Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The practicalities of implementing a new accounting system

Today, there are many accounting systems to choose from. In recent years, there has been a move to "cloud" based systems and for those businesses "starting out", this has been a natural choice.

The "cloud" has facilitated the outsourcing, or partial outsourcing model, under which Secantor operates. It has enabled business owners to take advantage of a wide range of financial, commercial and strategic expertise at an affordable price. The trick is to engage the right amount of expertise at the right level and to have this as an "on demand" basis. Accounting systems in the "cloud" help the owner manager, or family business, to control their business, day or night, by having "real time" visibility over the management information.

The fact that the Finance Director might not be physically be at  the owners side does not matter. They are on call, on an "as needed basis" . Typically our FDs will visit a business for between 2 days a month and 3 days a week providing a cost effective resource and helping to implement an effective finance function. Whilst the FD may not be "on-site" all of the time the owner/manager has complete  and continuous visibility over " real time" management information which monitors the key performance indicators of the business. In many fast moving businesses this is critical to gauge the impact that decision making is having on the performance of the business.

For many established businesses the thought of changing or developing accounting, or management information systems, is full of trepidation. These systems are "mission critical" and the old adage of "why try and fix what is not broken" often comes into play. However, at Secantor we have considerable experience amongst our people of  developing and implementing new systems for clients, enabling businesses to remain "cutting edge". We are able to lever off practical experiences of our clients that can provide comfort to taking the next step.

To learn more, please contact Secantor.

Nigel Bacon

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Valuing People Businesses and Adding Value to People Businesses.

I think it is fair to say that we are experts at valuing and operating people businesses. That is partly because we are a people business, and secondly, because all of our people have significant business experience, which we share with each other for the benefit of our clients.

Of course, all businesses are, to a greater, or lesser extent, people businesses. These days what used to be "pure play" people businesses can be enhanced through the use of technology, and indeed that is what we have done in our own business. So the value of our business not only lies in the great people that we have, but how we harness and magnify our people's efforts through the use of technology. In that way, we add real value for our clients which is something which others struggle to replicate.

In valuing people businesses the size of business is often a factor. The reason is not so much about growth for growth's sake, if we remember the adage "turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is reality", it is more about dependencies. For instance, I have spent a large part of my career buying recruitment companies and marketing services companies, both of which are highly people dependent. A feature of both of those sectors of the market for smaller businesses is both customer concentration and a dependency on key individuals within the business, which increases the risks for a purchaser. The individuals are usually the owner managers themselves who are often the driving force behind the business. How do new owners ensure that the traction that has been created by that owner manager endures into the future? We have a number of models around acquiring people businesses that can be highly beneficial, and tax efficient, for both the vendor and the acquirer.

People businesses are typically valued around a price earnings ratio based on a cash free/debt free balance sheet. We can advise clients on how to build and lock in value to their business and how they can make it attractive to the acquirer. This is not a superficial gloss, but forms part of the overall strategic direction that can be built over time.

To find our more on building value into your business contact Nigel Bacon CEO Secantor

Friday, 8 August 2014

The world has changed

It is often said that nothing really changes but in our world but some things have, and  mainly based around technology.

Externally, for some of our clients this has proved very exciting. Particularly new internet retailing businesses. One of our clients has developed an offshoot retailing business which has grown from nothing to £0.5m turnover in less than 12 months. This particular business is breaking new ground. However, there are many examples of web based retailers "disrupting" traditional businesses all of which gives rise to opportunities, since if businesses don't move forwards and embrace change, they will inevitably go into reverse, and eventually fail. It is often helpful for businesses to obtain support with a strategic review of their business, since management are generally very much involved in operational matters, and don't regularly stand back and look at the broader picture and the opportunities that might await.

It often helps to have someone challenge their thinking and this does not necessarily mean that this person should have deep industry knowledge, but a good grasp of strategic thinking. Many of our people have this sort of training that wraps discipline around an "away day" to add structure and outcomes. Management often appreciate having an objective person to challenge their thinking in a constructive way.

Internally, we have seen substantial benefits from the IT revolution, allowing us to develop communication systems and automation of our business, for the benefits of our associates and clients. Of course, it has also enabled our prospective, and new clients, to better conceptualise our particular slant on outsourcing and the fact that someone might not always be on a clients physical location does not mean that they cannot be involved on client work and be accountable for that work.

All of this leads us to a brighter future with our clients benefitting from cost effective expertise as part of their team.

Nigel Bacon
CEO Secantor
01564 330677

Friday, 27 June 2014

Join the Secantor LinkedIn Group and become part of our community

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26 June 2014 Business finance improving, says Cable

The UK is “on the cusp of a very big break through in business finance”, according to the secretary of state for business, Vince Cable Speaking at the launch of a new guide to small business finance, produced by the British Business Bank, ICAEW and 17 other business and finance organisations, Cable outlined a positive picture for the growing army of UK small business owners and entrepreneurs. Pointing out that difficulties accessing finance have been a historic feature of the British business landscape, he said that things were definitely improving. He explained that while early business start-ups are often funded by what he referred to as “friends, families and fools”, and while at the other end of the scale there’s the stock exchange, there’s a huge gap in the middle. “It’s known as the Valley of Death. At least today there are now some oases appearing in this desert. This new guide will help small businesses seeking finance to find those oases.” The Business Finance Guide – a journey from start-up to growth is targeted at anyone running their own business and highlights the wide array of finance types now available to businesses of all size and stage of development. David Petrie, head of the ICAEW’s Corporate Finance Faculty and co-author of the report, said the crucial issue was timing. “What is crucial for business success is to get the right type of funding at the right time. This guide will help businesses achieve that.” Petrie added that because of the unique nature of the partnership behind the report, it would be sure to reach a large proportion of the UK’s 5 million SMEs. “The guide is supported by 19 partner organisations including ICAEW and the British Business Bank. It’s the first time this has happened and together they represent over 1 million members.” Also speaking at the launch, ICAEW’s chief executive Michael Izza highlighted how quickly the finance market in the UK has shifted. “Even since the Breedon Review in 2012, the market has got more complicated. This guide will help people find their way through the complexity. Really this guide is about building on the work done by the Breedon Review. It recognises that if there is not necessarily a shortage of funds, there is a challenge for those running small businesses in being able to be up to date with the new forms of finance.” The guide, which is available free to download here, covers all the various funding and finance options open to small and growing firms as well as pointing readers in the direction of further advice, help and information.

