Unlocking SME Lending with e- Invoicing

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1 Unlocking SME Lending with e- Invoicing June 2012

2 Executive Summary Demand for new financing schemes and alternatives to bank lending for small and medium sized business (SME) is growing. These calls are coming from both governments and businesses. Given the current perceptions of many businesses about their banking relationship, the willingness and openness to investigate new nonbank alternatives is gaining acceptance. Most small and medium sized businesses (SME) are reliant on a single source of finance, predominantly bank lending. Traditionally this lynchpin relationship has strengthened the growth of businesses and economies. However, the last banking crisis has altered these associations with businesses drastically. In many cases SME s lost their lines of credit, had them reduced, or more predominantly, lost any access to new credit. Lenders are facing dual pressure from governments to lend more to small businesses, while facing stringent capital adequacy requirements on risk weightings for SME loans. Many lenders point to low quality credit information and lack of structure as the fundamental reason for SME risk and as a barrier to lend. Emerging trends in electronic invoicing and supply chain networks are bringing the reality of risk visibility to the fore The inevitable growth and evolution of electronic invoicing and B2B networks has brought attention to new methods and visibility for lenders. Like any new and evolving eco- system, this rapid growth in real time B2B transaction networks will give rise to a new generation of services better adapted to the new environment. Many of these services will simply be an evolution of current services delivered more effectively. Other services will be based on a new generation of innovative applications previously not possible in the paper- based world. B2B networks provide an opportunity to establish better risk models, better standards, and better common terminologies for SME risk modeling. More accurate risk models will, in turn, have a beneficial impact on current banking reserve requirements. There is an increasing opportunity for banks and other lenders to effectively utilize the data and capital available within e- invoicing B2B networks. Emerging services focused on credit information derived from B2B network transactions are exploiting this data flow with the main purpose to increase lending by lowering risk and increasing cash flow visibility. UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 2

3 SME Cash Flow & Lending SME s today are still facing the cash squeeze that affected them during the recent banking crisis. Many are caught in a triangle where customers are taking longer to pay, vendors demanding earlier payment, and banks are tightening credit rules and availability. Numerous studies in the UK, Europe, and the US have conveyed that the rejection rate for SME s applying for a loan now ranges 33% to 50% of those surveyed. Many sources support this notion, for example the Bank of England s 2011 Q4 Credit Conditions Survey showed that while firms with strong balance sheets generally had access to bank lending, small businesses often reported that lending conditions remained tight. i On the other hand, banks report that demand for SME loans is decreasing, although, the cost of finance has not been the main deterrent to credit demand. Median interest rates on new SME facilities have remained flat since 2009, lower than pre- crisis levels. The contradiction leads to the argument that most SME s perceive bank lending is limited. Combined with the notion that searching for credit is a labor and time intensive process. Searching for credit becomes daunting to the SME s and often gives up looking for finance all together. Many a politician and activist have blamed banks for this dilemma, but the situation is somewhat more complex. Challenges for SME Lending Good credit information is the key component for a lender to assess the risk and return of lending to a business. Visibility into the viability of a borrower is dependent on both historical and predicative measures. Publicly available resources for small private companies have minimal financial information. In the US, credit- scoring agencies rely mostly on self- reported data from privately held SME s. In other countries, such as the UK, government agencies such as Companies House receive electronic company filings and often furnish historical information of those companies publicly. generally insufficient data to support credit decisions. However, this is When more detailed information or explanations are needed, the lender reverts back to the business. SME s characteristically have limited financial staff and resources with minimal levels of financial expertise, often relying on their accountant or financial advisor to respond to information requests and advice. With difficulty to get the clarity required, SME lending becomes a process where credit assessment is more difficult and slow. Banking regulators have taken the view that lack of information concerning SME s is a significant concern. The UK Government appointed BIS Task Force found that a number of finance providers who responded to the Call for UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 3

