SMEs riskiest after four years in business
Small and Medium Enterprises urged to keep a closer eye on finances as they approach their four-year milestone
SYDNEY, Wednesday, 4 April 2018 – Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) approaching their four-year anniversary are entering the highest-risk period for business failure and should take extra steps to protect their business from financial stress, according to newly released data from Equifax, the global information solutions company and the leading provider of credit information and analysis in Australia and New Zealand.
According to the data, 55 per cent of Australian SMEs – businesses with fewer than 50 employees and an annual turnover of less than $10 million – were credit active in 2017, 24 per cent of which were categorised as being high commercial risk.
Justin Eley, Senior Product Manager, Commercial Risk at Equifax, said that many SMEs moved into a growth phase at the four-year mark, which could explain the spike in adverse credit events around this time.
“When a business increases its volume and type of credit enquiries, its risk of default or other adverse events rises in parallel. For SMEs, a spike in credit enquiries is an expected result of deciding to grow a business that has been established and proven its financial viability for a reasonable stretch of time – frequently after around four years.
“Pushing for growth or expansion in any business is a calculated risk, a large part of which is financial. With this in mind, the spike in failure events (external administrations) for SMEs from their fourth year through to their sixth year can be viewed as part of the business lifecycle and should be a factor in any credit decision.
“However, with more than 300,000 new businesses entering the market each year, the three-year spike in external administration events still only represents approximately 0.5% of all SME entities, and therefore is not on its own a reason for credit to be refused,” Mr Eley said.
Approximately 36 per cent of Australian SMEs have high to very high demand for finance, with around 46 per cent falling in the medium to very high commercial risk categories. Within this, the construction (33%) and retail trade (31%) had the largest volume of high and very high risk commercial entities, followed by manufacturing (30%).
“While the construction and manufacturing sectors feature prominently in the riskiest industries, our data also suggests that the retail sector is currently a high-risk industry. As retailers face increased pressure from global brands and online market entrants, the risk factor of this sector is also likely to grow,” Mr Eley said.
Geographically, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland house almost 84 per cent of credit active SMEs and, as such, are also home to the largest proportion of high-risk entities. Of the three major states, Victoria was home to the smallest proportion of risky entities in 2017.
Mr Eley said that many SMEs are so focused on the day-to-day running of their business and ensuring regular cash flow that they don’t stop to consider their overall credit profile or the impact this could have on them down the line.
“Understanding and managing credit risk is key for both lenders and applicants. A well-managed business credit profile can help enable a SME owner to successfully apply for the additional funding they need to expand or support their business, while a SME that looks like a credit risk is less likely to get the finance or terms they want,” Mr Eley concluded.
SME tips for managing a business credit profile
- Know where you stand – Trying to improve or maintain your business credit profile without knowing where it currently stands is like flying blind. Business credit reporting services like Swiftcheck (www.equifax.com.au/swiftcheck) allow SMEs to understand their situation and manage their credit accordingly.
- Be prudent when applying for credit – Do your analysis of the best credit for your business situation before actually making the application. Applications all have an impact on a business credit score – not just the credit that has been taken up.
- Think ahead – Managing cash flow is a key challenge for SMEs, so building a buffer in terms of time or available money wherever possible will help business owners be ready in periods of growth or if they run into difficulty. Knowing how your customers pay others can also give you insight into when you can expect to be paid, and have early visibility of payment stress that could impact your business.
- Understand payment terms – Staying on top of payments is vital to maintaining a healthy credit profile, and paying on time can help improve the credit risk of an SME. This is particularly important when asking lenders to provide considerable amounts of credit, for example, during business set up or periods of growth.
- Be aware of external factors – What a business owes the tax office might not seem relevant to its credit profile, but draft legislation has been put forward that will allow the ATO to report companies’ overdue tax debts to commercial bureaus, if the debt is more than $10,000 and has been overdue for more than 90 days. Having a broad awareness of factors such as regulatory changes can help avoid accidentally ruining a previously good credit profile.
The information contained in this release is general in nature and does not take into account your organisation’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Therefore, you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your organisation’s circumstance before acting on it, and where appropriate, seek professional advice where appropriate.
 Equifax analysis of External Administration events in Australia in 2017
 Based on Equifax Commercial Bureau data for CY2017
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 8165.0 - Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits, Jun 2013 to Jun 2017