As every business person knows, there can be a big, long gap between revenues and actual cash flow – especially when you have customers who demand “generous” payment terms and wait until the last day to remit.

One way to bridge that gap is by borrowing against the value of the invoices you’ve issued… a procedure called invoice financing. What is invoice financing? How does invoice financing work? Is it a good fit for your business? In this article, we provide an invoice finance definition and explain how it can help you improve your working capital and safeguard your cash flow.

Invoice financing is a form of short-term borrowing in which your business borrows money against the amount due on invoices you’ve issued to your customers. These trade receivables are then used as collateral.

Invoice financing is used regularly in a wide range of sectors and industries, such as construction, retail, logistics, printing and publishing, transportation, and consumer goods.

If a significant amount of your company’s assets is locked up in receivables, and if those receivables make up a very high percentage of your current assets (perhaps because of overly lengthy payment terms), invoice financing could help you avoid working capital issues. This can make invoice financing for small businesses an attractive option. 

To complement the invoice finance definition, know that invoice financing is sometimes referred to as "accounts receivable financing," "receivables financing," or “invoice discounting”. But it is not the same thing as “invoice factoring.”

Invoice factoring is an agreement with a third-party company (the “factor”) to purchase your accounts receivables at a reduced amount of the face value of the invoices (typically 70% to 90% of the total).

Unlike with invoice financing, these contracts often offer to handle invoicing and debt collection on your behalf. Invoice factoring can minimise your credit risk as it doesn’t require you to put up collateral, but it does mean you effectively lose control of your client relationship since it is the factor – not you – that will collect the money from your customer.

Invoice financing can be considered a business financing options as you can collect cash immediately without waiting for your customers to pay you in full. That, in turn, keeps your working capital topped up and can avoid the credit and cash flow problems that can occur when customers take a long time to pay. So it’s one way to finance slow-paying accounts receivable or to meet short-term business liquidity needs

Here is a step-by-step of how invoice financing work:

  1. You provide the goods/services for your customers and immediately invoice them.
  2. You send those invoice details to the invoice financing provider (the lender).
  3. You receive a percentage of the face value of the invoice, usually within 48 hours (the percentage depends upon the lender’s own risk criteria).
  4. You collect payment from your customers as usual.
  5. When your customers pay you, you settle your account: reimbursing the lender and retaining the portion of the invoice that wasn’t part of your invoice financing agreement – less a service fee.

Yes, there are costs involved in invoice financing.

The lender will charge interest on the amount you borrow, as well as fees (generally a percentage of the invoice totals). Taken together, this can represent a total of up to 30% of the value of your invoices in annual interest.

In addition, as mentioned above, you are responsible for collecting the invoices due from your customer and must reimburse the lender for the amount borrowed. 

Invoice financing lenders consider several factors in making their decision to accept your company as a borrower.

For example:

  1. The amount of invoice financing required for the business.
  2. The financial turnover of your company so far.
  3. The customer base of your business (the more varied, the better).
  4. The total outstanding amount of your outstanding invoices.
  5. The visibility of your business.

These considerations also apply to SME invoice financing.

Two factors make invoice SME invoice financing attractive to small and medium businesses:

  1. The withdrawal of government financial support offered to these businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  2. Changes in banking regulations being implemented in Basel III and Basel IV will increase funding costs and make banks less willing to extend loans, particularly to SMEs with below-average creditworthiness.

SME invoice financing is one of the non-banking funding sources which are filling the need for capital for smaller businesses or new businesses without a long track record. Lenders in this market accept invoice financing applications from newly set up small businesses and will consider the current sales volume and its growth potential as significant factors for approving financing.

As we’ve noted, invoice financing provides quick access to capital and removes the long wait time that creates cash flow issues.

In addition, there are other advantages of invoice financing:

  • Funding: it is a flexible way to fund investments, as companies can access cash as soon as an invoice is raised.
  • Cash flow: it helps you secure your cash flow.
  • Competitiveness: it affords you the opportunity to extend payment terms to your customers, making you more competitive.
  • Growth: invoice financing means the amount you can borrow increases with the amount of your invoices.
  • Good customer relationships: invoice financing can be structured so that your customers are unaware that their invoices have been financed, preserving your relationship with them.
  • Flexibility: it is easy to qualify for and requires little security.

It’s important to remember the meaning of invoice financing: even though it can be thought of as cash in advance, it is still a type of borrowing. You want to avoid being overleveraged.

Other disadvantages include:

  • Expense: these contracts are expensive in terms of fees (1 to 4%) and only cover a portion of the invoice.
  • Limited protection: it may not protect against non-payment (unlike trade credit insurance, which protects you against late and non-payment).
  • Non-payment risk: you still face the risk that your customer may be unable to settle the invoice on time, which exposes you to potential financial penalties for your own delayed payments or having to cover the full amount of invoice financing yourself.
  • Limited financing: you cannot finance the same invoice multiple times. Because invoices act as a kind of collateral, most lenders will limit you to only one financing per invoice.

While invoice financing is one way to avoid cash flow issues, trade credit insurance remains the most reliable way to deal with trade credit risk and avoid cash flow issues.

Trade credit insurance helps you assess the creditworthiness of your customers and therefore help you decide which ones you can safely do business with, without being limited to only one transaction.

The trade credit insurer defines a credit limit for each customer corresponding to the maximum recommended trading amount. You are covered for this amount and receive compensation quickly in the event of a bad debt.

A trade credit insurance policy also gives peace of mind to your finance partners. Your bankers and other lenders (including those providing invoice financing!) can be reassured about the financial stability of your company, and more inclined to guarantee financing.

All this supports your working capital ratio, lifts uncertainty regarding your cash flow, and secures your company’s ability to grow.

As a global leader in trade credit insurance, Euler Hermes provides world-class knowledge and data to empower your trading decisions. We offer extensive economic and business risk resources thanks to our teams of experts around the world. Find us in your country to learn more or contact us.