Insolvency - Causes And Symptoms

SMEs make up a large part of the insolvency work that we at McDonald Vague handle and the reasons for those insolvencies range from events beyond the control of the company officers to a complete lack of knowledge and understanding by the company officers of what is required of them.

• What led to those companies failing?
• What were some of the red flags that might have been seen along the way?

CAUSES OF FAILURE:

The causes of company failures, as reported to us by the directors, are many and varied and the real reason is not always identified correctly by the directors.

There are, however, common themes that come through in the reasons for company failures.

All the Eggs in one Basket:

It is not uncommon in insolvencies to find that the failure of the company has come about because they have all, or at least most, of their eggs in one basket. The sudden failure of their major client or the decision by that client to go elsewhere leaves a yawning gap in their cash flow.

In tight economic times there is not always the ability to find new business in a short period of time to enable the business to continue to operate. They can also be left holding stock that is particular to that client and have no ability to move it on.

Company directors don’t always have the marketing skills to get out and promote their business nor the financial understanding to see ways to restructure their business to take account of the sudden loss of a major client.

The unexpected loss of a vital staff member can have the same effect, leaving the business unable to operate to its potential while another suitable employee is hired or trained up.

The Economic Climate:

Often directors will point to a particular period and claim that this was when orders dried up.

A sudden down turn can sometimes lead to the company cutting its prices in an endeavour to obtain work but without giving enough thought to what it actually costs them to do that work. So they continue to operate but have no margin or insufficient margin to enable them to meet their costs and catch up on old debt.

Lack of Knowledge:

A number of the small companies that we manage the liquidation of are companies incorporated by a tradesman to charge out their services. Many of these are tradesmen who have moved from employee status to company director and employer because they have been advised that they will be better off working for themselves through a company structure.

While they may all be very capable plumbers, builders, electricians etc many know next to nothing about the requirements of running a company and managing the finances.

They often start with a few tools and a vehicle, no operating capital and no administration systems in place.

They fall behind in filing their PAYE and GST returns, they fall behind in invoicing out the work that they have done. They fail to differentiate between what is the company’s and what are their own personal assets and the company bank account is used for everything, including buying the groceries.

They do not keep accurate records of the income and expenses and fail to carry out even basic functions like checking off bank statements. They have no prepared budgets or cash flow forecasts and, essentially, exist day to day. If there is money in the bank account they can spend it without giving any thought to things like GST & PAYE that may be falling due in the next month.

The cumulative effect of these failings is the downward spiral of the business until a creditor, generally the Inland Revenue Department, puts the brakes on them by threatening to wind them up unless payment is made.

Related Party Loans:

This can include loans to shareholders, family and friends, as well as related companies. The temptation is there, if one company is flush with cash at any stage, to lend the funds to related parties.

Problems arise when there is no clear documentation of the loans and no specific requirement on the related party to make repayments.

While the related entities are still in existence and the loan sits on the company’s statement of financial position as an asset – giving a semblance of solvency – the truth of the matter is that there is no substance to the asset with no likelihood of the loan being repaid.

Allied to this is the giving by the company of guarantees for related entities leading to claims made on the company in the event of default by the related party.

RED FLAGS:

What are the red flags, or danger signs, that the company’s directors or professional advisors might note along the way that indicate all is not well with the business?

• Notifications that PAYE or GST returns haven’t been filed

• GST refunds for 2 or 3 periods in a row. If the company is consistently spending more than it earns, what are the reasons.

• Failure to pay PAYE and GST. PAYE, in particular, is “trust” money deducted from employees’ wages. It should not be available for operational purposes.

• A steady increase in the outstanding creditors and increased age of the debt.

• A constant need for the shareholders to support the company with funds without any light at the end of the tunnel. How long can the shareholders continue to fund the company?

• A sudden change by creditors to expecting COD for supplies rather than place the amount on credit.

CONCLUSION:

The vast majority of company directors and shareholders don’t deliberately set up their company to fail but sometimes, through a combination of matters beyond their control and a lack of skills and understanding of the requirements, that is what happens.

Good advice at the outset and continued support and assistance during the operation of the business from accounting and legal professionals could go a long way to reducing the likelihood of failure.

If you would like more information about the causes and symptoms of company insolvency, please contact one of the team at McDonald Vague.

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