SMEs in cashflow black hole as they wait for £24bn in late payments

Late payments up more than £10bn in a year

15% of British freelancers spend 4 hours and above a week chasing invoices

CEO of ETZ Payments, Nick Woodward, provides commentary on how late and inconsistent payments are hurting businesses and freelancers alike

Today, new research showed that Small and medium-sized companies are waiting to receive £23.4billion, up from £13billion in 2018. More than half of businesses are chasing money owed, with the bill for trying to collect it hitting £4.4billion, says retail payment authority Pay UK. This comes as ETZ Payments reveals startling national representative research that shows that nearly a sixth of freelance and contract workers spend over 10% of their working week chasing invoices and payments. The new research from PayUK showed that the average amount owed to each firm had risen from £17,000 last year to £25,000 today. This demonstrates that across the board, self-employed contractors, freelancers, and small businesses are under strain. As we near the general election and with almost guaranteed further Brexit uncertainty, SMEs and workers are going through one of the most turbulent periods of their existence.

Nick Woodward, CEO of ETZ Payments, a back-office solution provider for the recruitment sector, offers the following commentary:

“This year and next year will undoubtedly be a turbulent period for small businesses and workers alike with myriad political and economic issues and an increasing amount of late payments. This issue is seriously harming cash flow, investment and growth across the UK economy. There are over 2 million freelancers and 5.7 million SMEs today, and with financial constraints such as chasing invoices, this will harm productivity and profit, and more needs to be done by the next government to ensure that these entrepreneurs, business owners, managers and workers, are paid justly and on time to keep the economy moving.”

Sickness absence is severely impacting UK business – yet take up of key protection benefits is low

Long-term sickness absence is a serious issue with over two-fifths (44%) of UK SMEs reporting at least one employee absent for four weeks or more in the last twelve months, according to research from leading employee benefits provider, Unum.

The majority of SME bosses also said that long-term sickness (absence over six months) of a key employee would have a significant (44%), or even critical (24%), impact on the future success of the business. More than half (55%) said they would do everything they could to aid a member of staff back to work after a period of illness.

Despite the business impact of long-term absence and the employer’s desire to help employees back to work, another recent study by Unum and the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), found uptake of core protection benefits to be very low.

According to the Unum and BCC study, only 8% of UK businesses surveyed offered income protection, one of the core products to help businesses and their employees through sickness absence with financial assistance and rehabilitation support. 22% surveyed said they offered Life Insurance, just 9% offered Critical Illness Insurance, while 22% said that they provide nothing at all in the form of financial protection benefits.

Alongside financial protection and rehabilitation support, fast access to early clinical help can be invaluable to employers and their employees. With that in mind, Unum has launched a new easy to use app ‘[email protected]’ as part of its Group Income Protection product to give employees and their families fast access to remote GPs, second medical opinions, physiotherapy and mental health services.

Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive Officer, Unum UK, said: Illness and long-term sickness absence can have a serious impact on individuals and their families as well as to businesses of all sizes and across every sector. At Unum, we want to help businesses of all sizes put in place the necessary services and products to enable them to manage this effectively.

“As evidenced in the recent Government consultation – ‘Health is everyone’s business’ – the government is also placing greater importance on the role of employers in keeping people in work. Good employers want to support employees when they are unwell as our research shows, and making our services more modern and helping them better understand how products like Group income protection can help, is an important place to start.”

About Unum

Unum is a leading employee benefits provider offering financial protection through the workplace including: Income Protection, Life insurance, Critical Illness, and Dental cover.

Our Income Protection customers have access to medical and vocational rehabilitation expertise designed to help people stay in work and return to work following illness and injury.

Unum LifeWorks, our Employee Assistance Programme, provides help and advice on a range of work/life issues.

Our Critical Illness customers can access our Cancer Support Service, providing personalised support for employees with a cancer diagnosis.

We are committed to workplace wellbeing for both employees and employers. We have a wide range of tools designed to help businesses create or enhance their employee wellbeing strategy, including our Mental Health Pathway and Wellbeing Calendar.

