Late Payments Help Sink UK SME Confidence

In the U.K., the twin barrels of Brexit and late payments have helped erode confidence in growth prospects, according to Dun & Bradstreet. Elsewhere, Australian companies are feeling the pinch of outstanding invoices and Romanian firms are seeing rejected debit payments spike, as measured year over year.

Brexit is dominating the headlines in the U.K., with a recent deal struck between Britain and the EU that hammers out divorce terms. The agreement is headed toward a vote in Parliament, though uncertainty still reigns as to the true impact it will have on trade and financial services. It’s no surprise that Brexit weighs heavily on the minds of small- to mid-sized enterprise (SME) owners.

So, too, do late payments. In a survey, Dun & Bradstreet found that U.K. SMEs have lost confidence since last year — to the tune of 20 percent — amid the twin engines of Brexit and late payments.

Late payments stand out, said the survey, as small business owners stated that they were owed an average of more than £80,000 ($102,478 USD), up more than a quarter over 2017 levels. In London, the tally spiked, standing at more than £107,000. Roughly half of the firms surveyed said overdue payments put their firms at risk and 63 percent said late payments had the most significant impact on their businesses of any external factors.

Elsewhere In Europe

Business Review (BR) estimated that, in Romania, rejected debit payments from local banks to companies based in that country were up nearly 64 percent year on year. The data showed that the rejected payments reached a 16-month high to almost 276 million RON ($67.13 million USD) in October 2018, compared with 168 million RON in October of last year.

The boost came amid a default on promissory notes, said the BR. The site also said that rising borrowing costs could hurt Romanian companies in the wake of “structural problems,” and added that companies have been paying dividends.

“In the context of rising financing costs, some companies will find themselves in a very difficult situation, as operating profit will become insufficient to cover interest on loans,” said Financial Analyst Iancu Guda, according to the research. Inflation has been at a five-year high of more than 5 percent. Amid operational pressures and higher inflation, Romanian companies could see what BR termed as “a vicious cycle” of commercial credit, and suppliers could see relatively higher risks of non-payment.

Australia And Elsewhere Hit By Late Payments

Beyond the confines of the U.K., Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia, said his government will require businesses with more than $100 million in annual revenues — and with government contracts to pay contractors within 20 days. He said in a speech to the Business Council of Australia that small business payments will be on the agenda for a December meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

Invoices of about $1 million are being paid within 30 days, but “we must do better,” he said, according to The Guardian. He added that the government would look to pay invoices under $1 million within 20 days by July 2019. A new annual reporting framework will be in the works as well for the 3,000 companies that have top lines of the aforementioned $100 million.

The impact of late payments on smaller firms seems to be global in reach. Consider the fact that, in South Africa, as much as 80 percent of small businesses fail within the first three years, tied to late payments. That claim came from the Democratic Alliance party, which also claimed that late payments from the government remain significant, as reported by IOL, with smaller firms owed as much as R27 billion in outstanding invoices.