In the world of tech, a lot of companies, especially the smaller ones and startups, their financials are quite opaque. You never know on the surface if one is about to go under or go unicorn.
Austin Leo, VP of USI Insurance Services, highlights a specialized type of insurance, once reserved for large manufacturers, that can help larger companies identify who to do business with… especially those with the least risk of going under before they pay their bills.
And that’s just one benefit.
It’s a great example of insurance coverage that adds tangible monetary value… even when you don’t have a claim. Austin walks us through the many ways these policies help and how they work in real-world terms.
Tune in to find out…
Patrick Stroth: Hello there, I’m Patrick Stroth. Welcome to M&A Masters, where I speak with the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions. And we’re all about one thing here: that’s a clean exit for owners, founders and their investors.
For most people, insurance is something that you pay for, but you hope you’ll never use. Even when it works, people are still not happy because something bad has had to happen in order for you to put your policy to use. Now there are insurance products out there that provide tangible monetary value without the policyholder ever having to suffer a loss. Rep-and-warranty insurance for M&A transactions provides this very value-added capability, and that’s what inspired me to pivot our program here at Rubicon M&A insurance to focus on insuring M&A transactions.
Today, I’ve asked Austin Leo of USI Insurance Services to join me to discuss another product out there called trade credit insurance. Like rep and warranty, trade credit provides significant financial benefits without ever having to incur a loss. That’s probably why private equity firms are now warming up to this and using it on more and more of their portfolio companies. But, I’ll let Austin tell you how. Austin, thanks for joining me today. Welcome to the program.
Austin Leo: Hey, Patrick, thanks for having me. appreciate you having me on. Glad to be here.
Patrick Stroth: Well, let’s give everybody listening here some context. How did you get to this point in your career, where you’re a specialist in this very technical area of insurance?
Austin: Sure, so good question. Sometimes I asked myself that myself. So, you know, I started off my career actually working in PR, and then ended up at a company, they were a French company, that specialized in company information in the B2B sector and advertising your products in that sector to specialized clients. Ended up you know, you know, really like that part of the business, especially the information side of that. And, I ended up at an insurance firm by the name of Coface. Now, Coface is a French insurer (second-largest trade credit insurer in the world), and I started off there as an underwriter and soon found that insurance was fascinating to me. Especially the trade credit side of things, whereas you mentioned, you know, you don’t really need to find the value when a claim happens— you can do that much earlier. And we can talk about that. But anyway, ended up you know as an underwriter, a Coface. Then went to manage our global clients, and then went on to the broker sodas business with my own firm. And then, eventually joining USI.
Patrick: Well, as with a real diverse industry like insurance, there are products that can cover any number of different exposures. Why don’t we help the audience out here— what is exactly trade credit, and then who uses it, or who’s the traditional user of a trade credit insurance policy?
Austin: Sure. So trade credit insurance helps companies identify their risks, it provides companies with information on their customers, the insurance side of it really covers a company who is selling on open account terms— open account credit terms to another company— it helps them mitigate that risk against non payment, slow payment, or bankruptcies and insolvency.
So you’re selling to another company, for whatever reason, they don’t pay you or cannot pay you. That’s when credit insurance would kick in, and pay a claim on the non-payment side of it.
Patrick: So they step in and pay your outstanding accounts receivables because the client disappears or is somehow unable to pay?
Austin: That’s exactly right.
Patrick: And the traditional policy was— I can think of these where you’ve got big ARs out there were large industrial manufacturers, textiles, commodity type things. That could be the typical client of this. But nowadays, are there other clients, particularly in the tech sector, where this could be used?
Austin: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right, Patrick. You know, a lot of companies that have used trade credit insurance are, you know, manufacturers, distributors, the commodity traders, but, you know, manufacturer or distributor of components. And that was kind of the traditional side of a user of trade, credit insurance. Use it for multiple things, you know, both for mitigation and enhancements, financing, and sales. But now we’re finding that in the tech sector, you know, a couple of things are happening, right? Tech companies tend to be a bit focused on sales, especially to companies they might not have a ton of information on, or are new to the industry.
