Let’s Get One Thing Clear: Like All Financing, Supply Chain Financing Benefits the Lender, Not the Buyer or the Seller

While there might be arguments that some form of Supply Chain Financing (SCF) would benefit all parties in a fair world, it’s not a fair world, as it’s run by greedy capitalists, but that doesn’t mean we have to make it more unfair, or complain about laws being proposed to limit unfairness.

But that’s exactly what a recent article in the Global Trade Review on how the Supply Chain Finance Industry Hopeful EU will Soften Late Payment Rules is pointing out. The EU SCF industry is crying foul when there really is no foul.

The article, which notes that even though an EU Parliament committee is pushing for greater flexibility around the regulation on combating late payments that puts in place a stricter maximum payment term of 30 in both business-to-business (B2B) and government-to-business (G2B) transactions (versus the current 60 days), unless companies negotiate payment terms of up to 60 calendar days and both agree to those extended terms in a contract, there are some parties that are still not happy. (Even when the new regulation even allows for companies trading in “slow moving or seasonal goods” to collectively agree to extend terms up to 120 days in a contract.) (For completeness, we should also note that the forthcoming legislation will enforce accrued interest and compensation fees for all late payments.)

However, some parties believe that payment terms should be twice that as they risk restricting liquidity and interfering with companies’ contractual freedoms. The former statement (restricting liquidity) is complete and utter bullcr@p. The latter statement (restricting contractual freedoms) is a valid point if there are currently no restrictions on payment requirements in local laws, but, guess what, all contracts must adhere to the laws and directives of the countries in which the companies operate, and countries / unions have a right to modify those laws and directives over time to what they believe is in the best interest of the greater (not the lesser) good. And when a recent Taulia research report found that 51% of companies polled are typically paid late, something needs to be done.

The point being whined about … err … made is that shortening mandatory terms without agreement to 30 days and with agreement to 60 days would mean SCF lenders would see their returns slashed, and potentially remove any incentive to offer programmes in the first place. And while it’s true they would see their returns slashed from predatory lending, taking advantage of suppliers who need money now from buyers who want to keep their bank accounts as cash flush as possible (even when not necessary to meet internal operating costs), it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to see their returns slashed from a finance perspective. They could still provide suppliers with loans (at fair interest rates) secured by the equipment the supplier buys or the products produced (which they could seize if they feared lack of payment and then the buyer would have to pay the lender for the goods’ release). Or, if buyers liked unnecessarily fat bank accounts, they could lend the buyer cash with the buyer’s illiquid assets as collateral. And while this is more traditional finance, what’s wrong with that?

Allowing buyers to screw suppliers (when those buyers can afford not to) just hurts everyone in the long run. Suppliers have to borrow, usually at predatory interest rates, to make payroll, which increases their overall operating costs. In return, their costs go up on all future contracts. A buyer might squeeze out a slight gain (in its high interest investments vs. paying the supplier or in its stock price based on correlation that a higher than expected bank account is higher than expected growth), but the buyer will just end up paying more in the long term (and then passing that cost onto us consumers). And the only party winning in every transaction is the SCF vendor who gets 2% to 6% on all the short term cash it provides, which is very safe because someone’s going to take that product. And, FYI, even 2% on a 60 day term, works out to over 13% a year (because by the time the supplier submits, the SCF approves, and the money gets transferred, that’s usually at least 5 days). And the rates are only that good when the supplier has more than one SCF option. When the supplier doesn’t, it’s probably 4%, or 26%+ per year, which is likely 40% higher than the organizational credit card, and nearing predatory lending territory! And while it’s not as bad as the 40%+ some suppliers will be saddled with in hard times when all they can get is the local loan-sharks, it’s still not something we should accept.

So bravo to the EU Parliament and shame on anyone complaining about legislation mandating fair payment terms, especially to SMEs. After all, it’s not banning SCF vendors from helping them in other financing ways, or even negotiating an agreement to auto pay every 60 day invoice in 6 days (for 2% of the transaction value) when you know these suppliers are all going to have 60 days shoved down their throats by big businesses.