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Informed Credit Decisions: Tools For Surviving

Informed credit decisions can be the difference between success and failure, particularly in times of dramatic downturn.

Eamonn Ryan

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Any successful businessman knows that it is possible to go against the trend and grow your business while others are contracting – the trick is to do so without taking on more risk than you might otherwise be comfortable with.

Ivor Jones, Kredit Inform managing director, has for some time been advising clients that the way to flourish during the current consumer slowdown, is to be highly selective in who you give credit to.

“After many years of incredible credit growth, most South African businesses at this stage are generally still good payers. But we are at the top of the interest rate cycle, and with last year’s introduction of the National Credit Act, through no fault of their own, many payers now find themselves in a tight spot.

“Considering there is a three to four month lag before the full impact of an interest rate hike is fully felt, it’s going to get worse during the first quarter of this year before it gets better, maybe in the second half,” explains Jones.

Increase Sales, Not Risk

Jones recommends a way of increasing sales – without increasing risk. “Don’t necessarily look only to sell to new customers, but sweat your existing book. Only increase sales to those that pay within the stipulated time, and try to decrease sales to those that don’t, while stopping sales to those whose terms of payment are actively deteriorating beyond their limit,” he says.

So far, this sounds obvious, and Jones admits it. However, from working daily with clients in exactly this position, he says few companies have the data at hand to analyse their book.

Avoid Companies in Survival Mode

If a client used to pay in 30 days and extends it to 50 days, can you afford to carry the cost of stock for an additional 20 days? This is especially risky when trying to grow market share – the cash flow implications have driven many a small business into insolvency.

“We’re mostly concerned with companies that are only just surviving. Unless the business-owner is aware that in the current environment his customers will probably pay more slowly, it may be enough to drive his business over the edge. To survive, he needs to start increasing his book to those customers in a better position to pay and curtail sales to those companies that will not – or cannot – pay on due date, or which have a chance of liquidation.

“Increasing sales to good payers may be by incentive, or rewarding prompt payment, as long as the cost is not greater than the cost of capital. It’s essential this be done without prejudicing your profitability or even survival. So be selective,” adds Jones.

KreditInform offers a wide range of services that assist companies to avoid risk. It performs risk profiling of the entire book of a client, comparing those businesses against its extensive database of payments in South Africa.

The cost of the service – inexpensive, claims Jones – is certainly relatively cheap compared to the risk of bad debt.

“We attribute a credit score to every company on a client’s book, as well as provide a history of their total payment record. Each is significant. A company may have a poor payment history, but for strategic reasons has maintained a good track record with yourself. You may therefore be the last to know when it’s in trouble. You therefore need to know its total payment history.”

Then there is the problem that small business has in supplying Government. “A company may have a great credit score, but never pays on time. If you still wish to do business with it, you must know you’ll be carrying your stock for longer and budget accordingly. More importantly, you need to build that cost into your margin. You cannot take that degree of risk on a tight margin,” says Jones.

All a client has to do is hand over its ledger to the credit agency, which interrogates it, ensuring you are dealing with the correct legal entity, providing you with the credit rating and monitoring any change in payment patterns on a quarterly or monthly basis. A particularly risky customer or the entire book can also be insured.

Opt For a Total Credit Solution

“We provide a total solution, which includes consultation on your credit procedures and the installation of our credit software. This software sits on top of your accounting package and monitors the payment trends of all debtors.

“This not only tracks each client’s performance with you, but offers a risk profiling tool before offering credit terms to a new client. It tells you when to stop supplying a non-performing debtor until he gets back into line. It also sets authority limits, such as placing the onus of responsibility for bad debts on whoever authorised the credit line.

“From our extensive experience, we have conclusively proven that companies that have the discipline to stick to their credit policies do not get in trouble during times like these – its only those companies that lack self-discipline that do,” concludes Jones.

Before becoming a financial writer and freelance journalist in 1997, Eamonn Ryan was a legal adviser, company secretary and alternate director at listed company Cashbuild Limited from 1988 to 1997. Since becoming a financial writer, he has focused on the business and financial sectors, as well as personal finance, writing for Finweek, The Star Business Report, Sunday Times Business Times, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Entrepreneur, Corporate Research Foundation (which brings out a series of books each year ranking SA’s best employers and best managers), as well as a host of once-off and annual publications such as ‘Enterprising Women’ and ‘Portfolio of Black Business’. He also writes media releases, inhouse magazines and sustainability or annual financial reports for various South African corporates and financial services groups, including the Ernst & Young annual M&A book.

