Category Archives: Finance

A Financial Health Check Should Be a Pre-Qualification of Every Supplier Qualification

And every organization should review a financial health or risk report, comprised of, or augmented with, third party data, and, unless they are (or have in-house) financial experts, this should preferably be done by a third party. The reality is that in today’s data driven world, no organization should be surprised by a bankruptcy of a mid-size or larger supplier that has been in business for at least three years. The probability of the vast majority of these bankruptcies are now predictable by financial analysts and while they may get a few wrong (as some companies may shape up just in time and others may fail faster than expected for a non-financial reason), they get a lot right.

And it’s not like financial ratings are hard to get anymore. While they are not as insightful, as they work exclusively on credit data and stock data compared to released financial statements (which is where the early warning indicators hide), most of the big data / credit services track enough data to come up with a reasonable financial risk score that at least lets you know whether, from a financial perspective, the supplier could be reasonably safe or is currently very risky — and needs a detailed analysis. Moreover, a financial health-focused offering by RapidRatings, and their FHR (Financial Health Rating) Report (which has been around for almost a decade), with an open example here, provides not only deep insight into potential risk, but the magnitude of the risk and the hard data for the risk — as well as the insights — and can detect risks from early warning signs that have not yet manifested in observable behavior (such as late payments).  In addition, RapidRatings’ new Financial Dialogue offering, which works in conjunction with the FHR, identifies the most important questions you should be asking your suppliers based on their health rating.  (An when you look at just the FHR report, you wonder why every organization is not doing at least this detailed level of supplier financial health analysis before committing a large or strategic spend to a supplier when all the data they need can be summarized in an easy to understand fashion.)

Now, you might say that because only one vendor, today, offers this depth of a report, which wasn’t previously available, and because the organization has done just fine without it for almost a decade, that you don’t need it, but SI would like to disagree. With global sourcing constituting so much of your supply chain, you don’t really know that much about your suppliers, their health, or the conditions in which they operate. And if they are supplying a custom made component, a raw material in limited supply, or a specialized service, the cost of recovery could be much greater than the initial cost of supply. These reports are becoming a necessity as part of your risk management.

SI is not saying you have to use RapidRatings or subscribe to their FHR reports (although they should be on your shortlist), but that you should at least do deep financial analysis on all of your strategic suppliers and use a platform to do it.  And while SI expects that other vendors with the same degree of analytic capability, financial know-how, and supplier insight — specifically Resilinc, FusionOps, and Simfoni — will soon attempt to release similar offerings, with their own unique spin, SI doubts that these other providers will be able to match the depth provided by RapidRatings for quite some time, as they are, respectively, focused on supply chain resilience, big data insights, and analytics on the go.  (However, if you are  currently using any of these vendors, you should work with them on their new analytic offerings as they can still offer other insights into the suitability of the supplier for your operation, assuming the supplier is financially viable enough to work with in the first place.)

While financial risk or financial health is only one KPI that should be used to analyze suppliers before qualifying them for inclusion in an event, it is an important one — the organization needs a supplier that will stay in business. Another KPI that should be included is a comprehensive CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) assessment, as you want responsible and sustainable suppliers, and this can be obtained as well from vendors such as Sedex Global and Ecovadis. Finally, once the supplier has been deemed financially stable and sufficiently responsible, an overall supply chain risk rating should be computed (based on geography, risk of natural disaster, political interference, etc.). This will require either a risk management vendor (such as Resilinc, Risk Methods, etc.) or an analytics vendor that pulls in feeds from one of these vendors.

It’s a lot, but if you can be sure in your supplier, that’s one less worry in your overly complex supply chain.

If AP is the Tax Department, Make Sure They Optimize Tax Recovery!

A recent guest post on spend matters that called Accounts Payable: The New Tax Department noted that as governments worldwide continue the fight against tax fraud, they are requiring more data from enterprises, even down to the individual invoice level.

