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An alternative financing option for the transportation industry

A familiar but difficult scenario unfolds.

You are the owner or CFO of a growing transportation company. Sales are up 20% over last year. Success is causing stress. You need a source for some quick capital to keep the company on-track. Business is booming, but you are experiencing a cash flow crunch. A cheque expected from your largest customer has not arrived and your payroll is due tomorrow. The phone rings and your call display tells you that your key supplier is phoning you for the third time this week. You know what he wants, so you avoid speaking with him. Your banking facility and your charge cards are maxed out. What do you do?

When timing and access to working capital are critical, invoice discounting (also known as factoring) is a practical alternative to traditional methods of financing.

Factoring is a huge and widely accepted practice; however its benefits and concepts are often misunderstood or known only to professionals in the financial services industry. Factored sales for 2004 were over $3.5 billion in Canada, US$146 billion in the US, and over US$700 billion worldwide.  The rapid growth of invoice discounting/factoring in North America and its extensive penetration into almost every industry means that virtually all your major accounts will forward some or all of their cheques to factoring companies.

Customers generally pay faster to an invoice discounter than to independent suppliers. The enhanced financing package provided by invoice discounters allows for smoother supplier relationships and offers the ability to lower purchasing costs by taking advantage of trade discounts and volume purchasing.

Why use invoice discounting?

We are living in volatile economic times and traditional lenders are reducing their exposures. A slow motion credit crunch is underway. Banks are tightening their credit standards in the face of problem loans and declining credit quality. Small to medium size enterprises (SME’s) are most vulnerable to reductions or withdrawal of operating facilities for working capital under this scenario. This means that SME’s may need to find another bank to support their operations and/or may need to work with an Invoice Discounter for a short period in time.

Invoice discounters provide more funds or availability than traditional lenders,and a regular and predictable cash flow, as and when required. Factors often provide advances by working behind the Bank as a source of secondary working capital. Factors can improve banking relationships, as clients can remain in covenant and in margin.  By contrast to the banks, high growth, highly leveraged clients are attractive to invoice discounters, who can supply some or all of their financing needs.

Invoice discounting facilities are higher because they are linked to sales and not to rigid balance sheet criteria. Decision-makers within factoring companies better understand your business and the variables affecting your normal course of business, including seasonality issues. Factors inherently offer a more favourable assessment of risk.  There is reliance upon the quality of the product or service rendered and the credit quality and standing of the customer to repay advances, not the strength of the client’s balance sheet. Quality of accounts receivable (A/R) is the common denominator, not equity base, liquidity, and cash flow.  Customer credit limits are established on a pre-screened basis, allowing clients to stay away from potential problem accounts.

Factors have a proven history of leveraging assets leading to accelerating sales growth and greater profits, which offset Invoice Discounting costs. This allows you to promote your business with confidence. Opportunities to do more business are not lost to competitors

Invoice discounting terms and conditions vary, but generally speaking the following practices apply:

  • Proposals/term sheets can be issued to potential clients in as little as two (2) days upon receipt of the required information
  • Invoice Discounting fees vary from 2% to 5% (or more) for each 30 days; calculated on the gross sale value.
  • No minimum term (length of time) contract is required; this means that a client can work on a “spot” or “as needed” basis;
  • Notification – Customers are aware of the Invoice Discounter’s involvement; customers agree to send their payments directly to the invoice discounter.

What is Factoring?

Factoring involves purchasing business-to-business (commercial) invoices at a discount. Factors “buy” and the client “sell” invoices. Clients are advanced funds on invoices due from creditworthy customers/account debtors, and advances range from 75% to 90%. There are two types of factoring products available – recourse and non-recourse.

Whatever the source of capital, the banks have been very difficult on transportation companies. Wise executives need to consider all of their financing options.


Mark Borkowski

Mark Borkowski

Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions – a mid-market M&A brokerage firm in Toronto specializing in the transportation industry.
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