In the post-financial-crisis world we live in now, most business owners and entrepreneurs view commercial financing in a much different light than they did before. With traditional bank loans getting harder to find, many are looking outside the box for the capital they need to sustain and grow their businesses.
In doing so, business owners have discovered (or sometimes rediscovered) the potential benefits of asset-based lending and factoring. Sarsha Adrian, senior consultant with Graber Associates, a marketing and research firm that specializes in financial services, made this observation during a recent webinar.
“Factoring has reemerged as a way for fast-moving, aggressive businesses to meet the critical need for working capital finance,” she said. “There’s a change of opinion going on now, a mind shift about what factoring is. It’s almost like factoring is changing its name to ‘business-to-business payment financing.’”
No Longer a Last Resort
Meanwhile, a recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the rising popularity of asset-based lending, noting that this former “last-resort finance option” is gaining ground as traditional sources of capital dry up. “Asset-based lending has become a popular choice for companies that don’t have the credit ratings, track record, or patience to pursue more traditional capital sources,” the article said.
The volume of asset-based loans grew to nearly $600 billion in 2008, an increase of more than 8 percent, reports the Commercial Finance Associates, and it estimates the volume grew in 2009 by double digits. Syndicated lending, on the other hand, decreased by 39 percent in 2009.
“There’s a huge difference now in the way business owners are looking at these financing options,” Adrian says. “They want some predictable way of understanding their cash flow. They’re interested in an instrument that will finance their transactions, and they look at factoring as part of their payments.”
Businesses may turn to factoring for a number of different reasons. In her webinar, Adrian noted a few of the most common: to improve cash flow, to build up cash reserves, to avoid additional debt, and to get money when you don’t qualify for or can’t wait for a traditional bank loan.
A whopping 60 percent of a typical firm’s cash is tied up in receivables, says Adrian, and waiting for payment can put serious pressure on cash flow. “Selling receivables at a discount by factoring can help bring in cash quickly,” she says. Another strategy used by some firms to speed up cash flow — offering so-called “2/10, net-30 discounts” — isn’t always effective, she adds, “because customers often take the 2 percent discount and still pay in 30 days.”
It’s Not a Loan
Factoring differs from traditional lending in that it’s the actual purchase of accounts receivable by a bank or commercial finance company (usually referred to as a factor) from a business. It’s not a loan of funds to a business. The receivables are purchased at a discount, typically 2 percent to 5 percent of the invoice amount. This is the factor’s fee.
The factor advances a portion of the receivable (usually 80 percent) to the business immediately and the balance after it has made collection, minus the discount. In most client-factor agreements, the business agrees to factor a minimum amount of money each month for the length of the contract period — usually 12 to 18 months. “In this way, factoring essentially becomes an unlimited line of credit,” Adrian says.
There are two primary types of factoring. There’s recourse, in which the factor can demand payment from the client if its customers fail to pay receivables; then there’s nonrecourse, in which the factor can’t demand payment from the client even if its customers don’t pay. Because the factor is heavily dependent on the reliability of its clients’ customers, it will be especially concerned with their creditworthiness, carefully analyzing them and performing credit checks on potential new customers.
“What businesses like about factoring is that it’s not a loan,” Adrian says. “They’re not borrowing money so they’re not tying up collateral (other than the receivables they sell) or increasing the leverage ratio on their balance sheets. They’re getting immediate cash and they avoid doing all the paperwork associated with bank loans. Many see factoring as being much more convenient compared to bank financing, which is painfully slow.”
Another traditional type of asset-based lending involves the leveraging of accounts receivable and, in some cases, inventory. Here companies borrow money against the value of these assets, essentially using their receivables and inventory as collateral for a loan. The bank or finance company will advance funds to the business based on a calculation of the eligible outstanding receivables and inventory. Because these assets are so fluid, it requires a different level of monitoring than traditional bank lending does.
Overcoming Your Misgivings
One hesitation some companies feel about factoring is unease about turning over their client lists to factors for collection. According to Adrian, this is less of a concern today than it used to be. “A lot of businesses are using payment companies now in the normal course of doing business and the customers’ names are known to them, so it’s not really an issue for most companies anymore.”
While some banks (mostly large ones) do asset-based lending, most is done by commercial finance and factoring companies. Your bank may refer you to an asset-based lender or factor — if so, be sure to examine the firm thoroughly and perform careful due diligence. Professional experience and adequate capitalization are crucial, so ask how long the factor has been in business and how well capitalized it is.
Tracy Eden is national marketing director for The Commercial Finance Group in Atlanta. CFG provides factoring and accounts receivable financing to companies nationwide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit CFG to learn more.