49 (144) 2021


Cash flow difficulties – the greatest challenge for SMEs

By Ewa Gawrońska-Micuń, board member, managing director Bibby Financial Services
Header bibby

A campaign, at the intersection of sport and business, called "Bibby Fair Pay Run – PREVENT/Run over payment bottlenecks" took place in the months of May and June. A virtual run initiated by Bibby Financial Services, with the British Polish Chamber of Commerce as one of its partners, was intended to draw attention to a problem of bad debts and mounting cashflow pressures in the Polish economy, aggravated by the pandemic. Simultaneously it was aimed at supporting payments of liabilities on time.

According to estimates, up to 80-90% of Polish SMEs struggle with payment backlogs. This is particularly true for the smallest entrepreneurs who are frequently forced to accept deferred payment terms imposed by larger market players. The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to exacerbate those issues. According to the latest Bibby SME Index survey conducted on a representative sample of small and medium Polish enterprises, currently as many as 37% of respondents indicate the cash flow difficulties as the biggest challenge for their company.

After periods of lockdown, declining sales and demand in some industries, and supply chain troubles, companies are slowly beginning to be more optimistic about the future. With rising numbers of people vaccinated, SMEs are also start to think about increasing sales, production and employment or new investments. For this, they need capital. Hence, cash flow remains a key challenge for them now. Without the cash flow, it will be difficult to return to the business levels as they were before the pandemic.

Odds on cash flow

The Bibby SME Index survey shows that the sectors that expect their cash-flow situation to improve are manufacturing and commerce – a larger percentage of respondents expect higher levels (14% each) rather than lower (10% and 13%, respectively) in the following six months. In the other sectors, a significantly higher percentage expects the cash flow to deteriorate over that period. Transport sector businesses have the greatest concerns about cash flow and bad debts - as many as 20% expect the situation to worsen, and only 2% expect an improvement. The construction industry is also worse off, with one on five respondents expects deterioration of cash flow. Moreover, fewer construction companies now expect their cash flow to improve or remain stable than in the previous measurement (10.9 pts. compared to 12.1 pts.). Service providers also express concerns about debt and cash flow that are slightly bigger than in the previous survey.

Manufacturers and companies classified as other activities – that is primarily niche or dispersed across several different activities – are the only industries that have a positive outlook both in terms of their cash flow and hope to reduce debt in the coming months.

Contractors pay later

Where do cash flow pressure comes from? Obviously, one of the reasons is payment backlogs and payment delays caused by the crisis. As many as 34% of entrepreneurs believe that their contractors paid on worse terms and less regularly over the last six months. Representatives of transport companies indicated significantly more often than others that over the last six months delays in payment increased – 60% of respondents pointed to that. However, all respondents complained about payment delays - in the case of commerce (39%), construction (37%), and in manufacturing, services and other activities – about a quarter of respondents each.

How companies dealt with financial pressure?

The Bibby SME Index survey shows that SMEs have extensively used a number of solutions to resolve their cash flow difficulties in the last six months. In total, 45% of respondents sought various forms of support. Nearly one in four businesses supported their cash flow in the last six months by taking advantage of grants and subsidies under the state-sponsored “anti-crisis shields”. Many turned to overdraft facilities, factoring, or … private savings and resources. At the same time, SMEs with 10-49 employees were significantly more likely to declare that over the last six months they had increased the debt limits on their company accounts to support financial liquidity.

Changes in securing external financing

it is now more difficult to secure external financing, state 9% of all respondents. The construction (17%) and services (11%) industries see bigger difficulties in obtaining financing. However, manufacturers and commerce observe almost no changes in this regard. The size of a company matters. It is mostly small companies (10-49 employees) that indicate greater difficulties in accessing credit or leasing products and they find it harder to receive external financing.

Economic sectors that experienced higher losses due to the pandemic will have greater difficulty in obtaining external financing. This is the result of the deterioration of their financial condition as well as the tightening of credit policies at the banks. Additionally, the importance of “anti-crisis shields” and governmental support programmes is lessening. In this situation, factoring, which releases cash from frozen invoices, can be a salvation for many companies.

Factoring helps companies in cash flow difficulties

The risk of payment backlogs decreases when a company uses factoring to finance its current operations. It is a proven method of relieving the entrepreneurs and a real security of the companies' cash flow. Factoring involves a factor – a company providing factoring services, who settles invoices issued by a factorer (a company or an entrepreneur) to its trade debtors, and subsequently a trade debtor pays the factor an amount indicated on an invoice.

Is it profitable? Instead of waiting 30, 60 or more days for payment, a company receives the cash immediately – on the day of sending the invoice and the company can freely use those cash proceeds. Moreover, the financial cost of factoring is booked not on the balance sheet but as an operating expense, which means that, unlike loans, it does not affect the company's creditworthiness. It is therefore a good solution for companies that care about their own and external financing structure and, for various reasons, do not want to get into debt.

Factoring is not only about fast financing of invoices. It also includes a number of additional services, such as verification of potential customers, monitoring and administration of payments, and finally debt collection. A very good solution is a factoring without recourse, in which the factor takes over the risk of the trade debtor’s insolvency, what practically insures the entrepreneur against such an event.

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