Best Practice Tips for more Effective Credit Control
Cash flow is the very lifeblood of a business. In this regard, each business should consider whether it is doing everything it can to ensure that its customers are paying on time. Furthermore, the recovery of business debt can be frustrating, time consuming and often unsuccessful. It is better to put in place proper procedures, which enable the early identification of potential bad debts. Key to getting paid on time is having an effective credit management policy.
Setting a Credit Management Policy
When a company sets a credit policy, there are a number of factors which it needs to consider. One of the more important factors to consider is the level of profitability inherent in each sale. Companies that have a low gross profit margin, such as livestock exporters, cannot afford significant bad debts, and thus they need to have a vigorous risk assessment regime in place. Companies with high gross profit margins, such as software companies, can afford a more relaxed approach to risk assessment.
Another factor for a company to consider is if it has a “monopoly” product/service or a “commodity” type product/service. Monopoly suppliers are in a better position to dictate terms and conditions of trade than a commodity supplier.
Below is a checklist that highlights “Best Practice” tips for more effective Credit Control. Whilst by no means exhaustive, it will help you to re-examine your own company’s procedures and practices and identify any deficiencies that exist.
1) Ensure sales staff are familiar with company’s credit policy.
2) Use a credit application form.
3) Make a credit check on each new customer (bank references –v/s- trade references v/s Management accounts). This can be a simple as downloading recent accounts from the Companies Registration Office
4) Obtain a personal guarantee from “doubtful” customers.
5) Set a “minimum order” level for credit sales. It is important to remember that there is a cost involved in setting up a credit account
6) Decide which customers will receive credit – credit is not an automatic entitlement.
7) Assess if you need credit insurance.
8) Set a credit limit for each new customer. (There are two aspects to consider your company’s exposure to bad debts and you credit control)
9) Conduct regular credit checks on your main customers.
10) Use fully documented Terms of Trade.
11) Ensure Terms of Trade include a Retention of Title Clause. Have this drafted by a solicitor familiar with your business.
12) Ensure your Terms of Trade allow you to charge interest on Late Payment. (See legislation on www.entemp.ie)
13) Ensure your Terms of Trade have procedures to deal with disputes.
14) Ensure your Terms of Trade specify Credit Terms. Best terms are 30 days from date of invoice – not 30 days from end of month.
15) Agree the payment terms in writing.
16) Give each customer a unique account number.
17) Confirm the following details:
• Identify the company you are trading with.
• Name of person within the company to contact over payment.
• Contact address.
• Phone/Fax/Mobile numbers/e-mail addresses.
• Company VAT number.
• Company registration number (if a limited company).
18) Record the date when payments are due.
19) Find out when your customers normally pay their bills. Do not be caught out by the old chestnut ‘our computer run is on….”
20) Specify the most appropriate payment method: cheque/electronic payment/credit.
21) Check the accuracy of all invoices sent out.
22) Include the following on all invoices:
- Your bank details.
- Terms and conditions of sale.
- Name of the organisation you are trading with.
- Address for payment.
- Order number.
- Order description.
- Delivery date.
- Unit price.
- VAT number, amount and rate.
- Total amount due.
- Due date for payment.
- Payment terms.
- Discounts given.
23) Issue an invoice within 24 hours of delivery of the goods or services.
24) Check that your delivery is in line with the order to avoid invoice disputes.
25) Confirm receipt of invoice for large accounts.
26) Issue monthly Statements of account showing invoices paid and still outstanding.
27) Divide your customers into Good, Average and Bad, and set a Collection Policy for each category.
28) Properly allocate payments against specific unpaid invoices.
29) Phone major accounts before the due date of payment to ensure there are no disputes and that the way is clear for payment to be made on time.
30) Chase overdue payments within a week of them being due.
31) Conduct an aged debt analysis each week.
32) Prioritise your collection activity and chase the highest values first.
33) Levy a charge for “bounced cheques/direct debits”.
34) Use a set policy for further chasing, for example, standard letters, calls, faxes, visits referring to Solicitors or a Debt Collection Agency.
35) Consider stop supplying when payment has not been made by a set time past the due date. Have a different stop policy for different categories of customers.
36) Put the matter in the hands of a Solicitor or Debt Collection Agency. Agencies: (www.intrum.ie, www.cashflowservices.com)
37) Pursue the claim through the Courts.
38) Have documented procedures including timescales for handling and resolving disputes.
39) Establish a system for measuring the success of your credit control function. Establish “tight but attainable” targets. Best measurement is Days Sales Outstanding (D.S.O.)
40) Have a regular monthly review to identify problem accounts and define courses of action.
41) Have regular meetings with your sales team.
42) Ensure your staff are well trained eg: trained to prepare, listen, question, persuade and negotiate.