4 Evidence raised the issue that a lack of access to credit information provides a higher barrier to entry for them in lending to SMEs ii Limited information also is causing increases in risk provision requirements and raising the cost of providing credit for bank lenders. Basel III amendments have impacted SME lending significantly by placing higher capital ratios and new specific rules on risk weightings on SME loans and overdrafts. One of the critical factors that impacted the Basel III committee decisions was that there is no common terminology or methods for SME risk modeling. The impact of these rules is likely to fall disproportionately on smaller businesses which tend to be riskier and have higher risk weightings attached. SME finance is locked in a cycle where limited financial clarity yields more stringent risk provisions, higher Credit risk evaluation based on low quality, aggregated and outdated data application rejections, and subsequently declining demand for credit. Altering the risk profile of the SME is the key to unlocking lending. Fortunately, a large portion of the information required is readily available in the transactions occurring in electronic B2B networks today. Some emerging trends in electronic invoicing and supply chain networks are bringing the reality of risk visibility to the fore. The Inevitability of Dematerialization B2B/B2G/G2B E- Invoicing: Estimated market penetration 2012 per country. Source: Billentis E- Invoicing / E- Billing 2012, Opportunities in a challenging market environment Traditional letter post is in long term decline with volumes decreasing about 5% a year - year on year. iii There is an unstoppable migration from paper to electronic communication across the globe in all spheres of life. In the age of the Internet, using pulped trees to encode and communicate complex financial data between sophisticated UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 4

5 electronic ERP systems is becoming passé. Unsurprisingly, there is a constant and unrelenting migration to electronic invoicing. For the past five years, e- invoicing volumes in Europe have been growing consistently at around 20%- 30% per annum. iv This growth is set to continue for the foreseeable future with the expectation that the majority of invoices will be electronic by Metcalfe's Law and the Rise of B2B Networks Metcalfe's law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. v Like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter - the value and utility of a B2B transaction network increases rapidly as the number of connected enterprises increases. The Network Effect establishes it s own momentum in a positive feedback loop - the more enterprises that are connected, the greater the utility. The greater the utility, the more Enterprises will get connected. Electronic invoicing is reaching that point. Early adopters of e invoicing tended to establish direct connections with their trading partners forming proprietary closed networks. These were perfectly adequate interim solutions; the emerging trend within the industry now is towards open networks and open standards. Where an e- invoicing service provider is increasingly a gateway enabling their customers to reach a critical mass of trading partners in multiple trading networks and communities. Data and Supply Chain Visibility When information about the certainty of payment is made available to a business, it enhances cash flow discernibility and finance- ability. Electronic invoicing has begun to make an impact in this by removing a majority of the procedural delays in processing an invoice manually. Automated presentment of an invoice allows for faster validity checking and approval matching as well as payment processing. In a B2B network, trading parties are linked electronically exchanging the real documents of business. Within B2B network data, an SME and lender can share the full circle view of a business and its trading partners. A history, from purchase orders, invoices, to delivery and payment can be reported with much more clarity and swiftness than basic accounting statements. Tremendous visibility and gains in processing evolve from B2B networks. The key benefits include: UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 5

6 Real time and accurate communication. Paper documents take time to transport and often end up in the wrong department or on the wrong desk. With e- invoicing, documents are delivered to the right recipient in a matter of seconds. Structured data. With full e- invoicing the rich semantic data content of the invoices are available for automated data analysis. Multiple formats. Electronic invoices can be captured in any format and made available in any data format for direct import into the buyers finance system. This avoids the delays, inaccuracies and inevitable exceptions that arise from the slow and error prone manual keying of invoice content. Query resolution. Many e- invoicing services support real time messaging enabling the rapid resolution of any queries surrounding a particular invoice. The rapid approval of invoices enables quicker financing to be offered on a timelier basis. Supporting information. Many invoice queries are due to lack of information on the invoice or due to misunderstanding about the content. E- invoicing systems often allow other supporting documents, such as time sheets or technical specifications, to be attached to the electronic invoice. A current and historical 360 degree view of the corporate s activity with their trading partners provides financing institutions with an up-to-date and accurate view of the corporates business. Payment Integration. Many services enable e- invoices to be paid online, or via direct debit agreements. Linking the payment transaction to the e- invoice greatly assists in reconciliation and provides detailed intelligence as to the nature of the payment. All of theses benefits lead to improved visibility of receivables. The current status of electronic sales invoices can easily be tracked. The sender knows whether the recipient has received the invoice, has viewed it, queried it, approved it or scheduled a payment for it. Such detailed knowledge on the status of receivables is summarized in a number of reports that provide the seller (or lender) clear expectations of future cash in- flows. A current and historical 360 degree view of the corporate s activity with their trading partners provides financing institutions with an up- to- date and accurate view of the corporates business. The level of transparency improves risk evaluation and may result in an organization accessing finance at more competitive rates. Enhancing Risk Models for SME s Connectivity to both business accounting systems and networks can facilitate faster and more accurate credit evaluations with intelligent algorithms operating on real time data. Automated risk assessment and scoring is poised to take an evolutionary leap with readily available information stored within the network. Purchase orders, invoice and UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 6

