More than a quarter century of policing late payers

Black Wednesday to Carillion's collapse

With the numbers of print firms offering 90 to 120 days credit and more to large clients it is no surprise that every now and then they take a hit. And one bad debt can send them down. The excuse of ‘the cheque is in the post’ is still alive and well despite the fact many businesses don’t even own a cheque book. And although the excuse has been replaced by ‘computer problems,’ ‘staff holidays,’ ‘a glitch in our accounts software’ or even ‘we’ve not had the invoice,’ essentially things haven’t altered that much in the industry since when ICSM was founded more than 25 years ago.

Carrott and company

Back in the early 1990s when the firm was founded by Ian Carrott, and Steve Mepham there was a problem with companies not paying their bills on time in the printing and courier businesses. Carrott and company had experience of the problems of late payers in the two closely linked sectors and had built up a list of culprits who didn’t pay on time. These firms would open an account with one business and when it became inconvenient to settle the bill would open a new one with a rival company.

On the face of it nothing much has changed apart from the arrival of the internet, digital printing, emails and even the gig economy. All have had their impact but in real terms many businesses still don’t get paid on 30 days but have to wait in some cases for more than 120 days.

In 1993 the economy was trying to emerge from a recession with many firms struggling or downsizing in order to stay afloat but it was also an era before the internet so printing could be very profitable. However, ICSM will tell you one thing hasn’t altered: most printers are not natural business people. Carrott says: “Unfortunately many printers still rely on a hand shake and the phrase ‘my word is my bond’. That’s fine among friends but in business you’ll be caught out. In the early 90s the average debt in the haulage industry was £500 but in the print industry it was ten times that. Now it is even worse with printers often carrying debts of tens of thousands of pounds as has been highlighted by the collapse of the likes of Polestar, the Headley Brothers and the Aston Group.”

A move to Somerset

In those initial years the firm operated in Croydon and serviced the courier and printing industries but as business grew ICSM took on more industrial sectors including hauliers and manufacturers. A move to Somerset meant the business was no longer purely a London and South East service outfit but today is nationwide with customers across the country in all areas of industry. Trade groups have signed up as members to give added value to their own membership while overseas firms have also signed up so as to get a heads up on potential bad news with UK customers.

In the early days established credit companies suggested ICSM’s system could be abused and was inaccurate as it relied on individual members giving confidential information. In fact the opposite was true as anyone trying to smear a company with a rumour quickly discovered they would be found out. And as for being inaccurate, that was quickly dispelled as Ian Carrott said in the 1990s. “We had one company that was given a rating using the information held at Companies House of 90 out of 100 and a £150k credit rating. In fact, we knew it owed £75,000 to a member it couldn’t pay, other than via a payment plan. That’s how out of date the traditional information was. Nothing has changed much with the traditional reports”

With the fall-out from the collapse of Carillion it appears companies have yet to learn the lessons of allowing customers to string out payments over months rather than weeks. ICSM continues to operate as one customer put it ‘as industry’s policeman’ with a database and a subscription list of firms who can supply up to date credit information on companies who make a habit of not paying up on time. With so many members whose clients are from virtually every business sector the information ICSM holds is clearly invaluable and has saved many a company from disaster.

  • To safeguard your business from potential bad debts join ICSM today. For details call 0844 854 1850 or email icsm@icsm.com

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