So that leaves you, you know, at risk to non-payment, or lack of information on your companies. And as I always say, you know, a sale isn’t a sale until it’s paid or collected, right? So, it’s great that you’re sales focused and offering open account turns to other companies, but until it’s paid, it’s not a sale. So, that’s where we find tech companies benefiting from the trade credit side of things, you know, the heavy AR stack on the book, the last thing you want is for multiple companies not paying you, customers not paying you.
And then I mentioned on the information side, you know. Newer companies, prospective clients… it’s tough to pull information. I mean, of course, you know, you can, you know, Dun & Bradstreet, CreditSafe is a provider of B2B company information. The insurance companies also have big databases filled with information, and they do their due diligence. I mean the last thing they want to do is, you know, pay a claim, right? They want to be profitable. So, the information that we find from the insurers tends to be better than some of the stuff we find from, you know, like the DMV. So, yeah, I think the benefit in the tech side is, you know, data information on your prospects, clients. And then, of course, you know, mitigating the risk of non-payment or insolvency from those clients.
The other thing that we find is the financial benefit.
Patrick: Before we get into the financial benefit, I just want to go back just on a really nice use case scenario. So you have… what the service that you can provide as your insurance product can provide background checks for prospective customers. So if you’re a tech firm, you’re about to sign a major contract with a potential customer, they could turn to their trade credit insurance and say, we want to sign up this company in South Korea as a client, they’re going to pay us X dollars… and we don’t have as much information. But, the insurance company with their resources, can find out whether or not that potential client in South Korea is a good or bad credit risk. Is that is that how that works?
Austin: Yeah, that’s correct. So yes, you know, we want to sell to company A in China, you know, notoriously, it’s kind of known in China, that it’s tough to get financials. The insurers are able to do that along with banks. So yeah, you know, we expect to have, you know, 2 million open, you know, AR exposure at any given time… high AR exposure at any given time. What do you guys think? And then the trade credit insurance will come back and say, “well, you know, you know, either yes, will approve the 2 million and, and here’s why. Or we’ll do a partial approval of that.” And give you information on why, you know, maybe they’re late to pay other suppliers, and that’s in their database, maybe their financial conditions have worsened Or, you know, the last answer you want here is, is “no,” but it’s relevant, you know, information, right.
The last thing you want to do is try to turn bad credit into good credit. Never works out. We’ve seen it time after time. So, yes, the credit insurance information… or I’m sorry, the credit insurance companies are all members of the Berne Union, and they share information with one another.
So you’re seeing the information that you know, the bank’s get…. the insurance gets, but you might necessarily not.
Patrick: Wow, so then, not only are you protecting your client from from a perspective loss, but you’re just giving them that that background information so that they can make a better decision that’s got to improve, you know, they’re not necessarily I think, guaranteeing this AR is out there. But, they are really protecting those.
That’s got to make a company’s lenders really happy. I mean, you had just referenced me there is a financial benefit, I can imagine, you know, with their, with their lenders, companies, lenders would love if the company had this kind of protection.
Austin: Yeah, and you bring up a good point, Patrick. So, yeah, the lenders, they love trade credit insurance. Especially when there is ABL: an asset-based lending facility in place. You know, companies… everybody thinks about their assets, right? You know, you have the people, you have your property, you have your inventory, all of those are insured, right?
A lot of times companies don’t think about your receivables as an asset. And they are, and in some cases, they’re the largest asset a company has. So the lenders love it when the foreign receivables are insured with trade credit insurance because it allows them to include those into the borrowing base of an ABL. It also allows them and their credit folks in the bank to feel comfortable raising advance rates, which is really key. You know, you could have a company that has a facility that’s getting, you know, an 80% advanced rate on their assets. With trade credit insurance, the bank can bump that up to 85%-90%.
We’ve seen companies that have gotten, you know, 1 million-2 million, just an increase in working capital, just from having a trade credit insurance policy.
Patrick: Wow. And so, in addition to mitigating risk on the one side, you’re now improving their accessibility to more cash. And that’s got to be just a great benefit that offsets any costs. And this can also be used in a couple of other things, not just for increasing your cash flow, but does it impact on other operational things like your sales?