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Cash Flow

Financial Literacy Key To Business Success – Especially In A Tough Economy

What can South African SMMEs do to position themselves for success in tough economic times? Arming their people with basic financial literacy is a good place to start argues UCT Graduate School of Business Associate Professor Mark Graham.

Mark Graham

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In times of economic hardship, good financial and management skills in a business can make all the difference. According to a recent article in Business Day, international investors are sniffing about South African SMMEs that have proven themselves to be well-run during this time of subdued economic growth – and are also attractively undervalued.

Strong balance sheets and stable management in an environment of slow growth economy with low liquidity adds up to some bargain long-term investment opportunities for international consortiums it seems. Among those who have been involved in investment or buyout offers in the past few months are Clover and Interwaste.

It seems self-evident to suggest that well-run businesses attract investment and success. But what actually makes a business – of any size – well-run in the first place?

There is obviously no short answer to this; good leadership, a clear strategy and a strong and motivated workforce all play their part, but one factor that is often overlooked is financial acumen – throughout the organisation. While the accountants and members in the finance team are expected to understand the numbers, this is not always a core competency required in other departments. Yet, having a good working knowledge of finance at every decision-making level, from new managers to members of the board, can be key.

Even if people don’t need to know a lot about finance in their day-to-day job, the more conversant they are on the subject, the better off they – and the business – will be, according to Richard Ruback, a professor at Harvard Business School and the co-author of the HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business. “If you can speak the language of money, you will be more successful,” he says simply.

Financial savvy will give the marketing manager the ability to demonstrate not only that something is a good idea/product or service, but that it makes financial sense too, for example. And it will make sure that the people in the HR team understand more clearly why reducing staff churn is a good idea not only for company culture but for the bottom line as well.

A knowledge of some basic financial decision-making tools (the all-important balance-sheet, for example) and an appreciation of the difference between profitability and cash flow will ensure that non-financial managers are more likely to effectively participate in business strategy and decision-making. Someone who understands the financial statements of a business understands the business in a way that is not otherwise possible. It’s like looking beneath the hood of a car and understanding how it all fits together and why the car can move forward – or not.

Such people can more confidently identify potential problems and inefficiencies before they impact the overall financial performance, because those warnings are almost invariably reflected in the financials first – and often at departmental level. Critically, they can also help identify financial irregularities, enabling them to call out and stop fraud and corruption in its tracks.

Equipping its people with financial skills is therefore a good strategy for a business looking to position itself for growth and investment. And it makes sense for individuals too – Joe Knight, a partner and senior consultant at the Business Literacy Institute in the US and the co-author of Financial Intelligence, says that an absence of financial savvy is “career-limiting.”

Let’s not ignore the fact that there are challenges however. Finance matters tend to scare a great many people. Traditionally, these areas of knowledge carry the stigma of being impenetrable, and financial literacy is not ideally developed at early levels. According to a study by the Financial Services Board, South Africa currently has a financial literacy rate of just 51%.

This means that roughly one out of every two people is likely to prefer to abdicate from financial decision-making – leaving it to the “numbers” people. But with some intervention and training it is possible to empower individuals to decode these mysteries and get to grips with the language of finance.

All things being equal, it’s not pure luck that allows some businesses to operate well and thrive while others fail. Well-run businesses are generally run by well-informed people. In short, decision-makers who don’t understand basic financial concepts and the language of finance simply don’t know what is going on.

While the SA government is currently talking up the need for foreign direct investment to rescue the country from the economic doldrums, there is much that ordinary businesses can do to position themselves for success. And ensuring that their people are adequately equipped to understand the nuances of business through the language of finance is perhaps a good place to start.

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Cash Flow

Trade Agreement Tips That Will Save You Costs

If you are looking to benefit from trade agreements, you need to keep the following advice in mind.

Tracy Venter

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Trade benefits all parties involved. When a country has scarcity of certain resources or lack the capacity to satisfy their own needs, they have the opportunity to trade the resources which they produce in surplus, for the products they need or want.