The guest post also notes that VAT/GST payers often find these requirements onerous, as they can delay operations and increase processing costs for individual transactions, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

An appropriate software platform that supports both customer e-Invoicing from invoices that originate from the organization and customer paper invoicing and also supports the tracking of each tax collected (against an appropriate tax code) can make the identification, consolidation, and submission of such invoices a snap (as long as it supports the required output data format). One click can generate the “tax package” for a country of choice and a simple upload to the government site can send it on its way. It doesn’t have to be hard.

And even if your organization does not have to do this today, it should plan for it, especially if it wants to go international. Currently, as per the post, 16 countries require individual tax invoices and the number is growing. Moreover, many countries can ask for them at any time and an inability to produce quickly can land you in very hot water.

But even more important than tax payment is tax reclamation. If you have a really good platform, it will allow you to import the invoices you receive from your suppliers, track the tax you pay by tax code, and automatically calculate tax owed to you (as you pay tax you collect and get reimbursed for tax you pay in many countries) as well as the supporting tax package (if required). Remember, the governments typically only care about getting their share and the invoice submission laws are all about making sure you pay what you’re supposed to, not about making sure you get credit for what you pay.

Now, if you are operating in a dozen countries, it will be up to legal and finance to figure out which ones you have to collect in, report in, and what taxes and reports are relevant, and this will generally be beyond the capability of most e-Procurement and AP programs, but the necessary data:

  • standard tax code id
  • UNSPSC and/or HTS code
  • collected / paid
  • amount
  • date
  • etc.

as well as the required data formats (EDI, XML, etc.), and one-click import/export (for a standard date range) are easy to support — and any good e-Procurement platform should support it (and if it doesn’t, it’s not a platform for you). And you need one of these, so you can get the AP department what they need to not only make governments and suppliers happy, but make sure you reclaim every penny of tax globally you are required to. Taxes add up … fast … when not reclaimed. So make sure your Procurement platform does what it needs to do to support your reclamation.

The Death of Factoring Will Be Highly Exaggerated

Last Friday, Spend Matters published a great Friday rant by the prophet aptly titled Die Factoring, Die! because Factoring can be the death of many an uninformed supplier who, like desperate individuals, take out payday loans to pay off payday loans at insanely compounding interest rates until they go bankrupt.

Factoring should die. It is no longer needed, but the doctor fears just like the pulp industry has survived for over a century when it should have died out long ago, it will still be around a century later. Just like the pulp industry had the perfect environment to grow until it was big and powerful enough to effectively outlaw the competition, the factoring industry has the same perfect environment to grow and crush the better options.

Before we explain, we’ll point out that just like there is a better alternative to factoring, as the prophet pointed out in his post, there is a better alternative to wood-based paper. In particular, the alternative that was around before the wood-based paper craze: hemp. Whereas hardwood trees take decades to mature, hemp can be grown and harvested in a single growing season. It’s the number one biomass producer on the planet (10 tons per acre in 4 months) and contains 77% cellulose (needed for paper) compared to the average tree at 30%. It’s stronger, the paper lasts centuries longer, does not require any bleaching, and the production requires significantly less water and energy than paper production from trees. (The pulp and paper industry uses more water to produce one ton of product than any other industry and is the fifth largest consumer of energy on the planet.) Hemp for paper is many order of magnitudes better, but since hemp (which contains, on average, 1/5 to 1/10th the THC of cannabis) was made illegal with the delegalization of THC in North America, it’s not an option.

This was possible because the pulp and paper industry was rich and powerful enough to lobby for the delegalization across the board, vs. just the delegalization of cannabis. They got that way because, during the start of the industrial revolution, when paper was needed en-masse to “power” back offices, North America was filled with old hardwood forests and there was not much hemp, as hemp was native to Central and South America. The population was much smaller than it is now, the possibility of deforestation was not even considered (as manual logging could only go so fast), and the technology to produce paper from pulp was understood and easy (at the time). And it could meet demand fast — logging could happen year round whereas hemp could only be harvested once a year in many of the central and northern parts of the US. So it became the defacto paper producing industry, and since everyone needed paper, it obtained a monopoly. And since no one knew better, or was even allowed to learn of a better way, the monopoly persists until this day.

