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The 10 warning signs of business failure

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Joshua Robb
Shaw Gidley Insolvency and Reconstruction
While the Australian Securities & Investments Commission’s Insolvency Statistics for the May 2014 quarter highlighted a decline in corporate insolvencies to a level not seen since pre-global financial crisis, it is important to remain mindful of the warning signs. If business owners are aware of the warning signs and seek advice early you are well positioned to renew, improve and where necessary restructure your business’s affairs.
1. Business aesthetics
An inspection of a business’s premises can provide an indicationof financial distress. Often if a business is struggling it shows physical signs of deterioration such as poor maintenance and cleaning. Low staff morale and loss of good staff to competitors are often factors.
2. Forecasts and business plans
Every business requires a detailed cash flow forecast and business plan, to ensure that business owners can make informed decisions. A business that fails to plan, plans to fail.
3. Poor maintenance of books and records
A business’s ability to maintain adequate financial records is generally a good sign of the business’s health. When a business is experiencing difficulty, business owners tend to spend less time maintaining books and records. It is imperative that procedures are in place to prevent this from happening.
4. Overdue or missed tax payments
When a business is experiencing difficulties, it will often try to improve its short term cash flow by prioritising payments that are required to continue the day to day operations and delaying most other payments. The most common types of delayed payments are those owing to the Australian Taxation Office in relation to GST and PAYG. Recent amendments to the Director Penalty Notice Regime mean that Directors are now automatically personally liable for outstanding PAYG Withholding Tax, should the amount remain unreported and unpaid within three months of the due date.
5. Superannuation Contributions Not Paid on Time
Superannuation contributions may also be delayed to assist with short term cash flow. As contributions are normally made at the end of every quarter, it may not be noticed that contributions are overdue, until they are well overdue. Similar to outstanding PAYG Withholding Tax, recent amendments to the Director Penalty Notice Regime means that Directors are now automatically personally liable for superannuation contributions that remain unreported and unpaid within three months of the due date.
6. Creditors Paid Outside of Trading Terms
Creditors’ terms beyond agreements or industry standards are evidence that a business is not meeting its present obligations Although each industry has different benchmarks, it is generally accepted that creditor accounts exceeding 45 days raise concerns.
7. Bank overdraft limit exceeded
While it is commonly understood that a bank overdraft should not be drawn on, to its full extent, monitoring the general use of the overdraft can provide an insight into the business’s cash flow resources. A business operating at its maximum overdraft may not have emergency funds, if needed.
8. Dishonoured cheques
Withholding of payments to creditors, dishonoured cheques and dishonour fees are clear signs that a business may not have sufficient financial resources.
9. Relationships with suppliers
When a business has a history of delaying payments to creditors, suppliers may place the business on cash on delivery terms. A change of this nature or entering into payment arrangements to manage overdue accounts indicates that suppliers have concerns of the business’s ability to make its payments on time.
10. Legal action
Legal action taken against a business for the recovery of outstanding debts is often the tipping point for a business’s failure. Statements of Claim issued against a business are a major concern as they could result in the business being placed into involuntary liquidation. Legal demands, winding up applications and director penalty notices should not be taken lightly.
If you are experiencing any of the above warning signs, it is best to contact an experienced insolvency expert at the earliest possible time.
For further information call (02) 4908 4444, email or visit
Joshua Robb Josh Robb

Josh Robb is a Manager at Shaw Gidley and has extensive experience in all aspects of both corporate and personal insolvency administrations. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce with joint studies in management and financial accounting and a Diploma of Advanced Insolvency Law. Josh is a member of the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia and The Institute of Chartered Accountants.