SMEs have dealt with several obstacles over the past few years, including lack of access to finance, Brexit uncertainty, currency fluctuations, a turbulent economic and political climate. 2020 has created yet another exceptionally challenging first half year due to the COVID-19 crisis. Colm Devine shares his reasons for setting up Accelerated Payments and his advice for SMEs looking to go global.
Coming from a small island like Ireland with a limited domestic market I’ve always had an interest in international trade. From my first days in invoice finance I have been speaking to entrepreneurs who have made the bold decision to look at new markets and have been fascinated by the ways they have approached dealing with different markets and business cultures.
Having spent many years working in invoice finance I felt there was a different way to approach the market as there was a large segment of SMEs who did not want to deal with the one size fits all traditional model of financing. I was constantly having to decline cases where the SME had a weak balance sheet but was selling to a strong debtor. I felt that by switching the focus of a credit decision from the client to their debtor that there was a much wider group of SMEs that could avail of invoice finance. In addition, many potential clients I spoke to did not want to sign long term contracts and provide additional security. By applying a selective model I felt that we could attract a lot of first time users of invoice finance which has proven to be the case as we have helped hundreds of SMEs avail of flexible cash flow solutions over the past 3 years.
When setting up Accelerated Payments we felt that there was a lack of funders catering for SMEs looking to trade internationally. We felt that there was a gap in the market to assist SMEs across a number of countries and decided to focus on markets we knew well. The team had networks already in place in the UK and Canada and we knew that our model would work in these markets. Ireland is also a very small market and the team had big ambitions so we always felt that focusing on several key markets would give us the best chance at success. We also choose these markets as they cater for a significant portion of trade between Ireland, UK and North America.
From my experience the best exporters have always conducted detailed research on the market they are selling to as well as the company they are looking to trade with. This would include looking for references from other clients the company have dealt with and putting in place a credit insurance policy to protect against any potential issues with non-payment. The problems I have seen have arisen when SMEs decide to sell to new markets without conducting the necessary due diligence and end up trying to chase payment in a market they don’t know with different legal processes leading to lost income which can have a significant effect on the business. Detailed preparation is required to make a success of international trade.
Here are my top 4:
Many SMEs have concerns about trading overseas, particularly if it is their first time. My advice in addition to the above would be to speak to someone who has knowledge or experience of trading overseas, this could include your bank or finance provider, any relevant export association or even another SME known to you. This will allow you to discuss your concerns and see what measures you need to put in place to ensure you have a successful outcome. We work closely with our own customers to help them export with confidence.
The obvious risks involve late or non-payment of an invoice which can have detrimental effects on your cashflow. Many SMEs experience issues with late payment as some debtors try to take advantage of the inexperience of the SME and the distance between them. These risks can be offset using credit insurance or trade / invoice finance. At Accelerated Payments our offering includes Bad Debt Protection which provides an additional level of comfort to our clients and allows them to trade with greater confidence.
Many companies also lose money from foreign exchange fluctuations. It is important to look at your options if you will be invoicing in another currency. Many companies can lose the benefit of any sales by getting their FX decisions wrong. Accelerated Payments work with an excellent FX provider that can assist with these decisions.