With the amount of available credit shrinking in recent times and financial institutions raising lending standards, more businesses are turning to alternative forms of finance to cover cash flow shortages and grow their businesses. Asset-based lending, factoring, invoice discounting, and merchant cash advances are a few alternative forms of finance that are becoming more popular. Although these forms of funding can help companies make it through tough times, business owners and managers need to be aware of their shortcomings.
Companies that are unable to secure traditional bank funding can turn to asset-based finance to cover their needs. With asset based finance, a company uses its assets as collateral to secure structured working capital or term loans. If the business is unable to repay the loan, the lender takes the asset that secured the loan. Asset-based loans can be secured by a range of assets including machinery, equipment, accounts receivable, inventory or real estate. In its most basic form, asset-based financing involves tangible assets. A business can pledge one or more of its assets as collateral to secure a loan. Once the loan is repaid the lender no longer has a claim on the asset.
With factoring, a business sells its accounts receivable at a discount to a third party, called a factor. The business receives its funds immediately. The factor takes ownership of the receivables and assumes the right to collect on them and takes on the risks of non-payment. Factoring is not a loan, so the factor isn’t concerned with the firm’s creditworthiness but looks at the quality of its accounts receivable. The main drawback for the business is that it doesn’t receive the full value of its receivables. This amount forfeited can be high in percentage terms when compared to traditional forms of finance.
Firms wanting to improve their working capital and cash flow position can use invoice discounting, also called debtor finance, to borrow a percentage of the value of the their receivables. Under these arrangements, the business gets access to a revolving line of credit (sometimes up to 90% of the value of outstanding invoices) which it can draw upon. For the service, the lender charges fees and interest on the amount borrowed. Like an overdraft, the business only pays interest on the funds borrowed. In most cases, confidentiality is maintained so that customers and suppliers don’t know the business is borrowing against its receivables.
The main drawbacks of invoice discounting are its high cost compared to other finance options and the loss of the company’s flexibility to make other finance arrangements once receivables have been dedicated as collateral. Businesses can start to rely on the improved cash flow invoice discounting brings and may find it difficult to leave the arrangement.
Merchant cash advances
A growing number of businesses needing a quick solution to cash flow challenges are turning to merchant cash advances (MCAs), a new and controversial form of finance. Merchant cash advance providers offer businesses a lump sum payment in exchange for a share of future credit card sales. This form of finance has become popular among retail, restaurant and service companies that have strong credit card sales but have poor credit ratings and little or no collateral. Under an MCA arrangement, the provider collects a set percentage of the company’s daily credit card sales until they recover the amount they advanced plus a premium. The advantage for the business is quick access to funds without the need for a strong credit rating or collateral.
The main drawback of MCAs is their high premiums, which can be over 30% of the money advanced. This has led some to refer to MCAs as ‘payday loans for businesses’. Unlike traditional lenders, MCA providers don’t fall under finance regulations because they are buying receivables, and not making loans.
Tight credit markets and stricter lending criteria have made it necessary for companies to look at alternative forms of finance. Although these can offer benefits, they need to be carefully scrutinised for their potential shortcomings.