Your Debt Recovery Experts

Interview with dispute resolution Lawyer, Su-Ann Loh

Su-Ann Loh is the Director of Dispute Resolution at Lewis Holdway Lawyers & lawyer to Kearley Lewis, mercantile agency.

In this interview, Su-Ann shares the issues that she most frequently comes across, as well as her tips on how to avoid having debt collection issues.

Su-Ann works across both organisations within the Lewis Holdway community, and therefore ensures that all files and processes are legally compliant and have oversight from a lawyer.  If files ever need to be escalated to Su-Ann, she will already have had intimate knowledge of the file.

“It means as a mercantile agency, Kearley Lewis can provide clients with a full service, and they can have confidence that our legal team has oversight of the debt collection process, thereby maximising collection rates.”

Su-Ann has been working in the Lewis Holdway Community for 10 years this July.

So, what are the most common issues that come across Su-Ann’s desk?

The most common issue is that there are still many businesses who trade without having written terms and conditions. Su-Ann says:

“The easiest answer to this problem is to have a customised set of terms and conditions and a contract of trade drafted up for your business. I explain it to clients like this, it may cost a little bit to see the doctor for preventative care, but I can assure you that you will be grateful for that input early on, because you don’t have as much control of the situation when you’re on the operating table.

The difference in cost between having your terms and conditions drafted, versus the issue of collection, especially if it is an issue that is referred to a lawyer, is not insignificant.”

Su-Ann feels that service providers and the suppliers of non-tangible products, need her expertise more. Why is this?

“The service provided is not always quantifiable, and because of that, with our modern times we are seeing a new generation of consumers, who don’t necessarily see the value in the service being provided. Putting a paper trail in place crystallises the relationship and reinforces the value of the service you undertake.”

Are there any industries that you get frequently involved in and why?

“We have a range of industries that we work with frequently. Many of our clients are in the construction industry, recruitment, wholesalers across a number of industries and we also do an increasing amount of work with service suppliers.

Any business that sells on credit terms may have instances where the relationship doesn’t go smoothly, and this is where we can assist.”

What services do you offer that our readers may not know about?

“The service that a number of our larger clients utilise us for is having Kearley Lewis as an extension to their accounts receivable area.  Each month they pass across their invoices that are past a certain age, and the team at Kearley Lewis then undertakes collections on their behalf.  If a file does have to go to our legal team, we are in effect the client’s lawyers as we work so closely with Kearley Lewis, who in turn works closely with our clients.

This outsourcing is a cost-effective way for clients to have support for their collections and access to lawyers when they need them, rather than having these resources permanently in their business.”

So, what are Su-Ann’s top tips to avoid having debt collection issues?
  • Have a really good internal debt collection process, and stick to your payment terms.
  • Have clearly written terms of trade, which appear more than once in your paper trail (for example, on the back of your invoices as well as your credit application).
  • Do credit checks on new clients, with permission. This can be undertaken through the Kearley Lewis website.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable giving a particular client credit terms, consider taking part payment, ask for payment up front or cash on delivery.
  • Know your customer & pay attention to WHO is paying the bills. Your debtor can change entities and it can affect you, without you even knowing it has occurred.
Some businesses may be reluctant to use Kearley Lewis’s services as they have a perception it could be expensive. 
What would you say to businesses such as this?

“Perception is different to reality. Understand what is real by doing your research on the service offering of Kearley Lewis and, by all means, make a comparison with other mercantile agencies. Then measure this by undertaking a commercial cost benefit analysis and comparing the cost of signing up as a member of Kearley Lewis for one year, against the losses your business could stand to suffer if collection isn’t tightened. Those losses are not just referrable to the unpaid invoice, but also the time lost in rendering the service or the product and the internal cost of your collection. There is also the matter of reputational loss for your business in the industry and among it’s customer base.

I would also encourage businesses to speak with the General Manager of Kearley Lewis and get a sense of the file handler, who will ultimately manage your file for you; you will find that Kearley Lewis matches the file handler and their industry knowledge to relevant clients.

More often than not, the clients who have the most painful experience with debt collection are the ones who have left it too late or did not take precaution in their trading relationship with certain belligerent payers. My recommendation is not to let a one-off experience take away the benefit of having a mercantile agency like Kearley Lewis work alongside you in helping your business minimise its losses from bad debts.”

If your business would like assistance or support with collections, contact us on 03 9629 8777 or read more below:
https://www.kearleylewis.com.au/about/the-role-of-a-commercial-debt-collection-agency/

The 12 days of Christmas Cash Flow

We may not want to be reminded, but Christmas is just around the corner and we need to think about what this means for our cash flow.

Whilst many SMEs will be at their busiest, the holiday period is also a time when cash flow can be at its tightest.

It is worth doing some work now so that your business is in good shape over the festive season.

