Thursday, 19 September 2013 11:59

Poor credit control and debt collection practices cost UK SMEs Billions

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Britain's small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute some 99.9% to the private sector - but are facing losses of around £3.7 billion due to poor credit control and debt collection processes.

A report from Exact, a provider of business and finance software, tallies up the costs of non-payment to UK SMEs, with some fairly alarming figures for individual examples of unpaid invoices.

The report reveals that one in five SMEs have totally forgotten to invoice for at least one piece of work in the past.

Roughly one in eight (12%) admit to having failed to invoice for a job valued at between £5,000 and £10,000, while incredibly, half as many - 6% of those surveyed - have failed to invoice for a single piece of work valued at more than £10,000 in the past.

Hartmut Wagner, managing director of cloud solutions at Exact, says:

"We don't want to blow this issue out of proportion, but these findings do highlight that many SMEs who are eager to grow are not doing themselves any favours, particularly with so many of them expressing concern over their cash flow."

Who do you trust?

While SMEs are clearly at risk of missing even very important pieces of admin, the research found that many are doing little to overcome cashthis by putting trustworthy credit control consultants in their corner.

Instead, 54% say they trust their accountant more than anyone, including their own business partners, and 51% of accountants say they actually have decision-making responsibilities for their SME clients.

Yet a massive 61% of accountants only contact their SME customers once a month, or even less frequently than that, which is less than is needed in order to stay on top of day-to-day admin like invoicing.

All of this suggests that SMEs - and particularly sole traders, who might have nobody to fight their corner at all - could benefit substantially from enlisting the assistance of reliable, trustworthy credit control and collections agents to keep their invoicing in order.

What's at risk?

The Exact survey found out just what impact poor invoicing processes have had on SMEs in the past, and once again the figures are frightening.

One in eight (12%) said they have had to pay their employees late, due to money coming into the company later than expected.

And a huge 45% have deferred some form of payment - whether to suppliers, bills or employees - due to cash flow difficulties.

Despite this, cash flow concerns rank as the second-most significant worry for SMEs in general, with 23% citing finance in general as an example of something they stress about.

An even greater 31% said they stress most over the fight for new business, highlighting that many business owners' concerns about cash flow are skewed towards the start of the process, at the expense of neglecting the nitty gritty of actually remembering to charge for the work done.

But by shifting that viewpoint towards the end of the workflow - and ensuring money comes in promptly when it is owed - SMEs can keep their own cash flow looking healthier, and ensure finances are not lost from the economy as a whole due to these spectral contracts where the work is done, but never charged for.

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