Austin: Yes, yes, it does. So, you know, you could have you can have a group of customers, right? Where your credit folks internally, within the organization say, “we’ve looked at the financials based on the information that we have, you know, credit report financials, we’re comfortable granting $2 million dollar limit for them in credit.”
Whereas you there could be a credit insurer saying, “you know, that’s great. You know, we have information, we can justify a $4 million limit, and would be willing to include that in a credit insurance policy and underwrite that and ensure that.”
So, I mean, in essence, you know, you can go above and beyond what you might be comfortable doing internally, from a credit standpoint. And you’re just having a partnership with the credit insurance company, letting them take on that risk and really risk transferring that which in turn, you know, you can sell more to a customer… you’re obviously going to increase your sales, depending on how many times a year you do that, and what the open account terms are. So yeah, we’ve seen companies, I mean, in general— we have statistics on this, based on what the insurers provide— companies can increase their sales by 20%, just by using the trade credit piece.
Patrick: Okay, so that’s benefit three. Benefit one was protecting yourself with the information on prospective customers that you can get from the trade credit insurance company. Number two is improving terms from your lender, so they can get more cash flow probably improve their lending rate, and then you can increase sales. So all those are tangible, testable, you can do with evidence and so forth.
So that really is something. Do you have any case studies or just use examples in the technology sector? I know, you’ve been writing some tech company lately, you share with us some examples of that?
Austin: Sure. So, you know, we had a tech company that we’re working with, that had a private equity company go in, and partner with them, right. One of the things that were not making them look, so financially sound was the bad debt reserve that they had on their balance sheet.
So, you know, tech company, as I mentioned, you know, tech companies can be so much focused on sales. So they, were, but to the wrong companies, right? So, piled on a ton of AR, which turned into bad debt, which, you know, when you have bad debt, you have to keep a bad debt reserve on your balance sheet, which negative negatively impacts working capital.
So, what we did for them, is, we were able to use credit insurance as a way to take out that bad debt reserve, right? You can completely remove that from your balance sheet, transfer that risk to the insurer. In addition to that, they had, you know, two or three clients that were a concentration risk. So the three clients made up about 70% of their business. So what we did, and what the lender liked and in the private equity company, they liked that removing that risk of concentration, right? Because God forbid something happens to you know, one or two of those three big clients completely would put them out of business. So we’re able to transfer that risk.
And then from a financial standpoint, they were able to get additional working capital, from some of the foreign receivables and increase to their advanced rate on their ABL facility. So the working capital paid for the credit insurance policy times ten. And the main thing that, you know, we’re sitting down, we’re talking with the CFO, and he goes, you know, what I don’t want is to detract from sales, right? We’re a sales-focused organization, that is where we want to stay focused, we need to grow. So the tool that they really liked was, you know, using one of the large insurers for their database, and even before selling to a company, a new customer— they were able to go into the online portal of the insurer, putting the company’s name, where they’re located, and the credit limit needed, they would know before they even made the sale, if that would be eligible for trade credit insurance. Which gives them a competitive advantage, right? So you know, the information, the lending, and then removing the bad debt reserve off their balance sheet, completely changed this company. It was actually amazing to see what we’re able to do for them.
Patrick: Yeah, the one thing is private equity firms are notorious when it comes to insurance, they really do not like spending any dollars on premiums unless there is some real value coming in. So, it’s a real validation for you to have private equities firms now becoming more active and really warming up to that. Have you seen a growing trend of that with private equity?
Austin: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, when private equities go in, and they invest in a company, they want to make sure that they’re getting the best return on their investment. Right. And they don’t want to spend any more money than needed. That’s for sure. So yeah, yep.
You know, we’ve seen I mean, yeah, there’s a way for us to do a financial benefit review. Right? So, before you even get the trade credit insurance policy, there’s a questionnaire that we have, there are things that we like to review, to see if it would be, you know, cost-effective or cost-prohibitive to the, to both the company and then the PE firm.