7 payment approvals create the opportunity for predictive current ratios, DSO calculations, and pro forma balance sheets. Combined with historical trending of archived data, a company s credit risk is assessed with more clarity and speed. Structured data makes this leap possible by enabling standardized models and language for risk assessment. More importantly, deeper visibility enables a lender to amend a previously higher risk profile for the SME. The opportunity for lenders to play a role in this network as both data service providers and creator of alternative lending products is significant. But it also enhances the reach of more traditional methods of finance as well. New Opportunities for Supply Chain Finance Paper based invoice financing has been in existence for centuries and is a well- proven and well- understood financing mechanism. The growth of B2B networks containing the source documents in electronic form augmented by rich intelligence on the supply chain is perfectly suited to a new generation of supply chain financing mechanisms. Receivables financing is one mechanism for financing the supply chain (e.g. traditional Factoring and Invoice Discounting). According to the EU Federation for the Factoring and Commercial Finance Industry, accounts receivable financing has been growing at a rate averaging about 8% per annum for the past 5 years and now accounts for about 8% of European GDP. The BIS task force and other studies have referred to invoice finance to have the potential for significantly impacting economies despite the low level of utilization. Perhaps more importantly, should AR finance usage increase to higher levels of uptake the impact on future growth could be vast. By 2020, under this scenario, the combined GDP of [UK, Germany, France, and Italy] could grow by an additional 53 billion per quarter and an additional 937,000 jobs could be created. vi Corporate Funded Supply Chain Financing One impact of the financial crisis and the recent recession is that the larger corporates have been hoarding cash. By some estimates US Corporates are holding on to a record $2 Trillion of cash whilst European Corporates are equally thrifty with about 2 Trillion of cash. vii There are many drivers for this behavior, but it is mainly due to a combination of lack of growth opportunities and general lack of confidence in investing. Paradoxically, the record levels of cash also coincide with record lows for interest rates. Corporates are getting very little return on their cash and U.S. corporations hold almost 75% of their total liquidity in overnight investments, money funds and bank deposits. On the other hand, SMEs are struggling to access capital with 30% of UK SMEs for example missing growth opportunities in 2011 because they weren t able to access finance according to a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses. viii UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 7

