Confidential invoice discounting – is it right for my small business?

Confidential invoice discounting can really help your small business – boosting cashflow without your clients knowing. Get the lowdown on how it works, and what you need to look out for.

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SMEs and small businesses up and down the country are struggling with the same problem – how to keep money coming in, while they wait up to 90 days for money to arrive from clients who will delay paying for as long as they can get away with.

In this scenario, confidential invoice discounting can really help. It unlocks the value of your invoices, meaning you get paid faster, and have the cash you need to cover overheads and invest in the growth of your business. And, unlike some other forms of invoice finance, your clients will be none the wiser.

Indeed, you might not want your clients to know you’re using invoice finance. This is where confidential invoice discounting comes in – you get the same cashflow boost, but stay in control of your customer relationships and can keep chasing payments yourself.

And you wouldn’t be alone. According to the latest data from UK Finance, approximately 40,000 UK businesses already use invoice finance solutions, and confidential invoice discounting is a key part of this market.

This guide will break down the sometimes confusing world of invoice finance, explain the crucial difference between invoice discounting and invoice factoring, give the lowdown on how the process works, pick out five of the UK’s leading confidential invoice discounting companies, and give some advice on what to look out for when choosing a confidential invoice discounting company.

For a great idea of how confidential invoice discounting could help you achieve your ambitions, just tell us a bit about your business to receive bespoke quotes from a selection of some of the UK’s top invoice discounting companies, all tailored to your specific needs.

How does confidential invoice discounting work?

This video from Bibby Financial Services (one of the UK’s leading invoice finance companies) does a great job of explaining invoice discounting.

So, there are six basic steps to the process.

  1. You do the work, sell your goods, or deliver your service
  2. You invoice your customer, then send a copy of the invoice to the invoice discounting company (this is often done via an easy online system)
  3. The discounting company then pays you up to 95% of the invoice value, sometimes within 24 hours
  4. You can then get on with your business, but you must make sure that you chase up your client for payment
  5. Your client pays the invoice discounting company, but the payment is made into an account under your business name, so they don’t know they are not paying you directly
  6. The discounting company pays you the remaining balance (e.g. the 5% left over if you were paid 95% earlier), minus their agreed fees

So, while confidential invoice discounting does of course cost you a little more than doing business “normally”, it has four huge benefits:

Your cashflow is hugely improved – You can submit an invoice and quickly get the funds you need to grow, instead of having to wait up to 90 days to be paid by your clients.

Your clients won’t know you’re using invoice finance – Some businesses might not want to do business with you if they know you’re using invoice finance. It’s a bias that doesn’t really make sense – given that if they paid you quickly, you wouldn’t have to use invoice finance – but it’s one that persists. If you are worried about this, then confidential invoice discounting is the perfect solution – you’ll continue to chase payments yourself, and it won’t impact your customer relationships.

Your funding grows with your business – Because invoice discounting funding is always tied to the value of your invoices, the funding amounts that you can quickly access will grow as your business grows. This is a key advantage over something like an unsecured business loan – you won’t have to deal with fixed repayments that don’t reflect how your business is actually doing.

A lender that understands your business – The best invoice discounting companies have years – even decades – of experience helping SMEs grow, and know the challenges that expanding businesses face in particular industry sectors. Many offer dedicated relationship managers, who provide support that goes beyond just funding your business.

IMPORTANT – One other thing you should always remember: invoice discounting and confidential invoice discounting are the same thing.

The way that invoice discounting works means that it’s always confidential – you will still deal with your customers the way you always have, and they won’t know that you’re using an invoice discounting company, as you’ll still need to chase them for payment.

Invoice discounting vs invoice factoring

If you’re thinking about using invoice finance, then it’s really important to get your head around the difference between invoice discounting and invoice factoring. Almost all invoice finance companies offer both, but they are different products that suit different types of companies.

The key difference is that, with invoice factoring, the invoice finance company is responsible for chasing payments from your clients.

This means you have more time to get on with running your business, but it also means that invoice factoring is more expensive than invoice discounting.

Invoice factoring is also almost always not confidential – the invoice finance company will contact your customers directly, and they therefore will know that you are using invoice finance.

It is possible to have confidential invoice factoring – where the invoice finance company contacts your customers and presents themselves as part of your business – but this service is only offered by a tiny fraction of invoice finance companies, and so is unlikely to be a realistic option for many small businesses.

All this means that invoice factoring is often a better fit for smaller businesses and startups that don’t have the resources required to chase clients for payment.

For more information on how invoice factoring works, check out our rundown of the UK’s six best invoice factoring companies.

Businesses that want confidential invoice finance should use invoice discounting, as this means they stay in control of their client and customer relationships.

In short, these are the key points:

  • Invoice discounting – confidential, cheaper, you chase your own payments
  • Invoice factoring – almost always not confidential, more expensive, invoice finance company chases payments

Can my business use confidential invoice discounting?

If you’re trying to work out whether confidential invoice discounting is right for your business, make sure you remember the following:

  • Confidential invoice discounting can only be used by companies that have commercial clients/customers (in other words, companies that sell to other companies)

The reason for this is fairly simple – if you sell to normal consumers, they pay you immediately, and you shouldn’t really need invoice finance at all.

For similar reasons, companies that use invoice discounting typically issue invoices that have payment terms of 30 to 90 days (or longer in some cases).

Apart from this, the requirements vary according to the invoice discounting company you’re dealing with.

One common criterion is an annual turnover above £250,000, but some invoice discounting companies have a higher requirement, so make sure to check this.