Similarly, the factoring industry has obtained a monopoly on what is effectively “payday lending” to suppliers that need money now, can’t get it from the bank, and don’t want to beg the local “godfather” for a loan (at interest rates that put even North American credit card companies to shame, with default penalties much worse than repossession). How did it get like this? First of all, there have been no other viable options for many of these suppliers (as not all suppliers are lucky enough to get buyers that will offer the [slightly] better alternative of early payment discounting, as not all buyers can afford that). Secondly, growth demands working capital, and the capital has to come from wherever it can, and if you are a supplier in an emerging or tight market, it’s often factoring or death. Thirdly, the banks stayed out of it for too long, allowing the industry to grow and cement on its own, and now that it is “proven”, the banks have been drawn to it like moths to a flame, and they control the global cash flow.

So as long as it is effectively a cash cow, which it is as it is a slow cash drain (death) for most suppliers (meaning that you’ll acquire and keep more customers in a year than you bankrupt), more suppliers need it everyday (as they try to stay in business when times become troubled or they try to grow faster than they can afford), and it’s relatively low risk compared to other types of lending, it’s going to continue to gain support and traction from the lenders, who are going to do their best to present it as the only option available. And some suppliers will believe, lock-in, and get trapped in the factor cycle, factoring more and more invoices over time until every invoice needs to be factored as soon as it is issued just so the supplier can make payroll.

So even though modern platforms, backed by “big data” (even though the data doesn’t have to be all that “big” to adequately calculate risk and buyer payment time-frames), and enabled by networks (that give the supplier dozens or hundreds of options including half a dozen or dozens of better ones), could provide better options, the doctor just doesn’t see it happening any time soon. We’ve known since 2000 that multi-line item optimization can save an organization 10% or more on just about every sourcing event (and since Aberdeen’s advanced sourcing study in 2005 that it will save an organization an average of 12% across all categories) and still less than 10% of organizations using strategic sourcing platforms are effectively employing it — even though modern optimization-backed sourcing platforms make it easy enough for even junior buyers to use it self-serve and run basic models and identify considerable savings without expert support. (Not always the full 10% to 12%, but enough savings to justify its use on each and every event!) Factoring is finance, and banks have made finance unnecessarily complicated to maintain the monopoly. So it’s here to stay. And when big data and networks enter the picture, you can bet it will be the factorers, and not the factorees, that gain.

It’s sad, but for now — and the foreseeable future, it’s true.

Economic Sustentation 02: Bank Failure

As indicated in our original damnation post, Wikipedia states that a a bank failure occurs when a bank is unable to meet its obligations to its depositors or other creditors because it has become insolvent or too illiquid to meet its liabilities. Since some banks, including the Federal Reserve, have a license to literally print money, most people think that bank failure is impossible. But since some banks over-invest in hedge funds, high risk mortgages, or commodity markets, it can happen and it has happened.

Banks have been failing since they first incorporated, and the fiscal crises in the late 2000’s caused the failure of a number of really big banks, including Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns. And regardless of how many new acts are passed to try and insure banks limit their risk exposure or keep enough cash on hand to cover withdrawals or payouts in the case of a loss, banks will still fail. Regulators will never keep up with the new and inventive ways banks and investors will come up with to invest, and lose, money.

This is a damnation because not only do they hold your money, all of which above the FDIC (or equivalent) insured amount could be completely lost in a bankruptcy, but your supply chain probably depends on letters of credit and inventory based loans, and they can disappear with the bank that disappears with a bankruptcy. This could cause your critical supply lines to stop, which would result in your production lines going down, and revenue losses mounting by the day while you search for new banks, new lines of credit, and new inventory loans.

So what can you do?

1. Diversify your Banking Portfolio

Just like you should diversify your physical supply chain, and have alternate sources of critical raw material and product supply, you should diversify your financial supply chain and have alternate sources of savings and financing.