The 12 days of Christmas Cash Flow:

On the first day of Christmas …
Review when you will be invoicing leading into the holiday period and consider when other businesses will be closing, so you can be paid on time

On the second day of Christmas …
Review which of your customers have a habit of paying late and ensure they are reminded in advance of when payment is due

On the third day of Christmas …
Consider whether you need to refer any unpaid invoices or potential bad debts to a commercial debt collector, so they can work on you being paid before Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas …
Update your cash flow projections to anticipate any shortfalls

On the fifth day of Christmas …
Consider which customers need to pay you before you supply them further

On the sixth day of Christmas …
January can be challenging so follow up invoices before your customers and their accounts departments go on holiday

On the seventh day of Christmas …
Resolve any disputed invoices now; provide your customers with supporting documentation so that invoices can be approved for payment

On the eighth day of Christmas …
Whilst you are really busy, be sure to follow your credit policy.  Having a signed credit application form with ABN for new customers is always recommended

On the ninth day of Christmas …
Review when your suppliers need to be paid and utilise payment terms or ask for a discount for paying early

On the tenth day of Christmas …
Beware of suppliers chasing for payments if they want you to pay to a different bank account or are threatening to stop supply over this period

On the eleventh day of Christmas …
Consider offering a discount or incentive to be paid before the new year

On the twelfth day of Christmas …
Sit back, relax and enjoy the festive season

Debt collection tips for SMEs

debt collection tips

Debt collection tips for SMEs – position your business to get paid more quickly

Whilst some business owners are reluctant to chase late payers for fear of losing their business relationships, it’s becoming increasingly important as we see evidence of larger businesses choosing to extend the time they take to pay their suppliers.

The recovery of business debt can be frustrating, time consuming and often unsuccessful so having a good credit controller and utilising the services of a reputable debt collection agency can be invaluable for your business cash flow.

Below are some helpful credit control tips, and whilst not exhaustive, may assist if you are reviewing your own practices.

Set a credit management policy

In determining how vigorous a risk regime your business needs to adopt, it is perhaps prudent to relate the approach you take to your profit margin.

Businesses that have a low gross profit margin cannot afford significant bad debts, and thus they should consider having a more vigorous risk assessment regime than a business with high gross profit margins. It goes without saying that no business wants bad debts, however in setting up your credit management policy, being aware of how much tolerance your business can take should provide you with a good starting point.

Partnering with a trusted debt collection agency who has access to in house lawyers is often a cost effective way to leverage some assistance if you ever need it, and if your invoices are going too far overdue.

Establishing a relationship before you need external assistance is crucial in sourcing the right partner for your business.  Make sure you take the time to engage with a partner who will work with you to preserve your brand and reputation and who is prepared to take the time to understand your business.  You want to make sure anyone who is contacting your customers is not damaging these relationships, particularly if there is potential for more business.

Setting up new customers

Suggestions for assessing new customers:

  • Always have a signed credit application from your customer prior to setting up a new account, ensuring they have provided an ABN
  • Undertake a credit check, cross checking details to the credit application
  • Allocate a credit limit (if you are happy to extend credit)

Undertaking a credit check may not necessarily prevent you from giving credit to a customer who is slow to pay, however it will mean that you’ll avoid giving credit to a debtor who has previously defaulted.

Decide what steps should be satisfied in order for a customer to receive credit terms, as credit should not be automatic. Don’t be afraid to ask for cash payments to start with, and it is not uncommon to ask for trade references and/or personal guarantees.

Set a credit limit for each new customer and check regularly for adherence to this.  If a customer isn’t paying to terms, ask for payment before new goods or services are supplied.

Know your Debtors

Make sure your invoicing is accurate and make sure it is in line with the customer’s order, including delivery details.

Follow up your customers by calling them to confirm delivery or satisfaction with the goods or services you have provided; if there are any reasons that could give rise to a dispute, find out early and not when payment is overdue.

Get to know who pays the bills – building rapport with the person who pays the invoices could be invaluable and in a larger organisation they may not even be aware of the product or service you have provided.

Collection procedures

Consider categorising your customers into good, average and ‘challenging’, and set a collection policy for each customer type.

Phoning larger customers before the due date can be a way of ensuring payment will be made on time.

Be diligent in your collections, chase overdue payments within a week of them being due. Prioritise your collection activity, chasing larger balances first.

Know your aged debtors listing intimately and follow your credit management policy regarding standard letters, calls and referrals to your debt collection agency.

Can you recover costs?

Often terms of trade will stipulate interest charges will be incurred for late payment, however do you have a clause that will allow you to recover your debt collection costs in the unlikely event that a debtor does not pay?

Often reputable debt collection agencies will ask their in house lawyers to review your terms and conditions free of charge, which is recommended so your terms of trade are fully documented up front.

Proactively manage your credit policy

Consider having a regular review to identify problem accounts and define courses of action.

Make sure your sales team are involved in your reviews so they can assist in managing the accounts and setting expectations with customers.  Ensure they know the credit limits that are in place, and seek their assistance in getting paid, particularly if there are new orders coming in.

It’s not surprising how many debtors will pay when they want more goods or services provided, or how motivated your sales team will be to help you when they want those new sales!