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Accounts Receivable Financing—Options for Growing Companies

Maha Ahmed Maha Ahmed
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Every business has one thing in common and that is the need for cash. Even charitable organizations need a steady and constant flow of donations in order to keep the lights burning. Cash flow is simply the grease that lubricates the machine and allows it to function properly, but when the machine runs dry it can slow down or grind to halt causing pain and misery for those working in it.

Shangri La for any business (and their bankers) is when cash flow becomes so predictable that the business seems to run itself and profits are at a level that supports the owner's lifestyle well beyond his actual needs.

What about the company that is on a growth trajectory and is pouring every cent back into the company to support its growth and pursuit of new business? The orders are coming in at a faster and faster pace which should be a good thing and new customer relationships are being formed which should lead to a solid stream of new power bi row level security orders in the future. So what's the problem you ask? The problem is when you get an order you have to purchase materials and pay people to fill the order. For example, it may take 14 days or longer from the time the order comes in until the product is shipped, and you have not yet received any payment from the customer. Once the product ships and the invoice is created, your customer has 30 days to make payment and in all this time you have not received a penny, yet you had to meet payroll 3 times, purchase materials, and pay for the other items necessary to run your business. So even though the growth seems great, you are feeling the cash flow crunch of keeping up with orders as they accelerate in number and perhaps even size.

Your banker hears your story and he gives you a line of credit that seems small but you'll take it because you need every penny right now and you don't want to upset a customer by turning them away or shipping late due to a cash flow issue. This line of credit gives you some temporary relief which you needed but you already see the trouble ahead if the growth continues. That's right, you max out the credit line to get caught up and fill orders but can barely meet the minimum payments required by the bank.

But how can this be since the company is growing so much and revenues keep increasing? Well it all goes back to the fact that it takes you at least 45 days to get paid from the time the order comes in, and that is if all your customers are paying on time. With some quick analysis you may discover that your "turn" is something approaching 60 days or even beyond. Ask any of your employees if they would wait 60 days for a paycheck! (Actually, I take that back, do not ask since they may think something is wrong with the company and walk out.) For a mature company with a slow growth rate the waiting period is not a problem since they will simply access their line of credit and pay it down as their invoices are paid without the worry of unexpected or unpredictable orders. In addition they will also be taking advantage of quick pay discounts from their suppliers. Missing supplier discounts can be no small deal since I personally know of a distributor who takes the savings from quick pay discounts as his annual bonus since he sees it as a reflection of his good management. This amounts to a few hundred thousand dollars per year for this owner. Not to shabby for saving 2% from his suppliers on products that were already planned for purchase. For a growing company, missing the opportunity to save 2% from supplier can be very painful, as the need for cash increases with each new order yet you are still waiting for payment from previous orders and the line of credit at the bank is maxed out.

The bank really does not like this scenario because they view it as a management problem and therefore a risk issue. You have taken short term money (bank line of credit) and turned it into long term financing by maxing out your line with no real hope of paying it back or down anytime soon even if the bank has a clean-up provision, which would require you to pay the line off annually. The bad news is simply this: Banks don't like you. Banks think you are too risky because with strong growth you might blow-up at any second. It's as if bankers had a choice they would never board an airplane until it had leveled off at 30,000 feet and would parachute out before the initial decent thus avoiding the risks associated with fast acceleration at take-off and the possibility of a hard or crash landing. Of course this is hyperbole when I say they don't like you when the reality is they simply just prefer to lend to mature companies. They understand your situation and know most companies have to go through growth cycles to reach maturity, they just don't want to participate in the risk. Your banker is your friend he is just a friend that does not like you right now but you should continue to pursue a strong relationship with your banker since it can be so much more meaningful than just a service provider who makes loans.