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Finance

Asset-based lending is often called ‘working capital finance’ for a reason…

Asset-based lending is often called ‘working capital finance’ for a reason…

By Alex Beardsley, director at ABL Business.

At the start of lockdown, many businesses went into panic mode, wondering whether they had enough cash in the bank to meet their obligations in the unpredictable future. Thankfully, the raft of government support helped to ease much of the immediate cashflow woes, however, this exercise alerted many CFOs to the need for a more robust way of managing their working capital — both now and in the future.

Prior to the beginning of 2019, I wonder how many businesses had “potential global pandemic” as an immediate threat to be prepared for and managed in the latest iteration of their business plan.

With poor working capital management being the number-one reason cited as cause of business failure around the globe, managing risk via robust working capital facilities should be high on the agenda of any business hoping to ride the current economic storm.

Thankfully, UK Finance may have found the answer to the question: “How do businesses bolster their working capital facilities post-pandemic?”

UK Finance conducted a study throughout the lockdown period that reviewed  the facilities of 20,000 businesses (accounting for 5% of the UK GDP) in the UK using Asset Based Lending (ABL) and Invoice Finance (IF) as a way to manage their working capital. In the context of the lockdown period, much of the focus was on the availability of vital funds, with the government were under pressure to provide quick access to finance to keep the economy afloat.

The results of the study were surprising, stating: “At the end of March, IFABL clients were using 70 per cent of their available funds to support their cashflow, three months later this had dropped to just 45 per cent. In real terms, this indicated the ‘average’ IF/ABL client had headroom of over £250k within existing facilities.”1

This shows that government grants, the Job Retention Scheme, and Government Backed Loans (CBILs and BBLs) provided the working capital breathing space that businesses needed. But more importantly, it shows that the businesses that had working capital facilities in place prior to the pandemic had more headroom in their facilities and were less likely to be in desperate need for cash.

Alex Beardsley

Alex Beardsley

If this isn’t enough of an incentive for every CFO to review the current facilities — and consider the benefits of — Asset Based Lending (ABL), here are some other reasons why it should be considered as a working capital management tool:

  • With ABL, you get a higher availability of cash compared to traditional lending facilities
  • ABL provides revolving working capital on a constant basis, meaning the availability of working capital will increase inline with the growth of your business
  • Usually, ABL facilities carry a lower cost of capital from lenders due to the high amount of security they have over the business assets, and therefore can be a more cost-effective way of borrowing
  • The facility provides more than just an injection of cash at a specific point in time that is then to be repaid out of working capital, further hitting access to cash.

A better way of managing working capital lies in both knowledge of what is available in the market for businesses, and also the particular attitudes towards using finance within a business.

A study in 2014 by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking highlighted that there was £770bn of untapped assets  nationally — which at the time equated to 48% of GDP. Could it be that working capital management is suffering because UK businesses are unaware of the options available to them when it comes to structured finance, or is it that they are reluctant to use finance at all?

Many businesses refer to the bank for support when it comes to providing working capital facilities — or any finance at all — but in the last few years the alternative finance market has proliferated. There are now a range of specific ABL providers that are more commercial and open to risk than the high street banks, meaning that there is now more choice available to businesses seeking support for working capital management facilities.

Following the pandemic there is going to be an increased amount of debt on the balance sheets of UK businesses and a reluctance from the banking and financial institutions to lend without significant security.

No one can deny that the risks to lenders have increased. Before Covid-19, the likelihood of a ‘pandemic’ was not on anyone’s radar — now it will be the first thing lenders and businesses think of going forward when it comes to making decisions.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that businesses and CFOs assess all of the options available to them when it comes to using finance within the busines to help with working capital management.

Having the right finance facilities in place before the business runs into working capital issues is a sure fire way to ensure that a business always has the cash on hand to meet their financial obligations — minimising the risk of insolvency by being able to meet current liabilities.

1 Source: https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/data-and-research/data/business-finance/invoice-finance-and-asset-based-lending

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