So yeah, we’re seeing private equity use tree credit insurance a lot more. You know, over in Europe, the trade credit insurance market is like 60% to 70% of companies use trade credit. Here in the US, it’s about 12% to 15%. So I think it’s just, you know, a lack of knowledge… a lack of people out there in the marketplace really educating people on trade credit. And we’re starting to see that come around. So, yeah, private equity firms are getting very keen on it. And understanding the benefits and utilizing the trade credit, you know, from the financial benefit, and from a risk mitigation benefit. For sure.
Patrick: Well, it’s all it’s also nice, because even before they have to commit to securing a policy (there is an application process) but they can find out dollar-for-dollar, how much more they can make before the even have to get a policy, I think that’s a really nice element. We see the same thing and do it proposing terms of rep warranty where you can go ahead and get the terms of a deal set up and we can already kind of model “well, here are ways that you’re going to be able to exit the transaction with more cash than you would if there were no insurance.” I mean, and usually, the financial benefit is a multiple of whatever the cost is.
So it’s as a lot of people say, once they learn about trade credit a little bit more just as with rep and warranty, the same to word description they just say it’s a no brainer. And that’s why I really think the more people that learn about this, and see how it’s being deployed is a real benefit. What’s the application process? What is there a minimum eligibility requirement? What’s the process? So if someone were to reach out to you, how would they get started?
Austin: Sure. So no, there’s no minimum requirement for trade credit. There used to be. But as we’ve seen, you know, I was talking to a client of mine 10 years ago, there’s about, you know, maybe 10. In insurance companies who’d be willing twice, right trade credit. Now, there’s about 25, or 26, we can go to, which kind of, you know, change the market and added a ton of additional capacity into the marketplace and softened the market as well, which is good for prospective buyers.
So no, listen, not a very labour-intensive application process. Basically, they want to understand, you know, who is your company? What do you guys do? Have you had losses in the past? Who are your customers? You know, one of the benefits from going through the application process is, as I mentioned, you have lots of markets to go to, you have lots of insurers who have big databases full of information. Basically, you get a free review of your top 20 customers, by multiple sources. So you could have five or six trade credit insurance companies saying, here’s what we think about all of your top 20 customers, here’s how we would risk rate them. And if we see any problems, here’s what we see. So it’s a nice kind of due diligence process, as well, as you know, looking into the product itself. So no, essentially, you know, you can reach out to me, we have our own application that all the insurers accept, and we’d be happy to guide you through the process and see if it’s something that’s right for the company.
Patrick: How long does the process take?
Austin: Generally, applications, you know, sitting down working on it, I’ve had clients fill it out within, you know, 20-30 minutes. I’ve had clients take months to get back to me, but I think it’s due to other priorities. But listen, you know, I think, you know, sitting down, it should take no longer than 20 minutes to maybe an hour if you have all the information necessary.
Patrick: Well, the other issue is just how long does it take for the insurance carriers to processing? Assuming full submission, complete submissions out there to you go to the 20 markets for them? How long is it approximately… weeks? Days?
Austin: No, it’s… you know, Patrick, it’s relatively quick. If we have a filled-in application, and we submitted to the market, we expect to have responses back from the insurers within a week to 12 days. So, you know, two weeks if you’ll all of the markets have quoted, and will sit down with people and talk about the pros and cons to each.
Patrick: Well, that’s that is it, there is no reason for someone not to reach out because just having the information will… even if it’s a no-go, that that information, I think, is a tremendous use to business owners out there and management firms and so forth.
Austin, these products are tailor-made for each and every particular client, there’s not a lot of heavy lifting, the cost is a fraction of what the benefits are. So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be flooded with people reaching out. How can our audience get ahold of you so that they can see if this is a fit for them?
Austin: Sure, so you can feel free to contact me via LinkedIn, which is Austin Leo. You can reach out to me at Austin.Leo@USI.com or there’s always the phone which is 908-240-5145.
Patrick: Excellent, Austin. Thank you very much for helping me bring in another value add that doesn’t require somebody suffering pain in order to get benefits. So thanks again.
Austin: Patrick, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it, it was a pleasure.