When goods are transferred from one country to another, it stimulates the economy as products and money is switched between hands. Over the years, the competitive nature of moving goods from one country to the other, negotiating prices and opening new markets has caused certain agreements to immerge to promote trade between the member countries.

A trade agreement is an arrangement between two or more nations in order for goods to move more easily between borders with mutually beneficial tariffs imposed on imports. These agreements ensure that duty tax is removed or reduced on condition that the importer and exporter provide the correct documents. This is all the more reason for traders to familiarise themselves with the current trade agreements in place.

Tip1# Know Whether You Export To Or Import From A Country With A Trade Agreement

There are a few trade agreements that you need to be aware of which will significantly cut duty tax. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is one of them. The fifteen SADC member states included in the agreement enjoy an impressive 85% free trade on goods.

Another trade agreement commonly used by South Africans is the South African Customs Union (SACU) which allows duty tax free movements of goods. This means zero duty tax is payable on trade between these countries. Trade agreements with European countries include the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the SACU European Free Trade Association (EFTA). We have prepared a list of all the trade agreements as well as the countries involved here.

Tip 2# Know Which Certificate Of Origin Is Necessary For The Specific Trade Agreement

Only traders who can prove that goods were produced or processed in a member country may benefit from these agreements. This is why importers and exporters need to submit paperwork attesting that the goods were made in the country listed as the beneficiary of the trade agreement. The proof provided is called a ’Certificate of Origin’.

A certificate of origin often abbreviated to C/O or CoO is a printed form or electronic document completed by the exporter and certified by a recognised issuing body, validating that the goods in a particular export shipment have been produced, manufactured or processed in a particular country.

The exporter has to submit proof that either a) the products were wholly obtained from that country; this means all components and manufacturing originated in that country, or b) that it is sufficiently processed in the country of origin.

In other words, although some components might have been imported, the product was sufficiently transformed, or value was added in such a way that the final item can be deemed as new or original. Furthermore, if a company was registered in one country and the manufacturing plant in another, the certificate of origin would be issued from the manufacturing plant’s country.  There are various certificates of origins used for different countries. Read here for more details about the different documents required to ensure you benefit from lower duty tax.

#Tip 3: Ensure The Certificate Of Origin Is Completed In The Right Manner

These documents must be completed correctly. Most of the information provided has to come from the exporter. If the wrong information has been reported, it can influence the relationship between the importer and exporter negatively.

Common mistakes when filling out a Certificate of Origin may include:

  1. Identifying the wrong country of origin
  2. Using the wrong H.S. code
  3. Providing an incorrect or incomplete and rather ambiguous description of the goods
  4. Not including a description on how the cargo is packed or reporting a total weight that does not include packaging
  5. Exporting goods made from imported material and not sufficiently processed to be deemed as originating from the exporting country.

A lot of information can be misrepresented on the certificate of origin. For this reason, we recommend making use of companies specialising in trade administration to ease the stress and to ensure that all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.

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Cash Flow

Backing You With Smarter Tools

Manage income, track expenses and do more with the ultimate toolkit for your small business.

QuickBooks SA

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You work too hard to work this hard. The good news is that you don’t have to break your back or the bank to run a successful business. Managing your business is easier when you’re using smarter tools with QuickBooks.

Since its launch over 20 years ago, QuickBooks has aimed to power prosperity for small businesses and the self-employed with services that help you with income management, expense tracking and more, allowing you to focus on growing your passion.

The new “Backing You” campaign extends this commitment to support small business owners through the challenges of business ownership – with a little help from Danny DeVito.

“The importance of small business is personal to me. At a young age, I watched both my parents and my sister build their own business from the ground up and struggle to balance family obligations with growing their businesses,” says DeVito.

“When Intuit QuickBooks approached me for this campaign, I felt this was a way that I could give back to this very important industry, show them how to make their lives easier and make them laugh along the way too.”

QuickBooks gives you a set of business tools that’ll do all the hard work for you, making sure you get the time to do what really matters to you. “Because collecting receipts is so 80s, and who has time to chase payments?” says Danny.

Join over 5.6 million customers globally and find the QuickBooks plan that works for your small business on www.quickbooks.co.za. Save 30% on your subscription today! Terms and conditions apply.

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