Supply Chain Finance

It’s funny when you read some vendors’ marketing material claiming to be at the bleeding edge of technology when the audience knows full well that what they’re talking about is well established, "business as usual" stuff. Take this example explaining how business is just beginning to discover the internet:  “It wasn’t so long ago that the Internet was viewed as just a playground for consumers with little-to-no-value for businesses. But it’s a completely different story today. The Internet has come a long way, baby” Guess when that was written? 1998? 2003? No. Actually, it was written a few weeks ago by Ariba’s Rob Mihalko aka Rip Van Winkle. The internet isn’t new. E-Procurement isn’t new. Supplier networks aren’t new. Neither is e-invoicing or supply chain finance. They’re all old, well established business tools. So what happened to innovation in P2P?

I’m not really a linguist. I’ve tried to develop fluency in French and made an attempt at German but the only language in which I ever developed any competence, apart from English, was a form of double speak called Management Speak. I haven’t used it for a while but amongst a group of management consultants I can soon pick it up again. Native speakers claim that it is merely a specialist set of terms, jargon if you like, that distills complex business issues into straightforward language and imparts a more professional tone. Why talk about “cutting out the middle man” when you can simply disintermediate? It’s not always best to say what you really mean. It’s more professional to say “We value your suggestion but I’m afraid this is non-negotiable on this occasion” rather than simply “f*** off”? But there’s another language, a dialect of management speak, that is way more complex and it’s almost impenetrable to most of us: Banker Speak. Here’s an example from David Gustin, CFA from Global Business Intelligence, responding on linkedin to my article on the UK Government's announcement on supply chain finance. I’ve exchanged views with David a few times and he has a highly expert voice on this subject. He explains why suppliers get to pay 20%-30% for credit:

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.

A unique supply chain finance solution from OB10 improves companies’ working capital and cash flow

OB10, the e-Invoicing network that handles £90bn of payments each year, has launched OB10 Express Payments, a unique supply chain finance service that allows organisations to receive payment on approved invoices within three days. The service supports the agreement announced this week between Prime Minister David Cameron and large UK organisations to consider or continue helping their suppliers’ cash flow through supply chain finance.

Ask a CFO why he shouldn't pay suppliers early in return for lower prices and he or she is quite likely to say "It's fine occasionally but generally it just gives a one-off hit". I had this exact conversation with a a CFO of a large international organization recently and, not being an accountant, I chose to hold back, go away and lick my wounds and contemplate why his position was both expert and intuitively wrong.

We’ve always seen the banks as being the facilitators of commerce. Depending on your point of view, they’re an invaluable support to business or a necessary evil. Without a properly regulated banking industry, business in the modern world couldn’t function. Or could it? There are changes happening that could make us question what role the banks play and in some industries and supply chains, there could be a better way.