In a wakeup call for the business community, an average of 15 per cent of SME turnover was subject to late payment in 2016 – equivalent to an estimated £266 billion based on SMEs annual turnover in the UK as a whole.
Highlighting how widespread late payments are, the research shows that a quarter of SMEs usually receive payment for invoices late, with over half of those that do, indicating this stretches on average to ten days or more beyond their payment terms.
Late payments cause SMEs to forgo investment
At the same time, the findings convey the economic opportunity at stake if SMEs are able to boost their working capital by receiving payment for invoices quicker, with tangible business benefits identified by businesses.
Over one in five businesses said they would increase marketing and sales budgets, while 17 per cent said they would hire more staff, and another 17 per cent said they would increase the wages of existing staff.
Of those who indicated they would hire more staff, two in three said they would hire up to five additional members of staff, the equivalent to the creation of 3.4 million additional jobs in the UK.
Impact of Brexit
In evidence of the potential impact Brexit could have on late payment problems, one in ten SMEs say they have experienced a worsening in payment terms since the EU Referendum in June 2016. This comes as one in three expressed concern at the potential impact of Brexit negotiations on their business over the next 12 months, with a further one in five worried about currency fluctuations.
The findings also come against the backdrop of the introduction of new government obligations requiring large businesses to publicly report on their payment practice to suppliers. Although this starts to quantify the problem at an individual corporate level, including whether they use supply chain finance solutions, it serves as a reminder of the need for further progress to be made in ensuring SMEs are able to receive prompt payment from customers.
Tony Duggan, Crossflow Payments CEO, commented on the research: “Brexit is increasing the issue of late payments and reducing investment by SMEs at a time when the UK faces economic uncertainty. Delays in receiving payment promptly from customers is acting as handbrake on SME’s, preventing them from making key investment decisions for the future, and ultimately stunting growth. In 2017, it should no longer be the case that businesses face such hurdles.
“Squaring the circle of working capital needs of corporates, and their suppliers, will be an increasingly important lever as business works through Brexit. The business community must work together in order to address this issue and explore new, innovative approaches, such as the capacity of Fintech, to help solve this issue, creating a win-win for business and government.”