2. Include your Banks in Your Supplier Risk Management and Monitoring Program

Even if you have multiple banks, and no bank has more than the insured limit of your money, a failure will still cause you significant grief as you would have to file insurance claims to get your money, arrange new payroll solutions, arrange new letters of financing, and so on.

3. Balance bank financing and private lender financing

Sometimes private lenders will give you a better deal on invoice factoring and inventory financing than banks. Be aware of all your options and balance them appropriately.

How to Save a Whopping £500 on 1.0M of Spend!

Unless you are a best-in-class purchasing organization (and that is not the case for 92% of you), then you need to save. Budgets are shrinking. Costs are rising. Growth and consumer spend is flatlining. And if you don’t get your costs under control, you will be out of a job one way or the other.

But there’s a right way to save, and a wrong way to save.

The right way to save is to apply advanced analytics and optimization across your strategic and high spend categories which has proven time and time again to save an average of 10% across the board year after year when properly applied.

The right way to save is to influence and control demand. The only time demand should increase year over year is when it is for products or components that are for sale, or go into for sale products, and sales for those products are increasing. Demand should not increase more than x% for office supplies or MRO where x% is the increase in workforce, and, in fact, in many categories, should be decreasing year over year. For example, paper spend should decrease (since so much can be distributed online). MRO should decrease, as better inventory management and higher quality parts should decrease the number of products required. Etc.

The right way to save is to increase the value of the product sourced without increasing the price, so that even if costs stay constant, value increases and allow for an increased revenue stream.

So what’s the wrong way to save? Capital manipulation. In particular, earlier customer payment and later supplier payment.

The majority of analysts, accountants, and consultants, especially the unenlightened ones, will dazzle you with calculations that show how if you decrease accounts receivable from 30 days to 15 days and extend accounts payable from 30 days to 60 days, the extra 45 days of working capital you have will save you a fortune as you’ll either have to borrow less or can invest more and generate a huge savings on every Million that stays in your coffers an extra 30 to 60 days.

For example, if you have an annual cost of capital of 6% and you typically have to borrow 50% of required working capital to pay your suppliers on a timely basis, you will be paying:

  06% ACC   12% ACC  
Borrowed Amount 30 days 60 days 30 days 60 days
1 M  5,000 10,000 10,000 20,000
10 M  50,000 100,000 100,000 200,000
50 M   250,000   500,000   500,000 1,000,000

And as soon as a CFO at a mid-size company believes that if he can squeak out an extra 60 days across 50 Million of expenditure at 6%, he can save £500,000, a blind mandate to delay payment terms and expedite payment collection goes out across the board. And then CFO pats himself on the back and goes on a well deserved corporate retreat to the next conference he can find at a mountain resort.

But what actually happens?

If you do the proper calculation, which is:

You see that very little is actually saved because the savings is on the cost of capital for the payment days of the amount, NOT cost of capital for the payment amount. Which is a much smaller number. If you do this calculation, the real numbers are:

  06% ACC   12% ACC  
Borrowed Amount 30 days 60 days 30 days 60 days
1 M  500 1,000 1,000 2,000
10 M  5000 10,000 10,000 20,000
50 M   25,000   50,000   50,000 100,000

Remember, in the long run, the payments still have to be made and, most importantly, still have to be made on a monthly basis. So while you might see a savings the first month, there will be no further savings because all you have done is shifted all payments ahead by x days. A payment delayed is not a payment negated.

Moreover, all you’ve really accomplished is p!ss!ng off the supplier. And any chance of being a customer of choice has been thrown under the bus, where you effectively threw the supplier, who now has to borrow more capital to stay in operation, often at a rate double yours. In other words, the whopping £5K you saved likely cost the supplier £10K and, at the end of the contract, the first thing they are going to do is increase their costs substantially to cover their loss. So, at the end of the day, your short term savings of £5K is likely going to cost you £15K or more (especially when you consider the value associated with being a customer of choice). But hey, the CFO is always right, right? Wrong!

Don’t believe the doctor? Check out this great piece over on the public defender‘s blog that goes through this calculation in even more detail.