Paying suppliers is a required and continuous expense for business owners whether you’re in retail, own a restaurant or are a manufacturer or distributor. Cost of goods sold is the first deduction against gross revenue on any companies income statement. The lack of ability to pay for the cost of goods expense severely impacts the growth potential of the business. In this article, we are going to look at the difference between purchase order financing and letters of credit and how they are used in business.
Letters of Credit
Letters of Credit (abbreviated “LC’s”) are bank instruments drafted to secure international and domestic purchases. They provide assurances for both the buyer and the seller of the goods. The seller is assured payment as long as the terms within the LC are met. These can include satisfactory inspection and acceptance of the goods at the port, factory or upon arrival to their destination. When the goods are paid for under the LC is negotiated between the parties.
Letters of Credit essentially assure two things: 1) the buyer has the financial wherewithal to make the payment for the goods, and 2) the supplier will deliver the goods as ordered on time. LC’s are opened with both the buyer’s bank and the seller’s bank and work together to assure the performance of each.
Requirements are a bit more strict with Letters of Credit than they are with purchase order financing. The LC has to have underlying collateral that is typically in the form of cash or accounts receivable.
When a company applies for a Letter of Credit from a bank the company must have an equal or greater amount of cash or accounts receivable available once the LC is drawn on. The buying entity needs to demonstrate that they have the financial wherewithal to cover the cost of goods once conditions have been met. The buying entities funds are typically held in a control account (similar to an escrow account) until needed. This control of the funds is necessary to assure the supplier that funds will remain available for payment from the time ordered to delivery and payment.
In this respect, LC’s really are not a financing tool as no monies are actually borrowed but rather set aside for a particular transaction. This form of international trade “finance” is a protection against financial loss on available capital versus new money used to cover the cost of goods.
This form of financing is set aside for more established companies with enough liquid collateral available to cover the expense. Consider LC’s as an insurance against loss of principle versus true outside financing. For more granular details on Letters of Credit click here.
Purchase Order Financing
Conversely, purchase order programs offer financing to cover the cost of goods to suppliers beyond cash and accounts receivable collateral. Startups, companies experiencing high growth and even the majority of established companies often need additional capital. In the majority of cases, the capital needs are larger than the accounts receivable balance or internal cash reserves.
In these scenarios, Letters of Credit would fall short of the financing needs required to cover the cost of goods.
Purchase order financing pays suppliers for materials required for the buying entity’s growth. Clients utilizing purchase order financing sign contracts with the finance partner. There is typically a personal guaranty for the facility that acts as a backstop should the transaction not offer enough support to pay back the line in a downside scenario.
Purchase order finance underwriters focus on three main areas when assessing new funding requests:
- Financial strength of the customer(s) for which the PO’s are being generated: when purchase order financing is being requested the fund will want to thoroughly understand the credit strength of the underlying customer. For example, if the underlying customer is a nationally known retailer odds of approval are greater. Conversely, if the PO’s are being generated for a “mom and pop shop” with limited to no financial information available, approval is much more difficult.
- Financing strength of the supplier: the source of where the goods are coming from whether international or domestic must also be fully understood. Suppliers are typically larger and more established. Usually, but not always, financial information is available on these companies and information can be verified to give the purchase order finance company comfort in wiring them money for the transaction.
- Transaction history between the parties: It is important to know how long the client has been dealing with a particular supplier. Approval is much easier if there is a long history that can be documented through shipping documents, invoices and bank transactions supporting successful delivery of past orders. Purchase order financing works best when taking a company’s current business cycle from Point A to Point B versus financing orders for an entirely new supplier relationship that has zero past transaction history. This is because there are a number of inherent risks that go with financing first time orders; lack of past, successful delivery of orders, fraudulent supplier claims, capital at risk before performance, to name a few.
Purchase order financing is a line of credit used specifically to cover the cost of goods when capital needs are larger than available internal cash or accounts receivable.
If you are an established company with no need to borrow outside capital, a Letter of Credit would be adequate for your needs. LC’s provide assurance against loss of principle by providing a check and balance prior to releasing funds.
Purchase order financing comes in to play when cash needs are higher than internal capabilities.
Both mechanisms facilitate trade financing and move business forward. Which program is best for your company depends on where you fall on the spectrum. To learn more about how Huntington Coast Capital’s purchase order financing solutions can work for you, watch this short video that explains the process.
We provide consultation and secure funds for a broad base of business financing needs. Call 714-719-8966 to learn how these programs can work with you to grow your business!