Mid-Market and Small Companies (SMEs) Fuel Sustainable Growth with Supply Chain Finance
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Crucial Role of SMEs for Global Economic Development
With Supply Chain issues creating shortages across the globe, it is more and more evident that SMEs impact economic development for a broad spectrum of countries.
Role of Small and Medium Businesses in Economy and Development
SMEs are the backbone of economies and societies. They play a crucial role in a country’s overall production and are core to sustainable socioeconomic development. All over the world, there is growing evidence of the significant impact of SMEs in both developed and developing countries.
Small and medium-sized businesses are important contributors to employment creation, value creation, poverty alleviation and income generation. They represent about 90 percent of registered businesses worldwide, contributing to more than 50 percent of employment globally (World Bank). In Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries, SMEs are the predominant form of enterprise, accounting for approximately 99 percent of all firms and about 70 percent of jobs on average, and are major contributors to value creation, generating between 50 percent and 60 percent of value added on average (Figure 1).
Figure 1: SMEs account for the bulk of employment in the most affected sectors (OECD 2021)
According to the World Trade Organization, which draws its finding from empirical studies and data sources, and the European Commission, the median GDP contribution of small and medium-sized businesses is 45 percent (55 percent in developed countries, 35 percent in developing countries). SMEs also feature prominently in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which encourage the growth of these businesses in order to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, full and productive employment, and reputable work for all.
Support Needed for SMEs
Most SMEs, including new, innovative and fast-growing firms, remain heavily reliant on internal resources and traditional bank debt. According to a study by the World Trade Organization10, globally, more than half of the requests made by SMEs for trade finance are rejected, compared to only 7 percent for multinational companies. All of these facts signal the need to support SMEs with solutions beyond the traditional policies and stimulus support that governments and development banks have been providing. This call to action beyond traditional measures is even more essential in today’s COVID-shaken world that is being forced to adapt to a “new normal.”
Supply Chain Finance for SMEs
Traditional bank-guaranteed trade finance solutions such as letters of credit and guarantees have been used extensively in the past. However, these solutions are criticized because of required tedious and cumbersome administrative processes as well as significant stress on balance sheets.
One of the rising stars in the open account universe is payable supply chain finance, also known as reverse factoring. This solution helps to liberate capital tied in the working capital cycle of buyers and suppliers by enabling suppliers to be paid early while allowing the buyer to maintain, or extend, its payment terms.
A supplier usually has to invest upfront capital to purchase raw materials, manufactured goods and deliver goods to the buyer before receiving the payment at the negotiated payment timing. As we discovered earlier, the state of access and cost of this capital for SME suppliers is inequitable. A payable supply chain finance (SCF) solution helps suppliers gain access to capital – most likely at a much lower rate – without waiting for buyers to make payments on invoices.
An SCF program is established by a buyer for its suppliers with the help of financial institutions and SCF technology providers. Depending on its own corporate objectives and payment terms benchmarked against market standards, the buyer optimizes its payment terms with suppliers. In order to prevent any negative impact of the new payment terms on its supplier, the buyer makes the approved invoices of the goods and services it purchased available for financing on the SCF platform. The suppliers are then able to “sell” approved invoices of the buyer to the financial institutions partnered by the buyer on the platform. This way, the supplier gets paid right away on the invoices they select on the SCF platform rather than waiting for payment terms to mature. When the invoice comes to its optimized full term, the buyer pays the full amount to the financial institution that now owns the invoice.
The invoices are financed at a discounted rate that is based on the credit risk of the buyer instead of that of the supplier. Generally, this discount rate is much cheaper than what a supplier could get on their own from banks, especially if the supplier is an SME or in a developing market. This is why, even with extended terms, suppliers are more likely to have lesser financing costs than they might have to incur with existing payments and their own credit profile. In addition to payment term optimization, buyers leverage SCF programs to achieve other objectives such as strengthening relationships, supporting suppliers and incentivizing suppliers to support sustainability.