The dizzying debate over payment terms

Published: 30 Nov 2015 Average Rating: 4.5 / 5 Print

Author: Tim Cummins

For any supplier, receiving payment is the most fundamental issue. That is why payment terms will always be a contentious issue - and why current trends to extend the payment cycle are arousing such interest.

Earlier this year, IACCM undertook a global survey which confirmed that large corporations are pushing their suppliers to accept longer payment periods, with 90 days now quite common. This mostly impacts smaller businesses – a finding confirmed by a recent YouGov poll in the UK. For small and medium enterprises, it found that roughly 60 days worth of revenue is tied up due to non-standard payment terms.

Most of these suppliers have encountered demands to accept later payment and few have felt able to resist. One consequence of this is the increasing development of supply chain finance – just one example being a recent announcement by AIG and Prime Revenue. In return for 'early payment' (i.e. getting paid in accordance with the more traditional payment cycle), the supplier pays a 'small discount'.  And hey presto, the problem is fixed! In fact, the announcement envisages that this solution will allow customers to continue extending payment terms ad infinitum with the only inconvenience to the supplier presumably being an ever-larger discount.

In many ways, this development smacks of lunacy. At a time when large corporations are mostly awash with cash, with interest rates at a record low, why precisely do they need to drive greater cash retention through delaying supplier payments? After all, the introduction of these supply finance intermediaries simply adds cost and complexity to the process. Ultimately, suppliers are not stupid, so they will be adding the 'payment discount' into their pricing. This move seems to achieve nothing except adding costs into the supply chain. (The only counter-argument I have heard being that it creates a war-chest for potential M&A activity).

Perhaps the motivation is less to do with current market conditions, but more an anticipation of the next cycle. It is easier and less controversial to impose extended payment terms while money is cheap, so do it now and reap the profits when interest rates increase. Alternatively, switch back to early payment offerings with a sizeable discount and claim these as 'negotiated savings'. But whatever route this follows, does it really make sense?


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