UK government supply chain finance initiative – what could possibly go wrong?

UK government supply chain finance initiative – what could possibly go wrong?

Posted by Pete Loughlin in Supply Chain Finance 28 Oct 2012

It’s good news that the UK government has recognized the opportunity to utilize supply chain finance as a means of freeing up the availability of credit for small business. Allowing small businesses to borrow money to fund early payment of their outstanding invoices on credit terms that would normally only be offered to their big and relatively powerful customers isn’t just common sense, it could provide a valuable boost to the UK economy. Other governments take note.

But before anyone gets too excited, take a little time to consider what is really going on. It looks great on the surface but lurking beneath is a very ugly reality.

Purchasing Insight logoWe can cloud this discussion with complex and convoluted terminology. We can talk about the cost of working capital, supply chain risk mitigation an even the opportunity to disintermediate banks. But while the clever lingo might impress some, like most jargon, it only serves to confuse and conceal what is really going on. Supply chain finance is simple and it all boils down to a simple concept. The cost of doing business.

Supply Chain Finance – reducing the cost of doing business

Supply chain finance allows small business to  take advantage of their customers’ financial standing. They’re able to stand up to the big banks, wave an approved invoice in their face and demand better credit terms. It works for everyone. The banks mitigate their risk and the suppliers get paid promptly without it costing the buyer anything in terms of working capital. What could possible go wrong?

Here’s what can go wrong.

Supply chain finance reduces the cost of doing business because the middleman takes less money out of the supply chain. In other words, there’s more money to go around. But who decides how to divide up the cake? The buyer could say to the supplier “Yes we’ll pay you 30 days early but before we do, we’d like to extend your standard payment terms by 30 days.” It’s called giving with one hand and taking away with the other and it provides an easy source of working capital for the buyer allowing them to keep hold of the supplier’s cash for even longer. And what about the bank? By securing credit on an invoice approved by the big business buyer, almost all of their risk is mitigated. Will they really pass on the same terms to the supplier that they would offer to the buyer? Dream on! The reality is that by the time the supplier gets to the table, the cake has all been gobbled up.

Supply chain finance and the law of not so unintended consequences

I suspect that David Cameron’s heart is in the right place and that he would see the above scenario as an unintended consequence. But his big business and banker buddies are less naive. This is exactly the consequence they intend. How do I know this? Simple – it’s already common practice.

Look at like this: The banks are supposed to be the facilitators of commerce, making money available, lubricating the wheels of the economy, keeping businesses in business. They provide credit – for a price of course – and they pay interest on cash deposits. How much do they charge for credit? It depends of course but some business who are struggling to get credit – the SMEs that David Cameron is trying to help – pay 20%-30% – sometimes more! And what interest rate do banks pay on cash deposits? In the current economic environment a business with cash surplus would be lucky to get a few percent. Which begs the question – what happens to the difference?

Extracting upwards of 20% of the value of goods in the supply chain isn’t facilitating commerce, it’s sucking the lifeblood out of the economy. Allowing the banks to oversee a supply chain finance initiative would be like asking the inmates to look after the keys to the prison. If the UK government means what they say, that they want to help small business who struggle to get credit, they need to get a little bit closer to these supply chain finance schemes to ensure that they operate in favor of hard pressed suppliers and not in the interests of big business and the banks. That really could give a welcome and timely boost to the UK economy.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

  • Christian Lanng October 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm /

    Pete,

    Spot on post, with a controversial opinion at a time where everybody seem to root for SCF, (we do to, but we want to be smart about it)

    The exact challenge is why we generally recommend Dynamic Discounting for the long tail of suppliers, since this takes out the intermediary cost to the bank as a supplier and all the value is negotiated directly between buyer and seller.

    When we do SCF we always work with the customer (ie. the buyer) to ensure that the offer suppliers get is better than what they have today. The buyer really control a huge part of that relationship, also in regard to the bank and most buyers we talk to are interested in improving the terms for the suppliers.

    /Christian

  • john mardle October 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm /

    Totally agree Peter and per my blog page on http://www.cashperform.com I cannot see how the likes of Rolls Royce (who we work for!!) and others can justify their approach unless they provide incentives like continuous streams of work and robust cash payments? But then again dual sourcing will be required so competition between suppliers will be fierce and the ultimate winner could be on price…..but for how long?

  • Ian Houston October 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm /

    How does this all sit (i) with transposition of Directive 2011/7/eu on Combating Late Payment in Commercial Transactions where it looks as if payment terms could be restricted to 60 days; and (ii) the requirement that public bodies should where possible pay suppliers in 10 working days (5 for Central Government Departments). Surely we are ending up with a situation where those who supply the Public Sector get a free ride when it comes to early settlement of their invoices but small business who trade with other business will have to pay “through the nose” for their early payment and of course if they are paid late are they really going to pursue a Late Payment claim against the buyer irrespective what changes are made to the current late payment legislation.

    Its a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded pistol… one way or another the SME takes the pain.

  • Igor Zax October 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm /

    Leaving aside general advantages and disadvantages of SCF, with this program it appears the Government provides guarantee to the largest and most stable corporates- probably the same or greater effect can be achived by reducing regulatory capital to be held against SCF for such buyers (and pricing implications yet to be seen)… Providing guarantee for things like distributor finance and other seller centric models (see http://www.tenzor.co.uk/news/supply-chain-finance-where-will-the-future-lead-by-igor-zax/) would have much more of an impact

  • […] to people who understand these things better than we do. Our go-to guy on matters invoice related, Pete Loughlin at Purchasing Insight, was worried about the margins the banks might make out of these schemes: If the UK government […]

  • Robert Kramer December 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm /

    I want to clear up a misconception. At PrimeRevenue we’ve been implementing SCF programs for more than 9 years. I have never seen a bank funded SCF program that charges APR discount rates anywhere near 20% – 30%+ so I don’t think high discount rates are a valid concern here. With an investment grade buyer, most SCF programs charge suppliers about 1.5% to 3% APR. That’s a far cry from 20% – 30%. The only scenario where we see rates nearly that high are in self funded SCF programs, also known as “Dynamic Discounting” (which we also provide to our clients).

    Robert Kramer
    Vice President, Working Capital Solutions
    PrimeRevenue, Inc.

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