“It takes on average 18 months to receive settlement of an unsecured debt in the construction industry.”

“At the end of the liquidation process almost half of all trade creditors will receive nothing.”

These statistics, from a New Zealand-based study conducted in 2012, align pretty closely with anecdotal evidence from the sector, as most trade professionals we talk to will either have experienced it themselves, or know someone who has.

Alongside good risk reduction measures, such as robust credit control, using Construction Contracts Act compliant payment claims and registering your interests with the PPSR, there are a number of insurance options you can take to reduce the cost of bad debt.  Even the most rigorous and disciplined credit management cannot prevent bad debts, any business with these exposures should ensure they are protected.

Protecting your Retentions

Despite changes to the Construction Contracts Act (CCA), meaning that from 31st March 2017 retention money must be held “on trust” by a main contractor, there is still no guarantee that subcontractors will get their retentions back if they haven’t been accounted for correctly, or have been spent by the head contractor as they try to avoid insolvency. In any case, your money is still tied up in their business, not helping to cash flow yours.

Retention Bonds

Instead of agreeing to cash retentions you can provide a bond instead. A bond is a promise from a surety provider, such as your bank or an insurance company, to the head contractor for the value of the retentions they want to hold. You’ll pay a premium for an insurer to provide a bond on your behalf, but it means there is no risk of your retentions (which are often the profit on the job) being lost if your main contractor goes bust.

For more information on the benefits of using a bond in lieu of retentions go to: www.builtin.co.nz/retention-bonds

Protecting your Accounts Receivable

Your debtors ledger, which is the amount of money owed to you by your customers at any one time, is probably one of the biggest assets a trade business has. Unfortunately, it is probably the least insured. Self-insurance or a bad debt reserve does not replace the money lost, whereas credit insurance puts cash back in your hands.

Subcontractors Payment Guarantee Insurance

A Subcontractors Payment Guarantee policy will pay 75% of the money owed to you by a head contractor when they become insolvent. It has a 30 day stand down period and does not apply to retentions or contracts you have already started.

The policy aimed at smaller trade businesses, typically those with a turnover of less than $2m, where an event like this could have a significant effect on cash flow. It’s simple to arrange and you can choose an annual limit of cover of $25,000 or $50,000. To work out which amount best suits you consider what is the maximum amount you could be owed by a single contractor at any one time.

Payment guarantee claims are generally settled within a few weeks, compared to waiting many months for settlement through a liquidation process, from which most trade creditors will only receive cents on the dollar.

For more information go to: www.builtin.co.nz/subcontractors-payment-guarantee

Trade Credit Insurance

If your outstanding debtors are large and/or you want to insure payment default as well as insolvency, trade credit insurance could be suitable. When a bad debt happens there is an immediate effect on cash flow, which could even lead to your own business failing. The proceeds of a credit insurance claim inject liquid funds back into your business so you can continue to pay your own bills.

For more information go to: www.ncinz.co.nz/services/trade-credit-insurance

In a nutshell

Your accounts receivable is probably one of the biggest assets your business has. Yet despite the best credit control and debt management practices, external factors outside your control can negatively affect this asset. If that happens your cashflow can be substantially affected, that’s why it’s as important (if not more so) to insure your financial risk as it is to insure your other assets.