Friday 19 April 2013

The Savvy Approach to Late Payments, Invoice-Haircuts and other power abuse..

A cross party Parliamentary inquiry into late payment will take place next week. The meeting, which will be chaired by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, will examine just how serious the problem has become for SMEs, but will also look at other issues around poor payment practices, including so called ‘invoice haircutting’.

By way of background, NAMs may not be aware that the legislation is slowly catching up with reality in these matters, in that last month government regulations were updated to define 'late payments' (60+ days)  and impose interest  (Base +8% i.e. 8.5%). However, as always, these developments miss the basic point that unless the Government adopts the get-tough approach taken in other jurisdictions such as France, the measures will fail.

(To really protect SMEs you need to create a non-negotiable time limit for the payment of commercial debts. This is what happens in France, where failure to comply with the Commercial Code can result in criminal prosecution and heavy fines. An excellent article by Ben Gardner, a commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons develops this point in some detail)

The Savvy Consumer Approach
Given the fact that the savvy consumer may be beginning to appreciate that late payments, invoice hair-cuts and other power abuse like off-shore tax avoidance may be part-hindrances in their search for demonstrable value for money, it can only be hoped that any 'naming and shaming' will help to focus consumer pressure on companies that use trading partners' funds to supplement their cashflow and bottom-line.

The Savvy Supplier Approach
Without evidence, the law cannot act. However, whilst we are all aware of the commercial risk in whistle-blowing on a customer, the savvy supplier has to find 'safe' ways of making power-abuse known, hopefully  adding to the anecdotal 'evidence' that may heighten sensitivity to the issue for all parties and stakeholders..
Furthermore, repeated generic references to the increasing cost -and risk- of financing free supply-chain credit and its impact on retail prices may help when suppliers are communicating via mainstream and informal media.

The Savvy Retailer Approach
However, the real opportunity lies available for those retailers that, having run the numbers on the value of 90 days free credit, appreciate the commercial advantage of voluntarily reducing their payment period to a more equitable level, first...

What is 'fair payment'?
The current legislation, here and in France, refers to 60 days as being an appropriate period of credit.
However, whilst 60 days may be appropriate in 'normal'  B2B relationships, we believe that the payment period should be related to the supply-usage cycle. In other words, as many fast-selling SKUs are delivered daily, and food-based retailers hold an overall average of just over two weeks stocks, we would submit that 15 days credit (net) in the case of such supplier-retailer commercial relationships would be more appropriate.

Incidentally, for those NAMs that have a gap in store-visits near the Houses of Parliament next week, the all party inquiry into late payment takes place next Tuesday, April 23, at the Houses of Parliament’s Grimmond Room, Portcullis House, between 2 and 5pm.....

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