The (R)evolution of Factoring
Factoring was a hot topic at the Annual Conference of the Association of Financial Professionals this past November in San Antonio, Texas. Sarsha Adrian, a senior consultant with Graber Associates, led a lively discussion on what she calls "the (r)evolution of factoring" over the past couple of years.
"Factoring has evolved considerably, especially over the last 18 months or so, and there are many nuances you need to understand," notes Adrian. "Factoring today is far more than just selling invoices at a discount."
Adrian says she wasn't sure what kind of crowd would attend her presentation. "But the room filled up and it was a very active audience. We received many varied questions after the formal presentation, ranging from basic inquiries about factoring to complicated queries involving comparisons and hypothetical situations."
Most of the questions concerned factoring's overall costs and benefits, procedural issues, and online capabilities. The main things attendees wanted to know about were:
What is the Cost-Benefit Equation?
This is by far the biggest misunderstanding most business owners and even finance professionals have about factoring. The problem is that they often try to translate the cost of factoring into an APR. But this results in an "apples-to-oranges" comparison, Adrian pointed out.
Instead, the cost of factoring needs to be viewed as a percentage of sales, because the factor provides many more services than just financing. A factor essentially takes over all of the company's accounts receivable operations, including credit checks, posting and ledgering of payments, and professional A/R management.
"You can't view factoring like you would bank financing," Adrian says, "because you're integrating the factor's A/R services into your business operations to reduce these costs and increase efficiency. I could see a lot of heads nodding and people saying "a-ha" once they realized this."
What Kinds of Paperwork and Documentation are Required?
When compared to traditional bank financing, there's really no comparison. "Banks require a lot of paperwork and documentation in order to analyze a loan request, and they often take their time in making a decision," says Adrian. "The main thing a factor wants to see is your customer invoices. Factors have sophisticated systems that gauge the credit quality of these invoices - they are laser focused on what they're looking for."
How Does the Process Work?
In most factoring arrangements, a business' customers will begin mailing payments directly to the factor, rather than to the business. Adrian notes that some companies are a little uncomfortable with this at first, but once they understand the process, they usually see why it is the most efficient process. "Also, payments can be sent to a post office box or lockbox so that it's not apparent they're not going directly to the business."
Some factors also offer what's known as non-notification factoring, in which invoices are not ledgered with the factor's remittance advice and the only change customers may notice is a new lockbox address. It is usually best for companies that maintain a stable balance sheet and are in an industry that does not traditionally utilize non-traditional financing. All of the services available in a full-notification factoring facility are also provided with non-notification.
How Do You Find a Factor?
According to Adrian, most factors specialize in certain types and sizes of businesses, "so companies should try to find a factor that's best suited to meet their needs."
A factor will become an integral part of your business team, so it's important to perform careful due diligence when selecting a factor and investigate potential candidates thoroughly. For example, how long have they been in business? How well capitalized they are they? How many local businesses have used the factor? Professional experience and adequate capitalization are especially important.
Adrian noted that banks often refer their clients to factors when they aren't able to meet the client's financing need. "Many banks today are building relationships with factors so they can refer clients to them and help make sure their financing needs are met, even if it's not the bank that's meeting the need directly. Most banks would rather offer a solution than have to turn a customer down.
"Factoring is much more appealing now than it used to be for a sizable segment of the financial world," Adrian adds. "I believe that factoring has become more mainstream and acceptable to an increased number of business owners and treasury professionals."
Tracy Eden is the National Marketing Director for Commercial Finance Group (CFG), which has offices throughout the U.S. CFG provides creative financing solutions to small and medium-sized businesses that may not qualify for traditional financing. Further information on the company and their services offered can be found at http://www.CFGroup.net and http://www.fvf.ca. Tracy's direct email is email@example.com.
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