At the end of 2018, Unum protected 1.4 million people in the UK and paid claims of £314 million – representing in excess of £6 million a week in benefits to our customers – providing security and peace of mind to individuals and their families.

Our parent company, Unum Group, is a provider of employee benefits products and services in the United States, including group and individual disability insurance. Premium income for Unum Group and its subsidiaries totalled $9.0bn in the year ended 31 December 2018, with reported revenues for the group totalling $11.6bn and total assets of $61.9bn.

A.M Best has given all rated Unum Group companies an Excellent rating for Financial Strength, with a stable outlook.

For more information please visit http://www.unum.co.uk.

Unum Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Unum Dental is a trading name of Unum Limited. Registered in England 983768.

About the British Chambers of Commerce

The British Chambers of Commerce surveyed 1,000 business leaders online between 29 April and 16 May 2019. Around 91% of participants were SMEs.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) sits at the heart of a powerful network of 53 Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK, representing thousands of businesses of all sizes and within all sectors. Our Global Business Network connects exporters with over 50 markets around the world. For more information, visit: www.britishchambers.org.uk

Could this be the SME election? Small businesses employ 16million – over a third of the electorate

SME experts – IW Capital and the UKBAA – discuss the importance of SME success to the next Government

Today will see the three main party leaders set out their plans to secure the support of the UK’s business leaders at the CBI conference. Boris Johnson is set to make the case for getting Brexit done, while Jo Swinson is to claim that the Lib Dems are the “natural party of business”. Labour is to focus on apprenticeships and training for the business community.

When setting out their stall in business policy, one area that is set to have a huge impact is the support promised for small and medium enterprises across the UK. The SME community employs 16.6million of the roughly 45million eligible voters in the UK and contributes £2.2trillion (52%) to the economy. If the next Government can make it clear that they are the party to help this sector of business to grow and thrive they could see significant support from one of the biggest sections of voters to exist in the UK.

Luke Davis – CEO of SME investment house IW Capital says:

“The importance of the SME sector is hard to overstate, and in the context of the upcoming election will be hugely important to the future economy. With over a third of the electorate employed by small businesses this could really be a swing vote of society – if this section of the workforce feels more confident in their job security and business growth with one party, it will almost undoubtedly affect voting decisions.

“For SMEs to feel confident in their capacity to grow, employ more people and expand they need to trust that the incoming Government is going to look after them and deliver security. The range of innovative and agile firms in the space currently is reflective of the entrepreneurial spirit of the UK which if fostered correctly could kick-start the wider economy into a period of growth.”

Jenny Tooth, CEO of the UK Business Angels Association, has commented:

“Not only is it the employees of SMEs that are keeping a keen eye on this election, but also the investors involved within the SME arena. With Britain’s impending exit from the European Union, the loss of the Jeremie fund and Horizon 2020 are bound to leave regional SMEs proactively seeking private investment more fervently. However, the mindset of investors could change post-Brexit. Investors will be looking for greater longevity when assessing the potential of a business, and will now look to how scalable businesses are in terms of their international reach. The forthcoming election and the pledges that the parties sell to businesses needs to reassure investors that the environment they delve into is a sustainable one.”

SMEs hoarding record levels of cash amid Brexit turmoil – and it’s costing them billions a year

  • SMEs now hold an estimated £333 billion in cash deposits – a record high
  • But SMEs are set to miss out on £3.7 billion in interest this year because their money is languishing in low-paying savings accounts
  • This may also be damaging to the UK economy as it relies heavily on the performance of SMEs, says Flagstone

UK small and medium-sized businesses are holding record levels of cash as uncertainty surrounding Brexit persists – and it is costing them billions of pounds a year, new analysis reveals.

In the last 12 months, SME’s cash reserves have increased by more than 3% to £333 billion – the highest level on record – according to analysis of UK Finance figures by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) on behalf of Flagstone, the UK’s largest cash deposit platform.

