Logistics pros: Here’s how to maximize your working capital contribution

11 October 2021 | Posted by Jeff Carlson

Topics: Working Capital Management, Carrier Relations, Freight Audit & Payment, Transportation Industry

Working capital management is a perpetual focus of the CFO and CPO, but it’s also become a job responsibility of any executive who manages a large spend category. All companies seek to maximize working capital levels, as this money can be used to fund growth, capital investments, debt paydown, and so on. The most popular working capital strategies are engrained throughout organizations: keep inventory levels low, reduce days sales outstanding, and extend payment terms with suppliers. 

Extending payment terms with suppliers is a cross-organizational effort, and it’s an area seeing renewed interest these days. If you are a manufacturer, your company has likely achieved success in this area with its supply chain materials or parts vendors. The logistics team, however, has faced extra challenges. It’s no secret that most carriers operate on thin margins and low liquidity levels. How do you retain both a positive relationship and critical capacity while pushing payments out another 30 days?

Supplier Financing: The Missing Component in Your Freight Terms Extension

There is a way, however, to extend terms in a way that keeps your relationships intact and provides positive outcomes for all. The piece you’ve been missing is a concept called supplier financing - a financial solution that optimizes cash flow for both buyers and suppliers.

Supplier financing has been increasing in popularity for the last couple of decades, typically under the names trade finance and supply chain finance. Programs like this can be traced back to the automotive industry in the late 1980s when manufacturers strategically sought to support their key suppliers’ financial wherewithal.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on trade finance. Supplier financing can take on multiple forms but, in essence, they all involve early payment options for suppliers and some form of sponsorship by the buyer. Virtually all large companies in the U.S. and a majority in Europe use such programs to support their vendors.

Trade finance is an arrangement between buyers and suppliers that supports two seemingly opposing goals: terms extensions for buyers and improved financial health of suppliers. Rather than the winner-takes-all approach of the past, trade finance is an inclusive shared-value concept that creates win-win scenarios.

If you as a logistics executive aren’t familiar with the concept, there’s a reason for that. Despite being accountable for a sizable portion of the organization’s spend, logistics has been off-limits territory for trade finance programs and the many benefits they provide. Put simply, it’s been a difficult cost category to solve for.

Ironically enough, however, of all your company’s suppliers, your freight carriers are probably the ones most in need of support. Of all industries, freight transportation has some of the thinnest margins and highest rates of bankruptcy. 

It’s time to bring trade finance to the logistics arena, for the benefit of both your company and your logistics providers.

Trade Finance Explained

The purpose of trade finance is to support your vendors and strengthen your relationships with them. It is designed to ease their burden when your payment terms are long (typically 60+ days). 

Trade finance programs are initiated by the buyer and facilitated by an intermediary such as a bank or fintech. Your organization likely has existing programs in place through a bank such as J.P. Morgan or Bank of America, and possibly a fintech as well (often referred to as a platform) such as Taulia. 

Through this arrangement, the bank or platform pays carriers quickly following invoice approval, far in advance of the actual due date. The buyer, however, pays the intermediary at full term. The funding that fills the gap—the time period from when the intermediary makes a payment to when it receives payment from the buyer—is paid for by a small discount taken off the invoice. (If you are new to this concept, it hearkens back to the old 2/10 net 30 invoice terms, where suppliers were happy to offer a discount for quick payment.) 

When a carrier gets paid, for example, on day 4 rather than day 60, that can be a huge working capital boost. But the improvement in the carrier’s working capital is only part of the story. The critical piece that makes this truly beneficial to the carrier is that the discount rate is low, generally lower than the carrier’s cost of borrowing. In other words, trade finance programs let your carriers obtain a lower cost of capital. Why? Because the intermediary has a high degree of certainty that the shipper–who presumably has better credit than the carrier--will make their payments. The risk is lower. The carrier is essentially borrowing at a lower rate than the bank would charge. If they use the additional cash to pay down debt, the financial result is to the upside. If the funds let them avoid debt or factoring in order to pay bills or make investments, also to the upside. 

Some people call this type of finance reverse factoring. Factoring, however, is a carrier-led program for early payment and doesn’t involve the buyer. It is an expensive proposition, and an arrangement that’s hard to get out of once established. Trade finance, for many reasons, is a far better proposition for carriers.

Carrier Benefits of Trade Finance

They need cash to pay for fuel or repairs, make lease payments, or–best of all–invest in capacity. Some carriers have used early payment programs to fulfill bank covenants that require a certain amount of cash in their bank account. Early payment programs, as expensive as they have been, are where they have turned for years. But at a low rate, trade finance offers the working capital benefit without the high cost.

  • Improve cash availability to cover expenses or fund growth
  • Leverage buyer’s credit for low-cost source of funds (small and midsize carriers)
  • Avoid drawing down lines of credit; potentially reduce debt ratio
  • Greater financial resiliency 

Shipper Benefits of Trade Finance 

  • Extend payment terms and maximize working capital contribution 
  • Reduce financial risk from transportation network

Financially healthy freight companies result in more resilient, innovative, and service-oriented transportation providers and thus, stronger and more reliable supply chains. 