8 A new generation of solutions and services are emerging than enable larger corporates to utilize their capital more effectively to support the life and blood of their supply chains. One increasingly popular mechanism is self- funded supply chain financing where larger cash- rich corporates use a range of instruments to optimize the financing and consequently the general health of the SMEs feeding their supply chain. With many global corporates being more stable financially and having more cash than some banks - this trend is likely to continue. Roles for and Risks to Banks Demand for new financing schemes and alternatives to bank lending is growing. These calls are coming from both governments and businesses. Given the current perceptions of many businesses about their banking relationship, the willingness and openness to investigate new nonbank alternatives is gaining acceptance. The BIS taskforce extends that notion further by implying that the banking industry will not keep up with projected demand for credit when economic conditions become favorable. Analysis suggests that bank credit may not grow to the extent required to support sustainable economic recovery. The modeled estimates suggest a potential credit- funding requirement over the next five years of between 84bn and 191bn for the business sector as a whole, of which between 26bn and 59bn is estimated to relate to smaller businesses. Bank lending may grow to meet some of this gap, but the ability of bank lending to increase may be constrained by the ability to raise capital and meet higher funding costs. ix Banks are susceptible to losing market share to new financing alternatives and by not meeting demand from SME s for wider financial choices. In the fintech world, many new startups are challenging the bank paradigm from new bank models to marketplaces and exchanges. Banks carry much skepticism about marketplaces where competing against other banks is down to just providing the best rates. In most cases with SME finance rates are not the prime differentiator to winning business. Innovative structures and ease of finding credit will drive growth faster than a commodity play that emphasizes rates. As we see today, low commercial loan interest rates are not driving demand from SME s. There is an opportunity for banks as valued participants of a network. Banks should ask themselves whether there is a bigger role with their SME customers, more than just a lender but as a trusted advisor referring alternatives. The model already works on other financial products such as insurance and financial planning for retail and business clients. Commercial bankers can take the long view and start offering a customer a total UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 8

9 financing package beyond its own balance sheet. Create opportunities to engage other financing groups, perhaps smaller banks to step- in and fill in customer segment and lending type gaps. Its customers may end up shopping around less and remaining satisfied (maybe even happy), and loyal. There is a risk of disintermediation for global banks. Many corporates and smaller banks have more liquidity. But they lack the technology and expertise to do SCF. Consequently many niche technology players have evolved to enable this new liquidity. There is a significant opportunity for banks and other lenders to effectively utilize the data and capital available within B2B networks and supply chains to increase lending and lower risk. Emerging services focused on credit information that work with B2B providers, are exploiting this data flow. For banks, the opportunity arises to enhance the SME relationship with better products and services. Conclusions SMEs are finding it difficult to access credit and this is constraining growth Lenders are wary of SMEs because of perceived risks, high cost of administration and low returns The dematerialization of business transactions such as invoices is an inevitability with an unstoppable migration from paper to electronic A new eco- system is evolving with real time B2B networks exchanging structured data for quotes, purchase orders, invoices, payments and remittances, etc. The new eco- system will host new services encompassing more accurate risk evaluations and more efficient, immediate, effective and competitive financing structures Cash rich corporates and other funders will tap into these networks through specialist service providers Banks need to get involved to capture the opportunity and avoid disintermediation UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 9

10 Bilbus is a working capital management hub that enables small businesses to finance electronic invoices with commercial lenders and manage cash flow via a single dashboard. With efficient receivables tracking and a growing lender network, Bilbus adds liquidity to the e-invoicing supply chain with supplier-centric financing. For further information please see us at or follow us on This paper was produced in collaboration with Fundtech. Fundtech is a leading provider of Transaction Banking software and services to financial institutions of all sizes around the world. The company was founded in 1993 and has approximately 1,000 full-time employees in 16 offices throughout the world (headquartered in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA). For further details please contact: Fundtech EMEA United Kingdom 42 New Broad Street London EC2M 1SB Tel: UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 1 0

11 Notes i BANK OF ENGLAND, Trends in Lending, January 2012 ii BIS Taskforce, Boosting Finance Options For Business, boosting- finance- options- for- business.pdf, pg 36. iii Royal Mail profits up despite decline in post - Financial Times,November 21, 2011 iv E- Invoicing / E- Billing: Opportunities in a challenging market environment - Bruno Koch, Billentis, March 21, 2012 v Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian (1999). Information Rules. Harvard Business Press. ISBN X. vi The AR Factor The economic value of Accounts Receivable Finance to Europe s leading economies October 2011 vii Treasury Strategies: Quarterly Corporate Cash BriefingTM 4Q 2011 viii No magic wand for small business from Merlin - Financial Times, February 13, 2012 ix BIS Taskforce, Boosting Finance Options For Business, boosting- finance- options- for- business.pdf, pg 15. UNLOCKING SME LENDING WITH E INVOICING 1 1

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