Professional Pest Controller issue 94

05 March 2019

Credit control for professional pest management companies

Business practice | PPC94 March 2019

Is this acceptable in a world where it’s easier to communicate with one and another than ever before? No, we don’t think so either. Peter Wallwork from the Credit Services Association investigates the tricky problem of non-paying clients.

Are non-payers your biggest pests

SPEED READ
  • Maintain healthy cash flow and start with clearly defined terms and conditions that are agreed from the outset
  • Agree on an upper credit limit and terms with your clients
  • Define your credit control process and make sure you follow it
  • A professional with experience and training can take control of credit control more effectively than an internal solution.

BACS research from 2015 tells us that a staggering £31bn is owed to UK businesses in total, with nearly 90% of the monies owed to SMEs. Late payment means companies rely on bank overdrafts and are often forced to pay their own suppliers late.

As the Chief Executive of the Credit Services Association, the trade association for debt collection agencies, I’m often asked the same question: “What advice can you give me so I can avoid having to use one of your members?” While I understand the sentiment, the sad reality I am forced to reply with is “mind your own business” – but this does have a double meaning.

Average quarterly credit achieved

Mind your own business

Best practice credit management (see tips from BPCA’s Stephanie below) means maintaining a healthy cashflow and starts with clearly defined terms and conditions that are agreed from the outset, keeping you in control. If you’ve got control of your credit the likelihood is you won’t need to engage with a CSA member but to know we’re here, and how the process operates is always worthwhile for business leaders.

Now, even following the best practice, sometimes despite everybody’s best efforts, a debt can turn sour. From our research, we’ve found that CSA members have secured an average 30% increase in total debt collection (year on year) from the start of 2016 to 2018. While we do expect this average rise to slow down, it does demonstrate that debt collection services are being used more frequently, and certainly, CSA members are collecting significantly more debt each year.

The news that the level of debt owed by businesses is on the increase is perhaps no surprise, but that has not always historically correlated with the levels of debt put out for collection. It might be the case more businesses see no option other than to engage with a third-party when all else fails, and for that, of course, I will champion the CSA membership.

For whatever reason there often appears to be a reluctance for companies to demand money that is rightfully theirs, and I’m here to say there is no shame in this. In fact, when the following scenarios start to happen, this can be a sign to start escalating your approach:

  • Dangling the carrot: the promise of future enquiries/work
  • The blame game: seeking further authorisation from the boss
  • From pillar to post (the big accounts department): not being able to directly contact the right person.

Just like pest management, there’s a point where a professional with experience and training can take control more effectively. Outsourced commercial collections agencies play an important part in the overall collections cycle and the smooth running of your business.

The amount of debt, collection companies are now holding I think gives an indication of how often they are now being instructed as well as a more tantalising indication of the state of the economy, and a customer’s ability to pay.

Best practice pest credit control

Chief BPCA credit controller Stephanie Costopoulos gives some helpful hints on keeping a good cash flow.

Often the intervention of a third-party is sufficient for a customer to settle

CREDIT LIMITS

In your terms, you might look to agree on an upper credit limit. This can change depending on how much you understand about the client, and how strong the references are you get from other suppliers (ask for references and carry out your own credit checks).

TERMS

30-90 payment day terms are terrifying and present a challenge for your cash flow. If this is ‘company policy’, how can you get closer to 30 days than 90?
Know when payment runs are made and put a reminder in your diary. If payments are made ad-hoc this suggests a more flexible system, but I’d argue flexibility of when payments are made are more of a benefit for the client than they are for you.

PROCESS

Define your process. Whether it’s something you do once a week or once a month, stick to your routine and make sure it's regimented. I encourage businesses to invoice as soon as possible and have an escalation procedure in place, which might include contacting our friends at the Credit Services Association.

PERSONAL TOUCH

I believe going the extra mile with your customer service gives you significant benefits with credit control.

Check in with your customers now and again, making sure documents and deliveries get to the right people and key contacts know you by name. You’ll always know the right person to send invoices and reminders to. Finally, never apologise for chasing a payment. You’ve done nothing wrong.

What to look for from a commercial collection agency

How can you be sure they are legitimate and acting in your best interests? And how can you be sure that your client or customer will be treated no differently than if they were dealing with them directly themselves?

Ask if they are members of the Credit Services Association

Although there is no regulatory requirement for an agency to belong to the CSA, those agencies that are members commit to adhering to the CSA’s Code of Practice, giving you the assurance that they will act to the highest ethical standards, and treat your customers in the same way you do.

Go by recommendation

Speak to other SMEs and firms who use their services and don’t just go by the endorsements on the website.

Look for no-win no-fee

It is unusual to be asked for money up-front or an appointment.

Be clear on commissions

The amount of commission charged on monies collected will vary based on a number of different factors such as the age of the debt, the size of the balance outstanding, and the country from which the money is being collected. Typically, older debt, or debt to be collected from businesses in more challenging territories, will command a higher commission. Whether collecting debts from the UK or overseas, what is essential is to agree both the fee and the process in advance of any work undertaken.

Third party intervention

Some agencies offer a ‘letter only – credit control intervention’ service for which you can expect to pay a fixed fee for three ‘contacts’ (ie a letter before action, email, or text service).
Often the intervention of a third-party is sufficient for a customer to settle what is outstanding, and such services can be especially efficient and effective when a larger number of debts are outstanding.

Know what happens to monies collected

Ensure that all monies collected are placed into a dedicated client account. That way your money is better protected.

Choose a sector specialist

Choose an agency that understands your industry and the clients you serve. Make sure their reporting procedures are adapted to your needs, and information supplied when you want it as opposed to when they want you to have it.

Ensure total transparency

Especially in relation to fees and how they are applied, when they are applied, and whether the fees change as the case progresses.

Understand your rights

Businesses should also be aware of their right to charge and claim statutory interest – see gov.uk/late-commercial-payments-interest-debt-recovery/charging-interest-commercial-debt
This can be added to the total outstanding debt you wish to be collected and will usually be automatically added by the agency you appoint.

REMEMBER

Just like with any member of a trade association, if you’re unsatisfied by the level of service you have experienced, you can make a complaint against the agency to us and we can investigate and take action where necessary.

More about the Credit Control Association

Source: PPC94

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