Why Logistics Hasn’t Had Access to Trade Finance Programs

Traditional trade and supply chain finance programs are designed for large-dollar, repetitive invoices. They are not designed to handle the long tail of your freight carrier network. Programs take time to manage; for example, you must build and maintain system integrations and file feeds with the trade finance platform, onboard suppliers, send approved invoices, and deal with exceptions, this large dollar/large supplier space is where the program is most efficient and profitable. 

Freight doesn’t fit the mold. Freight is messy. It’s chaotic. It’s not an invoice category that supplier financing providers want to touch. 

Freight does not fit into traditional trade finance programs because of the:

  • large number of carriers 
  • large number of invoices
  • low average dollar amount per invoice 

Given that transportation is a massive spend category for the enterprise business (in CPG, typically 6 to 8% of total revenue), the financial opportunity for the intermediaries means further innovation is bound to occur. 

So, How Can Trade Finance and Logistics Come Together?

Some special things need to happen for your logistics organization to gain access to trade finance programs. 

  1. Freight invoices need to be processed quickly & systematically
  2. The trade finance provider needs visibility to approved invoices
  3. Onboarding carriers must require minimal resources
  4. There must be a platform
  5. There must be a bank

You may be tracking with us at this point. Quite possibly, you already work with a company who has visibility to your invoices and has already onboarded your carriers to a payment platform. You may be a Cass client or have partnered with another freight audit & payment provider.

Cass, as a unique freight payment provider in that we own a bank, offers all five necessary components. We’ve been executing supplier financing programs for years with some of the world’s largest companies.

The Not-Surprising Marriage of Freight Payment and Trade Finance

It seems to make sense that a freight payment provider is the logical entity that can overcome the constraints of traditional trade finance providers. 

Freight payment providers:

  1. Already have the invoices
  2. Already pay the carriers

Because there’s a payment structure for each invoice and carrier already set up, the quantity and size of the invoices become inconsequential.

Because of the existing financial relationship between your freight payment provider and your carriers, onboarding is easy (or should be easy), therefore adding little to no cost to program administration. And because freight payment specialists are typically the fastest at processing invoices, carriers are able to achieve the greatest benefit in terms of days paid early. 

The Cass Trade Finance is enabled by our banking infrastructure. Cass Commercial Bank provides a crucial support structure for creating highly adaptable, controlled, efficient, and secure payment programs. The Cass global electronic payment network includes 45,000 vendors, 14,000 of which are logistical service providers.

There’s a softer reason FAP and trade finance make a strong marriage. Leaders in logistics are highly focused on cost controls and strong financial management. These leaders are most likely to have a robust freight payment program in place and also the most likely to seek out other best practices. Additionally, adding trade finance to their FAP program is extremely efficient and lets them gain more value from a strategic vendor partnership already in place. 

 

Layering trade finance on top of strong financial management practices is the key to increasing your working capital contribution.

 

How it Works

Let’s say you are extending terms with your carriers from 30 to 60 days, and they sign onto your trade finance program at the same time.

The only process that changes is in the carrier’s accounting practice when a payment is received. 

  1. Carrier submits invoice to Cass as they always do
  2. Cass systematically receives, processes, and approves the invoice for payment
  3. Full payment is sent two days later, less a small discount
  4. Shipper funds Cass near the 60-day mark (~day 58).

This all happens in less than a week.

The carrier doesn’t just avoid another 30 days without payment but reduces the days from 60 to less than a week. 

FRT - Logistics pros

The shipper, after supporting the program launch, has no day-to-day involvement. The program runs on its own. 

For Carriers, It Beats the Alternatives 

Too often strapped for cash, freight carriers commonly turn to factoring and borrowing. Factoring is an arrangement, similar to trade finance, in which carriers are paid on invoices in a few days. But among many other drawbacks of factoring, it’s incredibly expensive. If you can help a carrier shift invoices from factoring to trade finance, you’ll save them quite a bit of money. 

Borrowing is also not an optimal solution in many cases due to higher interest rates, lengthy loan processes, associated bank covenants, and other obligations it creates.

Your trade finance program will almost always be the lowest cost source of financing available. Even with a terms extension, carriers often improve their financial health by more than one metric. 

 

Even with a terms extension,
carriers often improve their financial health by more than one metric.


Your freight spend is the hidden gem in your company’s working capital goals. Through trade finance, that working capital can finally be unlocked in a way that works for everyone.

Cass FAP & the Cass Financial Suite®

Cass is enabling trade finance for some of the world’s largest shippers – and adoption is growing rapidly. 

Given the $44 billion in freight spend we process annually and the nature of our client base, the Cass trade finance program constitutes a significant addition to the supplier financing landscape. It is part of the Cass Financial Suite®, which consists of tools for both buyers and carriers to improve working capital. 

To learn more and start a deeper conversation, contact us today. 

 

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