Much of this growth has been from deposits into instant-access accounts. Indeed, nearly 58% of all SME cash reserves are now being held in instant-access accounts, suggesting that firms want quick access to their money.

However, by doing this firms are missing out on billions of pounds of interest as these accounts typically pay the lowest interest rates.

With SMEs currently holding £191 billion in instant-access accounts and receiving an average rate of 0.41 % [1], they are on track to earn £566 million in interest in the coming year, CEBR’s analysis found. However, if they were to switch to a market leading instant-access rate of 1.40% [2], they would earn £2.7 billion in total in the next year – £2.1 billion more than they are currently expected to earn.

Further, UK SMEs currently hold £141 billion in fixed-rate deposit accounts earning on average 0.86%, meaning they are expected to earn £1.2 billion in the next 12 months. But if SMEs instead switched to the market-leading 1.95% one-year fixed rate, they would collectively earn £2.8 billion in interest in the coming 12 months – £1.6 billion more than they would have otherwise.

It means, in total, firms are expected to miss out on £3.7 billion in interest in the next year because their money is languishing in low-rate savings accounts.

That extra £3.7 billion would be enough to fund for a year the salaries of more than 123,360 additional workers on the UK average annual salary of £29,588[3].

Separate research conducted by YouGov on behalf of Flagstone reveals why SMEs are reluctant to shop around for a better rate for their cash.

Almost four in ten (39%) of the 500 firms surveyed said the hassle of opening an account is the greatest barrier stopping them from moving their money followed by 34% of firms who said the perceived risks of depositing money with a challenger or non-high street bank was the biggest deterrent.

Andrew Thatcher, Co-Founder and Co-Managing Partner of Flagstone, said: “It’s clear that firms are worried about what effect Brexit will have on their business and are hording cash in case the waters become choppy. However, whilst this may be a sensible move, our study reveals that firms aren’t choosing the best home for their cash. Often, firms are getting sub-optimal rates of interest when they could be getting much higher returns on their cash by shopping around.

“The research shows that savings apathy doesn’t just affect individual savers, but also the nation’s businesses too. Each year SMEs are missing out on billions of pounds of interest because they’re failing to shop around for a better deposit rate for their cash reserves. Firms that forego this extra cash could be missing out on the chance to grow their business by hiring extra staff or investing in productivity improvements.”

“The solution a platform like Flagstone provides is that it not only consistently keeps business owners and financial directors in the path of the best rates, but it also removes the barriers to switching, providing a simple way to increase income and reduce risk. If you are an SME or charity with excess cash at bank it makes no sense not to at least consider a service such as Flagstone and choose from one of hundreds of deposit products at the touch of a button to earn more money.”

[1] All figures on current SME cash holdings and average interest rates are Bank of England data, analysed by the Cebr

[2] Correct as at 4 November 2019

[3] Employee earnings in the UK: 2018, released by ONS on 25 October 2018. Annual figure calculated by multiplying median full-time gross weekly earnings (£569) by 52

Flagstone

Flagstone is an FCA authorised and regulated fintech company (FCA reference numbers 676754 and 605504) located in London and founded in 2013. Flagstone’s online cash deposit platform enables companies, charities and individuals to earn more interest and reduce risk through diversification. Completion of a single application gives the client access to over 550 deposit accounts from 38 different banks and enables them to research and open accounts in just a matter of keystrokes. The platform puts clients in control of their cash, giving them access to market-leading and exclusive rates from a growing panel of UK banks, consolidated reporting and regular new rate alerts to ensure that their cash is working as hard as possible for them 24/7. For more information, see www.flagstoneim.com or watch a short film explaining what we do and how it benefits clients by clicking here.  

All of the UK banks on the Flagstone platform are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the PRA. Deposits placed with any of these banks via the Flagstone platform are afforded exactly the same Financial Services Compensation Scheme protection (i.e. £85,000 per individual depositor per authorised institution) as if the client placed the deposit directly with the bank.