABL)

ABL, or asset finance, is similar to the above but instead of only using invoices as security the lender will additionally lend against additional assets including plant, equipment and even work-in-progress and stock depending on the circumstances. This is generally for larger organisations and can be used as part of a package to fund growth, business turnarounds, mergers and acquisitions, MBOs, MBIs, etc.

Mark said; “These different types of finance offer a great range of products to fund expanding businesses, partly because it grows with the business – the more you invoice, the more you can borrow. Contrast that with a bank loan or overdraft where you have to re-apply to the bank for each increase.

“The cost and terms ie typical interest/repayment rates, length of facility varies from company to company depending on the circumstances, perceived risk, size of the business, etc.

“In common with most forms of commercial finance there is usually a set-up fee and often an exit or termination fee.

“Additionally interest is charged for the period when money is borrowed and there will be a service charge for collecting invoice monies and chasing up unpaid invoices.  The only way to get an accurate idea of cost is to obtain specific quotes.

“There is often a minimum term / contract of 12 months but they can be longer or shorter and because of its nature it is a revolving facility rather than with a specific repayment terms.”

These types of finance are aimed at B2B where invoices are issued and credit offered to customers.

Mark said; “It is popular in many industries including services eg: recruiting, transport, wholesalers as well as manufacturers, engineers, printers, etc. Products are also available to fund imports / exports.”

The pros of this type of finance:

  • Particularly good for expanding / growing businesses
  • Grows with the business without the need for constant re-negotiating
  • Once set up cash is generally made available within 24 hours if issuing an invoice
  • Unlike banks, factoring companies often do not take a director’s home as security
  • Additional services which could mitigate costs include managing ledger, payroll services for recruiters
  • Debt insurance is available which can protect from bad debts

The drawbacks:

It is generally more expensive than High Street Bank borrowing but:

  • Factoring companies will often lend when banks will not
  • Some costs may be mitigated
  • The factoring company will often require a personal guarantee, but so too will a bank in many cases. These are negotiable and it may be a smaller guarantee than a bank would demand

“Factoring companies ideally prefer their clients to have a spread of quality customers.  If there is a heavy reliance on one or two very large customers they may reduce the percentage they lend – known as a “concentration limit”.

There may be minimum annual fees or number of minimum number of invoices – the time to negotiate is before you sign.

Mark added; “The best advice an MD should take is use a broker. Apart from helping to select the best deal it will also save a lot of time.

“There are dozens of factoring companies, some relatively unknown. Some specialise in specific industries, some will be more suited to certain businesses.

“There are different products – factoring, invoice discounting, single invoice finance, confidential products, with and without recourse, as well as special hybrid products – it’s a minefield if you are not familiar with it.

“A broker will explain everything even if you trade finance for imports or exports, help chose the most suitable deal for you.”

For further advice contact us on 0800 084 3923.