Credit Control

The world of credit control brings to mind the infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know."

Admittedly he was talking about weapons of mass destruction, but the same applies to your customers' financial situations, and effective credit control eliminates as much of the 'unknown' as possible, and maximises the 'known knowns'.

Slow payments represent a substantial risk to small and medium-sized businesses, who must often meet the cost of materials and labour for a month or more while waiting for customers to settle invoices.

But SMB cash flows were recently given what seemed to be a much-needed shot in the arm, in the form of the Prompt Payment Code - a commitment from big firms to pay their invoices as soon as reasonably possible, rather than withholding important funds from their SMB suppliers.

The Experian Late Payment Index published on Monday shows again that the bigger a company is, the later it is likely to pay its suppliers, making for a timely reminder of the true nature of 'brand power' and its potential negative impact on small companies' cash flow.

In the third quarter of 2013, the smallest firms, with just one or two employees, paid an average of 20.62 days beyond agreed terms on overdue invoices - the smallest delay among UK companies of all sizes, and a slight improvement from 20.78 days in the previous quarter.

It seems only fitting that Halloween week should be the moment when Blockbuster Video - one of the UK's biggest zombie businesses - reveals that, for the second time in ten months, it is lurching back into the corporate graveyard.

Zombie businesses are those that are only just surviving, but would be unlikely or unable to continue to do so if there were any kind of substantial shock to their ongoing operations.

That pretty much sums up Blockbuster's situation, as current owners Gordon Brothers Europe have been unable to bring the company into the 21st century; former US parent company Dish still own the digital rights to the brand, and competitors like LoveFilm, Netflix and Sky have already cornered the British market for streaming films.

The Centre for Retail Research has published its latest Who's Gone Bust? report, giving an insight into how retail companies have been affected by five years of economic turbulence.

Worryingly for all involved in the sector, it appears that conditions are getting worse; 2012 saw 54 companies fail, matching the previous highest total set in 2008, and with 39 brands failing by the end of August alone, 2013 is on track to be even worse.

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.

A recently published Late Payments Report makes 11 recommendations that MPs believe could help small businesses to receive what they are owed more promptly from their big-business customers.

MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth Debbie Abrahams convened and chaired a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the issue of prompt payment for small businesses, which heard evidence from several large FTSE companies, as well as affected SMEs.

Remember our old friend the Supply Chain Finance Scheme? Well, in the past couple of weeks, it's been making headlines once again - this time thanks to Carillion, the facilities management and construction services company.

Company impersonation fraud is big business these days as scammers, fraudsters and criminals increasingly realize the advantages this type of fraud has over the more "traditional" types of fraud that target individuals.

We regularly deal with businesses that have fallen victim to this type of fraud and do what we can to help, but it is rare that a customer scammer will attempt to draw us into this kind of activity.  But that is exactly what happened to us and our debt collection affiliates in Germany recently.

The government's much-anticipated Business Bank got a kickstart of its own in the 2013 Budget, with the news that at least some of its measures are due to be introduced ahead of schedule.

But while a £300 million investment programme for SMEs was officially launched on April 10th by business secretary Vince Cable, just how far does it go to give small businesses the boost they need to grease the wheels of the UK's jammed economy?

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