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SMEs and suppliers in tug-of-war over credit

9 June 2020

Small firms and their suppliers are struggling to agree payment terms as both face cashflow problems because of unpaid invoices.

A new report from small business lender iwoca has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is creating a trade credit crunch as 40% of businesses are currently facing over £10,000 in unpaid invoices. It comes as customers seek longer payment terms and suppliers look to cut them, leaving one in four firms worried that they won't survive into 2021.

The proportion of SME owners that owe large payments to their suppliers has increased significantly. In the past 30 days, 41% of respondents asked their suppliers to extend payment terms - up from 27% in the year leading up to the outbreak of coronavirus.

At the same time, 34% of small business suppliers say they are more likely to either ask for immediate payment or shorten their payment terms in the future to minimise their exposure to unpaid invoices.

"What's emerging is a concerning game of 'tug of war' between small businesses as they look to survive and plan for the future," said Christoph Rieche, co-founder and ceo of iwoca. "Buyers can't pay their invoices because they don't have the revenues and sellers are being asked to provide longer payment terms to ease the strain whilst already sitting on a growing backlog of unpaid invoices.

"Coronavirus can and should help trigger a step-change for small businesses to become more efficient, productive and resilient. We believe the first and most obvious change is to make payment terms fairer between suppliers and customers."

Iwoca has launched a new product - iwocaPay - that allows customers to choose payment terms of up to 90 days. At the same time, suppliers will be paid immediately through iwoca.

Supply and logistics issues are particularly prevalent in the retail sector, according to new research conducted by Opinium for LiveArea. Its findings show that:

  • More retailers are being challenged by supply and logistics (72%) than by changes in demand (70%) during the COVID-19 crisis;
  • Other major obstacles include work planning and staffing (50%) and cashflow and credit concerns (31%).

However, while many businesses are struggling, those with strong and advanced digital capabilities have adapted. Digital commerce (72%) and IT infrastructure (60%) are the top investment priorities following the pandemic.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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