With thanks to Richard Cree of Economia

Monday, 23 June 2014

The changing world of funding part 3

Asset Based Finance

Following on from Part 2 we continue to look at Asset Based Finance with a look into the costs. This is very timely with an article in the Times newspaper today
regarding some of the practices of asset based lenders which remains an unregulated industry. It has to be said that the Asset Based Finance Association are making moves to clean some of the practices of the industry but the article highlights the fact that there are often hidden charges "in the small print". The article refers particularly to termination charges/penalties. This has long been an issue for buyers of businesses where they want to use their own providers of finance. Often the agreements specify prohibitive costs for transferring title in the debtor book. Having control of the debtor book is seen as important for a purchaser of a business since they do not want a third party being heavy handed with "their customers" and simply collecting in.

The point that the above raises is that the cost of Asset Based Finance is not simply about interest charges. The following ought to be considered when making comparisons between alternative providers of finance and indeed, when comparing with other sources of finance. look out for the following costs and charges and also examine the interest rates;

Arrangement Fees / non-refundable commitment fees
Due Diligence and audit costs / annual maintenance fees
Unutilised facility fees
Covenant compliance fees
Termination fees (referred to above)

Other things to consider are your own company costs of reporting and being compliant with the lending agreements.

Whilst Invoice Discounting or Factoring can be an effective way for a small business to get funding for growth, business owners should be aware that it can increase the complexity of the business. It is critical for businesses to manage their cash effectively whether you have Asset Backed Financing, or not. Secantor can help with this process through helping to plan the funding requirement and to source the correct mix of funding.

In Part 3 we will continue with the Asset based Finance theme and extend it into other areas, particularly the all important supply chain.

The changing world of funding part 2

Asset Based Lending

In part 1 we talked about the growing importance of asset backed lending ("ABL" ) and the decline in overdraft lending. We covered ABL facilities against debtors and also touched on stock which is viewed as a more risky lend, due to the greater uncertainty around realisable values. In part 2 we will be discussing ABL facilities in a little more detail starting with a re-visit on debtors.

Debtors often form the largest class of asset against which facilities are provided. These facilities come from all of the clearing banks but also a multitude of specialised lenders. There are a wide variety of sources of debtor finance. So what are the considerations from an SME perspective.

Management need to consider how their businesses debtor book will be viewed by the lender. Factors to consider here are the size and quality of the debtor book. The incidence of bad and doubtful debts and the quality of the  customers from whom payment is due to be received. Customer concentration is also a key consideration, with lenders looking for a good spread to reduce their risk. The nature of the debts is also very important, with debtors looking for a "book" which is easy to collect out in the event that the business gets into trouble. This often precludes businesses who have long term contracts with their customers, or substantially reduces the percentage that lenders are prepared to advance. Warranties that are provided to customers are another factor which might lead to a customer holding back payment if for any reason he felt that the business maybe unable to fulfil a warranty claim. Often SMEs are asked to consider insuring, either in part, or in whole their debts which of course adds to the cost of asset backed lending.

There is now a very sophisticated market in credit insurance with many specialist credit insurance brokers throughout the country. In reality, credit insurers often  have as much interest as suppliers as to whether a business survives or fails and we now see the insolvency, and turnaround professions working very closely with the credit insurers. If a credit insurer withdraws cover then an asset backed lender may refuse to advance funds on that debtor account. This puts the supplier in an invidious position. He can continue to supply but he needs to consider that the withdrawal of  credit insurance means that the risks have significantly increased. If he continues to supply on credit the business not only needs to fund this, probably out of its own resources, but needs to fully understand the business exposure to a possible bad debt. An alternative is for the supplier to demand pro-forma payments but this may not be possible from a customer perspective.

Clearly, the percentage that an ABL facility provider might advance is a key consideration, but this also needs to be considered in light of the "clawback period". Debtor finance will only be in place for a period following submission of an invoice to a customer. The business needs to look at the payment cycle of its customers and to understand any variability and as importantly the reasons for variability in that payment cycle. Whilst and SME will have terms of trade with its customers and these might typically state that an invoice is to be paid 30 days following the month end of submission, the reality is often very different. As a consequence, a lender might have a "clawback provision" for invoices that remain unpaid for a period of anything between say 60 days and 180 days of the month end, following submission of the invoice. Clearly, from  the lenders viewpoint if it has not been paid by then, will it ever be? Sales invoices being time barred from the factoring or discounting facility can have a devastating effect on cashflow. The SME needs to keep on top of its aged debtors and to quickly understand reasons for non-payment and resolve them.

In part 3 we will be looking at further implications for SMEs in deciding whether Asset Backed Lending, is right, or not before moving on to look at other forms of funding that should be considered in different circumstances.