Some lenders will also require you to have been trading for at least one year, so that you can demonstrate a history of being paid by your clients.

As part of the application process, ensure that you provide as much financial data as you can – you will want to demonstrate that you are a reliable business, in order to be offered finance on favourable terms (see below).

How much does confidential invoice discounting cost?

There’s no such thing as a standard cost for invoice discounting – the fees you pay will always be based on how well your business is doing, and how confident the invoice discounting company is that your clients will pay their bills.

So, the better your business is doing, and the more reliable your clients are, the less you’ll pay for confidential invoice discounting.

Payment agreements can vary company by company, but generally speaking, you should expect to pay a service fee and a borrowing fee.

The service fee is usually a percentage of your turnover, and is the fee you pay for the service that the invoice discounting company is providing.

The borrowing fee is charged per invoice, and is essentially interest that you’re paying to get the money you’re owed more quickly.

However, while this structure is pretty standard, the amounts you’re charged can vary wildly, so you really need to deal with invoice discounting companies directly to understand the costs for your specific business.

Luckily, we can help – simply tell us a little about your business needs to receive bespoke confidential invoice discounting quotes from some of the UK’s top invoice finance companies, all tailored to the specific requirements and circumstances of your business.

Bad debt protection

Bad debt protection is often offered as an optional extra with confidential invoice discounting services, and it can really help small businesses.

Basically, for an extra fee, the invoice discounting company takes on the risk of your clients not paying their debts – meaning that if, for example, one of your clients goes bankrupt and can’t pay, it’s the invoice discounting company that will lose money, and not your business.

The cost of this varies according to the financial strength of your clients, so make sure to check this, but it’s definitely worth considering as it will save you lots of stress and sleepless nights.

It’s particularly suitable for SMEs where a small number of clients make up a large proportion of revenues, as such businesses are in a very vulnerable position and would be hit very hard by any of those clients encountering financial difficulties.

The UK’s top confidential invoice discounting companies

Scores of companies across the UK offer confidential invoice discounting services, but here’s our pick of five leading options you should consider.

The different criteria and options offered give a good sense of the various choices available in the market, and how different invoice discounting companies suit different types of businesses.

Top invoice discounting companies

LenderKey pointsAdvance rate (% of invoice value released)Your business needs to:
Bibby Financial Services•Over 35 years of experience funding SMEs
•Expertise in a variety of industry sectors
•Flexible rolling contracts with 30-day notice periods
Up to 100% of invoice value within 24 hours•Have been financially viable for at least six months
•Demonstrate a capable management team
•Have strong credit management and control reporting tools
Touch Financial•Invoice finance broker
•Excellent customer service
•Hands-on assistance
Up to 90% of invoice value within 24 hours•Have an annual net turnover above £250,000
Hitachi Capital•Decades of industry experience
•6-month trial, followed by a 6-month rolling contract
•Award-winning client service
Up to 90% of invoice value•Have an annual net turnover above £250,000
GapCap•SME specialist founded in 2014
•Flexible solutions
•Contract free
70-80% of invoice value•2+ years of trading history
•5+ B2B debtors on credit terms
Skipton Business Finance•Bespoke solutions for small businesses
•Dedicated relationship manager
•Part of Skipton Building Society
Up to 90% of invoice value•No eligibility requirements

To get an accurate idea of how confidential invoice discounting could help you, tell us a few things about your business to receive a range of bespoke quotes from some of the UK’s top invoice discounting companies, all tailored to your specific circumstances.

Choosing a confidential invoice discounting company

Finding the right confidential invoice discounting solution for your small business can make a huge difference to your cashflow. However, it’s really important you know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

Always remember that you’re basically looking for a partner for your business – one that will offer you support and guidance, as well as the funding you need for growth.

So, it’s rarely a good idea to simply go for the cheapest price. Instead, look for a company that truly makes an effort to understand your business, and has expertise in your sector. Make sure to ask how they have helped similar businesses, and what support they will offer you on your journey.

Finally, make sure you read and understand the terms and conditions. If you’re confused about anything, just ask whoever you’re dealing with from the invoice discounting company. The good ones will take the time to explain whatever you’re confused about – anyone who tries to bamboozle you with financial jargon simply isn’t worth dealing with, and could really cost you in the long run.

Contract length is another key point. Many invoice discounting companies offer rolling contracts that are flexible enough to change with the ups and down of your business. By contrast, signing up for 12 months or more could leave the bills mounting up if you run into financial difficulties.

This is an important decision, so it’s vital to get quotes from a variety of different providers and carefully research each potential partner to find the right fit for your business.

Final thoughts

Confidential invoice discounting is a great way for SMEs to boost their cashflow while maintaining their customer relationships. However, it does mean you need to have solid credit control processes in place, as invoice discounting companies need to have confidence in your clients paying on time.

If you don’t have this, then invoice factoring might be a better solution. It’s more expensive than invoice discounting, but means the invoice finance company will chase your suppliers for payment, leaving you with one less thing to worry about. However, invoice factoring agreements are rarely confidential, so in the vast majority of cases, your clients will know you’re using an invoice finance company.

If you do tick the necessary boxes for confidential invoice discounting (commercial clients, solid trading history etc.), then make sure you take the process of choosing an invoice discounting company seriously – get multiple quotes, and ask as many questions as you need to in order to really understand what you’re signing up to.

This extra work is worth it – find the right confidential invoice discounting partner, and you’ll get support and guidance from someone who understands your business, as well as the funding you need to take it to the next level.

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Written by:
Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.
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